Opinion

In the real world, kindness and cooperation will always triumph over political combat

Politics is a combative game, but think how much further we would progress if kindness was our starting point

Three rosettes with symbols for police, nurses and firefighters

If only we could harness institutional kindness and incorporate it into our social fabric

I suppose you can expect no unity between political opposites even though the issues facing us at the moment are bigger than any political divides. Since Covid we seem to have been in a permanent state of emergency. The toppling of food security has probably been one of the biggest of issues, where one would have hoped the best minds could have been drawn together to solve problems around the cost of living crisis. Inflation needs cooperation to be defeated, yet partisanship rules the roost.  

Of course, our combative political system means whoever is in power will be the butt of whoever is not. Point scoring is highly necessary, it seems, when elections loom. You have to gain those precious percentage points that indicate who is to be the next winner. It’s be elected or be rejected. And that means you have to be seen to be separate at every available moment so that the electorate can see who’s got what to offer.  

The other night I was reflecting on this politically combative world we live in when I heard that police officer sergeant Graham Saville of the Nottinghamshire police died trying to save a member of the public. How does a family cope with that terrible reality that a police officer can never be assured of returning from their last shift? A brave officer who risks his life for the public good. That he died will echo for the rest of the century for those he has left behind.  

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Selflessness in a world that seems riddled with disdain and disagreement. With jockeying for power. With self-advancement. For below all of that political anger and disdain is a desire for self-advancement. Rishi Sunak was desperate to grasp the reins of power, and Starmer is no shrinking violet in desiring the same.  Yet going about the world are the many who define their path by the desire to serve the interests of others.  Does one not pollute the other?  

It may appear unkind even to put two opposites together – selflessness and ambition. Especially when virtually every political leader, when asked why they entered politics, never answers that it is because of their own desire to make a mark in the world. The future multi-millionaire Tony Blair once said that he entered politics to rid us of poverty and need. I cannot remember any politician not making such Blair-like claims. 

It would seem that, if we ever want to get anywhere in the world, it is the consensual and the neighbourly that triumphs over the competitive. Yet when we make our biggest political decisions, we want failure to be plentiful for our opposite number. So that our side can win.

I raise these points not to say we should all fall politically into each other’s arms. Coalitions, as demonstrated by the pernicious Cameron-Clegg alliance, are a bastard of a combination. But we should be trying to promote in our consciousness, our understanding, that competition and combat do not explain everything. We should, for our own mental wellbeing, be soaking up all the clear demonstrations of what unites us, does not divide us.  

For it is the quality of collectiveness that will increasingly be called upon in an ever-changing world. Whether it’s weather or wacky rulers intent on world domination, our future is definitely about being in things together.  

Covid united us and we should be proud and pleased we could do things together; and not forget that even though there was political disorder and at times poor leadership, and leading Tories making shedloads out of Covid contracts, nonetheless we saw humanity at times at its finest.  

No, the political politics of the day will try to carry on in the same old way.  

But we must not allow ourselves to be made jaundiced by the bitter spilling of disdain that goes with this point scoring. It should not define us. We can’t be reduced to simply seeing the world as this big argument where Starmer or Sunak in one way or another makes our day for us.  

Unfortunately, this form of apprenticeship that politicians go through in order to bid for the highest office simply turns them into soundbiters and sloganeers. Which might suggest we need to grow new kinds of politicians and probably need to be recruiting from a different pool of talent in society. Perhaps some lived experience might not go amiss. When will our first nurse or doctor, or fireperson, or police officer – or air traffic controller, who knows what happens when technology lets you down – be seen running a political party?  

Fanciful it may seem. But one cannot but hope.  

Perhaps it’s because I am always impressed by the kindness and thoughtfulness I see around me and wish we could incorporate it into our social fabric. And not see it as some soppy thing on the side. The enormous goodness and kindness that has been handed out to me by strangers far outweighs the harm ever done to me.

Institutional kindness, police officers risking their lives, nurses and doctors working tenaciously for our betterment. Lollipop ladies protecting our children crossing roads: that is our culture as much as the clashing of political positions. 

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here

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