I’m going to take a chance and write a post today with a political theme. You see, I didn’t set out to put politics – especially my political views – into a blog. And I’m still not going to do that. But last night I heard that the Prime Minister had characterised the views of those opposing the bombing of Isis in Syria as “a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”. And – without straying too far into politics – that seems to me a very good prompt for a comment by an “ordinary guy”.
It was only yesterday that I was discussing this horribly complex situation with my wife, and owning up to being about 55%-45% in favour of supporting the move to bombing. In other words, I can see arguments on both sides, but if I had my hand on a voting button – or had to follow the absurdly archaic voting procedures in the Commons – I would reluctantly be among the Ayes.
I know that when Scottish independence was rejected last year by a margin of 55-45 it was described pretty well everywhere as a resounding vote in favour of the status quo. It never felt like that to me: the morning after the result I stood on the station platform in Linlithgow and counted 20 people – they would in theory have voted 11-9, so all it would have needed was for one of them to change sides and it would be equal. And in the case of this Syrian decision it is even more finely judged, because I am sure that a whole lot of people are very, very torn on the best thing to do.
Over recent weeks there has been some insincere stuff from leading Conservatives about how much they respect Jeremy Corbyn as a man of principle in his pacifist beliefs. It always looked to me like a way of flagging up the pacifism and hoping to isolate him, rather than genuine respect. Last night’s crude reference to opponents of bombing as “a bunch of terrorist sympathisers” might have been enough to change the balance of feeling in my own mind – enough for that one person on the platform, if you like – as the mask slipped and the polite deference gave way to prejudice.
Now, I’ve made my view clear there, but I don’t want to pursue it further. I even hesitated about writing this post, until I tuned in to the live coverage of the Commons debate just now and saw at least four speakers in the first twenty minutes ask the PM to apologise for his use of words, and the insult caused. Would he? Heck, no. Every single time he ploughed on with his prepared statement or came out with the ridiculous counter-claim that there was honour in voting against the motion just as there was in voting for it. By ignoring the questions he just drew more and more attention to the accusation and the hurt feelings.
Would it really have caused so much trouble to apologise? Surely he could have trotted out the standard line about being taken out of context, or with even more conviction say that he had not been referring to honourable members but simply to … well, an anonymous bunch of sympathisers. In either case, he could even have added that it was late at night and there had been a lot of pressure building over weeks: any loose use of language was not intended to demean members who were wrestling with their consciences. In short, some admission that the words had been said (he never denied it) would have earned him more sympathy, not less. But he couldn’t do it. No surrender. Macho stuff from the despatch box.
Well, I don’t know if any Member of Parliament will have changed their voting intentions on the basis of these five words, and the absence of the single one “Sorry”. But it has certainly altered the opinion of this member of the public: that is, it has increased my scorn for party politics, Parliament and the bullying inherent in the very vocabulary of whips. If I had been 55-45 against bombing would that have made me a terrorist sympathiser? Of course not. So without at all expanding on the rights and wrongs of the debate, I just wanted to express my sorrow that it should have come to this nastiness. Sorrow… sorry: it wouldn’t be hard to say, would it?