The Prime Minister and the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, have both tested positive for coronavirus, and they are currently self-isolating. This is an anxious time for them and their families. My first instinct was to wish them a speedy recovery – it’s what we do when others are ill, and I genuinely believe it helps them to know that others care.
I was disappointed with the responses of some other people to this news. They seemed unable to separate the person from the politics and took the opportunity to say some unkind things, not privately but publicly on social media. I won’t repeat here what was said, but many of you will have seen examples. Since I was elected over two years ago, I have sought to promote a different kind of politics, a kinder politics. I hope we will see an end to such harmful comments.
As many have said before, the murkier side of politics has left a permanent mark on a significant number of people. A many of you will know, a personal experience has left me struggling to sleep and to escape the thoughts of loss and regret that I will never see my best mate – my dad – again. It has left me with PTSD and depression. Combine all of this with the usual pressures of being in public life in the social media age, sometimes it’s difficult to cope. This is why I promote a ‘kinder politics’. I have one simple aim: to ensure that everyone who engages in political discourse understands that unkind words and actions have consequences – particularly at times of high stress and anxiety, like the period we are living through now.
This does not mean that we can’t disagree and debate solutions and responses to problems. Over the last fortnight, trade unions, business groups, professional bodies like the BMA and charities have done an amazing job of speaking up for their members and users. They have helped drive policy change that has changed lives. They have done this professionally and courteously. All social media users can – and should – do the same.
Even before the current crisis, the way a minority spoke and posted about politicians and advisers such as Johnson, Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Dominic Cummings and Jo Swinson was frankly not on. When people use unkind language in their arguments on social media, or brief overly personal comments to journalists, they are clearly not considering the potential impact of their words. Maybe a person who, for reasons unbeknown to us, is having a really bad day, week or month. These are not easy times for anyone, and that includes our leaders and politicians.
I was gutted to read reports that the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state has sadly taken his own life, and my thoughts are very much with his loved ones. As I said earlier, by all means debate and even argue but do so with one simple question – would I like to be on the other end of this? In simpler terms, that lesson we all learnt in school: treat people how you would like to be treated, and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
I look forward at the end of this crisis to giving my friend and colleague Darren Millar AM, a Conservative politician, a big hug, or cwtch as some of us say. There is much we disagree on in the Siambr, but he is my mate and he was kind to me when I needed a friend. So let’s be kind to each other and follow the words of my Dad, one of the last times I saw him speak in public: “Edrych ar ol ein gilydd” – which translates to “look after each other”. Remember to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.