Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Politics and public respect in East Devon: "My real concern is that we are injecting so much poison into the political bloodstream."

There are fears that political discourse is disintegrating.

A very strong signal sent out during the referendum - and last year's general election - was the growing contempt for politicians:
Futures Forum: VOTE/DON'T VOTE: politicians and psychopaths...

One reason is profound disillusionment over the nature of politics:
Futures Forum: Managed democracy: "The deliberate undermining of people's perception of the world, by creating confusion and contradiction ... undermining any opposition to existing power structures ... which leaves us feeling helpless and depressed and to which the only response is: 'Oh dear'."

There was deep cynicism expressed during the referendum campaign:
Futures Forum: Brexit/Bremain: and independent politics: "the referendum will cure nothing"

Hugo Swire, East Devon's MP, wrote a piece for his blog on these issues - in the heat of last week's hysteria:


Thursday, 23 June, 2016

Recently the editor of the Express & Echo newspaper wrote a leader about my complaint that his paper was exhibiting a bias. In his piece he wrote: “Like most journalists I tend to think our relationship with politicians should be akin to that of dogs and lamp posts,” I remember reading it at the time and feeling somewhat depressed by the attitude expressed. What it demonstrated was a complete cynicism and lack of respect for the role an MP plays in our society.

In the twenty or so years I have been in politics I have seen a dramatic change in the way the public and the media interact with their democratically elected representatives. I admit, this has partly been brought on by the expenses debacle, (although we were hardly revered before then either!) MPs’ we are told, now come pretty low down on the rung of the ladder of esteem, trusted less than estate agents and yes, even journalists. The accusation is that we are vain, stupid, self serving and dishonest. These are repeated so often that most of us have now developed a second skin to cope with them.

But then something changes to perhaps alter that perspective. This time it was the utterly devastating and tragic murder of Jo Cox. Jo was everything you would want an MP to be; she fizzed with energy and commitment and compassion to those suffering far away and at home. She was a devoted mother and wife. She genuinely wanted to make life better for people other than herself. She also demonstrated how politics is often not party political, that MPs work across the benches to get their work done. In Jo Cox’s own words “We are far more untied and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Never was this more evident than when Parliament was recalled to remember one of their own. On that day it was certainly united, united in grief, even united in decoration, a white rose pinned to the chest of every politician in memory of this daughter of Yorkshire.

Jo was typical of an outstanding constituency MP but there are many of them in the House of Commons who work daytime, evenings and weekends in their constituencies with little recognition or thanks. After all the bulk of an MP’s work locally is not party political. It is about helping people whatever side of the political spectrum they sit on. It is about community. It is about hospitals and schools and getting out and about to visit care homes and charities and bringing issues that are of concern to the relevant authorities here at Westminster.

In my experience most MPs are decent people with honourable motives. They go into politics with the aim of changing lives for the better. They may not always achieve that, and they may be forced into unfortunate compromises, and they may fall short of the ideals they set out with. Despite this, most of them go into the job for good reasons. Yes they make mistakes but then don’t we all?

After her tragic death Jo Cox’s husband Brendan called on people to “fight against the hatred that killed her”. These were poignant words indeed. They were also issued against a backdrop of an ugly public mood in which the public feel that it is normal to despise the political class, to distrust those who serve, to dehumanise those with whom we do not readily identify. I think the media plays its part but the use of social media has exacerbated the problem massively; you can now write completely vile things and post them on other people’s Facebook or Twitter pages. You can even take the coward’s route by setting up websites and posting insults anonymously. It has become easy to cynically question a politician’s motives or make personal attacks about private, unrelated issues. You can also blame your MP for problems he or she has played no part in creating, problems, which they are trying to help solve.

Of course MPs should be criticised and challenged, even mocked, they should be called out for double standards and inconsistencies but it should be done in a mannered and calm way. All of us in public life need to be responsible with our politics both locally and nationally, if we are not, we just encourage paranoia; we poison people with suspicion and even provoke some people to hate.

To be honest, I get off lightly compared to some of my female colleagues at Westminster who have been seriously threatened by Internet trolls. There is now a whole gang of people out there, I’m sorry to say, that do not like a woman to voice an opinion in public, whether an elected politician or not and that is deeply shocking. If you are getting death or rape threats on a day-to day basis how can it not have an impact on your life? How can it not put off young women from going into politics? As parliamentarians we need to call time on the sorts of behavior that would be absolutely unacceptable in any other environment.

But my real concern is that we are injecting so much poison into the political bloodstream that eventually the public mood will become more violent and more immune. Our democracy has taken a long time to weave, it has ensured that we can argue with each other without challenging the basic legitimacy of our opponents, it is combative yes but it is also civilised. Our politics has learnt to accept diversity as strength not as a weakness, one that has allowed us to remain composed and polite even when we disagree passionately. There is a thin line that separates civilisation from mayhem, and we are seeing that being tested all over the world. We must value what we have and not undermine it or before we know it, it will be too late to pull back from.

BLOG: Politics and Public Respect | Hugo Swire

No comments: