Getting older, the best part of Christmas is the cheer and positivity which the season brings out in us. New Year sees us focussing ahead optimistically on the challenges to come.
Another sign of getting older, is the realisation that the phrase ‘you turn in to your parents eventually’ has a large degree of fact behind it. I find myself self-identifying in this manner when doing the weekly shop in Heathfield. When I was young, it used to frustrate me that it would take my mother and I what seemed like an eternity to get from one end of the High Street to the other. People would constantly stop my mother, a well known local teacher and supporter of many community organisations, for a discussion.
As the local MP for almost four years now, I have the same experience myself when shopping on my High Street. To those tagging along, it can perhaps be rather frustrating. To me, I absolutely love it when people stop me for a chat. Fortunately, people tend to say positive things to me about a speech I may have given in Parliament, a new law I am trying to get passed or a local campaign I am working on. This is particularly so from those who tell me that they are not usually voters of my party. This rather sums up the constituency, in my view. In our community, there is less interest in negative party politics and tribalism and more interest in working together to get things fixed.
So it gives me a lift when constituents stop me in person and tell me to keep cracking on. Such personal interaction also makes up for the sometimes negative and rude correspondence received electronically. What is with the keyboard which causes people to write what they would not say in person? When we discuss in person, there is interaction from both sides to establish the facts before giving an opinion. Via computer, in order to get the whole side down, we tend to make an assumption (which often turns out to be incorrect) and there then follows misplaced judgment, sarcasm or a lot worse.
Politicians are guilty of this same rush towards judgment, as are the media. The recent behaviour by the press, in naming the couple who were being questioned for the drone activity at Gatwick, is a classic case in point. ‘Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?’ asked the front page of the Mail on Sunday (alongside their names and faces). Given that the answer quickly turned out to be ‘No’, it should serve as a reminder to us all that the innocent should not have their lives trashed until facts are known or guilt is proven.
I have been working with my colleagues in Parliament, Anna Soubry and Bob Neill, to change the law so suspects cannot be named by the press until they are actually charged with an offence. It is not just the media which needs to reflect. We live in a world where social media allows us all to create a splash. If we were all a little more understanding, and did not rush to judgment, and not engage in behaviour akin to the Salem witch trials, we would be the better for it.
In Parliament, we could also be a lot more kinder to each other in 2019. The phrase ‘more in common than that which divides us’ was the one bright light which shone from the appalling murder of the Labour MP, Jo Cox. The epitaph should make it acceptable to work together across the political divide, and respect each other as fellow MPs. Sadly, the last few months have delivered precious little. I hope that 2019 is the year when MPs realise that a challenge such as Brexit is the issue which requires us to adopt a different approach. If we are divisive, negative and do not take responsibility, it is likely to fail all those for whom we seek to serve. If we unite across Parliament, find a way to deliver and embrace the change positively, it will rub off on our constituents and get people believing in this great country.
Whichever challenges you are facing this coming year, may you face them with positivity and determination and never feel as if you are doing so alone. Happy New Year.