The Conservative Party conference in Manchester was overshadowed by large-scale protests that took place outside the hall and in the streets. The protests were aimed at the Conservative government and the policies they were pursuing. The scenes were often very ugly and many elected and prominent Tory MPs were targeted and heckled when they were seen trying to make their way to the conference. These images and the language used towards anyone attending the conference made me feel deeply uncomfortable.
No-one in the political mainstream has any problem with peaceful protests. They form an integral part of a free, democratic and liberal society. They are part of our history and have helped achieve many notable outcomes. The problem is when these protests go from a peaceful nature to a more hostile nature.
These protests fell into the latter category. The behaviour of a number of the protesters was unacceptable. The willingness to personally insult, spit at and hurl missiles at those going to the conference cannot be defended and looked grotesque to many watching. The intimidation that ordinary members of the public faced when going to the conference was disturbing as well. This conduct will only alienate those observing who may previously have expressed sympathy or support for the principles behind these protests and are therefore counter-productive as well.
Debate is better conducted civilly and not when it is done on a personal level. Personal attacks and the use of derogatory language to insult your opponents should be seen as a sign of weakness and a lack of ability to win the argument. Simply calling someone ‘Tory Scum’ adds nothing to any argument. A level of respect should always be afforded to your political opponents even if you disagree with them passionately. This level of behaviour followed by coherent arguments are normally the best ways to impact governments and challenge their policies.
Peaceful political protests are perfectly valid and highlight a healthy political engagement in a country, but these protests overstepped the line. The Conservative Party are the democratically elected government of this government. Anyone linked to this party should not be intimidated or made to feel uncomfortable simply for just trying to attend their conference. By all means disagree with their policies but do it respectfully and courteously. That is the way we conduct debate in this country and that is the way it should be.