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Robert Kennedy’s words for the state of Britain’s politics

June 5, 2009

Reading ‘The Gospel According to RFK’ a new collection of  speeches edited by Norman Macafee.   I picked it up at the Kennedy libary in Boston, so it is loaded with meaning having seen the exhibition about Bobby’s contribution to politics, including the civil rights struggle.   There are so many excellent speeches in the collection, and I am going to have to resist overusing RFK quotes in future speeches.  But this passage from his March 24th, 1968 speech in Monterey, California, weeks before he was assasinated, struck me as pertinent to what may be happening and must happen to move our democracy forward in Britian:

“I think I see the stirrings of something new.  It is a sense of possibility that the people are discovering for themselves.  Some of them are young in years.  All of them are young in spirit.  They are beginning to feel that change is possible – that hope is possible – that by the work of their own hands, and the love of their own hearts, they can restore that fundamental sense of decency for themselves, for each other, and for their posterity.  There is a small minority that seems to believe that the way to further their cause is to shout down government officials.  But the alienated and apathetic alike, I believe, will dwindle in number and decline in strength – and finally they too will see, as more and more are seeing every day, that we can make a difference.  We can put our beloved country together again.  We can turn our course around”.

I offer it not as a partisan comment, I think all mainstream parties could interpret the quote in such a way as they can embrace it.   It struck me though because it is a call to politics, a call to engage.  So much of the mood – indeed the ‘shouting down’ on Question Time – has been anti-politics anger, but what we really need is for people to get involved in politics again, reversing the decline in party membership and activism.   The party members and activists, knocking on doors, acting as tellers at polling stations, delivering leaflets, standing for election, observing the counting, they do so much to underpin our politics and the health of our democracy.  So if you were involved yesterday, whatever rosette you wore, thank you for doing what you think is right to make your communities and our country better.

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