A few years ago, the cops rang me and told me I’d been the subject of a death threat. They said a small group of antivivisection activists a long way from my constituency had set a building alight and when arrested at home had a shortish list of people they planned to kill. I was on the list.
As it happens, I’d never said public word about vivisection, but I had said on behalf of the government what a great idea the then-underway Iraq war was. The cops suggested that the anti-Vivisection folk had probably seen me on ‘Newsnight’ or ‘Channel 4 News’ and just added me to the list. All very Citizen Smith.
‘Not to worry’, said the cops, it was a small group of nutters and now they were all going to spend a long time in jail. I was being told as a matter of courtesy and there was no ongoing risk.
So, actually, I didn’t worry.
As it happens, I’ve know a few people abroad who got properly serious death threats. One is dead now and some others have had attackers make more than credible attempts on their lives. We can all read about these true stories almost daily in the newspapers.
So while I certainly don’t want to underplay the harm that can be done on the internet, and there’s no doubt that politicians – especially women – do get real threats from time to time, I’m getting a bit fed up with politicians telling us how many death threats they’ve had like it’s a badge of honour.
Today, one MP’s saying they’ve been the subject of 13 death threats this week. It’s like they’re saying they’re so brave that they’ve stood up to more than that guy last week, who only had 7 death threats. Like death threats are suddenly a currency which can be enumerated, a value placed upon each incident and an increase in the public status of the politician awarded accordingly.
It’s bollocks. If politicians get threats, the cops assess every one very seriously. If it’s an arse on Twitter, the cops might call around and chat to them. If appropriate, the person gets arrested and charged. In the absence of this kind of activity, it’s very, very likely that the politician bragging about threats simply wants you to think they’re great on the basis of a few drunken tweets.
Of course, we should think such folk are the opposite of great. What they’re doing is trivialising something which really does happen in spades elsewhere and sometimes in the UK too, and they’re wantonly undervaluing the 24/7 work cops and other security officials put in to protecting them and the rest of us.