The first lesson from Biden: respect for the opposition is the first step to healing

“Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The relief, and even joy, at Joe Biden’s win in the US elections has been somewhat tempered by the spotlight it has shone on something that has been lacking in our politics for years, but is now more obvious than ever by its absence.

Respect. And by that I mean respect for the opposition.

As someone who campaigned ardently for us to retain our place in the European Union, the one thing I believe would have made a huge difference from day one would have been for someone on the ‘winning’ side to honour our loss.

To say to the Remainers: ‘We hear you. We know why this mattered to you. We can see why it is so important to you, to your families and to your community. And we respect that.’

How different the last few years would have been if this had not constantly felt like some kind of vicious zero sum game, the Hunger Games of politics where only one side could win.

Obviously Brexit means that one side does win – we stay or we leave – and that has been decided; although I am yet to be convinced it is actually what the majority of people in the UK want to happen … but let’s leave that for another day.

But Brexit never did have to mean utter contempt and disregard for anyone who voted for Remain and for the values for which they stand.

It is the ultimate failing of David Cameron’s political career that he was incapable of standing in Downing Street and saying we owe it to nearly half the electorate who expressed their wish to stay in the EU to find a way through this that will minimise the damage that this vote could potentially entail.

Let’s absorb the words of President Elect Biden:

“Tensions can be high after a tough election, but we have to remain calm, patient. We hold strong views, we have strong disagreements and that’s OK. Strong disagreements are inevitable in a democracy and are healthy – they are a sign of vigorous debate, of deeply held views.

“We have to remember that the purpose of our politics is not total unrelenting warfare. No, the purpose of our politics, the work of the nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict, but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give everyone a fair shot.

“We may be opponents but we are not enemies. We have to put the anger behind us. It’s time to come together as a nation to heal. My responsibility as president will be to represent the whole nation. I will work as hard for those who voted against me as I will for those who voted for me.”

The political pygmies we have in charge would do well to read and dwell a little on those words. Perhaps, as the Brexit horizon looms startlingly close, someone might realise that to begin the work of healing our country an honouring of what we have lost might be a good place to start.