Is language in the Commons inflammatory?

By Charles Kershaw

Whether we like it or not, words hold a tremendous amount of power, especially when they come from positions of authority. The speaker of the house has called upon party leaders to discuss how the Prime Minister’s “inflammatory” language is affecting the safety of MPs, with a number receiving death threats containing words that Johnson has been criticised for, such as “surrender act”, “betrayal”, and “traitor”. 

Johnson is waging a war of words against his opponents

Johnson has dismissed these claims, arguing that to remove such words would be to “impoverish the language”. Johnson refuses to consider their effect – he is waging a war of words against his opponents, and normalising violent language. Those who are with him are patriots, who would rather be “dead in a ditch” than fail to achieve Brexit, and those against him are “traitors” to their country.

It does not matter whether the Prime Minister really means what he says. The issue is that he is saying it. There has been an increase in the number of hate crimes over the past five years, with Brexit cited as a “major influence”. Prejudice has unfortunately always been present in our society, but bigots can become emboldened when they see leaders speaking in words that mirror their thoughts. It is impossible to deny the effect of this language, given the aforementioned threats, and Brexiteers such as Farage rallying supporters to “take the knife” to Whitehall. 

There needs to be civility in the Commons

Such language is counter-productive. If we want to achieve a democratic resolution to such a divisive issue, there needs to be civility in the Commons. That doesn’t mean Parliament can’t have heated debates, but it is time more than ever to put aside this kind of rhetoric if we wish to progress forward. Hopefully soon, and with the election of a new batch of MPs, we can return to a time when the worst language used was “dodgy Dave”.

Image by UK Parliament via Wikimedia Commons

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