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A resolution for the year 2011

I went through yesterday’s The Sunday Times with a growing sense of relief. The paper reported that a man had been admitted to hospital with knifing wounds but was not in danger of dying. Other than that there were no other incidents to report. No deaths by terrible accident. No car crashes. Not even hauls of foolish people abusing drugs.

My relief was natural in itself. It was also due to the fact that this outgoing year we seem to have been conditioned more than ever to tragic deaths, whether by fatal drug abuse, accident or murder, in addition to a growing tendency towards mugging, which is creating much apprehension. Particularly among senior citizens.

To have a critical day – Christmas Eve is notorious for drinking and drug abuse – pass without any of that had to be welcome. I also read The Sunday Times with an anticipatory sense of relief. As an opinion writer, a former politician and someone who, anyhow, likes to keep up-to-date, I trawl the newspapers for political items.

Day in day out I get more than enough of it. Our newspapers are stuffed with political pieces. The political leaders provide excess of it. They use the weekend to tighten up their offensive on each other. During the rest of the week what they had to say, not infrequently a repetition of themselves, is regurgitated by their part of the media, followed up by other parts and commented upon by those to whom it provides fodder, like me.

In yesterday’s media there was none of that. Various Sunday newspapers came out in full, with the key editorial and printing staff having had to work through Christmas Eve while the rest of us, in one way or another, prepared to commemorate the birth of the Gentle Child. But none of them had political stories to report. In The Sunday Times some columnists wrote in their usual style.

Yet there was no political reporting to be done. This is the time of year when the political parties give a break to each other, and to the rest of us. They refrain from making political statements. Rather, the party leaders join hands, together with the President and the Archbishop, to remind us of the noble sentiments we should recall at this time of year.

That is sensible and decent of them. There has to be a break from political hostilities and what better time for that than the few days which encompass Christmas and the New Year. I would include a few days around Easter too, but one cannot expect too much. We should enjoy the Yuletide respite knowing that, whether the citizenry likes it or not, the political class will get on with it throughout the rest of the days of the year.

Nevertheless the lull, the breaking out of self-restraint, temporary peace, civility too, brings a thought to mind: politics will not allow for all that during the rest of the year but cannot politics be done differently? The outgoing year was not only an example of politics being played in the old style. Of each side speaking and acting as if it had a monopoly on the absolute truth and commanded the high ground of rectitude and moral authority, while opponents floundered in a morass of all that is opposite.

No, not just that. The year 2010 saw a fresh low reached in the ugly resort to personal politics. Why do our politicians find it so acceptable to target opponents personally, rather their ideas or lack of them? That, one might say, is an occupational hazard of politics, also evident in other countries which boast of themselves as democratic.

Perhaps so, but there are good examples too. And in any event, we could set our own good example. Politics must have the clash and contrast of opposing ideas and positions – that is the dynamic of the democratic way of practising the art. But – no! – politicians do not need to stoop low to compete for people’s minds and approval. There is a better way of doing politics.

The self-restraint and civility shown between Christmas and the New Year give hope for that. The political leaders owe it to themselves to show respect towards each other, thereby enhancing self-respect. They owe it to the citizenry as well. Hopefully, they can realise that and lead their parties by example in the coming year. It can be done if the leaders have the resolve.

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