Voices: Politicians like Andrew Bridgen tarnish our status around the world

This week, MPs voted to suspend Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative member for North West Leicestershire, after he was found to have displayed a “very cavalier” attitude to the rules in a series of lobbying breaches.

On Wednesday, Bridgen lost the Tory whip for a tweet in which he compared the use of Covid vaccines to the Holocaust. He wrote: “As one cardiologist said to me, this is the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust.” The tweet, and its link to an article, has since been deleted, but screenshots abound online.

The use of the word “Holocaust” should be an automatic red flag. A negative point of Twitter – and yes, we could fill a book with those – is that it has facilitated the use of some appallingly lax and flippant language.

This is not a call for censorship – it’s simply an observation. It is problematic that the term for the industrialised mass murder of an entire people has been trivialised as a simile in recent years, courtesy of social media. For a politician to use the term in connection with vaccination is beyond the pale.

The Holocaust is one of humanity’s greatest tragedies. Vaccination is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. It has prevented hundreds of millions of untimely deaths, and saved hundreds of millions more from severe injury or life-changing disability. Believe me, I know all about how challenging the latter can be.

The emergence of the anti-vax “movement” – of which Bridgen has made himself a part – is one of the most bizarre and destructive developments of recent years. It is a virus that we badly need to find a vaccination for.

Sure, the House of Commons has always had its fair share of oddballs and eccentrics. Bridgen’s tweet, however, is representative of something darker.

In the UK, we sometimes laugh about America’s performative politics and the likes of Marjorie Taylor Green, the US congresswoman who once tried to blame the California wildfires on a “Jewish space laser” (note the common thread of antisemitism) and appears to have far more interest in generating media attention than she does in legislating.

Plenty of commentators have been chuckling lately at the struggles of the US Congress to elect a speaker. Britain’s political system might be dysfunctional, but things often appear more chaotic in the most powerful nation on earth.

However, the same forces that drove the paralysis in Congress are here, too: an extreme, nationalistic right-wing populism that shuns reason and simple common sense in favour of making a splash on Twitter.

It is a bitter irony that the US electorate’s rejection of Republican extremism in the 2022 Midterms served to amplify the power of the extremists who did get elected in the House. The unexpectedly slim majority in Congress they secured left them hostage to it.

Britain’s Tories have a much bigger cushion. So, instead of indulging Bridgen, Rishi Sunak issued a condemnatory statement and the whip was suspended “pending an investigation”. But here’s what’s troubling: Sunak’s majority might be comfortable, but he doesn’t have a firm grip on his party.

Bridgen is known to be close with members of the European Research Group. Time and again, they have proven that they have the capacity to make a Tory prime minister’s life miserable for any number of reasons. With Sunak under pressure, Bridgen could be forgiven and welcomed back into the fold too soon.