I have written before about the damage that anonymous abuse on social media is doing to our Political Discourse, it serves only to upset and even scare those it is aimed at. I was quite moved by Diane Abbott’s submission to a debate on the topic, some of the things that have been said to her are revolting, and think that she takes such barrages of slime with an admirable unshakability.

Since writing that article, the issue has continued on its ever steeper descent into the darkest of pits. If it’s not Jacob Rees-Mogg bravely having to stand up to masked thugs in a university talk, it’s distinguished MPs describing their opponents in terms more fitting of Stalin’s Russia than May’s Britain.

We are approaching the point of no return, perhaps we’re already too far down the road, and yet no one seems to want to do anything about it. Sitting on our hands is not just kicking the issue down the path, it is a real risk to our fundamental liberties. Freedoms come at a price, and that price in this case, rather ironically, is that each of us moderates our speech. If we are not careful, our complacency will lose it for us.

Telling it like it is

It’s the favourite phrase of the so-called straight talkers. They won’t be found gossiping about others or sit by while things happen with which they disagree. Well, that’s what they say when they go onto the trash reality TV shows. They used to be the noisy few. Now, internet anonymity has allowed us all to be the same. We can all swear at George Osborne or slander Jeremy Corbyn, even better we can celebrate Mrs Thatcher’s death and cheer when young political activists are reduced to tears over incessant waves of trolling.

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It’s smashing, isn’t it? I simply cannot comprehend how mankind (sorry, Mr Trudeau) survived until the 21st Century without all of us being able to “tell it like it is” to everyone.

And that is part of the problem. We get people of all political persuasions and none being able to participate in the mass of noise that is social media. Mudslinging without consequences is practically encouraged. If there’s debate to be had, you can be sure that labels will be conjured up and conformity to one camp or the other will be dogmatically enforced. We’re Remainers or Leavers, Fascists or Communists, snowflakes or bigots. This is the language of civil war, not the birthplace of modern freedom.

Changing tone

Debate is good. It’s not only good, it’s essential and, above all, natural. Each of us has different outlooks and views (forgive me for stating the obvious). If we did not, there would not be much point of democracy, a democracy that has been rejuvenated by Jeremy Corbyn offering us a choice.

The problem arises in how we conduct that debate.

It is easy to think that your opinions are shared by most others and that it is inconceivable that someone could think differently. Too few people take the time to read a variety of newspapers or follow those they disagree with on Twitter. So many people end up in an echo chamber, and any dissenting viewpoint is treated as some kind of heresy that must be burnt out. But getting an insight into how opponents think is essential to participating in informed, adversarial (but always civilised) debate.

The behaviour of not only faceless social media accounts but a Prime Minister agreeing when Sir Bill Cash talks of Labour as betraying the country, is doing so much damage and yet not one of them does anything to stop it.

Abuse? What abuse?

We can all point the finger at others, whether it’s unsavoury tweets from Toby Young and Jared O’Mara or John McDonnell repeating “jokes” about lynching, but that only entrenches the unthinking lack of empathy. When Owen Jones tweets that “we” (no one is sure who) will hold the Tory Party and press personally responsible for right-wing acts of terror, he seems to miss the irony of the terror inflicted by masked Antifa thugs, all of them make known their leftist credentials, storming university lectures. It won’t help for either side to be hypocritical. To do so will not solve the issue, nor will it help to reconcile our deeply divided nation in the wake of the Brexit vote.

It seems laughable that anyone struggles to believe that homosexuals can support the Conservatives, but that is what Munroe Bergdorf claims. I’m sure that there are many Conservatives who cannot understand how anyone can vote for a party led by a man that invited members of the IRA to Parliament.

But it does not really matter what we find to be inconceivable. What matters is that each of us can moderate our own speech, not because the state has taken it upon itself to tell us what is acceptable but because history demands that we preserve this wonderful inheritance. The great freedoms of speech and thought, handed to us by better and more visionary people than us, did so from below. From the English barons in 1215 to Parliament in 1688, ours is a long history of - intentionally or not - liberty being taken (and collaboratively given) so that our history is blissfully Free of bloody revolution so common on the top-down continent.

The state enforcing some regulations is not the solution. It will try to be, as it always has done since Christian sensibilities died in Britain, but it will do it badly and do irreparable damage. If we are to avoid that, all of us must be ready to “tell it like it is” to those who think to abuse others for no good reason other than the fact that they can. Whether they’re further to the left than Karl Marx or a dyed-in-the-will reactionary, our job isn’t to speak truth to power, it’s to speak truth to each other. That way, we’ll all be better off and our freedoms passed on to the next generation.