IF you put yourself forward for election, you deserve to have your work as an MP subject to strong public scrutiny, whether in the House of Commons, the media, or directly by one of your constituents. Political life should be challenging – and politicians like me should be held to account.
But there are boundaries, and personal attacks and attacks or intrusions into family life, are a red line for me, as indeed is abusive behaviour or harassment.
In the age of the blog, twitter and facebook, it has become all too easy for (often anonymous) digital cowards to abuse and attack those in public office – straying well beyond a critique of their policies, speeches or their voting behaviour.
I have become used to partial or misleading portrayals of things I have said and done – but I draw a firm line at those who have chosen to personally abuse me from the comfort of their sofa and their twitter account, harass my staff on the telephone, or write to me with appalling racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic abuse (to mention the most common).
It is a sad fact that for some, common decency departs when they put themselves behind a computer keyboard – shockingly illustrated by the threats of violence and rape made to female commentators and Stella Creasy MP over the summer on twitter.
But this week – the culprit has been a national newspaper, with the Daily Mail rightly being condemned across the political spectrum, and criticised by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, for its disgraceful character assassination of the late father of Ed Miliband, with an entirely unjustified, personal and shrieking character assassination, claiming that he (a Royal Navy veteran and refugee from the Holocaust) was somehow disloyal to or hated this country.
All this from a newspaper that once proclaimed ‘Hurrah for the (fascist) Blackshirts’, and headlined about ‘German Jews pouring into this country’. It beggars belief.
I have been heartened since being elected, that the vast majority of MPs from across the Chamber, and political opponents locally, are willing to debate robustly and disagree vehemently, but then enjoy a cup of tea, show a generosity of spirit that is entirely to their credit, or to act together in the local or national interest when demanded.
Sadly, for some, whether it be the leader writers of the Daily Mail or the twitter abusers, there are no such high standards. We need to defend and revitalise the principles of decency and courtesy in our public life – or diminish this country at our common peril.
* Stephen writes his weekly View from Westminster column for he Penarth Times (www.penarthtimes.co.uk) – this column was printed on October 3, 2013.