Why sink to the personality politics of the playground?

By Paul Burgin / @paul_burgin

It’s not often I read the comments page on a blog entry and feel moved to anger, but some of the comments left on a blog post by Iain Dale yesterday did just that.

The comments concerned Chris Ostrowski being taken to hospital with swine flu and whilst I in no way blame Iain for some of the comments left (being a blogger myself I can see how these things happen), some of the statements are somewhat sickening.

Whilst on one hand we have Plato wishing him well, we have one anonymous blogger saying it probably isn’t swine flu and that it’s a Labour PR stunt, we have Unsworth asking “NHS or private?”, there’s Jabba the Cat saying it’s deserved and calling Chris a greedy pig, and it goes on.

I don’t know Chris all that well, but he is a decent, hard working, and likeable person, as nearly anyone who has met him can tell you. He has shown in his political career from what I personally have seen, a sense of decency and humility that is sadly lacking in many political activists across the board and certainly absent from some of the right-wing trolls who left those offensive comments on Iain’s blog. The fact that swine flu is potentially fatal seems to be neither here or there with these trolls.

This however, is part of a larger picture and one that I find deeply disturbing, and that is that increasingly, as a nation, we are getting more personal in our politics.

Amongst the numerous incidents that have occurred, we have Party leaders in the Commons who clearly detest each other, we have had a possible pathetic attempt to hide a possible jibe about autism amongst other unpleasant comments (which I hope is untrue, but disturbing when you look at Osborne’s history of making personal comments about Gordon Brown), and we have had a Downing Street spokesman caught spreading nasty slurs about various individuals.

Nastiness in politics has always existed, but lately it seems to have increased in tempo. It’s partly understandable because the next general election is coming up and because this may well see Labour face a fourth term in office and the Conservatives a fourth term in opposition, so the stakes are much higher.

The challenge for us is to try and put all that to one side, to get beyond that, and to try and respect one’s opponents, no matter how loathsome some of them are, no matter how nasty the not-forgotten slight was, and no matter how much we want to see some individuals on the opposite benches face humiliation because we remember some things he or she have said and/or done. It is unpleasant, it is vile, it diminishes us as human beings, and it turns the electorate away from voting for any of us and in the long term that is dangerous.

I am not going to do a David Cameron and say that we need to move on from “Punch n’Judy” politics. The thought of doing that scares me because I am just as human as anyone else in feeling unpleasant towards my opponents sometimes, and no doubt before long I’ll probably indulge in some Punch and Judy fisticuffs myself, but we must keep trying and trying again to break away from that and we must try and improve the attitudes within our political system and not feed those who go into politics for unpleasant kicks.

For those of us who are members of the Labour Party, this should especially be borne out, because the Labour Party was set up to help the disadvantaged and vulnerable. By being vicious and personal are we really following that common endeavour? Why should we sink so low as to take part in mud fights that are more suited to the playground?

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