Are Politicians Losing Respect for Each Other?

Photo: Loughborough University

By William Kilgannon – Contributor


‘Scum’

‘You patronising stuck up snob’

‘Great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies’

Q1. In what environment would you expect to hear such language? 

  1. A classroom
  2. School playground
  3. Football terraces 
  4. Science conference

The correct answer: politics. 

In retrospect, it is rather ridiculous that the ever-important world of politics that determines our futures has become preoccupied with point-scoring. But, who can blame the politicians? Our society has become impatient, we demand everything to be done rapidly, whether that be concerning deadlines or our newsfeeds, so it is little wonder why media companies seek to apply outrageous headlines for our clicks, absorbing our ever-decreasing span of attention. Yet it seems that our politicians are encouraging such behaviour. They are making the work of journalists easy, spewing soundbites to primarily increase their own publicity; inflicting damage on political opposition is a bonus.

A series of interviews available from British Pathé on YouTube follows a reporter asking Members of Parliament in 1975 about their thoughts on introducing TV cameras to the chamber. Sir Anthony Kershaw highlights the danger with this concept as ‘the boys who make trouble’ will feature predominantly in the ammunition given to media companies. Colin Phipps also supports this whilst he also brings attention to the vast power that media companies will have on coverage. He is entirely correct when he states that the television directors will omit the slightly more tedious parts of procedures within the house, instead preferring to show the ‘newshounds that jump up and down’. Again, Phipps is correct because troublemakers make good television. I am not arguing that the television crews should not have been introduced to parliament in 1989 but instead, the monopoly that media companies hold on the political dialogue has trickled into our society, affecting the way in which the normal person views and approaches politics. 

The soundbites that media companies crave mean that we are more likely to listen to such politicians that provide them. If these politicians are forming favourable relations with media companies, then the media companies can form good relations between the politicians and society meaning votes, it is a simple formula for political success. It is evident therefore why so many politicians often held the Murdoch family close – Blair, Cameron and Trump to name a recent few.

The phenomenon of slander politics has almost certainly risen alongside the growth of populists across the globe which has in effect aided the polarisation of society. A territorial ‘us versus them’ attitude that puts us in touch with our survival instincts has been reignited through politics, polarising society further than ever before. The trigger for such polarisation in the UK can be identified under the 2016 Brexit Referendum and such division has spiralled out of control. A conveyor belt of verbal conflict and anger now encompasses political debate reinforced by this phenomenon. Some may attribute such heightened feeling to the passion that people feel over certain issues, but passion is no excuse for the blurring of the line between playing politics and being downright rude. It is little wonder that so many politicians have been reprimanded for comments made; they clearly felt at the time that such comments would be socially acceptable – they are not.

Despite the cause for hope with more people being passionate about politics, a paradox has been created as a study by the London School of Economics has shown. People were most likely to describe the atmosphere of the December 2019 General Election as ‘frustrating’, ‘uncertain’, ‘divisive’, ‘hostile’ and ‘tense’. This study, conducted after the Brexit referendum perhaps yields expectant results especially with the Leave side pursuing the use of media to portray their slogans. 

You may recall the mantra of the Leave campaign was to ‘Take Back Control’. Maybe you noticed this slogan dotted on every Leave poster available, or maybe you remember the slogan stuck on the front of lecterns at press conferences in front of the world press; this slogan was even painted at the rear of the infamous ‘giving the NHS £350 million per week’ bus. 

I ask, what was Remains’ slogan? 

Leave’s multi-meaning slogan evidently connected with the electorate. In 3 words it resonated with the electorate and capitalised on the media being able to convey their message across all platforms and into every home. The stealth democrats and those disenchanted with politics associated with the Dominic Cummings-led Leave campaign encouraged the Brexit Referendum to have the highest turnout of any election in British politics. As proven, messaging can have a distinct role in the outcome of elections yet the question as to why does it have to overstep the mark remains. 

I believe American politics has had a large influence on British political discourse. Insult politics has long been a part of American politics with Franklin D. Roosevelt being called a Communist whilst Obama was called a Muslim. Such outrageous and unnecessary name-calling has seemingly, swum across the North Atlantic Ocean to our shores or more probable, has travelled across the airwaves. British politics should not resemble a reality TV show, nor should Parliament be a part-time circus; this is not censorship but we should be cultivating an atmosphere where people listen to each other and respect differing views without shouting them down. Respect for each other is enormously important and should all people’s views be taken into account a closer adherence to democracy would be abided by. This puts a halt to the primordial ‘us versus them’ mentality, so ingrained in the new generation of politically involved society and should political leaders stop feeding the media their next headline, they may be more Prime Minister or President like and thus electable. 

It seems as though sadly we have to wait for tragic events such as the murders of Sir David Amess MP and Jo Cox MP to realise that this culture of toxicity must stop. People feel it is acceptable to spew hatred towards political actors when it is completely unacceptable to do so. Media and social media have whipped up such an atmosphere to an extent where MPs such as Tulip Saddiq and James Duddridge have openly admitted their concerns for their own safety for doing a job they are passionate about. Our politicians seem to rightly tone down their scathing attacks for the opposition when such tragic events occur however after enough time has passed they seem to revert to normal, reigniting a venomous atmosphere where media corporations are repeatedly spoon-fed their eye-catching headlines. I fear this cycle may continue until a little common decency within a political setting is established by our representatives. If our political leaders are verbally attacking each other like kids on a playground, what kind of example does that set for the rest of us?

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