Rivals join forces to detoxify public debate
Rupa Huq and Matt Hancock
Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq and the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP have joined forces to launch a campaign with an aim to “set public debate on a better path.”
The unlikely cross-party duo are campaigning to tackle online abuse and detoxify political discourse in the Commons and beyond in the wake of the murder of Sir David Amess MP last month.
In recent weeks, the backbench MPs have written a joint piece for The Times, and they have been interviewed by the Telegraph and think tank Compassion in Politics for two separate podcasts.
Dr Huq, who was widely praised for her call to be ‘less cross and more cross-party’ during the concluding Commons tribute to Sir David, told us, “The assassination of my kind friend and colleague David Amess has demonstrated the dangers of a coarsening political debate in the UK.
“That’s why Matt and I have got together to campaign on this, despite our many political differences. There is too much rancour online and offline: we need a healthier climate in public life.”
The local MP, who has herself been subject to racist abuse from people claiming to be supporters of Polish far-right journalist and ideologue Rafał Ziemkiewicz, added that the onus is on parliamentarians to “set an example.”
“Us MPs need to do a better job of disagreeing with each other. Of course we should have robust debates, but when that tips into abuse, we are doing ourselves no favours and we are giving Twitter trolls licence to behave in kind.”
Hancock, who stepped down as Health Secretary in June, added that he had been on the receiving end of a huge amount of abuse in the wake of his departure, with one social media user reportedly writing: “just execute matt hancock live on bbc one i say”.
He said social media companies need to be held to account. Writing alongside Huq in The Times, Hancock wrote: “It is a particular problem that libel laws don’t work in the internet age.
“It is hard to prove that a single post by a social media user with a few hundred followers causes significant damage, but when that post is shared and added to by hundreds or thousands of others, it has the same effect as a defamatory newspaper piece in days gone by.
“At their heart, the creators of algorithms that feed people content that only reinforces what they already think must bear responsibility.”
The pair are in discussions to produce a cross-party pamphlet on the importance of civility in British politics.
Research by Compassion in Politics suggests the public are in agreement with the two MPs. 75 per cent of those polled by the organisation were in favour of ending banning, booing and jeering in parliamentary debates.
Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, said, “Compassion in Politics exists to create a more compassionate, inclusive, and cooperative politics and for that reason we are delighted that Rupa and Matt are working cross-party on this initiative to detoxify political discourse.
“No one should be subjected to bullying, harassment, or intimidation but this has become the reality for most MPs. It is ruining lives and wrecking our democracy.
“That is why we will be working with Rupa and Matt on developing a set of recommendations to build a politics of respect, decency, and inclusion - because good policies depend on good politics.”
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November 26, 2021