Making our democracy better

By Emma Burnell / @EmmaBurnell_

This column wasn’t supposed to be about this. Earlier in the week I had drafted a blistering attack on Theresa May’s U-turn over social care written and ready to be published. It wasn’t the time. It still isn’t.

Today, we return to national campaigning in an election campaign that has paled next to the atrocity that hit Manchester.

Manchester has a special place in my heart. Has had since that revelatory moment I first heard The Stone Roses on Top of The Pops aged 14. Baggy was my bag and the Mancunian swagger that spoke of a newly empowered north has been the soundtrack to my very southern life. Manchester will bounce back as it has before; that’s what Manchester does.

Like many of you I have spent the last few days veering from horror to infinite sadness. Reading the human stories behind the deaths has been almost too much to take. These beautiful young people taken too early. They had so much to give, so much love still to send into the world.

Politics too must bounce back; however hard it feels now. The things we were fighting so passionately for last week are still vital. It is still essential Labour challenges Theresa May and the Tories on Brexit, on public services, on austerity, on cuts to the police, on the union and the danger of it breaking up.

It feels just that little bit harder to carry on every time something like this happens. But the meaning of politics is in its optimism for the future. We care because we want to build something better. We disagree – both between and within parties – about what that might be or how that might be achieved. All too often we focus on those disagreements and not on the fact that we are all passionate enough to disagree this much because we believe in a future worth fighting for.

It is right to argue passionately over these different visions. Politics is about a clash of ideas and that’s incredibly important. If that passion becomes diminished through abuse, fear or suppression then we have lost sight of our values. Caring about the future of our country is how we become politicised. We can’t then let threats to our country stop us being political.

But we must also remember that we also grieve together when our shared values come under attack. Remember that those we disagree with politically are also people who live lives not unlike ours, with love and pain and loss and sorrow and joy and laughter and tears and highs and lows. They want to scream at the injustice of it all just as we do. They celebrate their triumphs and mourn their losses just as we do.

Politics is a divisive pastime. Too often we define ourselves by who and what we are not. This leads to a constant denial of the virtues of those we shun. Not the virtues of their arguments, character or fitness for office, but of their very humanity. It’s an easy trap to fall into and I know I have been guilty of it. I will try to do better.

And we all should do better, not just for the sake of our own humanity, but to create better political debate; to make our democracy better. Because the more we focus on making our arguments better, the better we will be at making them and persuading others of their power. Virtue may be its own reward, but in this case the high road is also the politically beneficial one for all of us.

In the meantime, I will continue to occasionally -and utterly without meaning to- break into a “Bez walk” when Step On comes on the Walkman as I deliver yet more leaflets. Because events this week may have twisted my melon, man, but they haven’t broken my spirit. 

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