Let's appreciate our opponents while they are still alive

Yesterday at a church function one of the people attending said to me that he thought it was a good thing that the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition had put aside their differences that morning  to appear together laying floral tributes to the murdered MP Sir David Amess. 

I agreed entirely with him, as I have agreed with similar opinions on social media. 

But it should not be just when those opponents have died, when they retire or when they receive an honour that politicians feel able to say anything positive about their opponents.

We need to be much better at recognising the humanity and acknowledging good points put forward by our political opponents when they are alive and in the normal course of politics - and that goes for people of all political parties.

Many years ago the "Not the Nine o'clock News" comedy programme did a sketch which begins with two politicians insulting one another in the most vituperative terms on television when one of them, played by Rowan Atkinson, has a heart attack and drops dead live on air. The other, played by Mel Smith, segues seamlessly in the very middle of a sentence from harsh criticism of the living politician to platitudes praising the dead one.

I have no doubt that in the case of Sir David Amess, who really was a nice, kind person, who took his work seriously but never himself, who listened to anyone in his constituency, and died making himself accessible to the people he was elected to represent, it was the tributes which were sincere and that nobody who knew him intended comments like "scum" to refer to him.

But there were two or three politicians, and I don't need to name names because you all know exactly who I mean without any need to spell it out, whose expressions of sympathy, no doubt sincerely meant, came over like Mel Smith in the sketch above.
We need to learn from this.

We need to dial down the level of personal criticism of our opponents, and dial up the recognition of things where we accept they may have a point. The strength of a democratic society is our ability to learn from one another, and none of us have a monopoly of wisdom or virtue.


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