Dangerous rhetoric threatens our politics

They say democracy dies in darkness. Thankfully for the most part in this country, we shine a light on things.

Robust, healthy debate about the issues of the day are one of the great things about the UK. For all its faults, Westminster is known as the mother of all parliaments and there are elected officials in Town Halls up and down the land working tirelessly for their communities.

There are journalists who have made a living out of making sure you find out the facts about what is happening inside the important rooms of power, locally and nationally. I count myself among them.

The right to protest and express opposing views is an absolute cornerstone of our democracy but there is an insidious nasty side creeping very slowly into our public debate that can only make things worse in the long term.

Last Wednesday, as elected members of Liverpool Council met to discuss items on adult health and social care, a relatively small gathering was outside Liverpool Town Hall. Nothing out of the ordinary.

However, the individuals making the demonstration were keen to push messages around widely debunked conspiracy theories such as 15-minute cities, 5G, and the coronavirus vaccine. This is harmful enough in itself.

What takes it too far is what happened next.

Some felt it was acceptable to enter the chamber where councillors were debating to shout how they were a “disgrace” and would be “tried for crime of genocide and treason.” One man said the members would “hang for committing treason”.

Liverpool Council is actually trying to make public speaking at meetings more accessible, with standards committee members debating how this can be implemented. It is right that elected officials should be held to account.

This is not the way to do it.

Last week, City Safe staff had to remove the protestors from the town hall, with the doors bolted and shut to the public afterwards. The angry demonstration occurred as another committee met in another room where members discussed councillors’ safety.

This isn’t the first time it has happened either.

In July last year, councillors had to be smuggled out a side door when tempers flares as some demonstrators shouted how they were “treacherous traitors” during a neighbourhoods committee. In September, former Liverpool FC striker Rickie Lambert joined those including a Canadian conspiracy theorist to loudly protest against non-existent 15 minute cities.

The former footballer went online to claim members of Liverpool Council will be removed “if you continue to ignore your people.”

Words have meaning. We know this better than most. 

While challenging positions and policy is acceptable, it’s vital that debate remains civil, engaging and most importantly, not threatening. Some councillors told me of their anxieties about attending public meetings, while last year the local authority actually took steps to stop printing members’ home addresses.

Dangerous rhetoric threatens to destroy our politics. We all have a responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Image: Demonstrators had to be removed from Liverpool Town Hall amid an aggressive protest. Credit: David Humphreys

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