Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: I know how terrifying it is when the family home is under attack... that's why I feel so sorry for politicians


Journalist Sarah Vine with husband Michael Gove
Journalist Sarah Vine with husband Michael Gove
Lindy McDowell

By Lindy McDowell

Politics has become pretty hateful. But should we hate politicians? Put it this way, do you really despise Boris or Jeremy or even John Bercow to the point where you would wish them, you know, actual harm?

The findings of a poll published earlier this week suggest, shockingly, that quite a lot do.

The poll, which was conducted by YouGov, found that 70% of Brexiteers in England and Wales and 60% in Scotland felt that violence against MPs was "a price worth paying" in order to get their way.

Remainers weren't a whole lot different, despite their backing track of ode to joy and peace and understanding. The percentages of anti-Brexit voters who were prepared to justify violence towards MPs was 58 in England, 56 in Wales and 53 in Scotland. (You'll notice they didn't ask us here in Northern Ireland. I wonder why?)

Polls, as we know, aren't always accurate for a simple reason. People lie.

You've had a bad day at work and the kids are running you ragged and now there's some bloke on the phone asking if you wish ill upon incumbents of the House of Commons who've made such an utter dog's dinner of this whole Brexit fiasco...

You can see why people might chose to vent.

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MP Diane Abbott
MP Diane Abbott

Still. With this week's summoning of the nation to election starting blocks it is a bit chilling to think that over half those polled were unabashed to state that they'd condone harm - real harm - upon politicians.

That's what I find shocking. Not that in the privacy of their own heads people might be harbouring dark thoughts about MPs. But that so many are so ready to admit to it.

Writing in the Daily Mail this week, journalist Sarah Vine, who is married to the Tory Michael Gove, gave some idea of what it's like living with what is no longer just antipathy towards politicians like her husband - but real threat. Her home has been pelted with eggs. Dog dirt deposited on her doorstep. Such has been the menace aimed at her husband that armoured doors have had to be installed, alarms, CCTV.

As someone who is married to a man who also down the years attracted intermittent violence and regular death threats I can sympathise (I'll see your armoured doors, Sarah, and raise you bullet-resistant windows).

Ms Vine has a gutsy sense of humour and attempts to make light of all this. But she has young children. And, again from experience, I know that is the most frightening aspect - not the worry of what might happen to yourself or your partner, but the very real fear of what might happen to your kids. Indeed what is already happening to them.

Throwing eggs at a politician is hardly a crime against humanity. But it's different when it's the family home under bombardment. What sort of person thinks this is acceptable, commendable even?

Do abusers ever consider the effect it might have on children knowing that the doors of your home have had to be strengthened and alarms installed in order to keep out people who want to attack your dad?

The families of politicians here in Northern Ireland - and of local security force personnel in particular - knew only too well what it was like (and in many cases, what it is still like) to live with even greater threat, of course.

But this is 2019, in a European democracy in peace time. Where is all this vitriol coming from?

This week Diane Abbott and Anna Soubry have been talking about the vile online abuse they have had to endure. Even Ms Soubry's 85-year-old mother has had threats. When voters unashamedly admit they'd condone violence against MPs it's dangerous indeed.

Dangerous for politicians. And dangerous for democracy.

Students' unions now the arbiters of offence

Hats off to students' unions who do a fine job keeping us up to date with possible sources of offence.

Last week it was hand-clapping which is apparently applausist - jazz hands are preferred. This week from Sheffield comes a ban on the sombrero. Cultural appropriation, apparently.

Are those wee Scottish Tam o' Shanters with orange hair similarly offensive?

Perhaps the Ulster Scots agency can advise.

Meghan's socialist supporters miss the point

A letter signed by 72 female MPs, mostly Labour, has gone to Meghan Markle offering support against media coverage which they assert has "outdated colonial undertones".

Such as? This they do not spell out. But ironic, is it not, when you have socialists assuring the privileged wife of a direct descendant of Victoria, queen of the colonies, that legitimate criticism from a free Press is... colonialist?

Sir Van's new track hits the right note about Stormont

The great Sir Van Morrison has a new album out - Three Chords and The Truth. The album features a track, Nobody in Charge, which is apparently about Brexit.

In an interview on his website the singing legend confirms this, referring to a lyric in the song; "Brainwashing is easy because everyone's lazy".

Van Morrison has had a go at our politicians

As my old friend and colleague - and devoted Van fan - Ivan Little points out, the song's lyrics could equally apply to the lunacy that is the never-ending Stormont stalemate.

The lyrics reference politicians "waffling endlessly" and "getting paid too much for screwin' up".

Another line - "Don't you think everyone's had enough?"

There speaks a man for all of us.

Unusually and refreshingly, Sir Van is one of the very few entertainers today who doesn't appear to feel the need to constantly hector the rest of us about politics.

"I'm not really into that," he's said in the past. "I'm apolitical."

But one of his greatest songs (in my opinion anyway) has always seemed to me to encapsulate the foolishness, the pigheadedness and the intransigence of our leaders in this part of the world.

I know it's about something else entirely, but read the lyrics of the song Wonderful Remark (I can't reproduce the full song here for copyright reasons) and tell me that one doesn't also succinctly sum up Stormont.

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