I want to start a new campaign: Hug a Politician! I am not sure this campaign is going to catch on but that is exactly why I think it is important.
We all assume that it is natural to be cynical about the world of politics. It is easy to suggest that they are self-serving, not to be trusted, they are cut off from reality in their Westminster bubble. We think they are too extreme, too centrist, too loyal to their political party, not loyal enough. Everything and anything they do can be taken as evidence of their failing.
Of course politicians regularly over-promise and under-deliver, but they are not the only ones who do that. In the midst of politic debate the language they use can be over-forceful, and at times inappropriate, but actually not as bad as some of those who think it is acceptable to troll politicians on social media.
We are tempted to think that our times are somehow worse than anything that has gone before. We embrace the delusion that once there was a golden age when all politicians were charming and honourable. The truth is that in every age those who offer themselves as politicians have faced the slings and arrows of public opinion, faced ridicule and had their credentials questioned. 24hour media and social media may add to the volume of the criticism but, at heart, the world of politics has always been a world we love to hate.
Of course there are a handful of politicians whose behaviour lets the side down, but that is true also of clergy and indeed of every profession. But at heart those who stand as politicians are in their own way wanting to make our country a better place. I have lived in many different places across the country but when I have been privileged to spend time talking to my local MP or local Councillor, regardless of whether I agree with their political opinions, I have found them to be genuinely committed to serving their local area, people who earn my respect.
In the national media our politicians are presented as one-dimensional characters, cartoons of their real selves. They are set-up to be mocked and ridiculed. The main image of our parliament with which we are presented is Prime Ministers Question Time when the House is at its most partisan, noisy and unattractive. Away from this weekly set piece much of the life of Parliament is more gentle, where debate is calmer and more real, where there are surprising alliances and often co-operation, particularly so in the Select Committees.
Of course there are ways that are democracy could be strengthened and improved but before we throw-up our hands in horror at the latest General Election debate, we need to pause and take a look around the world. In so many countries people long to have the democracy that we are too quick to criticise. In too many countries there is no affective opposition, the right to protest is met by armed troops, to speak against the government is to risk imprisonment, corruption is endemic and to be critical of the leaders is a criminal offence.
As Christians we need to be more thankful for living when and where we do. We need to be grateful for those willing to stand for Parliament or their local Council. We need to reject the one-dimensional portrayal of those standing for election and take time to get to know the real person. Whilst being passionate about the changes we want to see in our society, we need to be slower to judge and criticise those who hold views contrary to our own. We need to learn to listen, to hear what is being said beyond the soundbite and understand where we may need to learn and re-shape our own views. We need to learn to model good disagreement. Remember that person who holds views directly opposite to your own is also beloved of God – just as you are.
Politics is loud, brash and messy and never more so than during a General Election. It is far from perfect, but I would so rather this than be living in many another country. Amidst the din, ugliness and confusion of all the campaigning, I still want to raise three cheers for British politics.
And if one of your local candidates comes knocking on your door surprise them – give them a hug and say thank you. Truly thank God for those who are willing to offer themselves to stand in this crazy but necessary world of politics.