Opinion

Online abuse for female colleague and none for me. Why?

LONDON — On Monday evening, I appeared on Channel 4 News with Ruth Smeeth, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North. We talked — and were largely in agreement — about the will of parliament to hold the government to account on military spending and capability in a time of unique domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Later, I took a look at Twitter. No one commented on my television appearance, which was a good outcome — I had articulated my message without incurring any obvious negatives.

It was not the same for Ruth. She was accused of faking anti-Semitism — someone even referred to her as a “CIA agent.” It reminded me of when I sat next to her in the House of Commons defense committee one day and started counting the number of tweets she had received in the previous 24 hours, which made reference to her Jewish heritage. I stopped at 200.

It got me thinking, not for the first time, about what her daily experience of being an MP must be like.

Ruth is one of the good ones. We disagree on much but she believes in something, she believes in what she is doing and, like me, she is determined to do all she can to represent those who feel left behind or forgotten in her constituency and across the country. She is an MP because, like me, she is a patriot. She is fiercely proud of her country and wants better from its politics.

The far right and the far left often think they are the purest form of their peers.

Yet she is ruthlessly targeted and I am not. We differ in sex, party and heritage, but little else. The reason for people’s abuse of her and not me can only, therefore, be for these three things that separate us.

I get an easy ride at times. I was a soldier, I fought in wars and seem to garner a degree of — in my view — unwarranted respect simply for those reasons. But where Ruth is concerned, the abusers’ mask of respect slips. This abuse is out and out anti-Semitism masquerading as genuine criticism; it is sexism masquerading as genuine concern about women commenting on matters of defense.

So how can this abuse be tackled? Tech companies must do more, and they certainly could. I do not accept they are doing all they can, and the window of opportunity for them to self-regulate is closing fast.

I encourage the government to be bold. Ruth will never quit her job, and she will never be forced out. She, of course, doesn’t need help from men like me, but we will continue to champion her because we loathe the intolerance and bigotry she faces. We do not understand it. And we are as passionate about protecting our core British values as those disfigured souls relentlessly abuse others, and justify their abuse to themselves.

The far right and the far left often think they are the purest form of their peers; that Britain’s strength was founded in their cause, and that the misguided patriotism or adherence to their cause is just. They could not be more wrong.

Some of us who disagree politically are indivisibly united in our passion for these values.

Britain – the country which, like many, I fought for, and which my friends died for — is a haven of tolerance in an increasingly intolerant world. It is a place where our values of respect and equality of race and sex provide people with genuine freedom to live their lives unencumbered by the violence and prejudice that is present in too many other countries. We have much more to do to establish a Britain that presents equal opportunities for every citizen of this country, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth — but make no mistake, this is a great country.

Some of us who disagree politically are indivisibly united in our passion for these values. We will support them unwaveringly with as much energy as those who seek to make other colleagues’ lives a misery put into their misguided and pathetic causes. And I know whose side our modern Britain is on.

Johnny Mercer is a Conservative member of the British parliament.

Original Article