A Nation’s Shock: Anger In Politics

Even I, who had never met him and disagreed profoundly with his political views on many issues, will forever recall the shock of the moment when my phone pinged a news alert last Friday, telling of the stabbing to death of Sir David Amess. I recalled at once the moment in the 1992 general election campaign when the holding of his then BasildonĀ  seat for the Tories signalled the end of Labour’s expectation that by the morning Kinnock would have led it back to power. So the shock and grief to his family, his friends and his colleagues cannot even be imagined. And of course the national wound of the murder of Jo Cox five years ago was at once reopened.

The Amess family, extraordinarily dignified and forgiving in their grief, have led calls for a kinder more conciliatory tone in the conduct of the business of politics. There is a widespread feeling that the tone is wrong and hate is now a legitimate part of how we go about public life. There is a nostalgia for more restrained and united times. Unfortunately the angry words we everywhere hear and see are the symptom of something, not the cause.

That something is a widespread experience of a perceived failure of the political class to deliver on its promises. For the first time for many decades the rising generation is predicted to be worse off than those who came before. The gap between rich and poor is getting wider with each passing year. Covid revealed real differences in life expectancy and chances between ordinary people and the professional classes. Public services are everywhere stretched to breaking point. Food banks have recordĀ  numbers of users.

There has been a chronic failure to deliver, from Brexit ‘freedom’ to climate change action. There is a feeling that nothing works as it should and that things will get worse. The public is utterly fed up with brokenĀ  political promises, which vastly outnumber the few which are kept.

When Nye Bevan described the Tories as vermin, nobody imagined that MPs’ lives where at risk. Because then, whatever the language, the standard of living was rising and life chances were improving by the day. There was anger, but it was used as a driver to build better times.

It is not just the political language that needs to change now. It is the integrity of the political offer. It has to subject its language to the truth test and deliver the promises for which voters in good faith cast their ballots.

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