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What the threat to Laura Kuenssberg says about the country we live in

25 September 2017

12:35 PM

25 September 2017

12:35 PM

For perfectly understandable reasons, neither she nor her employers want to talk about it, but the fact that Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC is covering the Labour Party conference in Brighton accompanied by a bodyguard is an outrage that has not been greeted with the anger and disgust it merits.

Imagine, for a second, if you heard this story – first revealed by Charles Moore in The Spectator earlier this year – about a foreign country. Imagine a country where a journalist could not go about the basic task of reporting a political meeting without fear of physical attack. Would you consider that country to be a fully functioning democracy?

Britain would – and does – chide ‘developing’ nations in Africa, Asia and South America for failing to safeguard the free media and ensure journalists’ ability to report the words and deeds of people in power, such that voters can hold those people to account.  The fact that Kuenssberg can only do that reporting under the protection of a former soldier who specialises in “close protection” is possibly the most depressing comment yet on the coarsening of British politics in the Twitter-powered age of the Corbynistas, Ukippers and Cybernats.

Yet there is a second strand to this horror, something that should drive any decent person to despair and indignation. This is a story about people threatening to hurt a woman.  Threatening to hurt her for saying things they disagree with, things they do not want her to say.

Reflect on that for a moment. Think about what that says about Britain, a country that prides itself on its values of tolerance and equality. Think about what that says about the way we organise and conduct ourselves, the place and status women have in this country.

There is story we all like to tell about Britain as a ‘modern’ country, about how we’ve come so far from the bad old days of a few decades back.  Our Government is led by a woman. So are the country’s biggest police force and the supreme court and a (very small) number of our biggest companies.  Girls do better that boys in many exams, and are told they can do any job they want when they grow up.

Yet in political conversation, when it comes to women and the exercise of power, we haven’t come very far from the time when a woman who didn’t know her place was asking for a smack in the mouth – and knew there was no point calling the police afterwards because it was ‘just a domestic’.

These are the ideas and attitudes that leave Laura Kuennsberg physically frightened at Labour Party events. These are the views that drive the keyboard warriors who argue that it’s what she deserves for the way she covers their party and their hero.

These are also the attitudes that make John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, think this is something to joke about. ‘She should tell them John McDonnell will sort ‘em out,’ he smirked this morning, as the Labour conference rolled on with speech after speech about the party’s commitment to equality and justice and kindness.

And these are also, incidentally, the ideas that make George Osborne think it’s jolly funny to talk about chopping up Theresa May and putting her in his freezer.

These are the views of men who have never felt powerless or vulnerable or afraid. Never had to worry that people could do things to harm them and get away with it because no-one really cares about harm done to them.

The threat to Laura Kuenssberg isn’t a media bubble story or a political village spat. It’s a comment on the country we live in.  Anyone with a shred of decency should be angry beyond words about it.  This cannot stand.

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