What a peaceful transition of power should look like

I might have known that after I had written about Obama’s inauguration speech earlier, how I would fall down the rabbit hole of the Obama White House You Tube Channel.

I came across the unveilings of the official portraits of George W and Laura Bush. Now, I am not a fan of him or his presidency at all. It is, however, very difficult not to love Laura.

Despite all that, when you watch all the speeches from the Obamas and the Bushes, you pick up a real warmth between them.

There was not a lot of common ground between them when Obama took office, but he went to great pains to point out how helpful Bush had been to him, then and since, and how there was quite a rapport between all the living occupants of the Oval Office. It is enjoyable to watch.

I think back to 1992, when Bill Clinton won after a pretty fraught election campaign with not a lot of love on either side. The first President Bush was similarly helpful and graceful to his successor and they struck up an enduring friendship as a result.

Obviously, this is not going to happen this time round, but Donald Trump, as in so many other ways, is very much the aberration here.

We need to see more examples of people with totally opposing views can behave with grace towards one another without compromising their principles. We need to follow the example of our own Charles Kennedy, whose friendship with Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell had been so important to both of them, as we found out after he died.  Charles had been subjected to the most appalling abuse for his opposition to the Iraq War, yet away from the heat, those two had a close personal friendship.

Generally, there should be more solidarity between political activists. I mean, who else actually goes and knocks on the doors of complete strangers and asks them how they are going to vote? There is a lot about the gruelling and exhausting reality of election campaigns that binds us together whatever party we happen to be from.

Unfortunately, there’s a real danger in the way that some of our current ministers speak about their opposition politicians and others. The way that Boris Johnson dismissed the experience of abuse that women MPs were telling him they had experienced was without any sort of grace and empathy.

There are times when differences are irreconcilable. It is not possible to deal in any sense with people who target specific groups with hatred. They generally are not interested in engaging and listening. The important thing is to limit the damage that these groups can do by winning the arguments amongst the wider population. You can still behave with decorum while you do so, though.

The public thinks that politicians are at each others’ throats the entire time because the only thing that they see is Prime Minister’s Questions. Actually, in all our parliaments there is a fair bit of cross-party working. Look at Christine Jardine’s bill to give NHS workers the right to remain – it has Labour and Plaid co-sponsors. The Westminster Hall debates often bring together MPs from all parties in much more thoughtful discussion than you see on the floor of the Commons.

Part of bringing this country back together again is by demonstrating how to disagree well.

As a party, we can be pretty good at this. We don’t have the toxic and divisive factionalism of the Labour Party. We do have pressure groups within the party, but we are generally quite good at having a really intense and robust debate at Conference and then all going to the pub afterwards. I have had huge arguments with people on economic policy. I am about as far left as you can get in this party as far as the economy is concerned. However, if there’s a civil liberties issue, I’ll be working hand in hand with the economic liberals to fight for freedom. But generally in this country progressives need to be much smarter about working together and concentrating the arguments against the people who really are doing the damage.

Both in the USA and over here, it’s important that the political ground is taken back from the populists. Joe Biden has the chance to make lives better and easier. If people are well provided for, they are more likely to think about their fellow human beings rather than scapegoat them. Over here, it will be some time before a more progressive government takes office, but we have a lot of groundwork to do in order to show how things can and will be better.

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

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14 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jan '21 - 6:52pm

    What’s your problem with the HW Bush presidency?

  • Presumably you’ve never heard of the Lib Dem Party’s stance on the Iraq War, the fictional weapons of mass destruction, the Chilcot Report – and the Financial crisis of 2008 caused bythe reckless activities of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Wee Jackie ?

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jan '21 - 9:43pm

    Ah – W not HW. I Must read more closely next time!

  • John Marriott 11th Jan '21 - 8:09am

    No, Jackie P, BOTH! HW was in charge at the time of the first Iraq War (aka ‘Desert Storm’), following Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and son, Dubya, was in charge during the second after 9/11 (remember WMD?). The first war was justified, although many felt that, having kicked Saddam out, Bush Senior and Thatcher (remember those photo ops in tanks?) should have carried on and finished the job. The second was pure retaliation and more or less destroyed Blair’s legacy, while giving the Lib Dems a massive boost and finishing the job started a decade earlier.

