Just before the election, I was lucky to meet our labour candidate outside a certain supermarket in the middle of Ripon. We got talking - I wanted to canvass his opinion on care of the elderly and payment of people who are carers for children or for disabled, sick or elderly people. We had a good chat. Then we were joined by a man who proceeded to harangue us both about the alleged dishonesty, corruption and scurrilousness of all MPs. The candidate took it all with good grace despite the fact he could not get a word in edgeways. Eventually I excused myself and went to look for a shopping trolley feeling rather sad. I had listened to all our candidates, labour, conservative, libdem, green and UKIP at a hustings at Ripon cathedral a day or two earlier. A more coherent, committed, engaged group of people who knew and understood their community you could not hope to meet.
I've had the same sense of sadness today following the tributes paid to Charles Kennedy in the Commons. How desperately wrong it seems that it's often only after death we express appreciation for the worth and the service of our public servants. Yes, there's some dishonesty and corruption among MPs and councillors, but the vast majority work incredibly hard to do a job that demands they sacrifice a great number of things most of us take for granted, not least time with family and friends and, in the case of MPs, the relative security many of us have about where we live. Councillors do their work unpaid. I'm always touched by the time councillors give to hear the anxieties, grievances and concerns of their neighbours. In some ways it's harder to do that when you live round the corner and you're going to bump into them again the next day. We've always been fortunate to live in constituencies with dedicated, conscientious, humane MPs who are in touch with their constituents. I don't know where they get their energy and resilience from - it is not easy to work long days, to travel a great deal, to stay sharp in mastering a brief and in debate, to listen constantly, to appear relaxed and sociable and to deal with the pressure of the media. And to look the part and be constantly quickly available which we now expect.
To have given almost your whole adult life to serve in this way is admirable. To have achieved much in doing it is remarkable. To have cared and to have remained human and vulnerable is costly. To suddenly lose this way of life and the daily contact with people who have been colleagues, supporters and friends for years must be devastating. It is a very major bereavement.
Today I'm cross with myself because I've been meaning to write this blogpost ever since that encounter with our labour candidate. I wish I had done it sooner. I wanted to make a plea that we treat our public representatives with respect and some appreciation. At least let's give them the benefit of the doubt - unless proven otherwise it seems likely to me that they are people of integrity and concern for others. I may not agree with their views, I may wish to oppose them heartily, but not in a personal way and I am grateful that they were willing to stand for democratic election. If I'm ever tempted to criticise, I might first think that it's more than I have offered.
Charles Kennedy was a man of courteousness, integrity and courage. Thank you for what you have given and may you rest in peace.