Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Tory Bashing

I have voted Conservative once in my life. I'm not ashamed of that, nor should I be. Yet the tone from social media suggests I should look back on that moment like I had called for a paedophile to let loose in a school playground. To be a Tory is to be the ugliest thing in UK society. I'm not a Tory. There are plenty of things that I disagree with the Conservative Party about. Bedroom tax, the Junior Doctors contract, investing heavily in foreign aid and failing to be aggressive on big corporations avoiding tax are all things I think they fall short on. The difference is I can see why they think those things are important or may work. I disagree with them but I don't think these men and women are driven by a desire to line the pockets of the top 1% of the nation.

Why? Because the votes of the top 1% wouldn't get you elected. For all this talk about how elections can be bought, people forget that you go out and vote. You are not held at gun point in the voting booth. They do what they think is best for the country. Anyone who thinks otherwise is completely stupid. If Tories wanted to be powerful and line their pockets, they wouldn't be politicians! They would sit on the boards of major companies. It's less hours, less stress, more money and little to no heckling.

The worst thing is that it paints a picture that all the other parties are saintly. They have done no wrong whatsoever. Only the Tories crush the little people. Really?

The Labour Party did plenty of good in their time in office. Economic growth, the introduction of the minimum wage, the Good Friday Agreement, devolution of power and improving the legal equality of the LGBT community to name but a few. Or I could spend my time hammering them for all the wrong they did. The Iraq War, Mid-Staffs NHS, PFI projects which plunged public services into huge debts and failures to regulate the banking sector, leading to the Credit Crunch. For anyone keeping track, that's dead soldiers, dead patients, massive debt and bailing out bankers. That last one is something that Tories are accused of. They still are. They weren't the Government at the time!

I could go through why Tories want to enact their policies but the ugly fact is those who put themselves on this ultra left Tory hating line are ignorant. They won't listen. Honestly, David Cameron could announce tomorrow that they had discovered the cure to cancer. The Tory bashers would just accuse them of sitting on it for a decade, only to release it now so that they can line the pockets of their millionaire mates.

I am tired of people talking about politics like it is a class war. It isn't. To think otherwise has little to no merit. It is to subscribe to the idea that Rupert Murdoch can sway an election. If you believe that the public can be swayed by such things, your cynicism is as ugly as your soul. It is not evolved or clever to just bash on the Tories because they are Tories. Yes, they may have ideological differences to you. They may think that Government should be smaller, that the person who works shouldn't have to pay for the person who won't, or that the NHS has to change radically. And you have the right to disagree with that. However, if your argument is as puerile as "We hate Tories because Tories hate poor people", then you are a fool. The Tories won't waste their time explaining why they do what they do to you because you wouldn't listen.

This is a hatred borne out of a time from when Thatcher was Prime Minister. That is also pathetic. Hide behind your excuses of how she 'ruined' lives. I was a child during the Thatcher era and was uninformed either way of what was happening.  Now, I have the benefit of hindsight with no personal agenda. I can see why she did what she did. I disagree with some things. Other things make perfect sense. If you're slamming on the Conservative Party because of a woman who is long dead, the only decent use for you now is to join her. At least then you'd be fertilising the ground. And if you were one of those people who rejoiced in her death, you really need to consider if you have a shred of humanity left in you. You certainly don't have any decency.

I don't need to defend the Tories. I didn't even vote for them. But I am sick of the small minded memes, damning complex policies with vaguely witty one liners, and the petty news articles, masquerading as journalism when they are nothing more than Owen Jones banging his demagogue drum.

When I talk politics, I want to discuss the issues in the way the policies will work. Not on an individual level because that is grossly naive. To think "How is this policy going to affect me?" shows you know nothing about politics. True governance is about making the tough choices to get the best outcome. That means some sticky decisions in some areas. It isn't helped by whichever opposition party seemingly throwing up the criticism of "We need to spend more on..." like it's a stuck record. If the Government had a bottomless pit of resources, it would invest more. Then anyone could run the country. It doesn't though. So stop talking like a blank chequebook exists to solve all the problems.

But more than anything, can we lift ourselves above this playground mentality of bashing Tories because they are Tories, please? Yes, some of them went to Eton. It's a good school. If you could afford it, you would send your kids there. Having leaders who got a good education is a plus. Saying that they don't understand 'real life', like there is such a definable thing, shows that maybe you needed a better education. 

