She was asking for it

Gaby Hinsliff on the abuse aimed at BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg.

SNOWFLAKE. Pathetic. Fake news. “Not exactly Kate Adie in a war zone.”

And that’s just a flavour of the way some people on social media greeted the news that the BBC’s political editor has been assigned a bodyguard to protect her at Labour party conference: by blaming the victim, not those who threaten violence against her. She’s making it up for attention! She was asking for it, what with her wilful refusal to report the news in a manner more to people’s liking! She should have known it was provocative even to set foot there!

Evidently many Labour supporters will be as horrified as any other sane individual by the idea of journalists being physically intimidated at work, a thuggish phenomenon repeatedly observed at Donald Trump’s rallies, and associated with totalitarian regimes the world over. Many MPs and activists, including some close to Jeremy Corbyn, will doubtless go out of their way this week to show Laura Kuenssberg she is welcome in Brighton, and that those who mean her harm are cranks with no place in a democratic movement.

But there is a small, self-righteous and aggressively entitled minority within the left who clearly don’t feel that way, and whose behaviour now risks tarnishing that wider movement.

I’m familiar with the type, and the fact that it likes nothing better than a chance to abuse a woman while still feeling that righteous lefty glow.

The rage against her in some quarters is visceral, frenzied, beyond all reason.

Some of it is doubtless rooted in a refusal to accept her professional judgment, an almost subconscious rejection of the idea that a woman – even a woman whose life’s work is covering politics – might know what she’s talking about. It’s striking that neither previous male holders of her job, nor the largely male political editors of titles overtly hostile to Corbyn, have been so singled out.

Isn’t it though?

You don’t have to like someone to know that physical intimidation of this kind has no place in a democracy. Kuenssberg is a good journalist doing a sterling job under pressure the like of which no other political editor at the BBC has ever experienced. But even if she wasn’t, the same statement of the bleeding obvious would hold true: threatening to kill someone merely because their opinions annoy you is wrong. It doesn’t matter if those threats are against Diane Abbott, or Jess Phillips, or Anna Soubry, or Nigel Farage, it is never acceptable to settle a political argument by threatening to hang one’s opponent or harm their children. Belittling and refusing to believe those on the receiving end of such threats, or contriving lame excuses for them, is if anything almost more depressing, because it legitimises violence and emboldens the genuinely dangerous.

And it’s absolutely ubiquitous.

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