Many of those complaining fear greater accountability and the wave of anti-war feeling evident from Corbyn's election as Labour leader
We know that around 70,000 people used the Stop the War letter lobbying MPs to vote no to bombing Syria in the House Of Commons debate on 2 December 2015. Another 20,000 did so through Momentum. Our letters were politely worded, asking MPs to vote no to bombing Syria. Yet we are now being accused of bullying and intimidation for doing so.
Let me be clear from the outset, I'm against bullying and intimidation. I condemn people who send abusive texts or messages - I receive plenty of them myself, so I know how unpleasant it is.
But it is an amazing sight to see so many MPs and journalists complain about bullying and intimidation by protestors. Amazing when our prime minister has bullied his MPs by accusing anyone who votes against war as a terrorist sympathiser.
Amazing when Jeremy Corbyn has been subject to constant abuse by the media and by some of his own MPs. and amazing coming from people who are prepared to use extreme violence time and again in bombing the people of the Middle East.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary about our protests in the past ten days, one single march to Stella Creasy MP’s office in Walthamstow has gained notoriety, its supporters accused of bullying and intimidation.
Deputy leader of the Labour party Tom Watson said on the BBC Today programme that Labour members who were on a peace protest in Walthamstow outside the MP’s constituency office should be expelled from the party.
I would like to know on what grounds. A great deal has been said about this protest – that it marched to Creasy’s house, that it intimidated staff, and that its purpose was bullying. These allegations have proved to be untrue, as this report from one of its organisers shows.
But those who attack it seem to be saying that it is wrong to demonstrate at MPs’ offices at all. Why an earth this should be the case is beyond me. Such protests have been a regular feature of politics as long as I can remember. They should be respectful to staff and non abusive. But not happen? That is a denial of democracy.
MPs are public figures. They stand for election once every five years, and do so as part of a political process which is contested. If they are elected to safe seats, as either Tory or Labour, they face possibly many years as MPs without much likelihood of being defeated at elections. They should surely expect that their constituents have the right to protest to them, to lobby them, to try to persuade them to change their minds.
Tens of thousands of people lobbied their MPs over the past week on the question of Syria. As they should. This is one of the most serious issues facing everyone in this country. We have already been taken into three wars in 14 years, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
These wars have all failed and they are still all going on. We have still not had proper accounting for that, and we still await the Chilcot report.
MPs have a duty to listen to their constituents and to take their views into account.
Why is there such a fuss over this? Because protest and lobbying are highly effective. More than two thirds of Labour MPs decided to vote no to war, despite government and right wing Labour pressure, and despite the fact that they were denied a summing up speech for the ‘no’ vote (what kind of democratic debate only sums up for one side?)
Many of those complaining fear greater accountability, and fear the strong wave of anti-war feeling which was already evident round the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. They are concerned that this feeling is gaining more public support, as opinion turns against the airstrikes. They want to stop effective protest, and keep debate within the confines of Westminster. That isn’t going to happen.
We will continue to protest, as is our democratic right. Threats of expulsion for Labour members could be seen as…intimidation in this context. Let alone David Cameron’s claim that those who oppose war are ‘terrorist sympathisers’.
So, to get something straight. A march to an MPs office to protest over an issue is not bullying or intimidation. It is a democratic right.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- When working-class women fight back: Made in Dagenham review
- Marxism, the family and women's oppression - video
- Marxism and feminism - Marxism and Women's Liberation extract
- Tiers of a clown – weekly briefing
- Engels: giant of the socialist movement - video
- Engels: a working class hero
- No money for school meals but Johnson found £16.5bn extra for the military