Saturday, 18 June 2016

Guest Blog: Reflections from Cllr Tim Cheetham

I'm in Leeds today, for a meeting to talk about how we can properly care for refugee children who have lost their families. It's something Jo Cox was passionate about, and she spoke eloquently and often on the subject. It is also something that many people, like Katie Hopkins in the right wing press for example, think we shouldn't even be doing. It engenders strong emotions, so strong that it can be hard not to judge a person by where they stand and what they say.

I mention Hopkins deliberately, because many of the people I like and respect have said things in response to some of her pronouncements which are no different to the abuse Jo suffered for her views. I've probably been tempted myself.

I've come to realise, mostly through the EU debate, just how important simple respect for other views can be. This has been a debate where I have views but not strong ones. It has enabled me to view both sides without the anaethetic of my own passion. I've spent a lot of the last few weeks thinking, 'Jeez, is that what I sound like?'

I've mocked the hyperbole and rhetoric of the extremes, each competing to ramp up the importance of their case. To power home their point with verbal and emotional force. There is the ridiculous spectacle of people bellowing at each other without ever really listening to the other side. The lies, partial arguments and half-truths told to ourselves and others to support an absolute viewpoint. It is the political equivalent of football hooliganism.

Economic collapse, war even the end of civilisation have been bandied about with utter seriousness. The need for gravitas, for absolutes, for a debating 'killer blow'. A simple political choice, presented as a life and death issue.

And then suddenly politics is exactly that. A woman who believed one thing is shot in the street by someone who believes something different. Someone eye witnesses say was shouting, 'put Britain first,' at her as she died. A political slogan.

We are all to blame. For creating and allowing this toxic politics to infect our democracy and our practice. Every time we refuse to listen to another viewpoint, no matter how personally objectionable we find it, every time we 'play the person not the ball', every time we dismiss the person as a lefty traitor or racist bigot and every time we allow our beliefs to outweigh our humanity. As Jo was fond of quoting, there will always be more that unites us than divides us.

Before I left this morning, my youngest hurled himself at me for an extra hug. He's a beautiful sensitive little soul. He has soaked up the news. I've been on the telly a lot lately, some people disagree with me, they say mean things, nobody is going to get me are they? It was all there in that hug. I want to tell him not be daft. But I am regularly attacked verbally, and threatened, I've seen many colleagues and opponents attacked physically, it is a small but ever-present risk.

As I held him, I thought of the children of Jo Cox who can never now do that again. I thought of the words ringing around this tragedy, that love must conquer hate, that light must drive out darkness and that unity is greater than division. Not a unity against something else, which is how we often use it, but a unity that holds us all.

These aren't just emotional hyperbole and overblown rhetoric, they are real and practical responsibilities. They mean accepting disagreement, wanting to share your position without demanding others adopt it or decrying them for not doing so. The violent language of 'fight', 'battle' and 'war', the desperate pleadings of 'the end', 'last chance' and 'breaking point' must all go from our political lexicon when discussing ideological choices.

In the wake of this senseless killing, in another week of senseless killings, in our world of seemingly constant senseless killings, we all need to think about how we express our beliefs; political, religious or personal. Because it doesn't start with murder, it doesn't start with hate, it starts with our ability to discuss difficult things in reasonable open minded ways. We all need to work harder on that.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The EU Referendum: Stop Telling Me What To Think!

I've seen and heard much about why we should or should not remain in the EU. To be honest, I'm pretty much sick of the threats of drought, pestilence and great evil that will befall us if we vote to leave/remain. I want facts, actual clear information and I want to be TRUSTED to make a decision that I feel is right.

To this end, I stopped listening to politicians and instead, I actively sought out information from academics, experts and people whose opinions, thoughts and learning I trusted. 

I read articles by professors, academics and business leaders.

I found information that was presented without ego; without the need to make me agree or affirm that the writer was correct and everyone else is wrong. I discovered pragmatic, sensible discussion that actually covered both sides of the debate. It was a delight. 

The politicians' need/ desire to be partisan is understandable - even though this is clearly a cross-party issue. I do have an issue with the Labour leadership sitting back and watching the Tories tear themselves apart though. 

The issue of EU membership was always going to do that, other parties will be able to make the most of the disarray the Conservative Party will find itself in, after the referendum; BUT this is far too important an issue for Labour, or anyone else to take a backseat, grab the popcorn and watch Boris/Gove versus Dave/Osborne tearing lumps out of one another. 

Cameron has lead the Remain campaign and has done so almost on his own. Fears around platform sharing should not be an issue - the public need to know that politicians will work together on big, hugely important matters like this. 

The EU Referendum is not politics, it's an issue that will affect people in the UK for generations to come - whichever result is achieved. 

As an addendum, here are just a few of the useful pieces I've read recently: 

The UK in a Changing Europe - lots of opinion and articles by various academics