Could new MP code of conduct defuse political tensions?

Commons debates have inflamed passions beyond the House, with a call for curbs on speech which could incite abuse or hatred.

A cross-party group of MPs, led by Compassion in Politics and the More United Network, is gearing up to launch its proposed code to enforce better conduct in the Commons.

According to the group, a new code of conduct could help bridge parliamentary divides and be a remedy to speech in the House potentially inciting hate or violence.

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, is one of those working on the new code, which the group hopes will be adopted this week.

“Boris Johnson and his team are pursuing a deliberate strategy of ratcheting up their rhetoric to falsely pit Parliament against the people because they think it might win them an election,” she said.

Recent behaviour by Commons MPs including prime minister Boris Johnson was stoking an environment where colleagues had received abuse and even death threats, she said.

“This is not normal,” Lucas said. “This is not leadership.

“I am working with colleagues across the House to use every avenue to put an end to the abuse, violent language and toxic rhetoric that is consuming our politics. A code of conduct to set out the rules of behaviour that are acceptable in the Commons is one positive step forward.”

The call comes just as 30 European MEPs have asked Boris Johnson to clarify whether he understands the link between violent language and violence against women in a 29 September letter to the Observer newspaper in the UK.

“Violence against women and girls is not ‘humbug’ and the language used by those in power is highly important,” according to a statement to the press.

The letter was referring to the prime minister’s phrase “I have never heard such humbug in all my life” in response to claims that his language could incite internet trolls and radicals to threaten female MPs.

Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP leader and a signatory to the letter, said: “The most generous interpretation of the language used by the British prime minister is that it was highly ignorant of those who have suffered abuse.

“Nearly a third of respondents to a UK Women’s Aid survey said that where threats had been made online from a partner or ex-partner they were carried out.

“Boris Johnson cannot take back his grossly offensive comments, but the least he could do is to firstly make clear that he understands the link between violent language and violent abuse, and secondly apologise.”

Johnson has since maintained in an interview that the use of that particular phrase was only meant in defence of criticisms of his choice of the word “surrender” in relation to an EU extension.

Jennifer Nadel, co-founder of Compassion in Politics, said that such language or actions would not be tolerated in other walks of life.

“If the current arcane rules and procedures of parliament can’t stop it then MPs will have to clean up their own act. It doesn’t need to wait for legislation,” she said.

The proposed text of the new code of conduct for MPs, set for a 2 October launch, can be found here.

Fleur Doidge is a freelance journalist at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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3 Responses to “Could new MP code of conduct defuse political tensions?”

  1. Tom Sacold

    They already have enough rules to govern debates. There is a long tradition of freedom of expression in the House of Commons backed by parliamentary privilege. If anything, behaviour and language have improved since the introduction of broadcasting. There are many accounts of “grave disorder” ie fights in the Commons chamber in the 20th century, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s and remember Hansard does not report verbatim when it comes to bad language.

  2. wg

    Once more, the attempt to silence dissenting voices.

    I am your typical ‘Gammon’ – since voting to leave the EU I have been condemned as being a racist, fascist, little Englander, and xenophobe.

    On the subject of female solidarity – young white working class girls in the UK have been subject to industrial scale grooming and abuse with nobody speaking up for them (I will now be condemned as a racist)

    One potent memory for me over the last horrendous years was that of Germany’s borders being opened, one result of which was a woman being dragged into a subway – to meet whatever fate, I do not know.

    Hurty words in Parliament tend to fade into insignificance when I see the evils that our politicians have visited upon us.

  3. Jan C

    Behaviour in Commons has got worse since BoJo became PM. The chamber should have better manners than a boarding school. Offensive language should not have a place.

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