We all have private and public ways of dealing with the heightened stress we’re currently experiencing, both individually and collectively.
Often the public way seems to be a kind of unremitting road rage. Sometimes how we deal with it publicly entails further stress, as social media undermines our capacity to pay attention, absorb complex information, trust news, and, above all, trust each other.
Trust isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Our political system depends on it not only to work well but to exist at all.
An AM or MP or council member cannot be a carbon copy of each individual’s particular collection of urgencies.
Elected representatives have to act on behalf of all members of the community that elects them; they have to judge what is in the best interests of the community or constituency or nation – or, as in the current leadership campaigns, the party.
Your vote for an individual is not an act of trust that they will do precisely what you want them to do. Instead it’s an act of trust in that person’s judgement.
Even if you’re voting on the basis of policy or strategy or organisational capacity rather than on personality, it is still trust that informs the choice you make.
In this state of stress and uncertainty about the future, I find political choices harder than ever, and I’m sure it’s an experience felt very widely.
How do I decide who is worthy of my trust? Do I go on gut instinct? Loyalty? The analysis of experts, or the reporting of journalists?
What weight should I give to the opinions of the die-hard pugilists duking it out on social media?
In fact I can’t stomach the pugilism of supporters in the Plaid Cymru leadership campaign. Their certainties fill me with distrust.
Despite their opinionated noisiness and vituperation, it is in fact not they who matter, but the waverers – both the waverers within the party, and the waverers who are not members, because how the campaign is conducted will affect how such waverers vote in future.
These are the people whose votes Plaid Cymru has to secure if it is to be in government, or increase its representation at Westminster.
I should say us waverers, because I am effectively one of them, even though I am currently a member of Plaid Cymru. I have always been broadly supportive of the party, but I have not always voted for its candidates.
I joined a few years ago in support of Mike Parker and Leanne Wood, but there’s not been a moment that I have felt comfortable as a member.
That has something to do with being a writer, of course, and the need to be able to write freely, but it also has something to do with members’ political certainties, diverse as those certainties are.
I have no such political certainties. In fact, in the face of expressed certainty, I tend to lurch in the opposite direction.
This isn’t because I am, to use a lovely Hebrew word, ‘dafka’ (contrary for the sake of it – though some might contend that this is exactly what I am). It is because there usually seems to be another way of looking at things that could be equally valid.
I mistrust certainty, and the deliberate ignoring of other possibilities that it seems to entail, which is to say I mistrust people who believe they can know absolutely what is right or true.
Such distrust is no virtue. We need to trust – to take that leap of faith in someone – if our political system is to work. That is true at every level of political engagement.
Tactical voting aside, I cannot imagine a case in which I would vote for someone I did not trust, least of all because of duty to a party of which I am a member.
And I could not vote for someone, no matter my trust in them, if I did not also trust their party as a whole, which entails trusting its leader despite any mistrust I might have of some of its members and supporters.
I have made no secret of my support for Leanne Wood, but I’m not going to presume to tell anyone how I think they ought to vote, nor make an argument for one candidate rather than another.
The reason I support Leanne is the reason that will inform everyone’s vote in some way, no matter who they vote for: I trust her. I trust her judgement. I trust her to act with integrity, whether or not I agree with everything she says or does or believes.
However people vote in this leadership election, and in the Labour leadership election, and in other elections to come, I hope they will trust their own judgement, and not that of the angry pugilists, nor the judgement of those who make anonymous allegations without evidence.
The vituperation, slander and smear of this current campaign, like most campaigns, taints everyone who engages in it. It is damaging to the party, and to the prospects of securing the trust of those wavering voters who this party needs.
More dangerously, however, it helps fuel the growing mistrust of our system of government, and of one another. That is a risk we can ill afford to take.