Monday, 28 October 2013

People and Politics

Last night we braved 'the storm that thankfully never quite manifested' to head down to hear a guest speaker at church, one of the Oxford MPs, Nicola Blackwood. I've head Nicola speak before and always been hugely impressed by how eloquent and bright she is but more than that by her sincerity and clear desire to do right by the people in her constituency. That combined with her being that rare thing, a young woman in politics, finds me being quite a fan!

Hearing about the week she has ahead made my meagre workload of a couple of essays look like a walk in the park. Darting back and forth from the commons in London, debating hugely important bills on immigration, advising on Home Office committees, campaigning against exploitation of children in Oxford, not to mention dealing with a myriad of issues from the people here from pensions to childcare to transport to security to employment. Nicola was refreshingly honest that in this role where on election you suddenly have to be an expert in all aspects of human existence in Britain you have to work incredibly hard to get up to speed but you will also, inevitably, at times get it wrong. We all are human beings after all, and that includes our public representatives.

It really made me think about the way we speak about and treat those that represent us. Under everything Nicola said was the clear desire for public service that I found tremendously inspirational. She often mentioned wanting to do right by her constituents and her prayer requests were wisdom and energy to do just that. I know that feeling well as someone whose education is being paid for by the pounds in the church collection plate. I want to do right by those who have trusted me to be here and lead the church in the future.

Nicola's third prayer request, however, was for a change in public perception of politics and politicians. While working these manic weeks, and quite frankly she must be constantly battling exhaustion, she finds herself coming up against the perception that all politicians are all 'liars and thieves'. Of course we have a right to hold our representatives to account, and it is vitally important that we do so, but the common assumption that all politicians are motivated entirely by a quest for power and care little for the people they serve is plainly false. Don't get me wrong, there is a clear agenda of self promotion in politics and the behaviour of some politicians in the past has in part created this negativity in public perception. However that is one part of a much bigger picture of people sacrificing family, health and a huge amount of energy to try to improve the lot of ordinary people.

It's not holding politicians to account, then, that is to be critiqued but rather the failure to engage with politics because of assumptions that 'all politicians are the same' which, as Nicola rightly pointed out, damages democracy in this country. It also, I would argue, damages our relationships as human beings. If we disagree with a policy then we must and should speak out but the personal bashing of politicians is so common and so approved of and that worries me. Even more so when the stark reality of the time, effort and energy that our representatives put in is clearly examined and acknowledged. For them to do the best job for us and for our country they need our critique, yes, but also our support.

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