Soubry
Image: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament

The outcry over Soubry’s ‘harassment’ highlights hypocrisy in our politics

Last week, Remain-backing Conservative MP Anna Soubry was giving an interview to the BBC on College Green when a number of protesters started chanting, “Soubry is a Nazi!” The MP responded saying, “I do object to being called a Nazi.” As she returned to Westminster, she was called “scum” and jostled. She later criticised the police for failing to get involved. Is this hectoring of politicians fair enough, something to be expected when you’re part of public life, or is it a bit too far, something to be condemned?

Let’s be clear on something – I don’t condone physically harassing people, and the group following and surrounding her should not have done that. It’s a good thing she wasn’t harmed, but there should never have been any risk of that in the first place. If it can be proven that anyone physically harassed her, they should be charged and locked up. However, as for calling her a Nazi and a fascist, that’s tough – insults are not crimes, and Soubry’s stance towards Brexit is one that has angered many people (she stood on a manifesto to realise Brexit, but is now clearly trying to subvert it in any way possible).

Insults are not crimes

The whole case does strike me as a little hypocritical, though. According to the Press Association, “police are investigating whether any criminal offence was committed” by the protesters calling Soubry a Nazi; but where have they been for the past two years when those names were slung at Leave supporters? Remain supporters, like Lord Adonis, have written to the police to demand a crackdown on Brexit supporters outside Parliament, but where’s the same outrage when Remainers harass our politicians? I write this the day after the Soubry incident, and a mob of Remain supporters have been intimidating House of Commons staff outside Portcullis House (a building full of offices for MPs and their staff). Where’s the news coverage of that?

Leave voters have been mocked as Nazis and fascists since before the EU referendum, but that was fine; the chattering classes all agreed, and no news analysts have ever seriously called out or even discussed the insult in any way. The BBC reporter Norman Smith asked, “Is this what’s it’s come to… Nazi taunts?” But Soubry is certainly not the first person to be called these names, and Smith never cared before. Then a big-name Remainer is being mocked, and it’s suddenly a big issue. It’s hard to feel sorry for people like Soubry when they’ve abused the other side for – no understatement – years.

In September 2018, Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg and his family were harassed at their home, where activists screamed, “Your daddy is a horrible person” at his children. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage received death threats against his family linked to his role in bringing about the Brexit vote, leading to his eventual resignation. I know I’m writing for an audience that probably doesn’t like either of these two men, but if you take umbrage at Soubry being mocked while condoning these actions against Rees-Mogg or Farage, you don’t really care about politicians being hassled – you’re annoyed that people who disagree with you are expressing their views.

It’s hard to feel sorry for people like Soubry when they’ve abused the other side for – no understatement – years

On the very same day as Soubry was mocked, Frank Magnitz, the leader of the right-wing AfD party in Germany was victim of a brutal assault, beaten unconscious with a piece of wood and kicked in the head. The media and online commentators worrying that words could lead to violence in Soubry’s case had nothing to say about this attack, and some were even pleased because they think the guy is, you guessed it, a ‘Nazi’. Imagine the coverage if a left-wing politician was attacked (or even just called names). There’s a huge double standard at play here – it’s undeniable.

The way you ought to look at it is this: if a politician on your side of the argument was being insulted, would you react differently than if it was one you didn’t? I draw the line at physical harassment, but expressing anger at our politicians must be allowed. Especially in an issue as controversial as Brexit. Obviously, in an ideal world, our politicians wouldn’t suffer any degree of physical abuse when going about their jobs, but their actions have real-world consequences, and so people airing their views is to be expected. Soubry may object to being called a Nazi, and that’s unfortunate, but the right to protest and take issue with the actions of politicians takes precedence over her feelings.

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