Friday, 24 October 2014

An honourable man who restores faith in politics

I know there are many people who regularly get up at 6:00 in the morning, and I have a great deal of admiration for them. For me, however, it’s one of those purgatorial experiences that I usually associate only with the pain of an early-morning swim. People keep assuring me that such swims do me a lot of good, and I believe them, though given the way it feels, that does take quite an act of faith.

Today, however, I was up at that time of day without fear a cold wetting. Two friends had invited me to attend a Rotary Club breakfast.

Now I love doing things I’ve always sworn I’d never do. Wear a tie. Work in business. Live in Luton. There
’s a kind of perverse enjoyment in breaking my vows to myself. I never actually swore never to have anything to do with the Rotary Club but I’m convinced that if anyone had suggested, even a few years ago, that I’d attend one of their events, I’d have laughed in their faces. But when invited by friends I admire as well as like? Of course I went.

In any case, the guest speaker was worth getting up for. He’s the kind of man who can single-handedly restore one’s faith in politics and make one realise that it can be an honourable profession.

He’s not my MP, as I live in Luton South, but he represents the constituency next door, Luton North. His name’s Kelvin Hopkins and he impressed me. Now, I may be in the same party as he is (the Labour Party – of course – what other?) but that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with everything he says. His mentor in politics was the late Tony Benn, and Benn often infuriated me.

Kelvin Hopkins MP, outside the Palace of Westminster
It was well worth meeting him. And highly refreshing.
For instance, I’m not as keen as Hopkins on renationalisation of the railways. I remember the old British Rail, and my memories are far from uniformly fond. I see no reason to rush back to those far from good old days. On the other hand, I certainly agree that the State should have the right to compete for rail franchises and, when it runs one superbly following the failure of not one but two private companies, as happened on the East Coast line, it should be left to go on running it.

What I liked about Hopkins, however, was his attitude. He talked about his own school days when, as someone from a relatively prosperous background, he would turn up in class comfortably dressed and properly fed, and perform well, for which he would be rewarded. Classmates turned up hungry and dressed in rags, underperformed, and were punished for it.

“Being punished for being unfortunate,” according to Hopkins, is simply unacceptable. And it is that kind of conviction, he told us, that drives him in politics.

Nor was it only his general principles that impressed me. Hopkins also behaves at a personal level in a way that deserves respect. Even the arch-Conservative Daily Telegraph called him a “saint”, when it emerged during the recent parliamentary expenses scandal that hadn
’t fiddled anything.

In his own view, however, Hopkins had done nothing saintly. He had merely behaved as “an ordinary human being”. The message struck me powerfully: how low have we sunk when ordinary behaviour seems saintly to us?

What I’m sure about is that listening to him left me feeling that politics could, and should, be both clean and admirable.

That was worth getting up at 6:00 for. It left me feeling much better. Without even involving a plunge into cold water.

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