This is our truth, tell us yours
This was going to start as a blog about the awful bullying of a decent and lovely individual on the internet.
Instead, it’s going to illustrate how pervasive bullying is, and how corrupted our political discourse has become. Here you go people – it’s an article in the Guardian about how much better Nick Clegg is at eatcing bacon sandwiches compared to Ed Miliband. Just remember, dear reader, that in May 2015, the ability of each candidate to run the country will be assessed by an election, not on the basis of how decorously they eat a sandwich in front of an audience.
The Guardian of course, regards itself as a serious newspaper. Clearly, eating a bacon sandwich is what matters, in Guardian world.
It’s not a new problem, of course. Older readers will recall the furore about Michael Foot’s donkey jacket in 1982. They might even be tempted to say it was ever thus.
Nevertheless, as a practicing optimist who believes that politics shouldn’t be left to the thick skinned and cynical, I was still shocked to read Sarah Brown’s account of her experience as a councillor in Cambridge.
I’ve had my disagreements with Sarah. They’ve been about her party affiliation, not her gender. We might disagree about politics; I would expect no different.
Attacking Sarah in the spurious, vitriolic and cruel way she has been attacked is wrong. Just plain wrong. I know whose side I’m on in such a debate, and it’s Sarah’s.
However, and it’s a big however, we need to take a look around us.
We’ve created a society where personal attacks, dressed up as politics, is the norm. We’ve created a society where how to eat a bacon sandwich is a serious political issue, where the likes of Paul Staines are lionized as leading bloggers for trading in personal abuse, lies and nastiness.
What was done to Sarah Brown is far more vile than merely suggesting the Prime Minister is on anti depressants, or incontinent (as happened to Gordon Brown). It’s on the same spectrum, however, and it debases our ability to have intelligent debates.
I’ll say another thing, however. Politically speaking, organisations and individuals who depend on personal smears and abuse rather than policy debates debase and undermine our democracy.
Standing up for Sarah isn’t just an act of personal loyalty to a decent individual who doesn’t deserve this shit. It’s standing up for the same democracy that she served by taking on a challenge, as a councillor, that too few people are willing to take on. She’s not the only woman I know who’s been the subject of vitriolic personal attacks for putting their head above the parapet in the gender wars; anyone who cares about democracy has to defend them.