Darren Lewis says it should never have taken the passing of David Amess MP to spark the Tories into finally wanting to draw a line in the sand on the UK’s culture of hate after ignoring pleas on it for years
So here we go. As the shock waves reverberate around the death of a good man, the hunt for answers continues without even a hint of self-awareness.
My Mirror colleague, Ros Wynne-Jones, is behind the brilliant Britain Talks campaign which aims to get the country doing just that.
The trouble is, so many of us still don’t talk. So many of us WhatsApp, email, Facebook or tweet, tapping away in a cess pit with a race to the bottom in terms of our discourse.
The empathy has gone. The respect for peers and authority, a staple of older generations, is a thing of the past. It won’t return with screens between MPs and their constituents or police officers on the doors of surgeries.
They are the ideas of a regime with a left hand over its eyes and their right hand feeling around in the dark.
Complacency will eventually replace the concern to be seen to be doing something anyway after the killing of Sir David Amess and, heartbreakingly, we will be back here in a few years’ time – just as after Jo Cox in 2016, Stephen Timms in 2010 and Nigel Jones in 2000.
We are all at risk from an atmosphere that threatens to consume us, never mind extremists.
My jaw hit the floor when we heard that the individual held in connection with the death threat sent to MP Chris Bryant is 76 years of age.
I remember, as we neared the end of the last lockdown, hearing friends’ fears that things could explode after it was lifted with so many people having spent so long shouting at each other online.
Don’t kid yourself that the trolls are teenagers or twenty-somethings still living at home and eating cornflakes way past lunchtime in their pyjamas.
Many wear suits and ties, carry laptops and enjoy top jobs with big platforms. None see any problem hammering politicians on all sides or the likes of Meghan Markle.
Even the debate about finally cracking down on hate speech online is quite something when ordinary people, footballers, celebrities and other politicians have been begging for it for years now without success.
Ask the likes of Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and MPs such as Bernard Jenkin and Mark Francois are among those now urging us all to be kinder.
Tell that to Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, both called out by England footballer Tyrone Mings for refusing to condemn those booing our national team for taking the knee. This is the least kind government in living memory.
A government that wants to hand immunity to people causing others to drown in the English Channel.
A government whose ministers belted out karaoke tunes at their party conference earlier this month on the day they cut Universal Credit for millions.
A government whose hostile environment campaign has seen lives lost and millions of families devastated.
A government whose Prime Minister was given the chance to dial down his racially offensive rhetoric about Muslim women and black people and chose instead to double down.
When MP Paula Sherriff complained in parliament in 2019 of the abuse and harassment she and other female MPs were being subjected to, Johnson suggested “the best way to ensure that every parliamentarian is properly safe and [to] dial down the current anxiety…[was] to get Brexit done”.
None of that justifies violence. Ever. What it underscores is our need for a period of introspection and the drawing of a line in the sand.
It should never have taken the passing of a good man to spark that.