One of the most admirable moves made by Jeremy Corbyn, since his election as labour leader, has been his call for a new kind of politics. A politics free from theatricality, an open honest forum for debate. A politics of politics not of personality.
This goal has been lauded widely, most notably with regards to Prime Minister’s Questions, where there does appear to be some appetite for a more measured tone (though how short-lived this may prove is unclear). Yet, it seems quite possible that, while talking the talk, those of us who try to actively participate in politics may fail to walk the walk.
I have been as guilty of this as anyone else. On Friday 8th May, I said things to friends of mine who are Conservative which were not only unfair, but unfounded. I questioned their morals, I suggested they did not act in a way which is compassionate and compatible with human flourishing.
Yet people across the political spectrum act as they do because they believe it serves the common good. The left worries about the poor and disadvantaged being left behind, the right worries about those who work hard being penalised for success. Every party can appeal to legitimate economic theory to support their policies. It is simply not fair to suggest that the right is selfish and money grabbing, that the left is seeking to destroy traditional values, that the SNP is a one issue party.
But despite this truth, across the media and public life, people act as though this is the case, from Russell Brand denouncing the political class as treacherous and deceitful, to the Daily Mail branding Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policy as a “war on the middle class”. Across the board, the tone is not one of cooperation in the best interests of the nation and the world, but of distrust and even hatred.
The Left in particular is keen to stress the way in which the establishment seeks to undermine campaigns for change, and yet it is just as guilty of such attacks. One political forum I both follow and contribute to, has provided an example of this. Over the course of one day they have posted both the following to their facebook page.
We’re taking Manchester back this weekend, the message is simple: Torys [sic] are not welcome here. Their savage attacks on the working classes have hit northern cities the most, the people of Manchester have never welcomed their party conference but the fact they continue to hold it there is a shocking indictment of how blasé they feel about what they’re doing. Next stop Piccadilly station to unwelcome them into their week of hell
“Ahead of the Conservative Party Conference, I urge all activists (Labour or not) to focus solely on policy and not to take part in any personal attacks. As I said in my speech at the Labour Party Conference:
“…I want to repeat what I said at the start of the leadership election. I do not believe in personal abuse of any sort.
Treat people with respect. Treat people as you wish to be treated yourself. Listen to their views, agree or disagree but have that debate. There is going to be no rudeness from me. Maya Angelou said: ‘You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.’
I want a kinder politics, a more caring society. Don’t let them reduce you to believing in anything less.
So I say to all activists, whether Labour or not, cut out the personal attacks and let’s get on with bringing values back into politics.”
– Jeremy Corbyn
Yes, urban centres in the North have been hit hardest by the cuts of the last five years, but that does not diminish the fact that the governments of the last two years have acted in what they believe to be the national interest. To declare an entire party ‘not welcome’ is tantamount to declaring the half of the electorate your enemy. Threatening to give delegates a ‘week of hell’ is the exact opposite to treating people with respect as part of a ‘kinder politics’ or a ‘more caring society’.
So to everyone out there I say this: discuss, argue, protest, write to your MPs – participate – but discuss policies, argue issues, protest legislation, write to your MPs about local concerns. Be constructive not destructive. If you think Conservative policy is damaging, outline an alternative. If you think Labour economics are mad, explain why.
I am currently working through the West Wing, and have just got to a particularly famous story line, bridging Season 4 and 5, in which a national crisis leads to exemplary bi-partisan politics. I for one don’t want to have to wait for such a crisis to help us work together for the common good.
To quote Jed Bartlett, “[let’s] raise the level of public debate in this country and let that be our legacy”.