For all its faults politics had quite a good week

I have a friend who is an elected representative for a UK political party. He’s a lovely guy – intelligent, witty and always ready with a story or an insight into whatever is going on in the political firmament.

He sees the world in a totally different way to me – so differently in fact, that I often wonder if we are living in parallel universes.

I’ve never been a member of a political party – certainly not his – and I cannot imagine ever joining one.

I suspect I drive him nuts – me being a fully-signed up member of the so-called metropolitan liberal elite. He recently admitted he’d muted me on Twitter because he could no longer stomach my bitter and twisted (my words) attacks on his political friends.

And just right too I suppose.

None of us should have to endure Twitter if we don’t want to, and sometimes I can go over the top. I may disagree with what he did, but I will defend to the death his right to mute me… or so might have Tweeted Voltaire.

When we were talking about the Cummings debacle, I asked whether today’s politicians were worse than those of previous generations. It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves I’m sure.

He thought not. They were just as bad but didn’t have such scrutiny to contend with. Fair point.

I have another friend, a former student who still hasn’t forgiven me for a disappointing mark I gave him once in a module. He is also active in politics, though for a different party. He is in despair at the current state of politics. “No such thing as decency in politics,” he said to me in a message earlier this week.

“No such thing as decency.” It’s a powerful charge, and on the face of it difficult to refute.

But then I was presented with a Tweet about Martin McGuinness – a man who walked the extra mile in the cause of peace and who transcended his past to build a better future. And not that long ago Twitter was filled with images of John Hume who doggedly defied critics – even in his own party – because he believed there was a way out of the quagmire of the troubles.

He was right.

I have known a few politicians over the years, and yes some are venal, and flawed, and attention-seeking. But my overwhelming impression is that they were in it to do some good for the people they represented.

They were not unlike my friend, who is not in politics for power and influence. He solves people’s problems with their bin collections and noisy neighbours; he sorts out issues with planning; and he navigates the bureaucracy for constituents who are perplexed by it, or suffer as a result of it.

In Belfast City Hall I saw councillors on opposite sides of the constitutional divide working together for their constituents. And in this current crisis, despite a degree of bumpiness, we have seen representatives from all political parties working hard to find a way through the challenges that saves lives.

As Allison Morris said of Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill in the Irish News this week: “The First and Deputy First Ministers have managed to combine leadership with compassion and both have emerged from this period with a different attitude – and public perception – than they had going in.”

One way of reading recent events in Downing Street is to see them as confirmation of corruption and chicanery.

But if we focus instead on the brave voices within Conservatism who have refused to kow-tow to Cummings; if we look at the leadership given by people across the political spectrum who have voiced the shock of outraged citizens; and if we look at those administrations which are doing all they can to do the right thing, I think we can say that politics has had quite a good week of it.

  • This piece first appeared in the Irish News on May 29 2020