Monday, April 18, 2016

Alex Massie in the Spectator: there's nothing shameful in working cross-party

Very powerful piece by Alex Massie in the Spectator about why the photos showing David Cameron, Paddy Ashdown and Neil Kinnock campaigning together for "Remain" were nothing for any of them to be ashamed of  at

Grown-up politics does sometimes require people to work with others who don't share all their views. That can happen at any level from a Town or Parish Council to the Cabinet or in the European parliament. And if you don't get it, you probably should not be actively involved in politics.

As Alex Massie says, just as it was wrong for SNP supporters to pillory Labour unionists for working with Tory or Lib/Dem unionists during the Scottish Independence Referendum, or to call those who voted "No" traitors to Scotland, it is wrong to criticise either side in the EU referendum debate for working with mainstream politicians who don't share all their views, or to call those who think the UK would be better off inside the UK traitors to Britain.

Here are some extracts:

If you think this photograph is shameful you should probably be ashamed of yourself

"Today’s starter for ten: how does this photograph make you feel? Does it make you angry? Does it do more than that? Perhaps your are the kind of person who feels this a truly shameful photograph.

Perhaps, if this is the case, you need to get out more. Perhaps you also need a holiday from politics.

Now, of course, a referendum – being a binary Yes/No question – is a divisive business. That does not require you to abandon all sense of perspective. If the sight of the Prime Minister in the company of Paddy Ashdown and Neil Kinnock leaves you frothing with disbelief you probably should, as the Irish put it, cop on to yourself.

We have been here before, of course. One of the nastier aspects of the Scottish independence referendum was the manner in which the SNP and the wider Yes movement castigated Labour Unionists who had the temerity – nay, the shameless audacity – to find themselves on the same side of the argument as the hated Tories. Worse than that, they were happy to be on the same side of the argument. Disgraceful scenes. No wonder they had to be punished or run out of town.

This is, of course, as infantile as it is distasteful. More than even that, however, it’s a reminder that too much politics corrodes more than just your sense of perspective; it’s like pouring acid on your sense of decency too.

In normal times and circumstances even the dullest-witted bear can understand that agreeing with person X about subject A does not mean you need agree with them on subject B or, indeed, anything else. But some things are more than just a question of party politics. Some things actually are larger than that and only monomaniacal zealots fail to understand this elementary point.

But then the odd thing about so many people within the Leave campaign is that they really do seem to think the EU referendum is some kind of struggle for national survival. You hear more talk about freedom from really quite senior and supposedly influential Outers than you did from senior and supposedly respectable Yessers in the Scottish referendum. (There was plenty of that stuff in Scotland too but it wasn’t the emphasis of the public campaign.)

It’s the vehemence of the Outers that I find so curious."

"I mean, really. When these people holiday in Italy or Germany or Sweden do they look at their surroundings and think, yup, this is what an unfree country looks like? We must presume they do. It never seems to occur to them that the mere fact of this referendum contradicts their wilder rhetoric. an unfree Britain wouldn’t have a referendum at all.

That’s not to say there aren’t any number of things wrong with the EU, nor areas in which it could sensibly dial-back its ambitions. But the Out case seems to rest on us being able to keep all the things we like about the EU while jettisoning all the things we don’t. This seems fanciful, not least because it’s not the way politics, or the world, works. Trade-offs are unavoidable. By all means make the case that, all things being equal, the disadvantages are smaller than the advantages of Brexit but, please, don’t try and con the electorate by pretending there are no trade-offs at all. (This stricture also, obviously, applies to the Remain campaign too.)

We live in a time of polarisation, however and, just as importantly, a time of great impatience. Nuance and irony are for wimps. Politics, these days, is more than just a set of felt or reasoned preferences it is, increasingly it seems, a core part of many people’s identity. Offend my politics and you offend me. This kind of preening suits a narcissistic age, of course, but there remains something pathetic about the kinds of people who’d be offended by a photograph of Messrs Cameron, Ashdown and Kinnock rallying support for one of the (very) few issues upon which they agree.

Then again, the Outers are easily bruised. I’ve not encountered such a bunch of thin-skinned whingeing ninnies since, oh, the autumn of 2014.

How dare the government take a view on Brexit! How dare the government then campaign to promote that view! How dare this country’s oldest and closest allies take a view! How dare they then express it! Why, daddy, will you insist on telling me unicorns don’t exist when everyone knows Welwyn Garden City is full of them?"

"Labour Unionists betrayed no-one – least of all some imagined, tosh-stuffed, view of ‘Scotland’ – when they campaigned alongside Unionists from other parties and neither the Prime Minister nor anyone else who shares a platform with members of other parties during this squawk-filled campaign is betraying anyone either. They’re acting according to their view of the national interest – just as you are acting according to yours – and if you cannot accept that, or find yourself infuriated by that, then that says vastly more about you than it does them. And none of it good, either."

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