Decency’s Limits: Abuse and Blocking on Virginia Crosbie’s Facebook Wall
On a post dated 26th March 2021, the Conservative MP for Ynys Môn, Virginia Crosbie, announced an amnesty for all those who had been banned from her Facebook page in response, she claimed, to rudeness and abusiveness to herself and others.(1) The same post refers her readers to a pinned post outlining her house rules, among them the claim that her Facebook page as MP for Ynys Môn is not a place for ‘discussing policy’, and the warning that she will continue to block those whose comments are ‘irrelevant’ or ‘inappropriate’ or ‘rude.’(2)
An article on North Wales Live, published on 25th February,(3) describes some of the rudeness and abusiveness to which she has been subjected, and not always by her constituents: descriptions of her as a ‘slag’ and ‘cunt,’ and comparisons of her with the grey squirrel, also an incomer to the island, that must be ‘culled’ to protect the indigenous population. She compares such language to the racist abuse meted out to Marcus Rashford and the racist and sexist abuse meted out to Diane Abbott in response to their politics, yet she also points out that the people of Ynys Môn are not hostile to the Conservatives as a group, since they have elected one as their MP. Her thinking here may be flawed. To feel oneself the object of hatred and contempt because of things one cannot or should not change – one’s sex or sexuality, one’s race or religious background, one’s nationality or language – is to feel a sense of moral revulsion and of utter powerlessness at this violence against one’s personhood, one’s very right to exist and flourish. When compounded by burdens of history, of poverty or powerlessness, such violence causes great psychological harm,(4) and the sense that there is nothing one can do, no change one can make to earn the respect and acceptance to which one is entitled by birth, is a part of that suffering. By contrast, many of the 59% of Ynys Môn’s electorate who voted for local and left-wing candidates, and who feel that Virginia Crosbie has utterly failed them as their MP, would be mollified by changes in her politics.
To hear such language used against an MP, to hear, as her comments in the newspaper state, that female MPs consistently suffer more online abuse than their male colleagues, will also cause those constituents profound concern. And to hear her expressions of solidarity and understanding towards other victims of discrimination and hate would be encouraging, were it not for the casual racism and sexism of her Prime Minister; were it not that he and a criminal friend plotted actual violence against a reporter;(5) were it not for the manufactured victimhood of her Conservative colleagues, Lucy Allen and Simon Hart, who seemingly faked evidence that they had been subjected to hate crimes;(6) if she acknowledged that hate crimes against minorities have risen under her government’s rule;(7) if she took respectful note of the rising abuse of left-wing lawyers, and of academics such as Tanja Bueltmann,(8) neither wealthy nor powerful, who has been abused as a ‘bitch’, a ‘cunt’, a ‘dumb slut’ and a ‘dirty EU whore’, and threatened with ‘gang rape’ and ‘Coxing’ for her opposition to the government’s British Nationalist policies; or if she acknowledged those calls for the extermination of the Welsh as a people and the open expressions of fascism which have been emboldened by her government’s rhetoric.(9) Such omissions might arise from a failure of moral understanding, a failure to imagine the experiences and perspectives of people who have suffered or died under austerity, or suffered hate crimes following Brexit, and whose rightful moral demands upon her, however ill-expressed, will not be met by mere neighbourliness or niceness.(10) Yet her comments in North Wales Live also seem disingenuous, for they say nothing of the abusiveness of her supporters, who remained at liberty on her wall to bully and harass her critics, or of those critics who were banned for politely questioning her voting record, and whose comments in my hearing in response to their experiences, and hers, have shown remarkable compassion and restraint.
Yet I have another reason for thinking her comments disingenuous, since I am among those who, contrary to her claim of a general amnesty, remain banned from her Facebook wall. She may have chosen to preserve the bans of those who are not her constituents, in contrast with Leanne Wood, who has also been a victim of hate crimes,(11) and who engages with her critics, allows discussion of current affairs inside and outside her Rhondda constituency, and allows impartial observers to judge for themselves whether those who hate Plaid Cymru or those who support it are the more reactionary and vile. Yet as a resident of neighbouring Arfon, I have been repeatedly included in mass mailings of her constituency newsletter; some of those who were abused by her supporters and then blocked are my friends; some of those abusive supporters were reportedly from outside the area; some of my friends were left shaken and distressed by their racist remarks about the Welsh people; and she herself, along with her colleague, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury, has taken the liberty to comment on Welsh national matters which are not her concern, even while supporting government policies which have caused her constituents great suffering.(12) Moreover, my banning was a response not to abusiveness or threats, any more than it is to the Conservatives as people that I feel hostility. My anger is aroused by the jobs that have been lost,(13) the lives cut short,(14) the town in her own constituency ruined beyond repair,(15) the local housing crisis worsened by Brexit and by Covid, and the local health crisis deepened by second home owners’ contempt for the rules;(16) and the futures blighted by her party’s misrule.(17) My reminders of these realities necessarily took the form of moral condemnation. No doubt she would not be alone if she considered such morals ‘irrelevant’ or such condemnation ‘inappropriate’ or ‘rude’, and perhaps she would not be alone in accounting such ‘rudeness’ to be a greater injustice than the pride and greed of wealth and power that have led to the suffering I refer to. For those whose behaviour falls far from decency, who support a government which is degenerate,(18) negligent,(19) callous,(20) mendacious,(21) profligate,(22) and corrupt,(23) will claim that they themselves are the victims when they are told what decency demands.
