The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg is currently being accompanied by a bodyguard. So where, you may wonder, is Laura at the moment? Is she in Aleppo? Or Bogota? Or Benghazi? Or perhaps she’s in that socialist paradise of Caracas? No. None of the above. She is in fact trying to do her job as a journalist at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Her employer is so concerned for her safety at the seaside that it has seen fit to employ someone to watch over her, reported to be a former soldier who now works for the BBC as a security consultant. The move follows a stream of online threats and abuse by Jeremy Corbyn’s most vehement backers.
Surely not! What, people who love Corbyn, who sing that idiotic ditty ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ under those red scarves at Conference, or who buy into their cult leader as ‘the absolute boy’ – whatever that juvenile descriptor is supposed to mean – what, those people? Nice, inclusive, lovely, fluffy, compassionate, caring, cuddly people? Really passionate Labour people who just want social justice, a better world? Them? Yeah. Them.
Because it’s when conference season kicks off that they just can’t suppress showing us who they really are when push comes to shove. There’s no evidence so far that there has been any actual pushing and shoving of Kuenssberg (though that’s probably because she has a bodyguard), but there has been in the past much jeering and hissing at her for what is seen by the Left as biased coverage. They loathe her temerity in actually asking questions of their Dear Leader.
There is no question that the atmosphere is one of palpable hostility and intimidation when Kuenssberg tries to do this (otherwise known as doing one’s job as a journalist). Matters were not helped when John McDonnell treated her vulnerability as something of a joke, suggesting if anyone were giving Laura Kuenssberg trouble to let him know and that ‘John McDonnell would sort them out’. The use of the third person reveals how he is now relishing that sniff of power. That easeful use of the colloquial reveals his confidence that he has the ear of the people, the street, and he has it in spades. Take note. This is McDonnell and his ilk at their most chilling.
There have been a couple in the Labour ranks prepared to call on the mob to back off Kuenssberg. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the trolling was ‘just wrong’, adding ‘just don’t do it’, and MP Jess Phillips has said that Labour are ‘hypocrites’ if ‘we ignore’ such abuse. Harriet Harman on Woman’s Hour seemed to be defending Kuenssberg’s right to go about her work and indignant about her being obstructed and intimidated. Harman’s impassioned tone, however, was undermined by her determination to make it a gender/sexism issue, saying that it was outrageous that people wanted to ‘silence’ women.
Silencing anyone, Harriet, is outrageous. If we believe in gender equality, surely we shouldn’t want anybody closed down, man or woman. This is not fundamentally about sexism, though one suspects Kuenssberg’s being a woman make the trolls, hissers and jeerers a bit quicker off the mark. This is about the Left’s instinctive, barely repressible aggression towards politics which differ from their own. At a leading university’s union bar in June, when the General Election results were coming in, anyone cheering a Conservative candidate’s win was screeched at as a ‘fascist ****’. That’s the climate. That’s what we’re talking about.
Even when it’s happening in their own ranks, up close, the Left have a blind spot for calling out intimidation and plain nastiness. Ask the mildly spoken Ken Loach at the Labour Party Conference about anti-Semitism in Labour and he’ll answer about Israeli land grabs and the West Bank. Ask Harriet Harman about the threat of violence towards Laura Kuenssberg at the Labour Party Conference and she’ll say, believably, that she’s horrified, but then she’ll need to qualify it with how unacceptable it would be from whatever political party. Sorry, but I don’t recall bodyguards being needed for journalists at any Conservative conferences.
If Jeremy Corbyn had anything about him, when he makes his conference speech he’d name and shame those who said Kuenssberg deserves the threats and abuse. So let’s see. Don’t hold your breath, though. Because here’s the thing: the Left prefer to jeer and shout down rather than argue. Arguing, you see, takes thinking skills. And if you want to reflect on some of the thinking skills on display in Brighton at the moment, think on this: Donald Trump got more votes than Kim Jong-un in the Daily Politics mood box for being the most dangerous man in the world. One woman giggled and said Trump was getting her vote for the greater villainy because (my words not hers) the maniac on that far peninsula was ‘just a little bit naughty’. Just about says it all, doesn’t it? Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.