Image above: Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton; Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk
Rupa Huq MP and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock have launched a cross-party campaign to detoxify political debate in the UK. The Ealing Central and Acton MP and the former Health Secretary have agreed we need to “set public debate on a better path.”
The unlikely cross-party duo are campaigning to tackle online abuse and detoxify political discourse in the Commons and beyond in the wake of the murder of Sir David Amess MP last month. They have written a joint piece for The Times and have been interviewed by the Telegraph and think tank Compassion in Politics.
Rupa knew David Amess quite well as she had been on parliamentary delegation to the Middle East with him and other MPs in the week before he was killed. He was fatally stabbed while conducting his constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea on Friday 15 October.
She paid tribute to him in the House of Commons, calling for party politics to be ‘less cross and more cross-party’. Both she and the Brentford & Isleworth MP Ruth Cadbury, who jointly represent Chiswick, have described how they have received abusive and threatening letters. Rupa has had her mail screened since a package was sent to her office in 2018 by an Islamophobe.
More recently she had been subjected to a hate campaign online from supporters of Polish a far-right journalist and ideologue.
“We need a healthier climate in public life” – Rupa Huq
Rupa told The Chiswick Calendar:
“The assassination of my kind friend and colleague David Amess has demonstrated the dangers of a coarsening political debate in the UK.
“That’s why Matt and I have got together to campaign on this, despite our many political differences. There is too much rancour online and offline: we need a healthier climate in public life.”
It is up to parliament to set an example, said Rupa.
“Us MPs need to do a better job of disagreeing with each other. Of course we should have robust debates, but when that tips into abuse, we are doing ourselves no favours and we are giving Twitter trolls licence to behave in kind.”
“Social media companies need to be held to account” – Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock, who stepped down as Health Secretary in June, said he had received a huge amount of abuse in the wake of his departure, with one social media user reportedly writing: “just execute matt hancock live on bbc one i say”.
The MP had been caught on camera kissing colleague Gina Coladangelo in his offices at Whitehall in May, which breached social distancing regulations that at the time allowed intimate social contact only with members of the same household.
He said social media companies need to be held to account. Writing alongside Huq in The Times, Hancock wrote: “It is a particular problem that libel laws don’t work in the internet age.
“It is hard to prove that a single post by a social media user with a few hundred followers causes significant damage, but when that post is shared and added to by hundreds or thousands of others, it has the same effect as a defamatory newspaper piece in days gone by.
“At their heart, the creators of algorithms that feed people content that only reinforces what they already think must bear responsibility.”
Rupa Huq and Matt Hancock are now discussing production of a cross-party pamphlet on the importance of civility in British politics.
Research by Compassion in Politics suggests the public are in agreement with Huq and Hancock. 75% of those polled by the organisation were in favour of ending banning, booing and jeering in parliamentary debates.
Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said:
“Compassion in Politics exists to create a more compassionate, inclusive, and cooperative politics and for that reason we are delighted that Rupa and Matt are working cross-party on this initiative to detoxify political discourse.
“No one should be subjected to bullying, harassment, or intimidation but this has become the reality for most MPs. It is ruining lives and wrecking our democracy.
“That is why we will be working with Rupa and Matt on developing a set of recommendations to build a politics of respect, decency, and inclusion – because good policies depend on good politics.”
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