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We can pay tribute to Sir David Amess by introducing more compassion into our politics

We can pay tribute to Sir David Amess by introducing more compassion into our politics

Memorial to Conservative MP Sir David Amess on Parliament Square, October 2021 | Alamy

4 min read

While we cannot undo the terrible events of a year ago, we can learn from them and build something better in their wake

A year has passed since the appalling murder of our dear friend and colleague Sir David Amess. At the time of his death, shock and anger turned into a cry for action – for a recalibration of our political culture. Here at the All-Party Group for Compassionate Politics we see it as our mission to take that desire and turn it into concrete efforts for reform.

In setting ourselves this task, we have great reason for hope. Decades of scientific research has revealed something wonderful about the human condition: we are wired for compassion. It is what drives us to care for our family, look out for our friends, and help our neighbours. Within our communities, it can be nurtured and enabled, or it can be stifled and suppressed. The key ingredient to cultivate compassion and kindness to thrive is leadership: leadership in our schools, leadership at work and, fundamentally, leadership in politics. If we can build a politics and articulate a vision that reflects our common values, we are certain people will join with us in supporting and delivering it.

This means, first off, we need to change the message, avoiding language that divides and engenders anger, fear and blame. Instead we need to focus on shared aspirations and common values: the need for security, opportunity, health, and happiness. It means using narratives and stories of care, community, and connection. 

As well as reforming the message, we need to improve trust in our politicians, the messengers. Recent changes have made this task more challenging: the former prime minister removed the need for ministers to resign when they were found guilty of breaching the ministerial code, resisted efforts to give the ethics adviser the power to launch their own investigations, and removed from the code any reference to the need for honesty and transparency. To embed greater dignity and respect in our politics we must put the ministerial code – and the members’ code too – on a statutory footing so that it can be properly enforced as well as empowering the role of the ethics adviser.

We need to change the message, avoiding language that divides and engenders anger, fear and blame

To further improve the machinery of government we recommend a number of reforms aimed at creating a more supportive and inclusive environment. Research carried by our APPG into the culture of working life in politics found that many staff and MPs are currently working in intolerable conditions. Two in five say they feel miserable at work, one in five “do not like who they are becoming”, and a third have experienced conflict in the last 12 months. 

To change this, we need to think about parliamentary work in a new way. We need to see it is a professional vocation that requires, like any modern business, structures to ensure Members and staff feel safe, supported, and empowered. Good policies will only come from good politics. That is why our APPG is recommending the creation of an independent HR function to oversee the employment of MP staff including salaries, training, and complaint resolution. We have also recommended the provision of compassion training to MPs and staff. This well-established training programme has been shown to reduce conflict, build bridges, increase happiness, and improve motivation. 

But of course, we cannot limit our view of politics to Westminster or constituency offices. Politics happens every day in workplaces, homes and community spaces, and our institutions need to do much more to represent those discussions and that engagement. We need to continue the process started by recent governments of devolving more power and responsibility to local and regional governments and we need to find new mechanisms – the fledgling move toward citizens assemblies might offer a fruitful avenue – through which to harvest the wisdom of the public and engage them in decision-making.

While we cannot undo the terrible events of a year ago, we can learn from them and build something better in their wake.

Baroness Warsi and Debbie Abrahams are co-chairs of the All-Party Group for Compassionate Politics

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