Is Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to put kindness back into British politics a helpful act or just a baseless ploy?
On November 13th 2010 I launched Kindness Day UK on BBC Breakfast. World Kindness Day had been celebrated in several countries since its inception in Tokyo in 1998, yet to date no one had given the idea a push over here.
Schools and charities have used the day since then to promote good deeds or raise awareness of their humanitarian work.
I’m put on the spot when people ask, as they do, ‘What’s the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?’
Anything you say in response sounds a bit lame because they are usually the tiny things that count the most, but which don’t mean much to anybody else.
But kindness is recognised as a value in many cultures and religions, marked by a pleasant disposition like gentleness or a smile, and a genuine concern for others.
However, even the ‘disposition’ part of this definition is open to interpretation. A smile is not always welcome, and in countries like France it can be confused with the leer of stupidity.
Certain manners that convey kindness and respectful behaviour that we teach in this country don’t always travel either. In the UK, for example, while it is polite to append the word “please” to any and all requests, in the US it is not necessarily taken that way.
But is Jeremy Corbyn on to something by appointing himself as custodian of the charitable side of politics?
Firstly, it’s a back to front gesture. Kindness is something which you acknowledge, which is done to you, which you are the recipient of first and then return – not the reverse. Doing it the other way round is the same as the proverb: self-praise is no recommendation.
Secondly, his appointment of the hard-Left MP John McDonnell as Chancellor is more telling about his intolerance than his compassion. Here is someone who once said he would like to ‘go back to the 1980s and assassinate Thatcher’, and has also not apologised for repeating comments about the then-employment minister, Esther McVey, being lynched.
Kindness and politics can only mix to a certain extent. Decisions that have to be made in Westminster are considerably more complex than helping someone with their weekly shop or buying a copy of the Big Issue.
Take the Assisted Dying Bill. Is it kind to bully vulnerable seniors into ending their life so that scheming kith and kin can get their hands early on the keys of their bungalow?
But then is it kind to force sick and frail people, often in pain, to make a lonely trip to a faraway land to be able to end their life as they choose?
Or Syria: who is the kindest force in the region? Is it Jihadism which beheads, maims, rapes and tortures out of so called kindness to Allah by getting rid of infidels? Or is it Assad’s army which, when employing bombs and chemicals, thinks it is performing a kind act in protecting their own as well as the vulnerable minorities from Isis?
Or there is the benefits dichotomy: is it kind to a person who gets up at six in the morning to go to work to pay more tax to cover the person who doesn’t?
But is it kind to expect people who have fallen on hard times or who have lost their jobs to have their benefits capped so they have to move home?
The reality is that when kindness gives to one person in a political sense, it usually takes from another.
But where Jeremy Corbyn’s message may well indeed resonate with voters in his message is through our society’s unique response to compassion.
Pleasant chats and being courteous to one another is part of our Britishness. We like being seen as helpful, and are proud of our National Health Service and hearty pub life. Many of us hate the thought of that in decline.
So anyone who touches on these ideals by even suggesting we could be kinder is instantly appealing. Maybe it attracts us with a sense of nostalgia for a time when everyone was seemingly nicer to one another, before mobiles and computers.
It is unsurprising some people think we are all are in need of a dose of fellow love. For example, without it, how do we deal with the viciousness on the internet?
A study conducted by the think tank Demos, which spent two weeks in September analysing every single racist tweet sent in the world, recorded 6,777,955 slurs.
What are we to do about this stuff in universities? The recent task force investigating how lad culture could be leading to girls feeling endangered on campus is likely to find what female students are missing out on most is a good old bit of traditional British chivalry.
When a full crime is not committed, where as in the case of much of the bullying online it is hard to judge the intent of the activity, we are at the mercy of kindness. How else can we enforce restraint and civility?
But we do not need a far-left government that will lead us to moral victory with its political chicanery. The individual, decent, caring acts of the British public mean that the UK is considered one of the fairest, and most considerate, countries in the whole world.