Because they refuse to speak out against genocide, MPs feel threatened - good

House of cowards

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle kept a real Gaza ceasefire off the agenda a few weeks ago in the name of keeping MPs safe. Paul Demarty stands up for the right to protest

When Labour MPs conspired with Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle to keep a real Gaza ceasefire off the agenda a few weeks ago - one of the most spectacularly cynical acts ever undertaken in that den of thieves - Hoyle justified his actions on the basis that to have allowed the vote would have represented a threat to MPs’ safety.

Hoyle is not, of course, one of life’s great original thinkers; and his bizarre excuse picked up on a running theme. Harriet Harman, New Labour lifer and chair of the Commons standards committee, urged party leaders to take threats to MPs more seriously and allow them to work from home if they feel unsafe. Since then the government has, of course, announced a £31 million package to ensure the security of MPs.

Harman’s comments were prompted by the decision of Mike Freer, justice minister, to resign from parliament, citing repeated threats to his person and a near miss at the hands of the murderer of David Amess - the Southend Tory who was killed by an Islamist ‘lone wolf’ type in 2021.

How seriously should we take these complaints? There is clearly something there - after all, Amess really is dead. His murder followed that of Jo Cox, a rightwing Labour MP, who was stabbed and shot to death by a far-right ‘lone wolf’ type, back in 2016. Death threats are undoubtedly the lot not only of MPs and their counterparts in other countries, but more or less any public figure in contemporary society. We are not, generally, in favour of people being murdered, not even Tory MPs; and, while the floods of death threats directed at MPs are more or less uniformly frivolous (top tip number one for actual cold-blooded killers: don’t tell a well-connected target in advance that you’re going to kill them!), they are nonetheless unpleasant and anti-social acts.


The devil is really in the framing of this behaviour as a problem about which ‘something must be done’. If we are to believe the weeping MPs, this is a story of politics generally becoming more rancorous, of ‘irresponsible’ rhetoric increasing tensions, of ‘polarisation’ and ‘divisiveness’. This mood music from sober-minded parliamentarians has reached a deafening volume since George Galloway’s crushing victory in the Rochdale by-election last week; Galloway has become quite the scapegoat for all the frail creatures of parliament, and to hear everyone from Rishi Sunak to gormless Sky hack Sam Coates tell it, you would think he is to march on the Commons at the head of a skeleton army, as in Bruegel’s painting, ‘The triumph of death’.

It is the strangest thing; after all, this is not the first time Galloway has gazumped the main parties. He beat Oona King, the warmongering Blairite, in Bethnal Green and Bow back in 2005; he snuck to victory in Bradford West in 2012 - I do not remember anything approaching this level of hysteria on those occasions; Tony Blair and Ed Miliband took it on the chin, and Labour took the seats back at the next time of asking. On that evidence, the poor beleaguered denizens of parliament need only suffer his presence for 10 measly months.

Barely mentioned by any of these people is the substantive political controversy of the day - the issue that Galloway campaigned on, the issue that occasioned Hoyle’s tearing up of procedure: Israel’s genocidal onslaught on Gaza. Freer is a fanatical Israel supporter, who in 2014 defied the Conservative whip, resigning from a minor government post, to vote against a purely formal motion in favour of the general idea of Palestinian statehood. There is, strangely, a close correlation between pro-Zionist fanaticism and, let us say, the perceived threat level among our political class.

This is really only to be expected: after all, this is not even that divisive an issue, all things considered. The British are not split down the middle, as they were on Brexit. A very large majority - 70% or so - supports an immediate Israeli ceasefire. Unfortunately, the 30% contains nearly the whole Tory parliamentary party, and at least the Labour front bench (Hoyle’s ploy saved Keir Starmer the embarrassment of a likely huge rebellion).

This amounts to a staggering insult to the British people: for all the bourgeois parties - in an election year! - to unite against the largest part of the electorate. That is hardly surprising to any Marxist, of course: what democratic forms are permitted to the masses in capitalist society are constrained from interfering with the interests of the rulers themselves, and above all the interests of the global top-dog state. British elections are constrained by our strategic subordination to the United States, usually by the discreet means of media monopoly. With the media, for one reason or another, unable to frame unceasing mass murder as anything other than what it is, all that is left is to bluntly deny voters anything like a choice on the matter: we clearly cannot be trusted to do the ‘right’ thing.

Insults tend to be received as such. There is an extraordinary lack of self-awareness on the part of all these MPs complaining about abuse and threats. Harman, remember, is the chair of the parliamentary standards committee - she is supposed to ensure that MPs are worthy of the honour of representing us. Instead, she uses that platform to chide voters for being unworthy of their MPs.

In despair at the sudden success of the nativist American Party (better known as the ‘Know Nothings’), Abraham Lincoln famously remarked: “I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

The aristocratic ruling classes of old at least had the virtue of openly stating that they were a whole different breed - quite literally - and thereby were ordained to rule, and the rest of us owed them deference. There are people on the far right today who believe this, for that matter: Catholic integralists, neo-Nietzscheans and techno-monarchists, etc. They all have the virtue of guilelessness.

Not workplaces

There is something false, however, in the very being of every professional politician in modern western ‘democracies’. Their job is - on paper - to represent a set of voters in the halls of power. Yet the very fact that it is a job - that is, a professional career, to which one dedicates one’s adult life in the same way that one might become a lawyer or a software engineer - requires insulation from the popular will to some extent. Professional advancement depends on a certain level of stability in the overall structure. It is the professionals themselves who are equipped to evaluate each others’ performance; the consent of the great unwashed at the ballot box is a regrettable expediency on the way up the greasy pole of patronage and preferment. Thus the bureaucratisation of the parties of the workers’ movement is itself a mechanism of capitalist class control.

The more successful these forms of control are, however, the more they tend to rob ordinary people of meaningful engagement with politics at all. There is a tendency towards atomisation, and it is this that gives you endless social media death threats and - out at the edges - the ‘lone wolf’ killers of Cox and Amess. So, when MPs complain that nobody should have to put up with this sort of thing in the workplace, they involve themselves in a flat contradiction: it is just because politics is a workplace, a protected closed-shop profession, that they do have to put up with it.

This leaves the left with a few different tasks. The most immediate is to resist the thrust of all the current wailing: attempts to use the law to criminalise any form of protest that might make a cowardly MP feel at all unsafe. Murder, it will be remembered, is already illegal (as, for that matter, are death threats). It is not physical harm these people fear really - it is the minuscule level of accountability represented by having a few people accuse them of something unpleasant.

Deplorable left

However, in the second place, this goes for us too. The left has proven, in recent years, deplorably vulnerable to sabotage by those who suppose that the movement owes them a life free of discomfort and anxiety before anything can be done. No such thing is possible, probably not after the best possible revolution, and certainly not on the road to it. Speech codes, prissiness about etiquette, ‘safe spaces’ - all are precisely forms of the bureaucratic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ movement, and lead precisely to the rule of a caste of mediocrities like today’s parliamentarians: short-beaked pigeons who can do nothing but wallow in self-pity and make themselves immoveable by the manipulation of procedure.

Finally, and most importantly, we must remember that it is not all bad news. We can build a truly democratic society, which would entail the end of politics as a bureaucratic profession, and far more extensive involvement in decision-making throughout society. Removing the scarcity should at least temper the rancorousness of polemic, although people will continue to passionately disagree and call each other all manner of epithets. The minimum programme of a Marxist party worthy of the name would amount to such a regime - measures such as annual parliaments, proportional representation, wages representative of constituents, the abolition of advertising and the bribe-subsidy it offers to the press, and the replacement of the police - whose job it is to enforce the boundaries of permissible protest - with a popular militia: all these would contribute to the possibility of a better, more robust political culture.

In the absence of that, we can only watch on in contempt at the antics of the Commons cowards.