Opinion

Paul McNamee: It’s time to challenge casual callousness

"There has to be a mindset shift. We cannot go on allowing demonising and monstering because of a general belief in a moral and nationalistic imperative"

Former MPs are frequently the best MPs. They have seen how the machine works and, if you catch them on the right day, they will happily reveal what really goes on.  And why it’s malfunctioning. They have insight and, no longer burdened by corrosive ambition, will be casually loose-lipped.

A former MP told me last week how little he thought of parliamentary select committees. He used to sit on a few.

These are the hearings that we have been led to believe strike fear into the heart of various miscreants – misbehaving businessmen who misappropriate pension funds; health boards who have been running their services into a terrible state. There are any number of other usual suspects.

This MP confirmed a long-held belief. The select committee hearings don’t really achieve anything. Many times, the members don’t read their briefing papers, he said. They often busk it. The committees are there to be seen to be doing something, and to allow the members to have a moment in the sun, showing that they mean business, by jove, and they’re getting you into the mother of all parliaments to give you what for!

Which only serves to reinforce ideas that those at the centre of power are not always serving us as we’d like or need. This ongoing belief is one of the parts of disenfranchisement feeling that led to the Brexit vote. Until we deal with that, no amount of pushing for a new centrist party matters.

This sense of an arms-length, out of touch administration was reinforced last week by the back-covering around the Windrush children scandal. Rather than say sorry for ever even contemplating booting out people from a place that was their home, people who have made Britain better, there was a grubby attempt by the government to blame a previous government. They made it feel like an administrative cock-up, rather than a national disgrace. That is a shameful response and one that will not be forgotten.

Of course, not all MPs are the same. It would be facile and facetious to suggest that. David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, has been trying to shine a light on the Windrush scandal for some time. And last week he spoke with authority and emotion about it in the House of Commons. He continues to fight.

There is a wider issue at play too. That of legislating callousness. Of looking for an outsider, pointing at them, making them feel ‘other’ and then encouraging society to judge them. We live in a place where the unintended consequence of building a ‘hostile environment’ for those in the country illegally means people who have lived here for decades, people who are of here, can be sent elsewhere, without really a worry.

Apologies are fine. And compensation is essential. But more than that there has to be a mindset shift. We cannot go on allowing demonising and monstering because of a general belief in a moral and nationalistic imperative.

The local elections are coming. Change must start there. We must challenge local officials to be better and to take that message to their national counterparts.

We will get the elected representatives we deserve. Let’s elect the best of them. Or send them away.

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