Politics inspires the extreme. From the passion of the activist to the ceaseless sparring of the party worker, rarely is it said that our political system also inspires calm. In the world of Westminster tempers rage, rhetoric escalates and reason evaporates with almost intoxicating speed and intensity.
The extraordinary irony in all of this is that within the Palace of Westminster 750 committed public servants sit who, with notable exceptions, are consummately professional and intelligent. Their primary motivation, once again with some major exceptions, is to change our worlds for the better.
These days it is fashionable to hate.
Your MP is lucky enough to find themselves in the company of estate agents, sex criminals and antibiotic-resistant diseases in that, under the public eye, there exists no defence for them. Instead, they find a 24-hour political media machine which too often robs our public servants of the most basic of considerations.
Troubles in your private life?
Well, it’s not private any more. Want to take your young kids on Holiday? You’re a slacker. Did you have the temerity to send your kids to the best school available to you? You’re now not only a hypocrite, but you’ve also forced us to ask ourselves the question, do you even really love this country at all?
If you could give voice to the news that blares across petrol station courtyards from the likes of The Sun and The Express, you’d find yourself confronted with a mean, capricious character, gleefully revelling in the embarrassment of others. But don’t think that it’s just the red-tops who so keenly participate in the nation’s favourite sport of politician-baiting. ‘Proper’ publications like The Telegraph, Mail and Times too are often found tearing into individual MPs, if anything, with even greater ferocity than their tabloid peers.
This special brand of vitriol all too often strikes a stark contrast to the genuine dignity, selflessness and heroism that characterises the way so many of our representatives conduct themselves publicaly and privately.
Take, for example, Tobias Elwood MP – former Captain of the Royal Green Jackets – who continues to serve as a Foreign Office Minister. As images of last Wednesday’s horrific events began to trickle in, people across the country watched rapt by the carnage left in the wake of a twisted, destructive individual. Most will not have noticed, hidden behind the fluorescent jackets of the emergency services, a blood-stained Elwood, desperately trying to stem the blood flowing from PC Keith Palmer’s stab wounds.
Despite the minister’s repeated attempts at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, Palmer would be pronounced dead at the scene. For his heroism, Elwood would later be made a member of the Privy Council.
If not Elwood, think then of Mary Creagh, the member of Parliament for Wakefield who, only moments after finding herself in the midst of an attack on the capital, ran to Westminster Station to protect any unaware commuters. With no identification Creagh convinced the TfL controllers to instigate a lock-down, potentially saving dozens of lives – she was not to know that armed officers had already shot and killed the perpetrator.
Of the 750 people that represent you in Parliament, 50 have served in the armed forces, more than ever before possess past or current ties to the charitable sector and only 14% have never held a ‘proper job’. The rest of the house encompasses former city traders, miners, lawyers, social workers, journalists, doctors, actors and farmhands to name but a few.
So, how is it that this group of largely decent people of such diverse circumstances and opinions are tarnished with the same brush?
The simple answer is that blame is easy.
Arguably, blame even plays a fundamental role in a healthy democracy. In public life, it allows for the free press to hold politicians accountable, and provides disincentives for our elected officials to turn to corruption or negligence. It is the fear of blame coming back to bite at the ballot box more than anything that keeps the most rabid of politicians at bay.
However, blame has evolved from a means of enforcing responsibility into something far uglier and more dangerous. We witnessed it on 23 June. It swept the United States; even though the commentariat continue – somehow – to be astonished on an almost daily basis, it’s painfully obvious that across the West, people are angry.
Consider the past few years: the financial crisis of 2008, the impact of the gig economy on wage security, constant fear of Islamic terrorism; it would be madness to suggest that this anger is unjustified. However, it would be entirely justifiable to argue that this anger is being directed to the wrong place.
No campaign better embodied the hijacking of legitimate anger than Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ movement. The uncoordinated, ill informed and sweeping scapegoating of almost every major American political figure was a master-class in manipulation. Trump rode to power on a wave of anger, no longer directed at any party or president, but at the very notion of the powerful. I believe that even across calmer waters, a similar phenomenon is developing in our own country.
This not only gives rise to fears of a Trump-like rise in populism, but even more worryingly means that our representatives must now fear for their own safety.
To occasionally resent those at the top is natural, to dehumanise those who seek to represent us is not. It is a distinction that was made particularly clear after the tragic demise of Jo Cox last year – her killer maintaining the belief that his council house was to be taken by an immigrant family.
United in grief, the country learned about Jo the local advocate, the selfless humanitarian and devoted family woman. On her way to her surgery that day she had merely been another politician.
Whilst clearly her assailant was a volatile man, his actions cast a light on the searing anger that is felt by so many towards those they hardly know. Too infrequently are we able to separate public figures from their ideals, and too often are we willing to create monsters where there exists merely fallible men and women.
So yes, hate may be fashionable for now but things don’t have to be this way. As the great political philosopher Coco Chanel once said “fashion changes but style endures”.
For decades, Westminster has been filled with style. Decent, honourable people like Jo Cox and Tobias Elwood will continue to pass through its illustrious hallways long after they are a distant memory. There will – it goes without saying – also come the corrupted, bigoted and Machiavellian because that is part of the very nature of power. But that being said, in order to allow these people to prove their worth to us, we must collectively allow them the consideration to leave their mark.
As a society, we must reign in the avalanche of animosity and return blame to its rightful place as a tool, not a blood sport. Rather than being so hasty in the rush to judgement, long may we remember that our civil servants are no less human than any of us.
If we can accomplish this, then hopefully we can look forward to the days where praise for our representatives need not come hand-in-hand with an obituary.
Written By: Tom Dore