Some strident words being used in Parliament this week have brought a great deal of attention to particular aspects of vocabulary, primarily the use of words that may in some people’s ears be little more than strong language, but in others be resonating with threat and violence - and they are articulating how it feels for them. It is surely vitally important that we hear these voices.
The effect of words, however we may be using them, is something others may be more aware of than we are ourselves. What is particularly disturbing, in the heated exchanges of the past few days in Westminster, is the lack of seriousness being accorded to some individuals’ acute unease about the careless - even deliberate - bandying of words that potentially could encourage extreme views; perhaps even violent actions. They seem not to be being listened to with the care and attention that one would expect.
In a double spread in the Guardian today, a number of women MPs speak of their experience of receiving abusive messages. In the same article we read of police statistics regarding the increase in the level of on-line abuse and threat, particularly against women MPs and those from ethnic minorities. The Church of England Bishops have added their voice in saying, “In the last few days, the use of language, both in debates and outside parliament, has been unacceptable. We should speak to others with respect. And we should also listen…..”
How things will progress politically in the coming weeks is unclear, but the deep divisions that have opened need not cause a descent to the kind of disrespect that is being witnessed by us all as we hear the daily news. Where are the moderate voices, the conciliators, the cross-party concerns for the whole people of Britain? A starting point would be to curb the excesses of vocabulary that seem designed to fling sparks into an already flammable situation.