I escaped for a brief holiday only to be pursued by intemperate emails. The evening before departure I had a scheduled appearance on Radio Four’s late night Westminster Hour programme. Where I was ambushed by a question about the Sunday Times scoop on David Cameron’s leaked resignation honours list.
I hadn’t seen it but, as a ‘former regime loyalist’ and Cameron’s parliamentary private secretary for 7 years, I felt it proper to defend his right to make honours recommendations. It was almost as if I suddenly I became the world’s leading authority on honours, sought by every news outlet: even having to rendezvous with the BBC en route to my holiday destination.
I stand by what I said: In this country we do not, for the most part, provide public funding for political parties. Those public spirited individuals who do step forward and provide such funding for parties and for important political campaigns, ought not to be excluded from the honours system because of that public service.
I note that those organs that howl loudest about these honours are also the most vitriolic in their denunciation of any suggestion that political parties should instead be taxpayer-funded.
I accept that this is a controversial matter about which adults disagree, but I worry about the nature of public discourse when such intemperate language is used. People whom I have never met or spoken to, feel free to send me emails denouncing me in the most inappropriate terms. This is a form of fascism that seeks to intimidate anyone from expressing opposing points of view.
We saw examples of this during Scotland’s independence referendum when ‘cybernats’ attacked business leaders and other public figures who put their heads above the parapet, arguing that Scotland should remain in the UK.
As a thick skinned politician I am not intimidated by email correspondence from people who cannot express themselves without resorting to profanity. I fear that others may be more easily overwhelmed.
Back to the Westminster Hour however, the best line came from my fellow panellist the historian Peter Hennessy, who observed that one should always accept an honour because of the anger it will provoke among your enemies. By that measure Mr Cameron’s list has been very effective indeed.