A Study of Violence In Politics -- coming to a council near you?
An extensive academic study of violence in politics at the national level is being broadened to include local government.
It is well known that party whips routinely threaten members of parliament with physical violence to persuade them to vote the right way. It is equally well known that current and former members of parliament can have violent interactions with members of the public.
The study is concentrating on the Silent Violence which goes on out of the public gaze rather than more overt violence.
A classic example of overt political violence is the encounter between Prime Minister Spencer Perceval (1762-1812) and a madman called John Bellingham, who shot him in the lobby of the House of Commons.
Our picture sequence (left) shows a contemporary encounter between Deputy P.M. John Prescott and Craig Evans, who threw an egg at him in Rhyl in May, 2001, as a protest about the lack of government support for farmers after the government's shambolic handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak. No one was killed and the police brought no charges to spare Prescott's blushes.
There was a similar outcome, as far as criminal charges went, following an encounter between Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Mr Robin Hedges in June, 2002, which resulted in Mr. Hedges falling, or being pushed, down a 10-15 foot stairwell and requiring a brain scan in hospital.
The study is taking confidential evidence on instances of Silent Violence, in which recipients have been abused either in private or before witnesses who are too intimidated, or too craven, to speak out.
The object of widening the study committee's remit is to seek to determine whether the bullies were indoctrinated into a culture of violence in local politics before they reached Westminster, whether the sense of power at national-government level drove them over the edge, or whether there is something about politics which attracts people with psychopathic tendencies.
A similar type of violence to that shown by party whips is not unknown in local government. Accordingly, the off-shoot of the main study will also be investigating why sociopathic behaviour in certain local councillors is tolerated, and even ignored completely, by other members of the violent person's political grouping.
The study committee expects to publish a preliminary report 'before the end of this year' but the full findings will not be available for review until well into 2004. It is expected, even at this early stage, that the committee will recommend basic psychological tests for both potential MPs and local councillors to determine whether they possess the necessary social skills to communicate controversial and/or unpopular views without resorting to fisticuffs.
Monitoring of the performance of MPs and councillors in office from the point of view of their ability to resist a violent solution to a disagreement is also expected to be included in the committee's recommendations.
- John Prescott was in Rhyll during the 2001 general election campaign to speak on behalf of the Labour candidate. The encounter with Mr. Evans led to accusations that the violent incident had been set up by the Conservative candidate for the seat who, by coincidence, has been offered physical violence -- but not for long -- by a member of Macclesfield Borough Council.
- The only political fallout for Mr. Livingstone from his incident was a complaint -- not upheld -- to the Standards Board of England of misusing the firm's property after he gave his side of things at a special meeting of the London Assembly.