    Old George was a bit unlucky to come up against Clinton when he went for a second term. Not a bad guy – and not really a Texan – the other things I remember about him were his throwing up at a state banquet, in Tokyo, I think, and the part of his 1989 inaugural address, where he promised to build new mental care hospitals after his predecessors had closed many of them and relying on ‘care in the community, just as we were busy closing many of, copying yet another bright idea from across the pond!

  • Thank you Caron for finding & posting this gem.

    As someone who lived almost 30 years in the USA (but never had the right to vote), Obama was my favourite POTUS of all time. Furthermore, GW appears in retrospect a saint compared to the current monstrous aberration.

  • @ John Marriott I’ll give old George H.W. great credit for the parachute jump to celebrate his 90th birthday, and his wartime DFC flying a Grumann Avenger.

    What a contrast with the current monstrosity in the White House.

  • Richard Underhil 11th Jan '21 - 10:45am

    A relative has sent me a calendar listing all the US Presidents, including Donald Trump, asking to choose the best and the worst. It would be impolite to comment on Donald Trump so I have chosen Richard Milhous Nixon who chose a corrupt vice president and resigned while facing impeachment.
    The best is FD Roosevelt, who was elected four times. When he died the US population was in tears, showing that they loved their PresIdent.
    He did not tell his VP about having a powerful “new weapon”, who told Stalin, who seemed to already know, and who made the decision to use the weapon they had tested in the USA against Japan, famously saying “the buck stops here”, the alternative being the estimated loss of 500,000 US military personnel in invading Japan against a defiant military leadership. The A-bomb was not used in the Korean war and proposing that caused recall to the US.

  • Richard Underhill. 11th Jan '21 - 11:14am

    John Marriott 11th Jan ’21 – 8:09am
    George H W Bush’s CV shows a man of considerable ability as shown by American decisions to appoint him to several important jobs. The UK PM thought highly of him according to his memoirs.
    After the success “Desert Storm”, a military success, continuing military action was described as a “turkey shoot”, bombing civil power stations. President H WBush stopped it, taking political responsibility for not consulting numerous allies, including the UK, but also including Syria, who had helped in Kuwait.
    The capture of Saddam, found hiding in a hole in the ground despite winning a general election in Iraq with a reported vote of 100% in favour with a reported turnout of 100%.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Jan '21 - 11:37am

    HW did also bring about a soft landing at the end of the cold war. A reasonably serious level of achievement I’d say.

    First Iraq conflict…difficult. Very difficult.

  • Richard Underhill. 11th Jan '21 - 11:39am

    Keir Starmer’s speech today strongly implies that he would be a better Prime Minister than Boris Johnson and challenges us to decide whether we would support that. He has not explicitly called for a UK general election, nor for the timing of such an election.

  • John Marriott 11th Jan '21 - 12:10pm

    Sadly, at ALL levels of politics, it’s quite often not the competency of the candidate that gets them elected; but rather the colour of the rosette they happen to be wearing. In terms of ability, it’s pretty clear to me that, in a straight fight with Johnson, Starmer would win hands down. Unfortunately, another factor that comes into play is empathy, if that’s the right word. Starmer lacks that ‘Je ne sais quoi’. I’m reminded of Churchill’s judgement on Attlee (“A modest man with much to be modest about”). I sometimes wonder what would have happened had a character like Brian Blessed swopped acting for politics – and yet, come to think of it, there isn’t much difference for many people (LDV aficionados excepted).

  • Richard Underhill. 11th Jan '21 - 2:37pm

    Sir Keir Starmer was also asked about whether he is asking for advice from former election winner Tony Blair. He replied in generalisations, such as lots of people are talking to Tony Blair, who is doing a lot of research. The question from the Financial Times was the last questIon in the press conference.

  • @ John Marriott I’m afraid I can’t stand Brian Blessed. A noisy ego of a man with much to say about himself.

    As in so many things -Gallipoli, the Gold Standard, the General Strike, India, the Abdication – Churchill (as with Johnson) was wrong. Attlee had much to be proud of and probably gave you and me, John, the life chances we’ve enjoyed. Indeed the NHS (which the Tories opposed in 1948) saved my life in 2011 and enable me to walk and run again in 2018.

  • Careless me. I should have added that Churchill ordered the force feeding of suffragettes when he was Liberal Home Secretary – and believed in eugenics to the point of lobbying Asquith to sterilise those he described as the “feeble minded”.

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