Time for a culture of respect in politics | Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar column

The murder of Sir David Amess, so horribly reminiscent to that of Jo Cox five years ago, has raised questions about the risks public servants open themselves up to when accepting office.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 3:44 pm
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar

That it was so easy for their assailants, to walk up and perpetrate these atrocities is frightful, that it does not happen more often is a testament to the strength of our deep-rooted belief in democracy and respect for freedom of speech.

Whilst Sir David and Jo may not have found common ground within the Debating Chamber, they fully understood and respected the democratic process, yet total strangers felt it their prerogative to take the lives of those whose only crime was that they were democratically elected representatives doing the job they were elected to do.

On hearing of the events unfolding last Friday, my initial feeling was one of disgust.

My next was to consider my role and that of my council colleagues because our motivation is the same as Sir David's; to stand up and represent our community to the best of our ability.

What the perpetrators would want is to make us live in fear and turn on one another.

We must not let that happen. We need to call time on the malicious and dangerous who hope to frighten and bully whilst hiding behind anonymity and the keyboard, with the aim of stopping us from conducting our business and the business of the borough in the open.

We can't stop doing what we do because there are deranged people out there, we must do what we do because there are deranged people out there.

We make ourselves accessible 24/7, 365 days a year, we do it because my colleagues, cross party, believe we have something to offer and by electing us you obviously believe that too, being vilified and subjected to both ridicule and abuse is not part of the remit.

Since becoming leader of the council one of the things I have tried to do is work more closely with all colleagues of whatever political colour in order to build a culture of respect and, dare I say it, to draw on their strengths, this will deliver a better Burnley for all our residents.

Make no mistake healthy argument is one of the reasons council is so enjoyable; we all have opinions, and that is fine, it is how we interact with one another and express those opinions that is important.

I am not advocating dull politics but the events of the past few days are evidence we need to learn from this and put an end to the toxicity that sometimes surrounds politics.

Whilst politicians may sometimes hurl aspersions at one another, the media is not without blame either.

Perhaps in light of the recent tragedy, we need to take a good look at ourselves and see why there is a dislike and distrust with which we view public figures.

As public servants we work extremely hard, sacrificing our own time and family lives to improve our borough.

Not for the allowance which contrary to popular belief is not very much, but because we are passionate about our communities and believe in what we do.

Events like this and the abuse makes it difficult for people to put themselves forward for such roles. Why would anyone seek such a thankless brief?

Surely, it's far easier to remain an 'armchair' politician.