One of the prime reasons that Iain Dale gave up blogging was, he stated,
"I hate the backbiting that goes along with it. I hate the character assassination that is permanently present"
I am afraid that the symptoms that Iain rails against are part of a larger and more serious disease that is poisoning the whole of British politics. The fact is that it is increasingly impossible to conduct any political discussion without violent accusations of bad faith, treachery or greed.
The "politics of envy" has morphed into some kind of twisted "envy of politics". It is shown in a violent hostility towards anyone who expresses an opinion. The latest example is a hate campaign against Billy Bragg, the singer and left wing political activist. I read Billy Bragg's book, The Progressive Patriot and although I did not agree with all of it, it struck me as a sincere attempt to express a personal view of the English radical tradition. It is a thoughtful and rather charming book. Billy Bragg has something important to say, and in his music and in his writing, he expresses a point of view that I can respect, even if I don't agree with it.
Yet Billy Bragg is an exceptional figure- too often we hear extreme arguments put forward shrilly and with little or no intellectual justification. The newspapers are now so full of mistakes of fact that it is hard to credit that they are still regarded as reliable judges of anything. The media has helped to create a culture of angry and bitter cynicism that is corroding the most fundamental parts of British freedom.
Of course the media are not entirely responsible for this: the deeply amoral spin doctors, lead by the odious Peter Mandelson reduced the cult of the half truth and the whole lie into a new low standard for British politics. The anger of the British people over the Iraq war generated a sense of burning anger at a political class that was deliberately ignoring the will of the people. Meanwhile the electoral system reduces political choice to simply endorsing the least bad option.
Now, even politicians of courage and good will- in fact especially politicians of courage and good will- are being personally and physically attacked. The personal abuse that Nick Clegg has received is a case in point. The casual and lazy dismissal by the media of Clegg's agreement to enter the coalition as the selling of principles for power is a travesty of the truth. In fact Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have followed through almost precisely on what they said they would do when they asked the British people to support them in 2010. The Liberal Democrats are paying a bitter political price for failing to give in to the culture of angry stupidity that is the common currency of the current British political debate. The irony is that the Liberal Democrats are paying this political price for failing to continue their opposition to a policy of higher tuition fees- while Labour and the Conservatives have paid no such price even though they have supported the policy all along. The messy compromises of coalition have been very damaging to the Liberal Democrats, even though we have always supported the need for such coalitions.
Meanwhile, by another brutal irony, the Conservatives, who have vehemently opposed a more pluralist political system- including coalitions and electoral reform- are finding that the coalition is delivering a far better government than the Conservatives alone could have given the British people, which is why so many of them want to continue the arrangement for more than one Parliament. Meanwhile, Labour- inevitably angry that they lost power- have been opportunistic and cynical. The ludicrous idea that the leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition would have joined a riot was simply dangerous nonsense- yet as of now, Ed Miliband has not paid much of a political price for such an appalling howler.
So in the current corrosive and poisonous political atmosphere, the cynics are getting away with huge mistakes, while the honest are being pilloried for simply doing what they said they were going to do.
The British people can not afford to remain so undiscriminating. Viewing politics through the viscera instead of the brain is eroding social trust in the political system. The hatred and vituperation that is now falling on political heads across the political spectrum must be stopped. The failure to respect political argument and to engage in debate only through a megaphone of invective is undermining our democracy.
The Economist this week also makes a similar point.
We must start to change the tone of the debate- and that is the responsibility of the Opposition at least as much as the Government; it is the responsibility of the media at least as much as the politicians; it is the responsibility of the citizens at least as much as the political class.
Without more respect for other people's arguments, even when you disagree with them, then eventually the political environment will indeed be filled with villains and crooks- and the British will have got the government that they deserve.
I am not yet prepared to concede that this point has been reached. I disagree with Conservatives, Labourites, Greens and Nationalists, but I am prepared to believe that their motivations are sincere, even if some or even many of their conclusions are erroneous. If we can not re-establish debate based of mutual respect then the breakdown of British democracy and freedom is all but assured.
We must resist the ignorant, the angry and the cynical- there is too much at stake now for us to forget the saying attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Those who are putting dog shit in the Cleggs' letter box, or writing hate mail to Billy Bragg, or who post lies and hatred on the web are the enemies of democracy- and must be resisted firmly- or all indeed is lost.