Saturday, February 28, 2009

A breath of fresh air

After our attempt, Charles Moore takes the subject head on. He writes:

There are roughly 650 MPs. By a grim law of averages, I would guess that this means that, perhaps every two years, one of them loses a child. Why does the House not adjourn then? And why, when you think about it, does the House not adjourn for other sad child deaths, or other unusual deaths? Will it mark the passing of Jade Goody? What about deaths of a greater horror and scale? The House did not adjourn after September 11, or the London bombings of July 7.

Again, one death is being privileged. It typifies what is wrong with politicians that, to them, a tragedy experienced by one of their number requires more attention than the same loss when suffered by anyone else.
That is precisely the point. In suspending parliament, the MPs individually and collectively signalled that the death of one politician's child was somehow more important than the death of any other. Doubtless, that was an unintended message, but it was nevertheless the message conveyed.

Parliamentary conventions and traditions have developed over the centuries for a very good reason, not least because they are most often the best way of dealing with sensitive and difficult issues such as this. You abandon them at your peril – the result, as here, being to send an unfortunate and unintended signal.

But Moore makes another point. "It typifies what is wrong with politicians …" he writes. And indeed it does. It illustrates just how introspective and self-centred the breed has become, elevating its values and needs above those of the people it supposedly serves. The message, as Moore points out, comes over loud and clear: "We are more important than you."

It is a very great shame that this should come to light over the tragic death of a child, and it makes it very difficult to discuss the issue rationally, laden as it is with emotive overtones. It is very hard to separate the personal sympathy for a bereaved family and the point of principle. But Moore has done the right thing drawing attention to the difference. Furthermore, he has some support from the comments section. One commentator writes:

I am pleased that someone has written on this subject. I, like many, feel the deepest sympathy for the Cameron family, but failed to see why the business of Government should stop as a result.
Another makes a similar point to that which we made:

I found the mawkish opportunism expressed by Gordon Brown deeply unpleasant - especially as three of our young lads were killed in Afghanistan. What sort of precedent does this set?
There is another on the same lines:

It will not have gone unnoticed that on the same morning that Ivan Cameron died, it was reported that another three of our soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. The only public expression of sympathy that their relatives are likely to get will be a few weasel words from the politicians responsible for sending them there.
We are not out of step on this issue – much as some would like to present us in this light. Moore writes that, "But to me, however genuine the personal sympathy, the scene felt false and the proportion askew." I would go further remarking, as I did, that I would forego the emoting about dead soldiers in exchange for some cold calculation that stopped them getting killed in the first place.

To put it more bluntly, I would sooner have a hard-headed, miserable bastard who kept me alive than a soft, touchy-feely milksop who wept tears over my grave. In the context of Parliament, MPs are paid to do a job – some do it very, very badly. I would prefer they did their jobs – amongst other things putting in the hard graft that will keep people, and especially our soldiers, alive and well.

They should emote in their own time, not ours.