Bullying – A Zero Tolerance Review

by Martyn Richards @MartynRichards

During the current election for the Leadership of the Labour Party there has been much discussion about bullying. Does it exist? Is it acceptable? If not what if anything can or should, be done.

A “bully” according to the Oxford English Dictionary is someone who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Looking at this definition the first thing that strikes me is that the object of bullying is “weaker”. This is good news; I like to think I am not a racist, sexist, homophobe or a bully. There are people who fall into one, some, or all of these categories who also don’t consider themselves to be in any of these popular groups.

I don’t want to be a bully, I hate bullies. To get on solid ground I must firstly establish that I am not one, as best I can. So notwithstanding the definition gives me the “weaker” comfort a doubt still exists that I might be guilty.

Perhaps the definition of the word is not the issue, perhaps it’s the wrong word? Is it acceptable to be unpleasant, nasty or generally critical, in the right circumstances, yes but not a free for all! You are free to do anything as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s freedom.

To criticise a newsreader for what they are wearing may not bullying but if we look at two recent examples we can see how easily confused it gets. That saint of a man (you have to be dead to be a saint right?) Kelvin Mackenzie saw fault with a channel 4 newsreader, Fatima Manji, wearing a hijab when reporting the terror from Nice and on Newsnight recently I noticed the “Fashion Police” on Twitter were all over the dress that Kirsty Wark choose to wear.

Two very recent examples of what a lot, including me would call unnecessary, cruel, stupid even bullying but are they? There might be something to this “weaker” argument. It may not be just who but what you are criticising? Mr Mackenzie was being racist, or that is what a lot who criticised him thought was implied and for Ms Wark weren’t the people commenting in a negative way about how she looked being sexist?

So when someone says something about Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith on Twitter that is critical they are by no means necessarily bullying. Obviously it depends what they say and even then to some extent they are ultimately asking for people to vote for them so they should be open to examination.

What started me thinking about this was a brief twitter exchange with a celebrity. No need to name names, but I think he is widely accepted to be bright and funny. The exchange went:

Him: My mother could solve the problem in the Labour Party in 30 minutes

Me: Any chance she could let us know how?

Him: Zero tolerance for bullying.

Me: Anything Else?

Him No Reply


To be fair he gets a lot more tweets than me and a sympathetic reading allows one to say he is right but isn’t he really saying we can’t be critical and if we are there is some unspecified draconian punishment meted out?

I am not a conscientious objector, I am not that good. If you want to say unpleasant things about Kelvin Mackenzie go for it, you won’t find me sending you mails saying how rude you are. Things make me angry sometime like lies, if someone tells a lie I think it’s ok to call them a liar. Ms Eagle said that the police had advised her not to hold normal meetings then the police in a statement said they had not. Whether we call her a Liar or a fu….. Liar is splitting hairs. The reason people might use the expletive is because they are angry that she lied.

So perhaps we should back off the bullying and call it something else. The anger the majority can get on board with when we talk about big kids be cruel to small kids is the same as  when the establishment attacks a minority.

The criticism of Mr Corbyn is about his leadership quality, what he wears, what anthem he chooses to sing and not being aggressive enough during PMQ’s. Mr Smith is attacked because he represents the establishment, done’s the cloak of the working class, is pro welfare cuts and thinks the Iraq war was noble. (I am about as balanced as the BBC)

The point is that it’s not bullying in either case. There are some crazy people in the World and some of them have Twitter accounts but they can’t make you reply you have to want it and if you do go for it the rest can just choose not to read. Actual threats of violence should be treated in the same way as they are with electronic or physical mail phone calls etc, a matter for the police.

Finally there are two further things to explore, zero tolerance and anonymity.

What does Zero Tolerance mean? It’s the opposite of phrases like Health and Safety and Political Correctness are either of these bad? Would people prefer the opposite?  The parent had zero tolerance for the behaviour of the child so ….. ? There is no good ending to that sentence.

Isn’t proportional better? It might also be helpful if the person making the rules would spell out what they mean. If you use bad language on social media you will not be allowed to vote in the election, thrown out of the party? Really, zero tolerance suggests extreme justice. Any chance it might just be another bullshit slogan?

To end, anonymity.  People want a higher standard of debate fine, me too. I speak differently face-to-face than I do with twitter, for a start I am more concise when I only have a few characters to play with second generally speaking I don’t want to upset people if I can help it.

I understand why some choose to be anonymous but like a secret ballot I don’t think it helps reduce bullying. If we are not prepared to say it publically then perhaps we should think twice about saying it on twitter. A group like the NEC making threats doesn’t help.

Bullying then, try not to do it, most of us are not as funny as we would like to think and more of a bully when speaking to ourselves. The real number of really bad abusive is small and should be reported in the normal way.

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