In light of recent tragedies that have sent shockwaves through the UK, Deputy Comment Editor Jake Porter engages with the question; is it right to ‘politicise’ these events? Challenging the likes of Boris Johnson, Tim Farron and Liam Fox, he argues that, like bread and butter or Theresa and her fields of wheat, politics and tragedy go hand-in-hand.
2017 has been a devastating year for many in Britain; four terrorist attacks in three months and the Grenfell Tower fire have all contributed to feelings of agitation and turmoil. The UK Government has faced scrutiny from elements of the political spectrum and the media for its response to these events, as well as for its potential share of responsibility for them.
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) June 29, 2017
Other prominent voices, however, have decried what they declare to be the ‘politicisation’ of these affairs, accusing their targets of ‘perverse’ political point-scoring. Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused Jeremy Corbyn of ‘putting politics before people’ when he pointed out the connections between wars our government has fought abroad and terrorist attacks at home, insinuating that Corbyn was seeking a political advantage out of an atrocity. Boris Johnson added that ‘now is not the time’, alluding to the timing of Corbyn’s comments following the Manchester bombing.
“Don’t politicise social housing” mate it’s literally housing the government builds and maintains decided upon by politicians 😂
— Dan O’Connell (@dan_o_1989) July 3, 2017
Grenfell has likewise received its share of calls for depoliticisation, with Liam Fox contending on Question Time that ‘we need to conduct this debate with … respect, politicising it is deeply tasteless’. The narrative goes that left-wing politicians and media figures are nauseating in their attempts to politicise tragedy and humanise ‘evil’ people, that by doing so they squander their chance at making an appealing argument, and that their rhetoric should be discouraged on moral grounds.
The very notion that events such as these are outside of politics is farcical… black and white concepts are dated and unhelpful. Politics impacts everything, from the banal to the extreme.
Calls to make these incidents apolitical should send alarm bells ringing. The very notion that events such as these are outside of politics is farcical, and Farron’s calls for a separation of politics and people are intellectually regressive. Nuance is critical in maintaining a progressive worldview; black and white concepts are dated and unhelpful. Politics impacts everything, from the banal to the extreme, and it is both right and necessary that we ask tough questions of our leaders. It is arbitrary to set a time scale on when it is suitable to comment meaningfully on a tragedy, and to regulate the tone of a response dismisses the emotions of those affected.
Johnson and Fox have, in essence, attempted to police both when and what we can say, which is no less than an attack on free speech. Criticism, analysis and debate are key in identifying the causes of these tragedies, and for the establishment to dictate what forms of criticism are acceptable amounts to censorship. This fits neatly into the general narrative of our government; Andrea Leadsom’s recent calls for our media to push more ‘patriotic’ coverage serve as a stark indicator of the current administration’s authoritarian attitudes. This desire for a controlled, sanitised media should be terrifying for anyone who values freedom of speech (and by this I mean freedom of speech, not the freedom from criticism and consequence that the loathsome alt-right fight for).
Depoliticising a debate renders it empty of nuance or purpose, and we would do well to question the motives of those who attempt it. Moralising that an opponent shouldn’t score political points from a tragedy is a cynical play for points itself, which underlines the callousness of these voices and belies their grasp for the moral high ground. They endeavour to evade the blame for situations that, through their past actions and rhetoric, they may have some responsibility for.
These people fear politicisation, because they fear the politicised. They have a vested interest in stopping us from questioning, for when we scrutinise established power structures – through a political lens – we can articulate and strengthen our arguments against them. Let us hold our leaders to account, and empower ourselves to challenge the status quo.
Where do you stand on associating tragedy with politics? Let us know in the comments below or via social media.