Certain events always stand out in people’s minds. The murder of Jo Cox MP is going to be one of those for me. I never met her nor was I overly familiar with her work before yesterday. However, any human being would find such an event shocking. If you have ever been involved in politics you will feel it even more.
Politicians often have to dismiss their fears to appear in control. Nobody wants to hear a politician saying they were afraid or scared. There is little sympathy for them. When bad things happen to a politician there is a defence of ‘Oh they deserved it’…’they will get over it’ or the ever popular ‘it’s no worse than their policies.’
All of this stems from an extreme feeling of self righteousness. That we are the only ones who can be right and if someone disagrees with us it cannot be just a different way of doing things it has to be because they are stupid, they are corrupt, they are ignorant, they are personally liable and they are less human.
Politics is about debate. Robust and tough debate. It must always be rooted in policy. The slide into personal attacks is a slippery slope. No party is free from it. All public representatives get abuse. Some like to blame some parties over another but the truth is different representatives get it from different sectors. The problem is when people who should know better fail to see the start of the slide. Once you move away from debating a policy to attacking the person you have begun that slide. Once you stop accepting that a person’s disagreement with you does not make them any less smart or honourable than you, you are in trouble.
We go from personal abuse to jostling. Jostling to something being thrown. Something being thrown to a punch. From there where does it go? Where is the line? I’ve known many politicians down the years from various backgrounds and parties who, while they never would admit it publicly, had times when they felt very worried for themselves or their families.
Hate is indeed at the root of this as Jo Cox’s husband said. If you want to win a debate you can stick to facts but that will require a lot of talent, strategy and ability. There is an easier lazier way. Forget the actual argument. De-humanise the opponent. They can be political opponents, other nationalities, ethnic groups, other social classes. Make them out to be genetically different. Not like us. Make out that they have cultural differences that are somehow more than just human creations. The same rules don’t apply to them as everyone else. They are stupid, incompetent, foolish, corrupt, vile, and odious. Once you establish that you can start to say and do what you like. That’s how hatred works. It’s not a way of dealing with problems it’s a way of getting a pass to get around your conscience.
The shooting in Orlando, the shooting of Jo Cox and modern terrorism all fed off this hate. A view that somehow it’s alright. Jo Cox was elected. If anyone disagreed with her there was a ballot box to change things. If you disagree with any community or view then the ballot box is there to deal with all of these things. To put anything ahead of that ballot box is to say that just because your view is not shared widely enough you have a right to circumvent it. This can never be allowed to happen.
Nothing can change the fact that two little children will have to grow up without the mother who loved them. Absolutely nothing can ever make up for that. No retribution, no change, no nice words can ever make it better. It is final and permanent. That’s what hate does. The only thing each of us can do is to try being better people. Stop looking around and blaming. Stop looking for others to make the change. You and I, we would never do anything like shoot someone. We would never hurl vile abuse at someone in the street. But where exactly do we draw a line, how much are we ok with? Do we sometimes ignore a debate because we just dislike the person making the point? Do we make throwaway remarks? Do we say things like ‘They should be shot’? You see each little bit of hatred we give in to allows someone further along the line to push their hatred a bit further too.