Calm Down, Dear – and Why I Won’t

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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This isn’t really a social work specific lesson although it helps, it’s something that comes in handy in all professions.

You give respect, you receive respect. Sometimes it can be a bit more complex and sometimes you work with people from whom you can never be expected to get that respect back from – because of underlying attitudes or because of personalities but it doesn’t matter too much – water off the back and you continue to treat those whom you come into contact with with respect.

It doesn’t hurt and you have to have a bit of a thick skin.

There are many of these reciprocal ‘lessons’. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself is one that draws me back to my work, pre-qualification, as a care assistant. Don’t place someone in a care home you wouldn’t be happy to place your parent/child in. That can be more problematic because the supply and demand are not equivalent and sometimes geography limits the choice of residential care settings but I do think it is the best point to start from at the very least.

Provide services that you would want for yourself or your (insert close family/friend) would want. It’s fairly basic stuff.

So I think it indicates some of my discomfort about Cameron’s ‘calm down, dear’ moment in the House of Commons yesterday but more broadly, the level of banter and conviviality in Parliament that seems to replicate an  poor debating society for under 16s in a private school.

Sexist? Probably but did we ever think he was anything but? Intentionally so? No, I don’t think so. It’s the kind of talk and ‘rebuttal’ that comes naturally.

Disrespectful? Absolutely. It was a put down intended to diminish the speaker to whom it was addressed. That is more of my objection. Whether the person he was talking to was male or female, it is the kind of patronising tosh I don’t want to hear from a Prime Minister, although  I do think there is an agenda to diminish the sexist aspect and write off women who may be offended as ‘not being able to take a joke’ which  even further demeans those who might be offended by his comments or worse, use the feminist label to somehow make itself equivalent to having ‘no sense of humour’.

Honestly, if that is the level of humour that I should be chortling about, I’m very happy to be labelled as just ‘not getting it’ in favour of being a very proud feminist.

And how would you react if your manager said that to you? Well, not very positively. I know I wouldn’t.

Perhaps it is the ‘cut and thrust’ of the House of Commons? Lame response. As one of the people who doesn’t necessarily ‘enjoy’ the adversarial and frankly, childish response of our politicians waving and cheering like sheep in a  herd, I find it hard to understand the appeal of this rambunctiousness.  Oh, it’s tradition? Well, change it.

It is an indication that behaviour in the House of Commons follows a clear path from their schooldays. It is an attitude that automatically appeals to a certain type, and yes, a certain ‘class’ of person who feels comfortable in an environment where respect is a far distant imagination.

It is a work environment that encourages pieces like this in the Daily Telegraph. Seriously. Oh, what? I was supposed to find this ignorant and childish ‘blog’ by a major ‘quality’ newspaper which puts a little red ring around the breasts of a female MP and asks readers to ‘guess whose boobs these are?’ funny? Smacks of harassment to me. It actually sickens me.

Yes, sure, say I have ‘no sense of humour’ if that is your recourse but what kind of society condones this as humour? Not one I feel comfortable in and is ‘having a sense of humour’ so important that it can bypass respect, well, I’m happy to lack one.

Cameron talks of jokes and throw-away remarks but what he and the Daily Telegraph display is a lack of respect that he has probably never been party to by virtue of his position. The view of George Osborne laughing heartily at David Cameron’s intensely patronising ‘joke’ makes me realise how detached these politicians are from the reality of life in the UK at the moment.

We get the politicians we deserve though. That’s the tragedy. I just think we can do a whole lot better than these who seem to make a mockery of the political class of which they are members.

Leo Abse

We all have views that jump to mind when we speak of politicians – they are some of the least trusted of professions. It’s easy to be cynical when power is on the table, so to speak.

So taking the lead from Aethelread’s touching tribute, I think it is only right to remember Leo Abse, a politician and social reformer who died yesterday at the age of 91.

The Telegraph mentions in his obituary that

He was… a skilled parliamentarian, with no ambition for office, who used parliamentary question time, backbench motions and the private members’ bill procedure to great effect.

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‘with no ambition for office’ – just dwell on that for a while as we consider the nature of politics today.

During his time as an MP he pushed through more Private Members’ Bills in his 30 years in the House of Commons than any other parliamentarian.

He will be best remembered perhaps, for sponsoring the 1967 Sexual Offences Bill which decriminalised homosexuality in the UK (edit: Aethelread points out in the comments ‘One minor point though – the 1967 Act only decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, not the UK as a whole. It wasn’t decriminalised in Scotland until 1981, and in Northern Ireland until 1983.’ – sorry, Scotland and NI..)

He featured heavily in promoting the liberalisation of divorce laws and sponsored the 1975 Children’s Act.

I can’t recreate some of the obituaries that have been published today, for there are many to choose from. Tam Dalyell, himself a former MP from South Wales writes in The Independent

Policies, for Abse, cannot be disengaged from the policy-makers. The drives and psychological needs of the politicians invade and distort the panaceas they offer to the electorates. If more objective assessments are to be made of policies, assessments must be made of the men and women who expound them. Abse himself deserved to be remembered as one of the most significant social reformers of 20th-century Britain

Lots of words and lots of history. It’s rare to see a politician so universally praised though.

I wonder if we will see a similar type of politician emerge again – one who is not a slave to the party line. We need more like him, I’d say.

‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!’

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)