Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

It's good to see a country with some politicians who have real feelings

George Osborne
George Osborne

It's not often we see politicians crying. Politicians tend to have tough hides.

There's the odd moment of vulnerability – usually when they can get people they don't like into trouble, at which point they become sensitive, stuttering cardigan-draped naifs who have just enough courage to tell the world that they too have been savaged by angry shouty Scottish prime ministers who use swear words and don't say please and thank you. But for the most part, by the time they get into parliament, they've grown skins thicker than Brian Blessed's beard, as ready to bellow 'feckin' ballcocks!' at their peers as they are to sad-facedly express regret at the childish abuse which passes for debate these days in the House.

But this week an extraordinary event took place in the world of politics which brought tears to the eyes of some of its most resolute inhabitants. And I have to admit, I cried too.

For those of you not yet aware of the footage, which quickly went viral, this week the House of Representatives in New Zealand voted to legalise same sex marriage by 77 votes to 44. The moment after the Speaker announced the result of the vote, spontaneous applause, accompanied by a standing ovation, broke out, first in the public gallery, then among members of the House.

As the Speaker continued his statement a folk ballad, the beautiful Maori love song Pokarekare Ana, was struck up in the gallery, and as more and more voices joined in, he fell silent. Around the chamber politicians gazed up at the gallery and smiled. Some of them began to cry. (If you watch the video online – and you should – look out for the big, bald, formidable-looking bloke with the watery eyes and the wobbly lips.)

At the end of the song there are two minutes of joy-filled cheering and happy kiss-blowing. It is a marvellous thing to see. Such displays of generosity and fraternity might be common in New Zealand's parliament for all I know but for those of us in the UK, the footage feels like the last scene in a Richard Attenborough film. Cry Freedom perhaps. George Osborne also cried on Wednesday, at Margaret Thatcher's funeral. I'm not sure how well he knew the woman personally – he was a 20-year-old student when she left office – but it's clear George felt the octogenarian's loss deep in his soul. It's his empathy you see, it really plays up on rainy days. Tugs right on his heartstrings, takes a fair bit of gentle exercise to put it right.

Mrs T once displayed the same symptom. She maintained her steel when faced with soldiers' deaths in the Falklands and the broken spirits of job-forsaken communities across the UK but, like George, there were weights that even she could not carry without a teary cheek. And we finally witnessed the softer, more susceptible side of the invincible woman when she lost her own job.

It's unlikely Mrs Thatcher would have joined in with the singing in New Zealand; she did, of course, introduce Clause 28, a spectacularly homophobic piece of legislation. Celebrating happy gay unions with songs about love wasn't quite her style (though I'm sure boho Michael Heseltine would have been right up for it.) It's good to know that not all parliaments operate along lines of vitriol, hate-filled language, mutual mockery and distrust. At least not every day. But it's only a wee country, New Zealand. They're clearly not ready to play with the Big Boys.

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