Many readers will know I'm retiring from the council - from politics - in May next year. There are lots of reasons for this (the main one being my wife saying, when asked what she was doing today, "what part of retired don't you understand?"). But another reason is that, while politics has always been unpleasant - check out Gillray's cartoons if you think this a new thing - we are now in an age where the culture of the bully is triumphant. Most importantly, the target of the bullies is now the personal and private not the public and political. It's noteworthy that the very first response of the Labour Party to the Conservatives selecting Shaun Bailey, a working-class black Londoner, as their candidate for Mayor of London is to construct a personal attack - not about policies but a trawl through Twitter to find something, anything, that puts Bailey in a bad light. We can be sure that somewhere in Labour HQ (or City Hall) there's somebody tasked with digging dirt about Bailey - not just daft things he might have said but a trawl through the sewers looking for people who'll have some hard to dismiss story.
Looking over the pond at the recent US Senate hearings for Brett Kavanaugh we see the end game of this bullying culture. A process supposed to examine professional suitability, qualification and experience hijacked by a process of politically-driven character assassination. An assassination sweetly wrapped up in a candy coating of women's rights, "me too" and concerns about historic sexual abuse. It may be that I am a cynic but, while I understand why three decades ago, many accusations of sexual assault wouldn't get the serious response from the police they get today, I can't understand why the allegation was presented to a newspaper and a democratic member of congress not to an authority able to investigate, arrest and make charges?
It may be that all the accusations here are true (and please can we stop with the entirely faith-based "I believe the woman" nonsense) but it still reminds us that all of us - and especially politicians on the right - will be subject to this sort of bullying examination. I note the justifications from hangers on to the bullying mobs braying for blood - "structural oppression", "listening to victims", "privilege". Some of it - "privileged white men roaring themselves puce" - is almost poetic. But none of it hides the jarring reality that this is not about justice, indeed it is quite the opposite - justice is set aside because of who the target is (rich, right-wing, male). The very identity of the target is enough to justify ignoring the normal rules of decency and law - they are right wing therefore they are, in the eyes of the righteous mob, sinners to be destroyed - "In every restaurant, shop, office, corridor and street" as The Guardian's Caitlin Moran Tweeted echoing John McDonnell's call to violence:
He told the Unite the Resistance rally that elected Conservative MPs should be targeted because they are “social criminals”.I wish my colleagues looking to fight elections against this sort of mob all the very best against people who propose strikes and violence if the public vote the wrong way and who believe that vile personal attacks are the way to conduct political debate. I look in awe as women like Kate Andrews rise above bigoted, unpleasant personal attacks and I wonder how long it will be before one of these baying mobs gets their way as some young right-wing politician kills themself. The unremitting negativity of the language, the personal attacks, the refusal to debate other than in terms of insult, the waving of identity rights as a way to close down debate - a putrid stew of nastiness designed to make it impossible for people to set out a case for conservatism.
Mr McDonnell added: “I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Tory or MP, no Coalition minister can travel anywhere in the country or show their face anywhere in public without being challenged by direct action.”
If we want good people to go into politics, we've got to stop this grisly pantomime because right now all it leaves is triumphalist bullies waving the heads of defeated opponents on sticks. I know there's always been a gladiatorial element in politics but it was, most of the time, conducted on the basis of ideas, policies and debate not on shouting down, banning or closing off that debate while attacking the opponent on the basis of something they said after five pints when they were seventeen. Nobody survives that sort of attack and politics is made the worse for it, where once there was a sense that we served the folk who elect us there is now just a bear pit watched by that blood-speckled mob high on the pornography of violence.
And away from that pit there's another world, one of ordinary people bemused by the sheer unpleasantness of it all. For some it is simply reframed as another branch of the entertainment business but for many its why they think so little of politics and politicians - "they're all the same", "crooks", "only in it for themselves", "not interested in us". I've heard these comments all my life, my wife gets angry when people say them in my presence, and I know they don't apply to most politicians, especially local politicians, but the spectacle of character assassination, name-calling and personal attack, egged on by that mob, makes it easy to see why people say these things.
So, with apologies for the slightly ranting nature of this, I think you'll understand why I'm pleased I leave politics in a few months time. And to those conservatives still active or wanting to get involved - especially in national politics - stand up for what you believe, speak clearly, ignore the bullies and don't let the mob win.