Last week, Donald Trump, in the running for U.S. president in case you didn’t know (God help us all), announced to the world that he wanted to ban (temporarily) all Muslims from entering the United States until the government could figure out what to do about terrorist threats. He also suggested that all existing Muslims in the USA should be forced to go on a register, so that their activities can be monitored more closely in case they are a terrorist threat already.
We will not talk about the fact that he did not suggest that all white, Christian men should also go on a register, despite the fact that this is the demographic responsible for a huge number of shootings in the USA year on year.
Further to that, he spread his amazing intellect and wisdom to our shores when he explained that many parts of London are now a no go area because of the threat of Muslim terrorists, and that our UK police walk the streets in fear.
Shortly thereafter he appeared in public wearing a small toothbrush moustache and suggested that the Republican party just change their logo to a huge, black swastika on a red background.
Only one of these paragraphs is a lie.
A Scottish woman called Suzanne Kelly has started a petition to block Donald Trump from entering the UK on the grounds that he has been using and promoting hate speech.
It is the fastest growing petition in UK history.
Anyone who starts a petition, needs 100,000 signatures before it can be considered for debate by parliament. Once it hits this magic number, they have to table it in for discussion. That does not mean that it will be debated, but it has to be considered.
Since she started the petition, Suzanne has managed to get 544,000 signatures and the number keeps steadily rising.
This, to me, is a thing of joy.
I signed. I bet you expected me to, but to be honest it took me a couple of days to do it.
I believe in freedom of speech. I believe that it is fundamental to our society that people are able to express their opinions, even if those opinions are reprehensible, fascist, hate mongering opinions. I believe it is important that people are allowed to speak their truth, even if it is not my truth.
I believe that even Donald Trump is allowed the freedom of speech.
I also believe that if we stop him from speaking his truth, we are endorsing, albeit tacitly some of his own more troubling beliefs. We are saying that it is alright for you and you and you to speak, but not you.
One day, that you might be me, if this argument is carried through to its logical end.
Why did I sign it?
Because I know that there is no way that the UK is going to ban a man as rich as Trump, who has as many business interests as Trump from entering these shores. If he was a poor, political hate monger, sure, we would ban him quicker than you could wink. Donald Trump, though? No way.
But, because of all those signatures, they have to at least entertain the idea. They have to at least sit down around a table and discuss it.
Because it is such a fast growing petition, it has made the news all over the world. Even Trump has had to take notice of it. It hasn’t dented his ego much. Nothing short of a house landing on him would, to be fair, but he has had to at least consider that he is not as admired as he surely thinks he is.
Except by Katy Hopkins and Piers Morgan.
It has already had knock on effects. He has been sacked from his honorary role within the Scottish Parliament. He has been stripped of an honorary degree from Scottish university. Surely that has to sting just a little.
He has been deflated, just a tad.
Which gives me great pleasure.
So what do we do with people like Trump?
Well, we write and talk and debate and think, as I suggested on yesterday’s blog.
We also keep them close. There is a saying: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Never has this been more true.
We need to keep the dialogue going with these people, in the hope things can change.
We also need to accept difference, something that Trump is not doing.
I was talking with a friend of mine last night about the differences in the Labour party. He is anti-Corbyn. I am, with some reservations, pro-Corbyn.
I said to him that I found the way that MPs and party members are denigrating Corbyn, frankly shameful. I wondered why, if those who dislike him so much they are trying to oust him from office, don’t just leave the party? I said to him that it saddened me to see the party ripping itself apart from the inside, and that some members of the party were doing the Conservative’s job for them.
He defended the right of others within the party to hold different views from their leader, and to air those views.
That was not my point.
I don’t disagree with him. Traditionally, the Labour party, just like the Conservative party actually, have been broad spectrum in its beliefs. There has always been room within the party for everything from the hard left to the moderate, Blairites. The parties tolerate all aspects of their own belief system. It’s one of the things that make these parties great. We have more diversity of opinion in our Conservative party, for example, than I happen to think exists between the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA. I think this is brilliant.
What is happening to Corbyn though, is different. I see internal party members are using external methods to try and smear their leader. There is a great deal of use of journalistic pressure tactics and some outright lies, as well as some fair comment, but fair comment that is being used, in my opinion, in a largely unfair way.
There is room for disagreement. There is room for freedom of speech and opinion. I think Corbyn himself has shown that in his refusal to use the whip in the Syrian bombing raid debate. He could have tried to force unity. He didn’t. He allowed dissidence, despite his long held political convictions as an anti-war campaigner. He was comfortable enough in his own beliefs to allow others to have theirs. He believed the party could tolerate that, just as it has tolerated him as a rebellious back bencher for years. It’s the strength of the party.
People will disagree. They will say that he was too afraid of rebellion to use his whips. That’s their belief. I have mine.
It’s a shame that others do not extend the same courtesy to Corbyn as he extends to them.
The difference as I see it, is that Corbyn operated within the system. The smear campaign is largely operating outside of it and without any sense of statesmanship or dignity.
It smacks of people running scared, and that makes me sad.
It is also causing the party to look weak, because it shows that in-fighting is more important, self-interest is more important, jobs are more important than constituents and their beliefs. Every time the party fights within, it runs the risk of losing support from without, because why should people make the effort to vote for those who are not listening because they are too busy behaving like spoiled school children?
When the world is going to hell in a bucket, why should we stand behind people who cannot unite for the common good? Why should we expect voters to turn out, and not be apathetic when this is the example they see splashed across the front page of the newspapers every day? Where are the role models? Where are the people to look up to? Where are the people we trust to make decisions that will steer our country out of the mess it is in?
That’s right, they’re round the back, in the changing rooms, hanging their own colleagues on coat hooks and giving them a good kicking, before throwing their school bags in the pond.
That’s confidence inspiring.
We have party politics in this country. The MPs are supposed to work for the good of the party and their constituents. It is what they pledge to do. Of course they can hold their beliefs, and air them, and they do. They have done for decades, but when it comes down to it, the good of the party is always supposed to come first.
With increasing numbers of people joining Labour, and with a leader elected with the largest majority for years, and this, despite some seriously dodgy tactics by opponents in the run up to the vote, you would think Labour would be trying to show strength in unity, not fracturing down self inflicted fault lines in such a public manner.
Are we really surprised that voting numbers are down, that young people are apathetic about voting, and that people do not believe politicians are trustworthy or honest, when this is the example they set?
My friend said he didn’t think voters would care. I care, and I am a voter, and to be honest, apart from turning into Donald Trump, bitching about your fellow party members is the fastest way to get me to vote for someone else I can think of. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Freedom of speech is good. Not doing your job because you have a personal axe to grind, not so good.
What I found most impressive about this discussion was the fact that although both of us were coming at this from different angles, and fundamentally disagree, we both took the time to try and understand each other, to try to remain polite to each other, and to understand that we are friends, and that the unity of our friendship is more important than the disunity of our views.
I just wish that politicians could learn to do this too, and then maybe I would have more time for them.
Although not for Donald.
Never for him.