So, earlier this week, I was musing on the unusual partnership of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron and the newly elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. The former leads the Conservative party, the latter a member of the opposition Labour party. I am a firm believer in political engagement. I believe we should all take an interest in what influences so much of our lives together in the communities and nations we inhabit. Yes, I know, it can be so much less contentious to avoid the subject altogether, but whether we like it or not, the decisions, policies and laws passed by our elected officials have deeply significant impacts on how we get along. What I continue to grow ever more disenchanted with, is the partisan system that has become ever more divisive and hostile, particularly in the US.
So what was the significance of the joint appearance of these two leaders from opposing parties in the UK? For those who are not as aware of what is going on across the pond, on June 23rd, the UK will vote in a referendum to decide whether to leave the European Union (Brexit), or to stay as an active member (Remain). David Cameron, the Prime Minister, is campaigning for ‘Remain’ even as many of his senior colleagues represent ‘Brexit’. One of the main reasons for the Labour Mayor of London to appear by the Conservative PM’s side was to demonstrate unity on the issue as the recently elected Mayor is also supportive of the ‘Remain’ camp. Now the cynics amongst us can claim that this photo opportunity merely served the political expedients of both parties. Nevertheless, the sight of key leaders from opposing political parties standing together and agreeing on what is best for the country provoked some serious thinking on my part.
How would it be partisan ideologies were subservient to authentic expression of views most closely aligned with those who were responsible for putting a politician in their position of influence. Both the Mayor and the PM made their positions clear on this vital issue of membership of the European Union before they were elected, and so remain true to their electorate regardless of the fact that members of the opposition party agree with them. Heaven forbid that Republican members of Congress would actually agree with anything put forward by a Democratic President. It almost seems that being contrary and partisan is the end goal, rather than a sensible debate on the issues allowing a free vote unhindered by the party whip.
There are so many examples of issues that should transcend party lines such as gun control, where a large majority of the voting public voiced support for greater regulation. In this instance, the partisan trenches were dug and instead of sensible debate, the grenades were lobbed and the trenches remained with little movement either way. I understand the rationale dictating the formation of political parties, where a broad base of ideology allows some clarification on basic economic and social policies. But, what would it take to allow a much needed relaxation of hostilities and the opportunity for consensus to be built on honest open debate and the crossing of entrenched partisan battle lines where appropriate.
It is ironic that the greatest divisions over the European Union in the UK are currently found within the Conservative party, only because the PM gave the green light for members of parliament to freely express their own convictions. Much of this division has become unnecessarily personal and contentious, but it highlights a mode of operating that, I believe, would create a wholly different way to do politics. Imagine a world where partisan ideology was subservient to representing the electorate both locally and nationally. Picture the current US president standing on the White House steps together with the Republican leader of the house jointly supporting the ‘Right thing to do’. Sadly, the partisan divide reaches deeply into the psyche of the public at large, and unless leadership is willing to demonstrate a kinder disposition towards the supposed enemy, our society will become even more divided at the grass roots level. Personally, I refuse to be button holed into supporting any one political party, as I see merits on different issues from all sides of the debate. Is it not possible that we can abandon our own partisan intransigence and support a better world for our families and communities on the issues themselves. Idealistic maybe, but something to think about!