Dysfunctional Discourse

Christopher Harries

In a free society, individuals should be able to discuss an issue and disagree. The ability to agree to disagree is part of the foundations of any democracy. Yesterday, I addressed some of the criticism levelled at Sarah Atherton the Member of Parliament for Wrexham.

Advocacy groups, lawyers disagreed with a post that Atherton had posted on her social media regarding the migrant crossings. In a free society, they have every right to criticise and scrutinise the positions adopted by an elected representative.

Yesterday evening, however, Bellevue FC a football club based Wrexham which prides itself on being inclusive took to social media to announce that Atherton was subject to a lifetime ban from all of their games, events, fundraiser and socials. The imposed ban means they miss the opportunity to engage with their elected representative where they could try to win her round to their perspective.

The post then branded the member of parliament as ‘unapologetically racist, neo-nazi’ this was the point of departure. Such language is intemperate and devalues the terms when used in the wrong circumstances. Intemperate language and inappropriate application of labels poison the political discourse. Atherton suggested stopping the boats making the crossing and asserted the belief that asylum seekers should seek asylum in France rather than looking to cross the Channel. Regardless of whether you agree with Atherton or not, surely anyone can see that the post did not warrant the use of such labels.

To brand individuals as racist or the like is often the means to shut down the debate. Those involved with Bellevue FC clearly feel strongly about this issue, yet instead of seeking to close down debate with unwarranted labels, they could have instead used the post for rebuttal. In the UK, we have freedom of expression which is tempered with exceptions and can have consequences such as legal action for defamation. Could Bellevue FC have crossed into such territory with the post?

For the good of society, we should return to being able to the notion of agreeing to disagree. Robust but respectful debate is fundamental to a democracy. Intemperate language and smearing opponents with labels has a detrimental impact on our political discourse creating a noxious environment. We should aspire to raise the level of discourse in our politics rather than trying to demean it.

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