People shouldn't have to feel ashamed for voting Conservative or any party. And yet, they do. Not because they think they voted wrong. It's just the people who say that they are from the caring, considerate bunch are quite happy to demonise them. Tory candidates who stand in Scotland, for example, receive death threats. Hypocrisy in politics, it seems, goes all the way down to the grass roots of the electorate.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Social Megaphone

Over the past few weeks, I have become more aware of how quickly someone will convey an opinion on social media. Not a careful thought, a well constructed joke or a considered insight. A electronic vomiting of emotive reaction to an event that has happened. It is largely considered to be harmless. It is the exercise of our human right to speak our minds. An opinion can cause no injury, so we should be free to share our insights. If that's what you think, you are sadly misinformed about the complexity of the human condition and the power of words.

The social media works like a megaphone, magnifying the one small voice to make it sound like an army chanting. In reality, it tends to be a few thousand people, in a sea of millions, if not billions, speaking about a certain topic. Like a whirlpool, it sucks everyone else in. Then we have insights that shoot off on tangents. As they do, they become less informed and more damaging. Loud noises don't get people heard. They make the other side shout louder. Until all the world is deaf.

Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the aftermath of the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, where over a hundred people lost their lives. The shock, horror and outrage was understandable. Whether it be people who have an affinity with the city or nation, or just plain and simple human beings, to see innocent lives taken away so brutally is sickening. At first, the tidal wave of opinion was to stand resolutely with Paris and her people. Then the social megaphone went from one loud voice to a fragmented signal, filled with divisive posts and wrathful rhetoric.

People blamed the refugees and the migrant crisis, with no true evidence that such a thing was a factor. People blamed God, because a religion's name is attached to an organisation that is driven by extremist ideology and bitter politics. The irony that these posts came shortly after the hashtag #PrayForParis started to trend wasn't lost on me. Some pointed out that it was selective hypocrisy, akin to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, when we mourned the gunning down of a dozen journalists, while hundreds were slaughtered the same day by Boko Haram. Others tried to call for calm and consideration, recognising that extremism is the product of a society that has allowed people to become marginalised. Once we let people drift into the shadows, the darkness will consume them. We can blame them for their choices but we can't do it without being introspective about things.

That very introspection leads us back to the megaphone example. People's voices get more readily heard these days and those opinions feel like weapons to some groups. ISIS and all extremism is the counter to a mass of opinions and actions we and our governments have taken. We have told people that their way of life is not acceptable. We have cut them off, derided them and invaded their lands. We have lectured them on right and wrong, when we are hardly masters of it ourselves. The reaction has been a harsher response. Rather than be talked down to by the social megaphone, they entrench themselves in things deeper, so to be sure of their primary convictions.

It's not just ISIS or other extremist groups. For example, political parties are subject to it. In the UK, as the left uses social media to vilify the Government, it's almost as if they consciously shift further to the right. Either it is a "We'll show you" attitude or a "We'll stick with those who listen" belief. You see, hatred doesn't start with a bomb in Paris. It starts with someone being intolerant of someone else. One to one, that's an argument, a mere falling out. Do it on a national scale, it becomes a diplomatic situation or even a war. Do it on a global scale and you get radicalised factions, shifted into the social shadows, who will do anything to shout back as loud as they can.

Does a Facebook post bring on an assassination? No. Does a tweet motivate a suicide bomber? Not a chance. How about a hundred posts though? How about a million? Or a billion? We are entitled to an opinion but we have to be careful that our opinion is not straw on the back of the unfairly marginalised. World wars have been started on lesser things than the events of the Paris attacks.

Social media has given us a voice but with that comes the responsibility to choose our words more carefully. We should not make the villain out of anyone until the evidence proves them guilty. We should not show hatred to someone's way of life or beliefs because we don't understand them. We should not advocate the withdrawal of someone's rights for the supposed protection of our own.

More than anything though, we should learn when to NOT use social media. Knee jerk reactions are usually the most foolish. Once you share an opinion, it's hard to go back on it or change it. Vocalising it tends to solidify it in place. We should slow down, consider the facts and then seriously think about whether we are joining the conversation to improve it, or just because we just want to be heard. Because if it is the latter, then we will pay for that conceit, one way or the other.

The old saying is that you have one mouth and two ears, and that they should be used in that proportion. Well, the average human mouth is a lot smaller than the average human brain. Maybe we use them in that proportion too. Right now, courtesy of the social megaphone, the mouth is winning. And, as a consequence, we are all losing out.