Voices: ‘Come outside and we’ll sort it out’: Lee Anderson’s thuggishness is a throwback to an undemocratic past
Lee Anderson sent me an email last night headed, “Here’s what happened at 7pm, John.” I thought he was going to explain the fracas in which he was involved with Andrew Bridgen and one of Bridgen’s guests on the parliamentary estate.
But no, it was an automated email to Conservative supporters (I have signed up for the purposes of journalistic research), in his name as deputy chair of the party. He wanted to tell me that Labour MPs had “had a chance to stop the boats” in the vote in the Commons last night, but that “they voted to keep the boats coming”.
I was tempted to argue with the email, wanting to point out that, inadequate as Labour’s policy might be, there is no way that the Illegal Migration Bill is going to “stop the boats”. But I was afraid that Anderson might offer to “come outside and we’ll sort it out”, which is what he said to Bridgen’s guest, so I kept my views to myself and decided to write about the email later.
Anderson had a busy day yesterday. First, in his capacity as a member of the Home Affairs Committee, he was pointlessly rude to Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police commissioner. Anderson urged Sir Mark to get tough with protesters around parliament and “sort these people out”. Sir Mark patiently explained that not every demonstration that causes disruption is unlawful, and that the police have to act within the law as laid down by Anderson and his fellow MPs.
Anderson said he didn’t think “you are doing your job correctly”, and “I feel like I’m wasting my time with you”. He then wasted everyone’s time by saying, like a bore at a public meeting, that his was more of a statement than a question, which was that Sir Mark, who had taken five years out of the force, should have taken longer.
Sir Mark replied: “If you want to be personally offensive then write it in newspapers, but I’m not going to answer those questions.”
Sir Mark had the better of those exchanges, I thought, managing at one point to be more effectively rude to Anderson, whom he accused of having “a partial understanding of the law”, than Anderson was to him.
Anderson gained nothing by his boorishness, when there are interesting questions about how the police exercise their discretion in dealing with disruptive protests. He could have asked testing questions, but instead succeeded only in making it look as if Sir Mark was the one who knew what he was talking about.
The action then moved to the restaurant in Portcullis House, the modern extension of the Palace of Westminster opposite Big Ben. Anderson’s lunch was interrupted by Andrew Bridgen, the MP who was expelled from the Tory party yesterday for his comments comparing coronavirus vaccines with the Holocaust. Bridgen was “rude and aggressive”, according to Anderson, who then “walked over to Mr Bridgen’s table to express my disapproval”.
Bridgen’s guest, Sebastian Leslie, a former Tory councillor, intervened in what he said were “threatening” exchanges, to be told by Anderson: “Hold on grandad, come outside and we’ll sort it out.”
Leslie responded by asking Anderson whether he wanted to use “pistols or claymores”, which he later explained was a reference to the ancient traditions of resolving disputes in the Scottish clan Leslie.
All rather silly, but it doesn’t reflect well on Anderson. He could be a useful spokesperson for working-class Conservatism, and a good foil for the elite style of politics practised by Greg Hands, the party chair, and by Rishi Sunak. A lot of Westminster-based journalists, including me, are well-disposed towards him because of his clashes with Steve Bray, the anti-Brexit protester who plays loud music outside parliament.
But Anderson risks throwing away his advantages as one of very few Tory MPs with a background as a manual worker – he was a miner for 10 years, as well as being a lone parent to two children. He is a good communicator who could have important things to say, but is given to impulsive exaggeration and aggression. Perhaps I should reply to that email after all, saying: “Cool it, Lee.”