- Virginia Crosbie. Facebook, 26th February 2021.
- Virginia Crosbie. Facebook, 22nd February 2021.
- Andrew Foregrave, ‘Online hate and unwanted mail - The lows that “cowardly” trolls stoop targeting female politicians.’ North Wales Live, 25th February 2021.
- American Psychological Association, ‘Psychological responses to racism similar to trauma symptoms.’ PsyPost, 16th November 2011. University of Iowa, ‘Researchers find alcohol abuse is linked to racial discrimination.’ PsyPost, 2nd July 2016. Eric W. Dolan, ‘White Americans with supremacist beliefs are more likely to report symptoms of racial trauma.’ PsyPost, 12th June 2020.
- Adam Bienkov, ‘Boris Johnson called gay men “tank-topped bumboys” and black people “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.’ Insider, 9th June 2020. Simon Murphy, ‘“A couple of black eyes”: Johnson and the plot to attack a reporter.’ The Guardian, 14th July 2019.
- Matt Datham, ‘Tory MP admits adding 'death threat' to Facebook post over Syria air strikes vote.’ The Independent, 8th December 2015. Harry Cockburn, ‘Tory MP accused of adding swastika graffiti to his own election placard to get sympathy.’ The Independent, 29th November 2019.
- Robert Booth, ‘Racism rising since Brexit vote, nationwide study reveals.’ The Guardian, 20th May 2019. ‘Disability hate crime – is “benefit scrounger” abuse to blame?’ Poverty and Social Exclusion: Defining, measuring and tackling poverty, 14th August 2012. Nadia Khomami, ‘Hate crime linked to schools in England and Wales soars.’ The Guardian, 29th January 2018. ‘Increase in online hate speech leads to more crimes against minorities.’ Cardiff University News, 15th October 2019.
- Mark Townsend, ‘Lawyers claim knife attack at law firm was inspired by Priti Patel's rhetoric.’ The Guardian, 10th October 2020. ‘Solicitors Facing Hatred, Abuse & Threats: Immigration and asylum lawyers targeted for daily online abuse.’ New Law Journal, 13th October 2020. James Silvester, ‘A Chat with Tanja Bueltmann.’ James Silvester, undated website post.
- ‘“EU rats out” Banbridge graffiti linked to attack on Bulgarian family — “despicable” say police.’ Belfast Telegraph, 5th October 2017. ‘Racist who sprayed swastika on Welsh Assembly building jailed.’ CPS (website of the Crown Prosecution Service), 2nd December 2019. Harri Evans, ‘Swastika spray-painted outside Gwynedd home of black family in shocking racist attack.’ North Wales Live, 13th June 2020. Anoosh Chakelian, ‘Populist fascism is coming to the UK – who is fighting against it?’ The Spectator, 9th August 2018.
- Sarah Hodgson, ‘Awkward moment woman realised her Good Samaritan was North Wales MP she’d been “badmouthing”.’ North Wales Live, 17th February 2020.
- Nino Williams, ‘Man jailed after sending Leanne Wood disgusting threat saying he hoped she was “gang raped by immigrants”.’ Wales Online, 15th July 2016.
- Allan George, ‘Dismay on Anglesey at severity of lockdown.’ North Wales Chronicle, 18th December 2020. ‘Shrewsbury MP deletes tweet calling for Welsh Parliament to be scrapped after backlash.’ Nation Cymru, 15th October 2020. Adrian Masters, ‘We don't expect Brexit disruption at Holyhead, Gove tells Welsh MP.’ ITV News, 11th November 2020. ‘Brexit: Holyhead port plans “shambles” claim by first minister.’ BBC News, 1st December 2020.
- ‘Brexit Job Loss Index: 436,296 Jobs Lost As Of 31 January 2020.’ Small Business Prices, 31st January 2020.
- Sarah Boseley, ‘Austerity blamed for life expectancy stalling for first time in century.’ The Guardian, 25th February 2020.
- Sarah Dickins, ‘Brexit: UK-Ireland lorry traffic at Holyhead port slumps.’ BBC News, 7th January 2021. Ryan O’Neill, ‘The startling impact of “taking back control” on the port at the frontline of Brexit in Wales.’ Wales Online, 25th February 2021.
- ‘Second homes crisis set to worsen because of Brexit and Covid-19, warns report.’ Nation Cymru, 2nd March 2021. ‘Second home owners “sharing tips on avoiding police” to sneak into Wales at night.’ Nation Cymru, 4th April 2020.
- Nicholas Barr, ‘OK, Generation Z – this is how Brexit will affect you.’ London School of Economics, 9th January 2020.
