Wednesday 24 January 2018

Most politicians are brave - let's remember that

A Peoples Vigil in memory of Jo Cox took place at Custom Quay in Dublin this evening. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
A Peoples Vigil in memory of Jo Cox took place at Custom Quay in Dublin this evening. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Michael Deacon

To be a politician is brave. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much you try to help, you're going to be abused. You're going to be hated. Not by people who know you, but by people who don't.

You want to make yourself accessible to the public, so you use social media, you give out your email address and your office phone number, and you hold surgeries, to which anyone can turn up. Most of the people you deal with will probably be reasonable and respectful. But, online and in person, you will face others who won't. Others who will insult you, threaten you, and blame you for problems you've played no part in creating. But you don't give up. You keep trying to help. Because to be a politician is brave.

The rest of us need to recognise this. Of course, that isn't to say politicians shouldn't be criticised or challenged. Of course they should. As a political sketch writer, I analyse, and often mock, political rhetoric; I aim to highlight what I believe to be inconsistencies, double standards, humbug and outright nonsense. I know that politicians - like all of us - can be guilty of these.

But I know something else, and I should say it more often. As a rule, politicians are decent people. They go into politics with the aim of changing lives for the better. They may not always succeed, and they may be forced into unhappy compromises, and they may fall short of the ideals they set out with. But most of them go into the job for good reasons.

And I think this is a time to remember that. Everyone who knew Jo Cox has spoken about how kind and generous and friendly she was. She worked for the public. And now, shockingly, out of nowhere, she has been murdered.

We don't yet know the full details. We have to resist leaping to conclusions. But I think we should be able to agree that public discourse about politicians is becoming ugly. It's one thing to be critical of a specific politician's language, or their actions, or a party's policies. But it's quite another to wish a plague on all their houses, to snort that they're "all the same", they're "only in it for themselves", nasty little phrases that dehumanise the individual, encourage brainless paranoia, poison us with suspicion - and provoke some to hate.

We aren't ruled by a cabal of the evil. We're served by human beings who make mistakes, and get no end of grief even when they don't. We should remember Jo Cox - and we should remember that.

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