Spalding area MP Sir John Hayes: "A Fair contest"
Vigorous debate - clarifying the differences which provide choice - is the lifeblood of healthy democratic politics. Passionate advocacy and considered opposition make effective policy-making possible, with the plans of people in power being subject to thorough scrutiny.
Those who want to try to sanitise the mother of all Parliaments, by curbing colourful language or labelling every criticism as somehow ‘offensive, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘harmful’ are doing open minded debate no good. The robust and dramatic nature of our House of Commons defines its character, winning interest and admiration from around the world.
Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that cruelty is creeping into civil discourse, with personal harassment now considered by some a price that must be paid by those who pursue public office.
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When one considers what has changed in recent years, our clickbait media culture, in which bloggers and social media ‘influencers’ compete to shock and sensationalise, is a good place to begin. Constant references to a Brexit ‘crisis’, Government ‘meltdown’ or climate ‘apocalypse’ contribute to hysterical hyperbole, exposing people daily to crass exaggerations.
Likewise, the anonymity of the internet amplifies a sense of division, as social media networks act as a tribal echo chamber in which those who shout loudest or speak with greatest outrage attract most attention and interaction. Even normally sensible people, who speak with restraint when looking a fellow human in the eye, slip quickly into outrage when engaged in social media.
The result is an atmosphere soured by distaste in a culture scarred by fear. As the bonds that once united us – shared values and accepted civilities – weaken, people feel that defeat in political battle could lead to subjugation. A growing number, desperate for purpose beyond the prosaic, are turning to doctrinal dogma, making political defeat a direct blow to their person and identity. Little wonder that we see ordinarily decent people abandon civility and courtesy in hostile political debate.
It is imperative to remember that, whilst we may sometimes find ourselves frustrated with politics, those willing to put their head above the parapet are not ‘fair game’ for bullying or vitriol. In fact, it often takes a great deal of courage to stand up for your beliefs (especially if they are unfashionably politically incorrect!) in the public square. Of course there are many things which society might rightly deem unacceptable, but those who value cherished liberties to think, speak, gather and worship freely, should think carefully before condemning the expressed conscious of others.
At each election here in South Holland and the Deepings I am grateful for two things above all. Firstly, that we live in a place in which votes are freely cast and fairly counted. Second, that in every contest in which I have stood, my political opponents and I have treated one another with decency and respect, separating political differences from personal lives. Indeed at the last General Election, my main opponent, the Labour candidate, was a perfect gentlemen.
I hope that instead of the sort of brutalised battle portrayed by elements of the media as the be all and end all, the forthcoming General Election will be an opportunity to be the best we can be.
It is right that in the coming contest honestly held contrasting views are articulated and arguments made with passion as voters make their choice. Yet, if we lose the sense of fairness upon which democratic nations depend, whoever wins, all will lose.