The past few weeks haven't been the proudest in the history of UK politics, for many reasons. One aspect of political culture, in particular, has stuck out to me like a sore thumb - the sheer rudeness of the way politicians behave and speak towards (or about) one another. Why they think such behaviour is acceptable for grown adults is beyond me...
Hilary Benn's speech defending the motion to bomb Syria was simply phenomenal. Whether you agree or disagree with bombing Syria, it was a masterpiece of oratory, filled with a delicate balance of emotion, fact and persuasive rhetoric. Applause is very rare in the House of Commons, yet he received it. In the aftermath of the speech, there was both praise and disdain. One comment in disagreement with his views, however, must have stung Hilary horribly. Alex Salmond opined that Hilary Benn's father (Tony Benn) would be: "birling in his grave". It is one thing to disagree with the speech of a fellow politician. It is another thing to get personal and hit where it hurts most. Hilary Benn is not his father and should not be expected to be. Furthermore, although Tony Benn (if he were alive) may well disagree with his son's stance...would he be ashamed? I think not. Tony Benn was a man who respected those who had the courage of their convictions. He may have even chuckled over the fact that those who think his son is a gentle lamb will now see, instead, that he is a force to be reckoned with...maybe even a potential Prime Minister. Why did Salmond choose such a distasteful way in which to disagree with Hilary Benn? Well, it could have been jealousy - the fact that so many people on both sides of the House were drooling over him. Or it could have been simple one-up-man ship and the eagerness to have the best sound-bite.
In the last few weeks, the death of 21-year-old Elliott Johnson has been prominent in the press - and quite rightly. He was a budding Conservative activist, who committed suicide by throwing himself under a train. It is suspected that bullying by campaigners and party members was one of the key reasons he chose to end his life. Let that sink in. A young lad who worked tirelessly to help the Conservative party was bullied by the very people he should have been able to trust the most. Why did they target him? Doubtless, that is too much for us to know at the present time. Maybe they were jealous of the abilities that dazzled those who surrounded him. Maybe they felt threatened by his rapid climb up the greasy pole. Whatever the reason, this was unacceptable behaviour.
With snide remarks and criticisms bouncing left, right and centre, it is little wonder that the public are so disengaged with politics. MPs on all sides agree on one thing - not enough people turn out to vote. I don't think they shouldn't be surprised. Their behaviour is so childish that people probably feel there is no point voting for an overgrown teenager.
Insulting one another is not new for our MPs. There are numerous examples of these behavioural patterns throughout history. Norman Tebbit called Neil Kinnock: "a windbag whose incoherent speeches spring from an incoherent mind". Ken Livingstone implied that Thatcher was as scary as serial killers and assassins. Harold Wilson described Ted Heath as: "A shiver looking for a spine to run up." Whether behaviour is new or old is not the issue...it is whether the behaviour is right or wrong! In no other field of work would such blatant mockery be tolerated. In politics, it is almost normal.
Interestingly, the "Punch and Judy" nature of politics is now beginning to backfire on the Westminster bubble. MPs are getting a taste of their own medicine - but, this time, from the public. The Labour Party have recently spoken up about the dangers of abuse to individual MPs from trolls on social media. One individual tweeted to Stella Creasy MP: "You have no children and you look like a cold...person." On Twitter, again, Liz Kendall was labelled as "Blairite scum". Without a doubt, social media can bring out the worst in people. There can be no defence for the behaviour of these people, yet...is their behaviour not reflective of the political culture of mocking and insults? Maybe politicians should learn to lead by example. All we need are new attitudes. And, who knows, maybe this generation will rise up to change the "norm".