Britain Cannot Change America's President. But Twitter Could Ban His Hate Speech

When the 45th President of the United States was elected I, like much of the world, was shocked, depressed and worried. Judging Donald Trump by his own words, not the Democratic Party attacks or our "left-leaning liberal snowflake" media, I found much to concern me as a feminist, as a woman of colour, as a Geordie, as a democrat (small d), and as an elected representative.

I love America. My sister and her family live in California, as an electrical engineer I worked in the Virginia Tech Corridor in the dot com boom and lived in Washington DC, my brother did his MBA at Long Island's Hofstra and the culture of America—its movies, its music, its literature, its fashion—is an integral part of my and my constituents' lives. Last month we celebrated "Freedom City:" 50 years since Martin Luther King visited Newcastle to accept an honorary doctorate.

The special relationship does not just exist between 10 Downing Street and the White House, it exists on council estates and dance floors, in libraries and shopping malls, at airports and universities, in living rooms and skate parks up and down the land.

I saw in the President's unexpected victory a reflection of the discontent we too had experienced in the Brexit vote—an often justified dissatisfaction with a political and economic system which left so many voices unheard. But just as Nigel Farage was not the answer here, so the new President was not the answer in America, and I spoke at rallies in Newcastle and Westminster against the sexism, racism and Islamophobia he pandered to. I was inspired by the large numbers, often young and female, who demonstrated their determination to fight for their rights here and across the Atlantic.

Then I got on with the job of representing my constituents, preparing for Brexit and building an economy for the many not the few. I tried to ignore the 45th President's increasingly bizarre tweets and his volatile hand on the nuclear trigger. I was sure he could have no interest in a British Member of Parliament whom he would no doubt consider an immigrant—I was born in the UK but, like Trump, I have a parent and grandparents born abroad.

I believe in focusing my energies on what I can change and I cannot change the 45th President whilst his narcissism could only be fed by additional attention.

That was until Wednesday when he chose to retweet Britain First.

Britain First Logo
A woman's hand and the logo of Britain First are pictured during a rally in Rochester, Britain November 15, 2014. Donald Trump retweeted the far-right group's deputy leader. Kevin Coombs/Reuters

There is a history of extreme far right activity in the UK, from Mosley's blackshirts to the National Front in the 70s—as a child I would lie awake at night whilst they broke our windows and smeared dogshit on our door. In the 1990s and 2000s we had the British National Party followed by EDL and Britain First today. Eighteen months ago, when we lost our dear colleague Jo Cox, her murderer shouted "Britain first" as he attacked her.

I was the first MP to be elected in June's General Election and I paid tribute to Jo because I felt it was only right that the first name uttered by a member of the new Parliament should be that of the Parliamentarian who had died in the line of duty.

For the President of our closest ally, the country which shares not only our language but so many of our values, to give a platform to Britain First for their anti-Muslim hate is truly unbelievable. As I said in Parliament on Thursday:

"When I think of Muslim children in Newcastle waking up to find themselves being attacked by the President of the most powerful nation on earth, because that is how it will appear to them, my heart bleeds. The 45th President is not accountable to the children of Newcastle—it is hard to see to whom he does hold himself accountable—but the social media giants are accountable, through the Home Secretary, so what is she going to do today to demonstrate that accountability?"

We here in Britain cannot change America's President. But we can and we must hold America's social media giants responsible for promulgating his hate speech just as we would any "purveyor of hate"—to quote Jo Cox's widow. As our Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott put it, it is "an attack on the values of this country."

I recognise that leaving the European Union leaves us more isolated on the international stage. I recognise that it may appear to give us less leverage with the behemoths of Silicon Valley. But that is all the more reason why we should stand up to the tech giants, hold them accountable and demand a response. As an engineer I know that they have the technology to better protect my constituents and our values. What they need is the will.

The U.K. Government must demand a reckoning from them. If needs be Labour will stand alone in fighting the industrialisation of hatred which Twitter, Facebook, Google seem bent on enabling. But I do not believe we will stand alone for long.


Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and shadow industrial strategy minister.