Labour blogger Rob Marchant fired off, as it were, a few tweets last weekend making it clear how he’d view Lutfur Rahman returning to the Labour Party.
In the spirit of the conversation, I joked that if that readmission were to happen, we would all have to shoot ourselves. This, as you can imagine, is going to turn into one of those “imagine my surprise when” pieces.
Imagine my surprise when, out of the blue on Thursday, I was contacted by Guardian diarist Hugh Muir to tell me that my tweets had been reported to police as a “death threat” (the tweets themselves have now been deleted, but the Guardian piece quotes them, if you’re interested).
The interpretation having been taken by the complainant, clearly, that not only (i) I had meant the tweet in the sense of shooting Rahman, rather than ourselves, and (ii) that this, by a part-time blogging father-of-two with a respectable job, was somehow a credible threat by a would-be assassin.
It seems absurd that anyone could reasonably interpret a facetious allusion to some kind of suicide pact as a ‘death threat’, even against himself, which was obviously not the concern of the complainant. I wholeheartedly agree with Rob that this response from Left Futures was a shameful piece. The misleading headline is matched by tendentious reporting which juxtaposes Rob Marchant’s tweets with vile, bigoted remarks about Rahman which have nothing to do with his policies.
An ill-judged joke? you might ask. But the remark is not the first to go beyond basic standards of decency when it comes to Rahman. A recent article on Tower Hamlets on the Independent website prompted comments such as:
I’d like to pay his taxi fare home to Islamabad.
Foreign tribes voting in their own. The only way to reverse this ‘experiment’ is ethnic cleansing’
Rob’s post concludes with a perhaps supererogatory expression of regret for any genuine anxiety which might possibly have been caused – but also with a firm resolution to continue writing about Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets, despite Rahman’s habit of using legal means to try to silence his critics.
But if the reaction of calling the police was one of genuine discomfort due to misunderstanding the nature of the joke, then I regret any such discomfort caused.
This was a joke between friends, and it was on us, not you, Lutfur.
That said, I want to make clear that I shall continue to write about you and Tower Hamlets, and those pieces may well be critical. I shall not support your return to the Labour Party, if that is indeed what you desire, but – to be abundantly clear – there was no malice whatsoever intended.