So the big day has come and gone, and with it probably the most unpredictable election in recent years. A neck-and-neck race to the polls turned into a Conservative majority that few would have predicted, and the quick-fire resignation speeches of three party leaders swiftly followed.
Listening to Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband – and later on, David Cameron as he returned to Number 10 for another 5 years – I was pleasantly surprised to hear the humour, humility and genuine respect for their fellow man in their voices, and quite frankly wished I had heard more of it during the actual election campaign or their time in office.
For anyone that’s ever actually watched Prime Minister’s Question Time, or listened to two politicians of opposing colours front each other anywhere on any topic, it can often be – to use David Cameron’s words, a “bruising clash of ideas and arguments”. I’d say that’s putting it politely; sometimes it’s just downright childish and spiteful. Take David Cameron calling Ed Miliband “weak and despicable” just weeks earlier, or Ed retaliating that David was “a bully” and “feeble”.
Now I know it’s the custom of the House to allow such banter, and that mud-slinging and verbal chest-beating is just the way that party politics works; but surely I am not alone in thinking that the people who are considered intelligent enough to be running our country should be able to debate a serious topic without having to resort to personal insults and cheap jibes? Or that a system that encourages and exalts this kind of behaviour is outdated and less effective than one that encouraged, say, honest and open debate about the serious issues that affect every single person in this country? If it wouldn’t be allowed on your school debating team, should it really have a place in the seat of our democracy?
Playing the party game is a tricky path to tread I am sure. The election campaign trail must be a minefield for anyone with an ounce of integrity. I understand the pressure to get a win for the team at all costs, to find a way to most effectively silence the opposition, but personally I would have so much more respect for someone that stood up and stood by their policies, rather than stooping down to scoop the mud and getting ready to fling it.
It’s hard to remember in the heat of the debate that all of these people are just that – people. That once upon a time, when Ed or Nick or Dave made their decisions to forge a career in politics, it was more-likely-than-not rooted in a deep-held desire to make a difference. Whether we agree with their methods or their opinions, the life of a politician is hard, hard work, and I’m not sure anyone rises to the ranks of party leader without a strong sense of conviction that what they’re doing will hopefully one day change things for the better.
This is why I find it so unpalatable to watch the sometimes inhuman way in which politicians cut into one another. To watch what should be serious discussions about important issues descend into point-scoring and game-playing. I want them to be better than that. Because I am sure, deep down, they are. And because we deserve better than that – the British people who pay their taxes and cast their votes – to have them apply their minds to some of the most difficult and challenging decisions of our time. We deserve them to lead by example, to play fair and be people of integrity.
Last week in those resignation speeches from Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, and from David Cameron’s speech as he returned to Downing Street too, it was refreshing and encouraging to see that human side peep through once again. To hear them talk with honesty, with integrity and with grace and respect towards each other – whether in victory or defeat. If going forwards they can take some of that spirit with them, they might see more people restoring their faith in politicians again.