This is a lament for lost graciousness in public life today. Was there a time when people who were decent went into public life? I’d like to think so, but today I’m less sure.
My first lament is that we’ve stopped debating political issues.
It used to be that you could argue the politics of the day with someone who held the other point of view, and still be on speaking terms afterwards. I can’t be the only one who recalls having long earnest discussions late into the night, drinking Woodpecker and Maxwell House from mugs, and arguing our cases for what we believed in. And in the morning, we’d still acknowledge the other person was a human being and a friend.
Today, that doesn’t happen. People today hide in their ideological trenches, firing insults at the other side. No-one is brave enough to play football in no-man’s-land.
Heaven knows, there are still great issues to be debated. The problem is that when you take a view on any important issue, there will be found very vocal people who will demonise you.
Surely there’s a better way? There’s a yawning gap between ‘Tory scum’ and ‘Tories, come!’.
I lament that we’ve stopped accepting the result of a vote.
It used to be that we would have an election or a referendum, and one side would win and the other would lose. Then the winners would take office and get on with doing (or not) what they’d promised in the campaign, and a few years later we’d have another election and if we liked what they’d done, we’d vote them back in and if we didn’t, we’d vote the other lot into power instead. And in-between the elections, we’d get on with our lives. We’d get married, have children and bring them up, and generally do what’s important in life.
There was a referendum not that long ago about whether to set up a Welsh Parliament. It was a pretty close result, something like 50.3% v 49.7%, but that was accepted by everyone and today we have a bunch of politicians in Cardiff. You don’t hear anyone calling for there to be another vote, or saying that the Welsh didn’t know what they were voting for.
Today, that’s what happens, it seems. Labour did not accept that they didn’t win the 2017 General Election, and they worked to oppose everything the Conservative government proposed to do. Not ‘cos it was bad (and to be fair, there’s a fair bit to disagree with the Tories on) but just because it was proposed by the Tories. I know that the duty of the Opposition is to oppose, but really? They did much the same after the 2019 election, telling anyone who would listen that they had ‘won the argument’.
I get the feeling that if Boris Johnston were to get up in the House of Commons to announce the Second Coming of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, then Keir Starmer would complain about the grossly unfair harp allocation, and take issue with the poor quality of Heavenly Nectar being supplied. If the positions were reversed, and Keir was announcing the Rapture, Boris would move to arguing against it in a heartbeat.
And across the Pond there is more of this. Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election. He won it by winning the most votes in the Electoral College, according to the rules that have been in place for many many years. Yet the Democrats have still not accepted this. There were legal challenges to the vote, and calls for recounts in several states. And people made much of ‘Hillary got more votes’. This is true, but irrelevant. Donald got more Electoral College votes, and that should be an end of it. I remember when George Bush beat Al Gore by having more hanging chads. There was a bit of a fuss and both sides lawyered up, but after a couple of weeks, the result was accepted and Al went off to make his film.
Not so today. The Democrats have dug in and are opposing anything and everything the President does. They delayed his picks for office for as long as possible, and they are throwing mud at his candidates even now. I know that their duty is to oppose, but really?
Churchill said Democracy was the worst system of government, apart from all the others. The rule of the ballot-box only works as long as we accept the result that comes out of it.
That leads onto my third lament – we demonise people.
It used to be said that ‘Fred does bad things so Fred is a bad person’. Today people say ‘Fred is a bad person so everything he says or does is bad’. And it follows that you don’t have to listen to Fred, in fact you can have him ostracised, no-platformed, or even deprived of his liberty.
You see this in politics. If you don’t support the views of the politically correct, no-one will debate with you, they will call you something rude and you may well be prevented from holding your meetings, sometimes by the threat of force.
What’s to be done? Should we just accept that things are as they are, and hunker down and accept our lot, as did the serfs of old? Doesn’t feel right, somehow. At the other extreme are the torches and pitchforks brigade. No, that’s not for me either.
A problem is that demonising people who disagree with you is not a good way to convert them to your point of view. You would think that the Remainers would have learnt this by now, but there we go…
I think we should take the traditional British approach and argue with humour when we encounter opposing points of view. In today’s frantic climate, humour becomes more necessary. We should not get personal, we should appreciate people speaking their minds even when we disagree with them. There is merit in sticking your head over the parapet and engaging in debate. Let’s point out the flaws in people’s arguments rather than in their characters. And maybe – just maybe – we’ll have some good debates.
© Jim Walshe 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file