When I went on Sabbatical at the beginning of July Theresa May was still Prime Minister. In the past three months a new resident occupies 10 Downing Street and has caused scandal and outrage, leading to a breakdown of trust. This is a serious matter; democracy is built on trust.
The Brexit process has become more fractious and political debate toxic. Hatred and threats of violence abound, with many MPs receiving death and rape threats. It is a truly worrying time. There is an urgent need for behaviour in our public discourse to improve. After a particularly outrageous outpouring of vitriol and hostility in Parliament a few weeks ago, I wrote a Short Charter for Good Debate. The aim was quite simply to encourage MPs and Councillors to ‘play the ball and not the player’, to honour and respect those with whom we disagree and help cohesion where there are deep divisions – we are going to have to live together in the future, as now, and what happens in this moment can help that or damage it deeply. There is a need for moderation in language; to be careful that words do not incite hostility.
Unknown to me the House of Bishops of the Church of England were preparing a statement too, though theirs seems to have had to be clarified and has been widely criticised – precisely what is meant by honouring the 2016 vote is difficult to assess, that vote being at best ambiguous in its meaning and so much water has flowed through the Brexit channel since. There have been subsequent statements from a number of bishops which seem to imply that they are not as signed up to it as the press release seemed to state.
I offer this ‘Simple Charter for Good Debate’ as a encouragement to improve public discourse and help remove the toxicity from debate, whatever side anyone takes.
RESPECT: A Simple Charter for Good Debate
Respect the person
Engage with issues
Shun hatred and all language that inflames it
Protect the vulnerable
Evidence arguments and statements
Conduct yourself with integrity
Transparency and Truth enable Trust.