The 'heat of the moment' and loutish politics
It hasn't been a good fortnight for forbearance and self control in the political arena.
It is unremarkable that former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom had not grasped that language evolves and the vocabulary and 'humour' of the Territorial Army Officer's Mess from the 'Life on Mars' era, does not impress a more liberal and thoughtful time. After all, one of UKIP's selling points is its appeal to a certain type of ageing white male who thinks sensitivity and courtesy can be swept aside as “political correctness gone mad”.
But the self-winding tantrum in which Bloom indulged himself when asked by Channel 4's Michael Crick why there were “ no black faces” on his party's conference brochure was another matter entirely. This absurd piece of faux-outrage culminated in him slapping Crick around the head with the brochure in question.
A week later, we had the even more unedifying spectacle of Iain Dale, Conservative blogger and publisher of the controversial memoir of Damien McBride, scuffling with an elderly, frail protester outside the Labour Party Conference.
As Dale was doing a piece to camera, promoting the book of Gordon Brown's former media adviser and self-described “vindictive and insensitive bastard”, protester Stuart Holmes hovered behind him holding up a 'No Nukes' placard. This is a common ploy and most broadcast crews ignore it or shift the camera angle. But Dale's sense of proportion appeared to go missing and he attempted to wrestle Holmes to the ground. It is only fair to record that he has issued an apparently genuine apology: "It was totally out of character for me to react to him in the way that I did," he said."I also want to apologise for the blogpost I wrote after the incident. It was full of absurd bravado and in the heat of the moment, I behaved in a frankly idiotic way.”
The heat of the moment would seem also to have got the better of the MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, who reacted like an adolescent in meltdown to a reasoned and compassionately worded tweet from Eoin Clarke in an exchange about David Cameron's tax break for some married couples.
Clarke, who is the editor of the Green Benches political blog, had referred to the strain which Westminster life places on the marriages of MPs. Jackson's response was racist – using Clarke's ethnicity as an insult, and utterly childish – implying a slur on his education by placing his doctorate in inverted comments. It was a sorry display of unmannerly petulance from a public servant.
These episodes have obvious differences. But what they all have in common is an incapacity to deal with frustration in an adult and civilised manner or to engage in the kind of reasoned defence of a position which we have a right to expect from people in public life. To resort to either physical or verbal violence is a clear indication of inadequacy. (And yes, I'd place John Prescott's punch in that category too.)
This type of behaviour serves only to convince an already disillusioned electorate that politics is peopled by men (and I use that gender noun for a reason), for whom, truth, respectful dialogue and a sense of humour come second to having their own way on all occasions.
Women are capable of bad behaviour too. But on the whole, they seek solutions rather than conflict and are less obsessed with having the last word in preference to the truthful word. Unfortunately, our political culture is still predominately male and that perversion of masculinity run to seed so clearly seen in these displeasing actions remains far too prevalent.
It is worth noting that 128 fringe events at this week's Conservative Party Conference have no women speakers or panellists. Not only will their voices be absent, their co-operative instincts will not inform the ideas on display nor the manner in which they are presented.
Until there is a better balance of approach within political discourse, loutish behaviour of tongue and fist will continue to repel the people that discourse should serve and engage. It is time to insist on a little less heat and rather more light.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen
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