28 Oct 2013

Cut and Thrust Politics

From the latest Stroud News and Journal, I see David Drew excuses being rude on the basis that it is simply part of the cut and thrust of modern politics. While I accept this is accurate, I question whether it’s right, and invite everyone (David included) to consider the social implications of ‘normal’ political behaviour.

It’s worth noting there aren’t anything like as many women in politics as men. This is in part because fewer women tend to come forward in the first place. Aggressive, macho politics where shouting down your opponent is preferred to collaborative or reasoned approaches, may be partly to blame here. This is certainly not a female-friendly culture. Either we have to raise women to be aggressive and assertive like men or we need a culture shift in politics. I’m for the latter, because this is not just about female engagement in political activity.

Domestic abuse and workplace bullying often depend on the basic assumption that it is ok to shout at people, to abuse them verbally, to humiliate, denigrate and shout down rather than showing respect or dealing with issues. Anyone who wishes to justify this behaviour need only look to modern politics for validation. It should further be noted that once you’ve established it is normal to verbally abuse, harass and humiliate, it is a good deal easier to both justify and get away with physical violence. People who have not been abused ask why victims stay. One reason is feeling that the behaviour is normal and deserved. Again, when politicians set such poor examples in terms of respect, it is little wonder women who are shouted at until they are nervous wrecks feel no right to defend themselves from that. Verbal bullying wrecks lives; I believe politicians have a moral duty to set a better example.

We complain about what lousy role models pop stars and footballers are for our young people. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that politicians should be making more effort to be good role models. If this is because we cannot imagine young people would take any interest in what politicians do, then we are failing them. We should be trying to engage the young in society and therefore in politics, or what you get is a lot of Russell Brands who loathe the system and don’t want to vote. What do we do, in politics, to inspire and motivate the young? What examples do politicians set, and what role models do politicians offer? Let’s consider the hypocrisy of a tax-payer funded second home, while the poorest people are facing a bedroom tax. Let’s consider the subsidised eating for well paid politicians, while the poorest are denigrated for turning to food banks. I rather expect Mr Drew to agree that the impact of such hypocrisy is to disengage our young people from politics. But what about the style? What about the issue of shouting people down rather than arguing points? I don’t think children are impressed when they hear playground style bullying from the leaders of the land. The thing is, that on a playground, that behaviour is actively discouraged by teachers.
Politicians need to listen as much as speak, probably more. We can’t listen to what people, who are supposed to be the heart of democracy, say, if we’re shouting. Fear of being ridiculed (as I was) and shouted down makes it harder to ask questions and offer opinions in the first place. Anyone feeling downtrodden won’t have the confidence to assert themselves in this modern political environment. We should not be excluding the emotionally delicate, the nervous, the fearful, the downtrodden from political debate by frightening them off before they have even tried to communicate. We have to be able to hear alternative perspectives to our own, and to treat with respect those human beings who think differently. We need to persuade people of the value of our arguments rather than ridiculing theirs. We need to bring people in, not depress them into going away.

Cut and thrust style politics sets up an atmosphere of conflict. Us and them. Win and lose. What happens in that scenario, is that actually, everyone loses, and democracy is undermined. Surely we can do better?

(Cartoon by Russ)


Bob Irving said...

It's just the shouting down, though that is truly bad, but also the fact that that politicians never answer the question asked, but always answer the question they want to answer.

Anonymous said...

But aren't politicians sort of impotent, with big money lobbying, and press-pressure?
They need to do a bit of shouting at Question Time so that people will feel that things can actually change, and that they have valid jobs.

Anonymous said...

I also think Twitter is not very conducive to intelligent debate as posts are limited to 140 characters. If someone wanted to give an in depth response to someone, they can't, so they might just say something short and flippant.

There really should be better ways for people to conduct public debate.

Would Karl Marx have debated using Twitter?