Europe: The Final Countdown

How to Hold Politicians Accountable Without Being a Total Dick

Everyone's angry, and thanks to the internet, it's never been easier to express that anger.
July 19, 2016, 4:05pm

Photo by Chris Bethell

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

The UK has never been known as a stronghold of revolutionary zeal, but in the past few years, disengagement, apathy, and hopelessness seem to have increasingly given way to active fury.

Everyone's angry, and thanks to the internet, it's never been easier to express that anger. In part that's good, but harassment and threats toward politicians are becoming a genuine problem, with Labour leadership contender Angela Eagle getting death threats and a brick through her window for standing against Jeremy Corbyn.

As concerning as that is, incidents like this are now being used to discredit people en masse. If you want to be critical and avoid being lumped in with bullies and sociopaths, it's best to think carefully about how you express your criticism of politicians. The goal is to persuade people to listen. Don't give them any excuse to dismiss what you're saying without paying attention to the actual content of your arguments. Here are a few tips on giving politicians a hard time without being a dick about it.

DON'T BE RACIST OR SEXIST, OBVIOUSLY
It doesn't matter how awful you think the target of your criticism is, if you attack their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or any other aspect of their identity you're acting like an asshole. The problem with Theresa May is not that she's a woman. The problems with Angela Eagle don't include the fact that she's a woman and a lesbian.

You don't have to directly mention identity for your comments to be out of line. If you insult female politicians using words that would never be applied to a man in the same situation, that's not OK, just like David Cameron saying "calm down, dear" wasn't OK. Don't go there.

DON'T MAKE THREATS
This is another one I shouldn't really even have to mention. If you threaten a politician's safety, you are not only at risk of being lumped in with the bullies and sociopaths, you actually belong in that category. What the hell is wrong with you? An MP was murdered just over a month ago. Arguing that politicians have also caused harm by voting for particular policies is besides the point. Two wrongs don't make a right, dickhead.

DON'T THROW MORE LEGITIMATE THREATS AROUND LIKE CONFETTI
Hear me out with this one. Threatening to deselect an MP isn't the same as "harassment" and "intimidation"—it's part of the accountability process within the Labour Party. But what's the point of telling MPs you're going to try and deselect them at the drop of a hat? Yes, I get it. You're frustrated that 172 Labour MPs have voted no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. But reaching straight for the most extreme response just makes you seem unreasonable. It's never going to persuade anyone who isn't already on your side. Think carefully about which situation would make it worth playing your final card.

MAKE YOUR CRITICISM SPECIFIC AND WELL-INFORMED
With the biggest no-nos out the way, here's a positive bit of advice. The more specific and carefully researched your argument is, the harder it is to dismiss. Calling every MP who voted no confidence in Corbyn a Blairite is inaccurate and is likely to make people who don't already agree with you switch off. If there really were 172 Blairites in Parliament right now, that would be more than there actually were under Blair. And, I bet you didn't know that some Tory MPs actually spoke against the Trade Union Bill. Don't make assumptions.

DON'T GIVE ANYONE AN EXCUSE TO DISMISS WHAT YOU'RE SAYING
The calmer you seem, the more difficult it is for people to dismiss the content of your arguments. The most angry, frustrated members of the public can be the ones who politicians need to listen to most, but unfortunately that's not how things tend to work. These people are nerds, and the language of cool rationality is all they understand.

DON'T RELY TOO MUCH ON SOCIAL MEDIA
If you want to share an opinion with a wider audience than whoever happens to be within earshot at the bar, the obvious option is to post on Facebook or Twitter. The thing is, it's quite likely the people you're aiming to persuade already receive a lot of social media messages, and there's no guarantee they'll notice yours among the general noise. Emails and letters are more likely to be read, and you could also publish a copy on a public blogging platform. It doesn't hurt to try writing to newspapers, either.

Join campaign groups, attend protests, and think creatively about ways to get your message heard.

Follow Abi Wilkinson on Twitter.