The Talking Politics column with Calderdale Council leader Tim Swift

Hope: Politicians, including Jeremy Corbyn, want kinder politics.
Hope: Politicians, including Jeremy Corbyn, want kinder politics.

Two years ago, council colleagues went out and talked to people all across the community about their hopes and aspirations.

From this, we agreed together our Vision 2024: our shared understanding, built around the five key themes – enterprise and talent, kindness and resilience, and diversity – that sum up the kind of place we believe Calderdale should be, based on what we heard people tell us reflects the strengths of our community today.

Councillor Tim Swift (Labour), 'Leader of Calderdale Council.

Councillor Tim Swift (Labour), 'Leader of Calderdale Council.

One of those words was ‘kindness’.

I believe more and more that this is becoming the most important part of the vision.

Now, for readers thinking this is some sort of wishy-washy public sector idealism, let me explain that some of the strongest arguments for including kindness as one of the core values came from the private sector.

But surely, I hear others say, business and kindness don’t mix?

Well, John Timpson from the national Timpson’s retail chain would disagree.

“I’ve discovered that the right way to run a business is through kindness”, he said in 2019. “If you’re good to people then it’s good for business.”

And his son, who now runs the business, added in 2019 “Don’t focus on profit. Focus on kindness and love”.

Our divided politics

There is not much sign of kindness around in our politics right now, here or abroad.

Politicians as far apart as George W Bush and Jeremy Corbyn at various times may have called for a ‘kinder, gentler politics’ but right now, in our divided and polarised political debates, it seems like a very distant dream.

And the divisive national discourse is now reflected in a situation where increasing numbers of politicians from all sides are genuinely fearful for their safety as the number of serious threats of violence against MPs and others in public life continues to grow.

Some people would point out that of course there’s been a long history of politicians making dramatic and frankly offensive statements about those in other parties.

Whether it was Churchill in 1945 with his comments implying Labour would introduce ‘some form of Gestapo’ or Nye Bevan saying he considered the Tories to be ‘lower than vermin’, it’s clearly a myth to imagine that there was some form of ‘golden age’ of civility in politics.

But I do believe there is something particularly dangerous about today’s combination of inflammatory language by leaders, repeated inflammatory headlines in some national newspapers, and the barely moderated world of social media where it’s hard to distinguish the ill-considered post of the angry but harmless hothead from the genuine and seriously dangerous threats.

Surely in this climate, it is time that we all, from lowly councillor to Prime Minister, from resident posting on Facebook to the leader writers of the grandest national newspaper, start to think a bit more carefully about the language and manner in which we chose to voice our strongly held convictions.

It’s possible to disagree respectfully.

It’s time we regained that lost art.