I may be stretching the good will of my readers with a post in defence of politicians.
It’s not just about politicians but I’ll use them as an example to illustrate a wider point about dangers of generalising before going into why politics matters and how you can find those sympathetic to the issues that matter to you.
“They’re all the same”
We hear variations of the above statement all the time. We hear it when the actions of the few are taken to be representative of the many.
We hear it when we refer to communities as being some form of amorphous blob rather than being a collection of varying values, beliefs and viewpoints.
Some politicians are guilty of using that language too and set the tone for debate in an unhelpful way.
The important part of that sentence is ‘some’. When we hear ‘all’ in the context of any group or profession we should be cautious.
This isn’t about being a pedant and obsessing over technical points about language it is is about how that language shapes our perceptions and therefore our behaviour towards those groups.
It’s about stereotypes. The danger of declaring that X group or people are the same denies the possibility of change.
‘They’re all the same’ dehumanises a group and makes it easier to justify bad behaviour towards them. This can be seen in the certain degree of schadenfreude at the recent survey results on harassment and a sense of ‘boo-hoo. Aren’t they being precious?’ rather than sympathy.
Of the 101 MPs who had experienced threats to harm them or those close to them, the study notes: “There were numerous reports of death threats, both in person and by mail, and of bomb threats … Other examples were: ‘You’d better keep an eye on your children’; ‘stated he would kill me if his child dies in hospital’; ‘threat to kill me by telephone at home – call taken by my seven-year-old daughter’; ‘I will destroy you’; ‘wife received phone calls saying “I am going to kill you or one of your family”; ‘petrol poured through letter box’.”
‘They’re all the same’ encourages cynicism, apathy and suspicion. It strangles hope, condemns change to failure before it can be nurtured and offers no solution on its place.
‘They’re all the same’ offers false security in thoughts and beliefs, wrapping them in a comfy, cosy blanket of protection whilst simultaneously condemning those with differing view points the same luxury.
Finding the ones asking the questions you want answered
I’m not so naive to think that all politicians are selfless paragons of virtue but equally I’m not so cynical as to think that they are all the same or fundamentally corrupt, soulless soundbite machines.
There are plenty of those but even with the greasy pole climbers there can be a glimmer of hope. Not all the time but sometimes you can see the mask slip.
Even if you don’t think you have an interest in politics there will be something in your life that is political. It may not be obvious but there will be some link to either funding, support or legislation. Chances are there will be someone with a similar interest. With access to the Internet and tools like the Parliament website, theyworkforyou and Twitter it’s relatively easy to find out who is active in the topics close to your heart.
They will care enough to meet with people and listen to their stories. They will apply pressure to change things, to get more funding, raise awareness or change the law. It’s not just MPs, the much maligned Lords are also asking questions and debating these issues. Unlike MPs you don’t have to be in their constituency to contact them.
Working across boundaries
Violence against women
After reading The Anxious Dragon’s detailed and personal analysis of the coercive control laws being introduced I looked online for the debates during the Bill (now Act). I also found the recent debate on the role of men in reducing violence against women secured by Gavin Newlands and Jess Phillips
There was some party politicking in there (our system demands it) but there was a sense that this was an issue that crossed party lines and went to the core of what makes us who we are as a society. Jess Phillips also gets bonus points for:
Unfortunately, a very tiny minority of very vocal men are not like that. A tiny minority of men rape women; a minority of men hit their partners. In any group, there is a tiny minority who let the majority down. It is the same tiny minority of men who get incredibly defensive when women speak up about this issue. I am here to say to them, “Dude, don’t always assume that we’re talking about you.”
The quality of debate was good with participants exchanging statistics and stories of violence and sexism from their constituents and from their own personal experiences. It wasn’t about one upping one another but supporting their point and building the case for change by working together.
They were quick to shoot down the inevitable ‘whataboutery’ so they could focus on the matter of how to tackle the problem and address the wider issue of culture change.
I do not wish to imply that men are not victims of domestic violence; they are. However, the vast majority—about 80%—of domestic violence cases are perpetrated by men on women. All of us in the House should be concerned that the incidence of male victims of domestic violence in Scotland is on the rise, increasing from 11% of all victims in 2005-06 to 18% in 2014-15. Parliament may want to debate that important subject in the future, but today we are debating violence against women.
There were disagreements (notably on the value of sex and relationship education) but it was refreshingly free of the tedious barracking most people are familiar from Prime Ministers Questions.
Similarly it was heartening to see a cause close to my heart being heard in Parliament. The heartfelt speeches from William Quince and Antoinette Sandbach captured imaginations and brought the harrowing reality of loss to the House in a way that could not be ignored.
We know from the recent call to action that political will is essential to improving prevention efforts and improved bereavement care by putting it on the wider maternal and mental health agenda as an issue that needs attention, support and action.
I was pleased to see recent tweets from the All Party Parliamentary Group on baby loss showing MPs across the political spectrum working together with charities.
It’s all encouraging but what matters is action. I will watch carefully to see what the next steps will be and for the findings of the National Maternity Review.
Over to you
Have you used any of these tools to find out what people are saying about causes close to your heart? Have you had any positive experiences of getting help from your representative? Have any politicians surprised you by their dedication to your cause? Let me know whether its been good or bad in the comments.