- Fiona Simpson, ‘MP sex pest scandal: 36 Tories named over sexual misconduct allegations in Tory spreadsheet of shame.’ Evening Standard, 30th October 2017. ‘Tory minister who asked secretary to buy him sex toys sacked.’ The Independent, 9th January 2018. Nicola Bartlett, Boris Johnson’s partner “screamed get off me” in furious late-night row with Tory leadership favourite.’ Daily Record, 22nd June 2019. Ryan Hooper and Andy Shipley, ‘“I’m a naughty Tory MP” jailed for sickening sex attacks on two women.’ The Daily Record, 15th September 2020.
- Adam Forrest, ‘Inside Politics: Sage scientists wanted Boris Johnson to impose full lockdown.’ The Independent, 13th October 2020. Ian Sample, ‘British exceptionalism undermined pandemic preparedness, MPs told.’ The Guardian, 2nd December 2020. ‘Decision not to bring in Wales-style “circuit break” lockdown led to Cummings resignation – report.’ Nation Cymru, 13th December 2020. Jessica Elgot, ‘England’s coronavirus lockdown strategy flip-flops: a timeline.’ The Guardian, 4th January 2021. ‘The Guardian view on Britain’s pandemic record: a monument to failure.’ The Guardian, 27th January 2021.
- Patrick Butler, ‘Sanctions: staff pressured to penalise benefit claimants, says union.’ The Guardian, 3rd February 2015. Maya Bly, ‘Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks food banks are ‘uplifting’. For me, they’re a necessity.’ The Guardian, 15th September 2017. May Bulman, ‘UN condemns UK government’s “mean-spirited and callous approach” to poorest, in damning report.’ The Independent, 16th November 2018. ‘May Bulman, More than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died while waiting for welfare benefits, figures show.’ The Independent, 14th January 2019. Rob Merrick, ‘“Cover-up”: DWP destroyed reports into people who killed themselves after benefits were stopped.’ The Independent, 26th February 2020. Jonathan Portes, ‘And so the appalling human consequences of the austerity experiment become clear.’ Prospect, 25th March 2020. May Bulman, ‘Number of children relying on food banks more than doubles during lockdown, figures show.’ The Independent, 1st May 2020.
- Paul Krugman, ‘The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?’ The Guardian, 29th April 2015. Owen Jones, ‘No alternative to austerity? That lie has now been nailed.’ The Guardian, 24th August 2017. Amelia Morel, ‘Top 8 Brexit lies debunked.’ Shout-Out UK, 1st November 2019. ‘Irish Examiner View: Boris Johnson is a liar and a cheat.’ Irish Examiner, 10th September 2020. ‘Boris Johnson branded “most accomplished liar in public life” by former cabinet colleague.’ The Independent, 5th November 2020. Rob Merrick, ‘Tory party urges activists to campaign like Trump by “weaponising fake news” and “fighting wokeism”.’ The Independent, 15th December 2020. Jim Chisolm, ‘The big Brexit lie has been rumbled.’ The New European, 21st December 2020. Chris Grey, ‘The Reckoning: Brexit & the Legacy of Lies.’ Byeline Times, 25th January 2021. Peter Oborne, ‘A Selection of Misleading Statements Made by Boris Johnson & Ministers on the Floor of the House of Commons: July 2019 – December 2020.’ Byeline Times, 11 March 2021. ‘The Observer view on the grim effects of Brexit being impossible to hide.’ The Guardian, 14th March 2021.
- Tom Peck, ‘Dido Harding is serving her country – and there are 4,000 positives to be taken out of that.’ The Independent, 18th September 2020. Patrick Daly, ‘NHS Test and Trace boss Dido Harding defends paying consultants £1,000-a-day.’ The Independent, 18th January 2021.
- ´UK and territories are “greatest enabler” of tax avoidance, study says.’ The Guardian, 28th May 2019. ’Tax avoidance, bailouts and bribery – The UK government’s Corona Corporate Finance Facility.’ Tax Watch, 6th June 2020. George Turner, ‘Billions are being lost due to tax avoidance – yet a weak HMRC is trying to pretend everything’s fine.’ The Independent, 21st June 2019. Felicity Lawrence, ‘Hancock's former neighbour won Covid test kit work after WhatsApp message.’ The Guardian, 26th November 2020. George Monbiot, ‘If you think the UK isn’t corrupt, you haven’t looked hard enough.’ The Guardian, 10th December 2020. David Conn, ‘Matt Hancock acted unlawfully by failing to publish Covid contracts.’ The Guardian, 19th February 2021. Tom Batchelor, ‘Covid contract-winning firm owned by Hancock’s neighbour is investigated by health regulator.’ The Independent, 22nd February 2021. Adrian Zorzut, ‘Matt Hancock secures £90m PPE contract with firm listed in Chinese hotel room.’ The New European, 9th March 2021. Gabriel Pogrund and Caroline Wheeler, ‘David Cameron lobbied No 10 and Hancock for Greensill.’ The Times, 10th April 2021.