Written by Gas Williams
I think it was St Paul who said ‘we are all one of another’ and it was the late Jo Cox MP who said ‘We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.’
For most of us, in our ordinary daily lives, this is true. We do not often allow mere politics to divide us. I’m a Tory and yet my best friends all vote Labour or Liberal Democrat. They’ve allowed me into their circle of friends because decent people don’t bemoan others for what they are and think.
All of us, I should hope, accept that in politics and elsewhere all of us have only the best intentions. My political hero, F.J. Robinson, summed it up quite nicely when he said there is a fundamental ‘liberality and hospitality of the English National Character.’ We Britons are great at hearing the other side of an argument; and, even if we disagree, we calmly and politely work past it anyway. There is nothing as pointless as letting political divides get in the way of progress.
These are not just empty words; they are born out by history. In this country we have a great record of working together for the benefit of everyone even when we didn’t agree on everything. In 1931, for example, a coalition of all the parties overcame the great depression. Coalition governments similarly won World Wars One and Two.
“Our politicians regularly and often vote across party lines for what they think is best”
Perhaps surprisingly, in 1942 all the parties accepted the recommendations of the Beveridge Report, wherein lies the basis of the NHS and the Welfare State. Our politicians regularly and often vote across party lines for what they think is best, and only 3 years ago we had a coalition of parties leading our recovery from the global financial crisis.
History shows that, when we accept the legitimacy of the other side, and when we are willing to work with them, great things can be done. In truth this doesn’t even require coalition or teamwork. In the modern world all it takes is for a good debate to ensure that politics works for everyone. If everyone can have their say, and if everyone can help improve the arguments and policies put forward, as a democrat I believe we will have a better country.
“I am concerned that our politics is becoming increasingly intolerant and distant”
However, I look around me to-day, and I am concerned that our politics is becoming increasingly intolerant and distant from the niceties of everyday life. Just as the opportunity affords itself for consensus to be in reach – a hung parliament to force all voices to be heard and a Conservative Prime Minister willing to engage in traditionally left-wing ideas – I am disappointed to see politicians drawing up the bridge to working with one another. I look at Laura Pidcock MP, who says she has ‘no intention’ of befriending ‘enemy’ Conservatives.
More worryingly I look at the vitriol, hate and abuse suffered by MPs recently, be that the threatening attacks by dissidents of Jeremy Corbyn; the horrific anti-semitism exposed last week that feeds on the extreme left and right; the disgusting racist and misogynistic abuse suffered by Diane Abbot; or the thuggish antics that we find closer to home. Tragically the list could go on for days and all of it is the result of a regrettable political shift in this country, taken by a disgruntled minority not representative of either or any party.
“…the first reaction of many is to ridicule and abuse”
Whereas once if we had disagreements we might argue the merits of a preferred alternative, to-day the first reaction of many is to ridicule and abuse whosoever said it, or to dismiss it as nothing more than the hot air of an opponent.
This is a dangerous way to conduct oneself. Democratic politics cannot afford the loss of another decent man or woman because of the hate filled antics of the extremes, or because of an unwillingness to listen. If we push issues out of politics, and run our politics on identity instead, then we will have nothing better than a second-rate Stormont ruining society for us all.
If we forget that we all, each and every one of us, are concerned with trying to do the best, then we will lead ourselves down the road to unaccountable populism. It is common decency that keeps politics decent, and it worries me that many on the left and the right are willing to risk it all for a short-sighted goal.
You can perhaps imagine my response to an article penned by a Mr Edwards, in the Falmouth Anchor only some days ago, about the Conservative local election campaign. Though no doubt intended to be a satirical piece, and of course one could see the humour in it, I’m concerned that what he wrote belies a somewhat farcical interpretation of the local elections and something of a disdain for the Conservatives – each to their own I suppose.
With an admirable rhetorical simplicity, he nails his colours to the, now abandoned, corbynist policy of free university tuition and free bus passes for the young, before he critiques the perceived wrongs of the local election campaigns. Indeed, he rightly points out that comparisons to Communism in Venezuela have done little to convince people against the Corbyn cause.
“His article would be more admirable, however, were it not for two glaring issues”
His article would be more admirable, however, were it not for two glaring issues 1) that there is in fact no local election campaign underway in Cornwall; and 2) that his recollection of the campaign elsewhere is not one that I share.
I have been privileged to campaign for my party over the past year in various forms and not once have I had to make use of some baffled comparison to a hatted South American despot. In this country people like to campaign on principles and issues.
“…regrettably, for me, in this instance Falmouth chose a very capable Labour candidate”
In Falmouth for example, the last by-election was not won on whether people thought Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May was most like Salvador Allende, but on who they thought would be more able to deal with the housing problem – regrettably, for me, in this instance Falmouth chose a very capable Labour candidate.
And yet Mr Edwards decries local election campaigns as though each and every one of the 4,400 Conservative candidates is in a personal crusade against free bus travel. I’d contest that this is not the case. So far, the campaign has focussed not on Corbyn, but on the excellent slate of committed candidates who are fighting for improved council services and low rates of council tax.
“In many instances the Corbyn campaign is completely redundant to the Conservative one.”
In many instances the Corbyn campaign is completely redundant to the Conservative one. In Kendal, for example, one campaign is more focused around whether a Liberal Democrat councillor compared the electorate to sheep or not. There is no need to belittle the integrity of Corbyn when the strength of Conservative argument is so strong, and when often he isn’t relevant to the election itself.
Regardless, Mr Edward’s satire does have a point about the sort of stale campaign we’re all unfortunate enough to have seen before. Though of course it is only right to question the judgement of leaders who call the death of terrorists as tragedies, I think most of us are beyond bored of hearing facile stories about his ex-wife. No doubt when they run out of minor stories they’ll find a way to weaponise his jam.
For those of us who want to see improvement in the world, and I think most of us want that, it makes far more sense to save one’s energies for actually campaigning on the issues than to waste it criticising Liz Truss’s (actually really very A E S T H E T I C) Instagram account.
Go out campaigning, or challenge policies you disagree with if you want to do well. I think Mr Edwards and I are both agreed that it profits anyone little to dole unequal tosh unto an otherwise civil contest, though I suggest his attempt at satire might need to go back to the drawing board.
One of the best pieces of advice I was given by a friend on coming to university was to broaden my horizons and listen to what others are saying. We are lucky at this university to have both a brilliant politics and debating society, where people who agree on very little are able to argue away, learn more about each other’s side of the argument, whilst remaining friendly and civil.
We are even more lucky at this university to have a great array of political societies to join, which often people do. They go out often into Falmouth and around Cornwall to campaign on issues that matter to them, and yet they remain civil. Though I’ve often fought against them on the doorstop, I count people from the other societies amongst my closest friends because they are genuinely decent people trying their best to make things better. All too often, on both sides, I think we forget that.
Though of course, that’s just my opinion.