Politicians and journalists have responded to the killing of Tory MP David Amess by calling for ‘civility in politics’. But this is pure hypocrisy, coming from the same people who have whipped up hatred for years. The real divide is a class divide.
The brutal murder of David Amess has shocked society. For the second time in five years, a serving Member of Parliament has been killed whilst holding a constituency surgery.
In 2016, at the height of the Brexit campaign, the victim was Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed by a far-right terrorist whilst meeting with local residents in her constituency of Batley and Spen.
Last Friday it was David Amess, Tory MP for Southend West, who was fatally knifed whilst attending a similar event in an Essex church.
‘Climate of abuse’
The motivations – if any – for this latest attack remain unclear, with little known about the suspect, 25-year-old Ali Harbi Ali. Nevertheless, this has not stopped politicians and the press from speculating about the wider cause for this wanton violence.
In particular, much of the media attention has focussed on the country’s ‘toxic political culture’, with commentators highlighting the hostility and aggressiveness of debate – in Westminster and online – as a factor behind the increasing dangers facing MPs and other prominent public figures.
An editorial in last weekend’s Observer, for example, called for a “recalibration of our overly toxic political discourse”. A similar article by the Financial Times editorial board spoke about a “heightened climate of abuse and fear” in British politics.
Paying tribute to David Amess in the House of Commons on Monday, meanwhile, fellow Tory backbencher Mark Francois stated that: “In the last few years David had become increasingly concerned about what he called the toxic environment in which MPs, particularly female MPs, were having to operate in.”
Francois and other Conservative MPs went on to demand new laws in their former colleague’s honour, aimed at tackling bullying, harassment, and abuse on social media.
In particular, the Rayleigh and Wickford MP called on the government to toughen up the pending online harms bill, by forcing tech firms to introduce measures that would prevent the anonymity of their users.
Pardon me, but are we being lectured on 'civility in politics' by papers and politicians who demonised migrants, slandered left-wingers, and produced a deafening silence when an effigy of Jeremy Corbyn was used as target practice by British soldiers?— Joseph Attard (@josephattard02) October 19, 2021
Who’s to blame?
Such demands and rhetoric, however, by scapegoating rogue keyboard warriors, obscure the question of who is really responsible for creating a poisonous and pernicious political atmosphere.
The liberal establishment has been similarly equivocal on this matter. “All sides are to blame,” asserts the aforementioned FT editorial – before going on to specifically call out current and former deputy Labour leaders Angela Rayner and Nye Bevan for referring to the Tories, respectively, as ‘scum’ and ‘lower than vermin’.
The Observer goes one further, stating that MPs’ “own party members” are partially responsible for “a shocking amount of social media abuse threatening violence”: a dog-whistle reference to the scandalous antisemitism smears against left-wing Labour activists.
No doubt Britain’s political culture has become increasingly venomous and pugnacious in recent years. The blame for this, however, lies not with ordinary people, but with the ruling class and their mouthpieces.
As we explained at the time, it was the divisive demagoguery of the racist right wing – both in government and in the media – that created the breeding ground for far-right extremists such as Thomas Mair, Jo Cox’s killer.
Since then, it is the Tories who have sought to whip-up hate, bigotry, and violence at every turn: from their ‘hostile environment’ against migrants; to their not-so-subtle support for transphobia; to their decision to hand the police more repressive powers; to their so-called ‘war on woke’ against BLM activists, left-wing students, and even England footballers.
All of this has been ably abetted by the gutter press, who never miss an opportunity to stir-up this ‘culture war’, or to dehumanise refugees, welfare claimants, and striking workers.
And yet we now have the remarkable sight, in the wake of Amess’ murder, of hypocritical journalists writing in Murdoch rag The Sun, blaming social media for “toxic abuse” and calling on everyone to “treat each other with basic respect”.
The fault does not only lie with the Tories and their reactionary press, however. The Labour right wing are little better. Lest we forget, it was renowned Blairite MP Jess Phillips who promised to “knife Corbyn in the front, not the back”.
Indeed, throughout the Corbyn years, the-then Labour leader and his supporters were vilified and slandered by the Labour right wing and the establishment.
Jeremy Corbyn himself was accused of being a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, a ‘Moscow stooge’, and a ‘Czech spy’. Rank-and-file Labour members, meanwhile, were brandished as ‘extremists’ and ‘antisemites’.
Now these same ladies and gentlemen have the audacity to lecture us about the need for ‘civility in politics’.
This campaign of persecution went all the way to the top.
Not only did Corbyn face endless attempts at character assassination, but also the very real threat of actual assassination.
The 2017 Finsbury Park mosque attacker, for example, later admitted in court that he had hoped to kill the Islington North MP. Meanwhile, in April 2019, footage showing British soldiers using a picture of the left-wing Labour leader as target practice.
Again, such deranged and dangerous behaviour was effectively given the green light by army generals openly speaking about coups against a future left Labour government; and by jingoistic press and politicians endlessly insinuating that Corbyn was a ‘traitor’ to his country.
MPs and liberal journalists are right to say that the landscape of British politics is becoming ever-more polarised. But their appeals for the nation to rally together, put aside any differences, and “dial down the rhetoric of rage”, as the FT says, are both cynical and hypocritical.
The fact is that society is fundamentally divided and polarised. But the real divide under capitalism is not between Brexiteers and Remainers, black and white, or young and old.
Rather, it is a class divide between the exploiters and the exploited; between the oppressors and the oppressed; between the reactionary ruling class and the super-rich, on one side, and the working class and the poor, on the other.
In short, this is a divide between a tiny minority of billionaires, and the vast majority who are suffering under their rotten, bankrupt system.
And as capitalism descends ever-deeper into crisis, this divide is only widening, with inequality increasing, and the ruling class looking to make the rest of us foot the bill through further attacks and austerity.
This is the reason for the increasing radicalisation to the left amongst workers and youth. This is why the working class is moving into struggle. And this is why we need to build the forces of Marxism: to channel this anger and frustration along revolutionary lines; to wage a class war, not a culture war.
Toxic politics are a reflection of a toxic system. The fight for socialism is the only antidote.