Remembering David Amess - the path to a more compassionate politics
When my political career began, I opposed the construction of housing on an asbestos-contaminated site in Rochdale. This was not because of ideological obligation. It was not because of party allegiance. It was because I refused to risk public health.
Compassionate pragmatism should always inform our work. Unfortunately, we often end up with the very opposite. Rather than creating a dialogue, we create a divide.
"Compassion" means "to suffer together". We are all witness to these turbulent times, yet our political climate is rife with hostility. We have seen contentious issues become catalysts for violent extremism.
Rather than discussing the economic nuances of Brexit, hate crimes against European Union nationals peaked. Instead of opening a dialogue on systemic misogyny, women were pinned to the ground at Clapham Common.
First Past The Post is designed to be confrontational – a two-horse race where voters pick 'sides'
These are symptoms of two much greater problems with our democracy: toxic internet culture and a restrictive voting system.
Internet algorithms are known to produce self-sustaining echo chambers. Without exposure to other perspectives, and with recommended content becoming more extreme, it is far too easy to assume that your perspective is "right". Twitter is where I receive the majority of abuse, with people eagerly attacking my German heritage. Perhaps they find it entertaining, but politics is not entertainment – not a tribal sport that can be used to senselessly attack people.
Our very voting system encourages this. First Past The Post is designed to be confrontational – a two-horse race where voters pick "sides". In the "us or them" climate of elections, conflict matters more than compromise. Everything feels, dare I say it, like a referendum.
I recently went door-knocking in my constituency. I was struck, yet unsurprised, by the widespread frustration of my constituents. One person worryingly said they would rather live in an authoritarian state, as parliamentary work seems stagnant and fruitless. How can we hope to restore this country’s diminishing faith in democracy if our politics continues along this point-scoring charade?
Democracy is about differing perspectives. If we listen to each other and reconcile our differences, rather than senselessly attacking one another, we can work towards a progressive politics where we arrive at meaningful solutions.
We must end political tribalism, and challenge hate whenever and wherever we see it.
People must be educated on the dangers of online echo chambers, particularly the young and impressionable. Our voting system should be reformed so legitimacy is given to peoples’ votes. Parliament should not be two opposing parties, but a collective of representatives working for the betterment of our country.
Collegiality has historically been the most effective means of change. If not for cross-party support for my upskirting bill, the vile act would have yet to be criminalised. Several years later, I continue to rely on this support as I seek to make misogyny a hate crime.
The public, too, has benefitted from collegiately during the pandemic; in which many suffered together through numerous lockdowns in the name of public health.
This is not to say politicians should not be held accountable, nor am I saying conflicting views are negative. These are both crucial for democracy. What we say must be truthful, relevant and, most importantly, in the aim of progress. When we act merely to spite each other, our democracy becomes stagnant – even regressive. Division becomes hatred; hatred becomes aggression; aggression becomes violence.
The senseless murder of Sir David Amess MP must galvanise all of us in public life to look into our hearts and pledge to bridge the deep divides that separate us.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.