boris santa advent general election
Democracy

An Advent General Election won’t be a time of peace and goodwill toward men

A General Election has been called for 12th December. There are three possible, even likely outcomes: a Conservative majority, permitting Boris Johnson to bolster freedom and push his Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament and deliver Brexit by New Year’s Eve; a Labour majority, permitting Jeremy Corbyn to usher in a new age of radical socialism and statist command and control and a tax on your back gardens; or another hung parliament, in which nothing at all will be resolved and the political purgatory continues. It is all very high-risk: the stakes of destiny are high. Parliament is to be dissolved ominously on 5th November. Remember, remember…

The Church of England in Parliament has tweeted: ‘There will be a General Election on December 12th. Please pray for all those who are standing, those who work to support our democracy, & for a campaign that sees passionate difference expressed in a positive & peaceful way.’ You can pray that, of course. But you’ll need an awful lot of effectual, fervent faith and righteousness.

This General Election isn’t going to be like others: it won’t focus so much on NHS funding or educational equality or the ubiquity of foodbanks and fat cats. It will be distorted, if not darkened by Brexit. It is the herd of elephants in the room: vote Tory to get Brexit done; vote LibDem to revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit altogether; or vote Labour for a renegotiated Withdrawal Agreement which the EU will jump at, followed by a ‘People’s Vote’ (/second referendum) to see if you support that form of Brexit or not, during which campaign Labour will remain neutral permitting their MPs to support Brexit or the possibility of revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU.

Vote Labour and the political purgatory continues.

Was that passionate difference expressed in a positive and peaceful way?

Writing in the Spectator, Isabel Hardman puts her finger on a quickened pulse:

Politics has become infected by a ‘just war’ mentality, where people on all sides believe it is acceptable to behave unconscionably to those they disagree with. They conflate fighting ideas with fighting a person physically, and dehumanise their opponents to the extent that they end up ‘deserving’ the abuse because they are wrong. Urging people to ‘just get on’ isn’t going to cut it: they often believe themselves to be peaceable because they are kind to those of a similar persuasion. Anyone who wants to ensure a good supply of ‘normal’ people coming into parliament is going to have to work out how to unpick the ‘just war’ mentality, otherwise we will lose far more from our politics than just individual MPs.

How do you express passionate difference in a positive and peaceful way when the mode of political warfare has become deeply personal and dehumanising? Of course positivity and peace are a better way, but how can they triumph in a febrile general election over an opponent intent on sowing division by preaching from the extremities? Moderation and compromise don’t attract headlines, do they? Why bother to argue rationally against a party’s flawed policy ideas when it’s so much easier to hurl “traitor“, “amoral liar” or “imperialist capitalist pig” at the politician, and accrue all the attendant free campaign publicity?

Our political culture has ceased to distinguish between the public and private life; between relevant and irrelevant information. Of course, some aspects of a private life have a bearing on public office: it’s hard to campaign for family values or sex equality if you’re a serial adulterer or wife-beater. But politicians are entitled to a private life of peace and security, and they are entitled to be treated with honour and respect: they are entitled to have their physical and mental integrity respected. You may profoundly disagree with their thesis and vehemently dispute their creed, but in a constitution of deliberative democracy it ought to be possible to deal with moral disagreement in a mature, thoughtful and considerate way: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and all that.

Walking to the polling station through a winter wonderland of fairy lights and tinsel trees might remind voters that this is the season of peace on earth and good will toward men. Or, of course, it might not.

It won’t, will it?

This is a general election, and Brexit looms bigly. Who can be bothered to expound the virtues and vices of an over-extended conception of liberty against underdeveloped conceptions of opportunity? It’s just easier to violate the person than defeat their nuanced argument, isn’t it? This is a general election, and winning is all.

O, ye of little faith.