A stormy debate over NHS funding that erupted on the BBC’s Question Time programme led to panelist and Stourbridge MP Margot James becoming embroiled in an online spat that spilled over into her constituency.
When the show ended, hot-tempered exchanges continued on social media and the MP is at risk of referral to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after she publicly ‘outed’ personal details of a critical constituent in a local newspaper.
Ms James initially came out fighting online after she was given a rough ride on the national politics panel show by audience members in Hereford when one accused her Government of privatising the National Health Service.
The MP had reacted angrily during the programme, rejecting the privatisation claim as untrue and insisting amidst shouts from the audience; “I am not a liar”. The row rumbled on through the MP’s Facebook page and on other social media channels for several days.
Controversially, Ms James then used her ‘Opinion’ column in the local free weekly tabloid paper Stourbridge News to single out a town constituent she had earlier blocked from her Facebook page after a terse exchange that allegedly related to the MP’s Parliamentary expenses bill.
In her comments, Ms James railed against what she called ‘trolling and shouting down’. She wrote that online abuse is ‘the trademark of the far left on social media; a mix of abuse, lies and distortions is what people in public life can expect these days’.
But she then used her column to highlight the name, job and location of the constituent* who had taken issue with her on Facebook – an action that has drawn parallels with ‘doxxing’, the notorious online practice of exposing people’s personal details to embarrass or intimidate them**. (Redacted extract of Ms James’s column shown left)
The MP now appears to have deleted the original Facebook thread, instead posting a link to her newspaper column posted on her website with a reference to her Parliamentary expenses and ‘the abuse I received’.
Ms James was recently promoted to Digital Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) with responsibilities that include steering the Government’s high-profile commitment to ‘making the internet a safer place for users’.
Last year, the MP was herself accused of promoting online abuse when she reposted a Tweet by a notorious right wing troll that accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of treachery. She deleted it without comment four days later after it attracted criticism.
In the newspaper column published after the Question Time show, Ms James also set out to draw a line under the issue that added fuel to the original NHS funding controversy – her Parliamentary expenses.
In it, she gives a summary of her £167,000 Parliamentary expenses claim for a 12-month period up to April last year, insisting that most of the bill was for the running of her offices in Stourbridge and Westminster and also covered travelling expenses between London – where she lives in South Kensington – and her Stourbridge constituency.
* The ‘How’s My Voting’ stourbridgevote.org editorial decision was to redact the name and other details of the constituent from all material used in this report. There is no suggestion that either Ms James or her constituent were ‘abusive’ to the extent of breaching Facebook’s user code.
Footnote: At the time of publication, Margot James’ newspaper column that features her constituent’s details was still available online at the Stourbridge News file reader, though the web edition does not include it. The newspaper claims a readership of over 79,000 people for its print edition every week. Ms James has around 2,500 followers on Facebook.
**’Doxxing‘, the online disclosure of identifying details about other users that has been used by unscrupulous groups for revenge or to provoke personal confrontations and physical threats.
Instances of doxxing have seen social media users suspended or even banned from channels in the digital environment for behaviour ruled as ‘intimidatory’.
Main illustration credit: evolvepolitics
Link to redacted image of Margot James’ Stourbridge News Opinion column here