Sunday 4 December 2016

Public Debate Should Never be Characterised by Hate:

I have been struck by two events in the press this week, both involving Theresa May. The first also concerns Kate Bush too. 

The other, Theresa May defending the rights of Christians to express their faith in the public arena.

Apparently, Kate expressed admiration for Theresa May, as well she might. TM, the daughter of a vicar, is a woman who has risen to be PM, and on top of this, she seems a decent sort – possibly due to her upbringing. She seemed genuinely bothered about the Tory Party being perceived as the ‘nasty party’ as she put it, and she really does seem to care about the issues that affect the vulnerable in our society. Enfranchisement for women (and poor men), need I remind us, has been hard won, and women still need to overcome far greater odds to gain high office and leading roles in the workplace generally.

The occupiers of the high ground however, are dissing Kate Bush for admiring the woman, Theresa May because, despite all her achievements and principles, after all, she is (spit the words out) A TORY!! (and thus worthy of the kind of vitriol usually reserved for those who kill the innocent - okay, don't start). The occupiers of the moral high ground, which I shall refer to as TOOTMHG, are usually Labour voters, who are anti-Israel and tend to post a lot of half-baked stuff about Christians. (It’s astonishing to me how ill informed otherwise seemingly educated people are about the bible – and about most world religions, but that’s another point). Some Kate Bush fans are even going to get rid of her records (though most of these ‘fans’ - as in fanatics – and this is where the root of the word really comes into play, if you will pardon all these allusions) are old enough to have got through life without remaining daft – sorry, I am trying not to come across as bigoted myself and thereby making the point I wish to make null and void – this is me holding back! Withering Frights! Might I point out that Kate's name is Kate Bush. Not George Bush? Britons no longer seem able to keep things in perspective – too much privilege? I shall stick to the point...

In London this week, The Evening Standard was predictably biased about Kate Hate. On Thursday morning the Metro was balanced: they illustrated the Kate debacle with four readers tweets, or should of I say two tweets and two twits: two sensible and coherent, two rabidly insensible and only coherent in a pat, predictable, 'I only ever think tribally sort of way.' (Of course, I realise - awareness! -I too am taking the moral high ground here.) Here is the problem, and it was the same problem I saw on Question Time last night from Laurie Penny (The New Statesman) when the debate turned to immigration. The TOOTMHG’s ‘do not like the tone of the debate’ as soon as people disagree with them. The subject of 2004 and TB (yes he is bacterial! – sorry, again) opening the doors to Eastern Europe came up. Panelists and audience members made the point that being concerned about levels of immigration does not mean that people hate immigrants and are racist (though some may well be). We are all aware of how wonderful and tolerant our country is and how much we owe to immigration (I am an immigrant! Partly, anyway). And, those freedoms have been won by a country that was founded on the very biblical freedoms that many in the TOOTMHG camp, would like to crush. Not that one has to nowadays be a Christian to adhere to Godly principles – they are enshrined in our law – though those laws are being eroded and not many seem to be able to discern the irony therein, but that’s another point! 

LP – yes she was a long-playing record, and it was the same song on repeat: Have a heart. We need the skills etc.,’ and yes, we do. No clear thinking person wants to turn away a desperate refugee family, but we do need to exercise some control, particularly regarding criminal elements. The TOOTMHG's response will be: ‘If you say anything that we disagree with, we will not like your tone, shake our heads with sorrow, call you a racist who hates minority groups and refuse to come down and engage. Actually, the tone was reasonable and balanced. At the risk of sinking into the divisive mire, brexit voters are tired of being told that they hate immigrants and are thick and racist. Remainers are now being called remoaners, given their demands for a recount. I won’t get into the subject of democracy here, but the point I hope to make (match point!) is this: on all sides, we must defend the democratic right to disagree with people and have them disagree with us, even if we think they are wrong! And we need to be able to try to listen without ridiculing and trying to crush anyone who disagrees with us.

We cannot operate in a society where people who have different opinions to us are crushed by the thought police – or those that think they shape public thought, however much they have had to think again! Thus, though I find it irritating when people make stupid, uninformed comments about Christians based on what they learned at convent school or picked up from the media, I will defend their right to do so, even as I cringe. All of us, those of us who believe in God, many gods or none, need to find it within ourselves, to rise above ourselves, to respect and care for each other, however much we disagree with one another. Or at least have another cup of tea before coming over all nutty. I am all for satire and robust debate, (and I never police my public media pages as I respect people's right to disagree with me and express their own opinions however difficult that sometimes is) but when the tone really does take a turn for the worse as it did during Brexit on both sides, and given the prevailing climate of tribal entrenchment (I lost friends during Brexit due to my voting to leave - and still wanting too, btw) that we really do need to take a step back (a backward glance at how fascism and dictators rise) and consider how we 'police' people who think differently to us. Before it is too late for all of us, given how far we have come, or not, as the case may be. I shall leave you with Dr Seuss - whom I think might be Jewish, as was that other great hero of mine, Leonard Cohen. Keep the wisdom.