We all enjoy slagging politicians and pointing out the flaws in their arguments.
Well, I certainly do, particularly when it’s in a radio or TV studio when I get to see them squirming at close range. But having said that, I also happen to quite like many of the TDs I’ve had a barney with.
For example, I once had a hugely entertaining row with a serving minister on Newstalk and we went after each other for the first part of the show. But when we cut to a commercial break, the argument stopped, both of us asked about the other’s wife and family, and then we discussed Ireland’s chances at the next Six Nations.
When we returned on-air, the row continued again. I actually think we both enjoyed the jousting. That’s the way it should always be — this is business, it’s not personal.
For instance, I can’t stand Sinn Féin but I still have a lot of time for Louise O’Reilly. I just wish she was in Labour rather than the Shinners.
The same goes for Richard Boyd Barrett — although I have more than a sneaking suspicion that my grudging respect for him is not reciprocated. But that’s okay, we’re all big boys (and girls) and if you can’t take the rough and tumble of being in either politics or the media, then there are always other career paths for you to take.
But the last few months seem to have witnessed a massive deterioration in the respect that used to exist between politicians and the people. The murder of Conservative MP David Amess by an alleged Islamist terrorist is one of the most shocking things many of us have heard of in a long time — well, certainly since Jo Cox was so callously murdered by the fascist coward Thomas Mair.
Amess was a devout Catholic, he was pro-life and against gay marriage. He was also a vociferous defender of animal rights and was one of the very few Tory MPs who campaigned against fox hunting. In other words, he was a man of principle and it was striking to see so many Labour MPs pay tribute to him in the wake of his death.
They may not have shared his views on many issues, but plenty of them spoke of how kind and gentle he was, and how he was always ready to give advice and counsel to new MPs, regardless of their party affiliation.
That was a testament to the decency of the man — in fact, even though he had voted against gay marriage, his Labour opponent, Chris Bryant, pointed out in the Commons that: “Although I never persuaded David on the issue of gay marriage, he always asked after my husband.”
But in these increasingly fractured and Balkanised political times, when someone who holds opposing views is automatically deemed not just wrong, but positively evil, simply being a decent human being with a different set of values is no longer sufficient.
Let’s put it this way, when the appalling Angela Rayner felt happy to say that the Tories were all “scum”, she was merely representing the growing view that anyone who doesn’t share your values must be denounced. Frankly, I still don’t know what’s worse — Rayner’s obnoxious schoolyard insults or the fact she had the temerity to pay tribute to a man she had referred to as scum the previous week.
A perfect illustration of just how debased our society has become came with one tweet from transgender activist Eli Erlick, who posted: “Did he deserve to die? Probably not. Will people in Britain be better off because of his death? Yes, definitely.”
But it’s not just the UK that is suffering from this degradation of debate — we’re rapidly heading in that direction ourselves.
Over the last few months, we have seen mobs descend on the private homes of politicians like Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris and Stephen Donnelly to harass them and intimidate their families.
On these occasions, the mobs have been anti-vaxxers, but ultimately, any group of demented extremists will now feel emboldened to rock up to a stranger’s front door and start shouting abuse through the letterbox.
It’s now reaching a point where young people will soon decide that politics, with its long and antisocial hours and the inevitable abuse associated with it, just isn’t worth the hassle. This is a major issue for democracy.
The American journalist, Greg Gutfeld, used to joke that in 15 years there won’t be any politician under the age of 50 because they will have been caught saying stupid things on social media when they were kids. But it’s now gone beyond that — it’s not the silly posts they may have made, it’s the current trend for vile abuse and death threats that makes a career in politics look so utterly unappealing.
We’re entering the era of mob rule, where various lunatics, cranks and malcontents feel free to do and say whatever they want about someone they have never met and it has become thoroughly corrosive. I genuinely fear for the future of democracy.
How long before one of the Irish home-invading mobs decide to do to their target what the murderer did to the late and very lamented David Amess?
Speaking of dead politicians — my, what a cheery column we have today! — I was saddened to see the death of Colin Powell.
I always thought either him or Condoleeza Rice would have made fine presidents. They were measured, thoughtful, intelligent and shrewd. I’m not sure any of that can be said about an actual president, Donald Trump, whose reaction to Powell’s death was one of barely concealed glee.
In his ‘tribute’, Trump referred to Powell as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), then complained about the affectionate obituaries in the media before adding, for good measure: “He made many mistakes! Particularly in Iraq. Anyway, may he rest in peace!”
I’m in the odd position that I would have supported Biden over Trump if he had run instead of Hillary Clinton, yet if I had a vote in the last election, I would have gone for Trump because Biden is demonstrably unfit for office at this stage. Frankly, he’s just embarrassing.
But Trump just can’t help himself. I’ve never bought into the whole visceral Never Trump movement and history will be kinder to his record in office than people give him credit for.
Yet history will not be kind to the man himself because he has repeatedly proved that he is just a horrible individual. Powell was haunted for the rest of his life for believing the WMD myth, which spurred the invasion of Iraq, but he was man enough to own up to his error of judgement and apologise for it.
That’s not something we can ever expect from Trump, a man who now reminds me of one of those Japanese soldiers who hid in the hills for years after the war, but still thought they were fighting.
It’s interesting that for all of Trump’s sworn enemies, which are legion, his biggest foe is himself.