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Politics Is Emotional But It's Time To Face Facts

27/03/2017 11:28 BST | Updated 27/03/2017 11:29 BST
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Wednesday 29th March 2017 will be an emotional day for many. As Article 50 is triggered, setting in motion the UK's exit from the European Union and a two year window to agree the terms of the divorce, people around the country will feel differently. For EU nationals living in the UK, the date will do little to relieve their worries about what the future holds. For the 52% of people who voted to leave, this date probably couldn't come soon enough. For people on the island of Ireland, assurances that an alternative to a hard border will be found might go some way to alleviating fears but the potential Brexit has to destabilise a still fragile peace process, remains a live concern. For others, it's an insignificant date or meaningful for different reasons. There are, after all, many other issues to grapple with in life and politics.

But for the 48% who voted to remain in the EU, it's an emotionally significant date and a reminder of the facts. We are heading for a hard Brexit. Little can be done about the lies told during the referendum campaign, the lead Brexiteers no longer accountable in their new guises. There never was, and never will be, an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. The civil service has failed to recruit enough new staff to deal with the situation. We don't know what's ahead for communities and sectors heavily reliant on EU funding and workers, or what our trade agreements will look like because the Government won't tell us. Because they don't know. So the repeated insistence that we are all Brexiteers now, rings hollow. Just as the millions of Americans who did not vote for Trump refuse to accept his divisive rhetoric and actions. He is not their President. This is not our choice.

On Saturday, across Europe, people united for Europe. In London, it was a demonstration against Brexit. Some asked what the point of this was. Protesting is an emotional response, symbolising different aims. For some, it was an organised way of demonstrating the will of the 48%, of the desire to change course and fight for a second referendum. For others, it was a way of showing solidarity with UK residing EU nationals and their families whose lives are in limbo. Emotions and passionately held beliefs are why people refuse to lie down and accept all kinds of injustice and inequality. I've never met a campaigner who isn't emotional about their cause. Some campaigners acquire the role without choice. They are thrown into a world of political lobbying, legal challenges and public scrutiny because of personal tragedy. These people are often the most effective campaigners because they have what it takes - tenacity, resilience and unwavering commitment. Walking away is not an option. Like the families of the Hillsborough victims who spent 27 years fighting for justice, battling lies and humiliation with enormous dignity to eventually prove that their loved ones were blameless and unlawfully killed. An emotional campaign where the truth was uncovered using evidence and facts.

It's hard to emotionally detach from last week's tragic events in Westminster. It's all too relatable, the loss of life, the impact on loved ones, on those who were injured and on those who witnessed events and will remain forever changed by it. And for those of us who carry London in our hearts, it's hard to feel unemotional about another violent attack on this, most tolerant, welcoming and international of cities. But the policy response to terrorism must not be entirely emotional. It has to involve calm heads and pragmatism. This has been signalled in the rhetoric of much of the official response. Whether this tone continues and is reflected in political action, remains to be seen. Calls for more police officers to be armed and for yet more, increased surveillance powers have begun. The resolve to carry on as normal will be tested. There has already been much knee-jerk and arbitrary policymaking in recent years and we should not rush towards this. The legislatively hyperactive periods post 9/11 and 7/7 showed scant concern for human rights and civil liberties in the name of security. Unjust policies are often counter-productive policies and in the end, this does anything but keep us safe.

The hard truth is that no amount of security measures can guarantee protection from harm. It's not always possible to prevent, or accurately predict, a random attack from an individual armed with a knife or a car, intent on murdering a police officer protecting the public; people walking across a bridge or an MP leaving her constituency surgery. Effective counter-terror measures tackle terrorism at its root and challenge hatred, prejudice, division and intolerance. History teaches us that it often involves conversation and diplomacy, complex work and expert advice - the latter so derided and ridiculed during the EU referendum campaign. We must face the fact that all of this takes time. Patience, tenacity and resilience are required, alongside a long-term view driven by evidence, not short-term, reactive measures driven by angry and emotionally manipulative newspaper headlines.

Politicians are not emotionless beings and the most dangerous type of politician is the one more concerned with power than cause. But when it comes to both managing the threat from terrorism and shaping Britain's future outside the EU, these two sensitive and polarising political challenges need to focus on reasoned debate and logical argument. More facts please. Fewer sensationalist headlines and meaningless soundbites about 'taking back control.' Emotions come in a wide range and include fear and anger as well as compassion and joy. Fear is powerful and it can be powerfully exploited. Our emotions play an important part in democratic and political discussion. But they can't be the only thing driving the debate and shaping our response.

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