Towards a more inclusive politics

There tends to be a load of solidarity between women across party anyway. Many of us put up with the same issues within our parties and in politics generally, so there’s a great deal of common ground.

Jo Cox chaired Labour’s Women’s Network and our own Women’s organisation, Liberal Democrat Women, made its own tribute to her.

We have been deeply saddened by the news of Jo Cox’s death. It is particularly heart-breaking to see that this happened whilst she was working for her constituents. Jo was a woman who fought for equality and justice daily through her role as a Member of Parliament and also as Chair of the Labour Women’s Network. The Liberal Democrat Women commend her for her work in being a charismatic and thoughtful leader in Parliament as well as an inspiration to women and girls in the UK.

We hope that we can all pull together to ensure her memory and her work is never lost or forgotten. We also hope that in light of this tragedy we all remain confident in the democracy we have in our country and that we do not let political views divide or silence us. Our sincere condolences to her husband Brendan Cox and her two young children.

One really lovely sight in an utterly hellish week happened at the Glasgow vigil for Jo Cox last night, attended by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale, who knew Jo well. As they both lay their flowers, Nicola put her arm round Kez. This is how things should be.

In other signs of consensus, Tim Farron has added his support to a move to allow backbenchers from different parties to sit together during the recall of Parliament on Monday for tributes to Jo Cox. Traditionally, the Government sits on one side, the opposition on the other, divided by two swords’ lengths. Seriously.

Let’s hope the Speaker agrees, because it is a super idea. However, we need to do more than that. We need to conduct our politics in a much more intelligent, respectful inclusive manner that serves the needs of all our people. That is the way to insulate ourselves from bitter, divisive scapegoating hatred.

The last few weeks have seen some of the most unpleasant stirrings of scapegoating prejudice that I have ever seen. It has made me really fear for the direction our country is taking. I found the Scottish referendum really difficult. The environment in which that was conducted was toxic at times, but it was nothing compared to this.

It has seemed like the rules of civilised debate have been cast aside. Alex Massie put it very well in an article for the Spectator entitled A Day of Infamy on Thursday night:

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

I suspect it’s a while since Alex Massie and Polly Toynbee last agreed on something, but in her Guardian column, Toynbee looked at how mainstream the damaging rhetoric has become:

This campaign has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment that used to be confined to outbursts from the far fringes of British politics. The justice minister, Michael Gove, and the leader of the house, Chris Grayling – together with former London mayor Boris Johnson – have allied themselves to divisive anti-foreigner sentiment ramped up to a level unprecedented in our lifetime. Ted Heath expelled Enoch Powell from the Tory front ranks for it. Oswald Mosley was ejected from his party for it. Gove and Grayling remain in the cabinet.

When politicians from a mainstream party use immigration as their main weapon in a hotly fought campaign, they unleash something dark and hateful that in all countries always lurks not far beneath the surface.

If people are worried about low pay, insufficient housing and public services at breaking point, it is because they don’t have enough money to make ends meet, they can’t get a decent place to live and it’s a nightmare trying to get a GP appointment. It is surely better to respond to their concerns by tackling low pay, building more houses and making our public services fit for purpose. It’s really not rocket science. And how much better to get people invested in things that will actually solve our problems than just stoke up worse ones. Giving people the false hope that all their problems could be resolved by getting rid of immigrants or benefits claimants or the EU is criminally irresponsible. Once you get your way, the problems will still be there. On the other hand, giving people concrete, sometimes literally if you are talking about building more houses, makes for a much better society. How do we know this works? Because it did, after the war. When we had a society that had food in its belly, decent healthcare and housing, it was also ready to become more liberal, decriminalising homosexuality, freeing women to make their own choices, exploding with creativity and innovation. Is that not what we want for our country?

It’s also worth pointing out that the political agenda is set by those who vote. We need to make it very easy for those disengaged people to have their say and show willing to listen to them. The move to individual electoral registration has served to erect more barriers for people who were never engaged anyway.

In the days leading up to and beyond Thursday, there needs to be a lot more “one nation” talk and a conscious turning back from the horrible, divisive rhetoric from certain quarters. If our politicians can’t achieve that, then the future for the country is very bleak indeed.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Peter Hayes 18th Jun '16 - 5:37pm

    It is very difficult to be optimistic. Even here there are below the line comments that do not suggest a changed politics, ConservativeHome and LabourList are often abusive. All we can hope is posters to political sites are not typical.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jun '16 - 6:11pm

    “Ted Heath expelled Enoch Powell” actually a decision of the Shadow cabinet during Heath’s time as Tory leader. Heath had also been Harold Macmillan’s negotiator.
    Polly Toynbee was one of the journalists on Any Questions on Radio 4 in the respectful absence of all politicians.
    As expert politicians target floating voters in marginal constituencies most of the electorate are disenfranchised even if they cast their votes. In a referendum with a single nationwide constituency the (registered) electorate are treated equally, which provides an opportunity for a protest vote. In many referendums (propositions in the USA) they can be tempted not to answer the question asked.

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