Sunday, 19 June 2016

Let us return to normal politics

Andrew Grice writes in today's Independent:

The mainstream media is [sic] also part of the problem. Of course it was right to expose the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, but since then most newspapers have replaced a healthy scepticism about politicians with utter cynicism. Fear of hostile media coverage about their expenses and their families now deters high calibre people from entering politics. Despite a rigorous new expenses regime, much of the press gives the impression that MPs are only in it for themselves, an out of touch elite. Little wonder the public mood is anti-politics. In more than 30 years on the Westminster beat, I’m sure the overwhelming majority of MPs I have met came into politics to do good, not for personal gain or advancement. Just like Jo Cox.

She, like many MPs, was more in touch with the real world than most people in the media passing judgement on the political class. MPs have to be. Ministers from foreign countries are often shocked and horrified to discover that their UK counterparts still do regular constituency surgeries.

Cox was by instinct a unifier, a bridge-builder who wanted to see a more consensual politics. But a nasty, depressing EU referendum campaign shows we are travelling in the opposite direction. It has taken our political discourse to a new low.

I remember similar calls for a kinder, gentler politics after John Smith, the Labour leader, died of a heart attack in 1994, another tragedy for those of us in the Westminster village. The pause then was all too brief, and normal hostilities soon returned. I hope that after the death of Jo Cox, something will change permanently, which would be a fitting tribute to her. But I am not optimistic.

The connection between constituents and MP is part of what Britain has brought to the EU, part of the democratic contribution which that visionary Ralf Dahrendorf hoped for from the UK while we were still an aspirant member, blocked by the authoritarian de Gaulle. There is greater democracy in EU institutions now than when we joined (not solely from our efforts). This has been reinforced by the accession of Denmark and Sweden, where - as several imported TV series have shown - MPs are genuinely representatives, part of a normal community, not part of a ruling élite. This is a greater contribution to the European community than pounds and pence, and something which we should not withdraw.

Andrew Grice calls for a kinder, gentler politics. It is possible to campaign positively. Where an attack is necessary, it can be on ideas, not personalities, and in an objective, not incendiary, fashion. Nor should the normal democratic process be brought to a stop by a violent incident.  That is why I was saddened by the decision of all other mainstream parties not to nominate candidates for the by-election in Batley and Spen. Non-Labour voters have a right to a representative candidate in an election for a member who is going to represent them for the remainder of this parliament, which could be for another four years.

Labour now has a heavy responsibility to select as replacement someone who is as genuine as Jo Cox.

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

Vaughan Roderick introducing "Sunday Supplement" this week:
All politics is local, or so they say, and it was while attending to the humdrum local needs of her constituents that MP Jo Cox met her death. Sorting out a school place, trying to untangle a complex benefits claim or a thorny visa problem are difficult jobs, jobs that often only an MP or an AM, maybe a councillor, can deal with. They're jobs that normally go unseen and unremarked, but every one is important and some are even life-changing. And while all that work goes on, it's easy for the rest of us to sneer, about the political bubble, the political class, expenses and all the rest. Our politicians are branded as careerists, on the make, out of touch, different to us, lazy even. Until of course we need their help, or when a tragedy highlights the opposite.

This programme goes on as politics goes on, because politics has to. Politics, after all, is the way we resolve differences without resorting to the bullet and the knife. We need more talk, not less, more listening, not less.Yes, more politics, not less, is what we need right now.