Article - Civilised Conversation

Another week at Westminster, another turn in the extraordinary saga of Brexit. The battle that some of us are fighting to ensure that Britain does not crash out of the EU without a legal agreement on 29 March continues. And the effort to identify the shape of a deal that can both be agreed with Brussels and be approved by more than half of the Members of the House of Commons is only just beginning. 

Inevitably, the eyes of the nation are focused on this drama because it affects us all. Equally inevitably, there are strongly held views on all sides in the House of Commons, in West Dorset, and in the country as a whole. 

There is no point in trying to pretend that we all agree about these matters when we so obviously don’t. But there is every reason to remind ourselves that we are all citizens of the same country, that we all have what each of us conceives to be the best interests of that country at heart, and that we are all going to have to live together long after these events have become a matter of historical record. 

So what matters most of all - even more than the outcome of these troubled times - is that we should maintain civility and courtesy, mutual respect and hence the ability to go on having a civilised conversation despite the significant differences between us. 

We should pay real attention to all of the views that are expressed in rational and courteous ways, and we should give no time to those (few but loud) who descend into crude abuse. I do believe that if we follow this one golden rule, we shall - despite all the intrinsic difficulties and all the differences of view - eventually be able to do what Her Majesty The Queen has so rightly called on all of us to do, and find the common ground upon which we can build a common future. 

In last week’s column, I made also the point that, while all of these great issues are being debated, life goes on much as before, and with many good things happening almost unnoticed, hidden in plain sight. 

In particular, I mentioned the remarkable flurry of investment in the renovation of the sights and institutions which most embody our natural and cultural history. 

No sooner had I put down my pen and submitted my column than I received news of yet further examples of these almost invisible advances. 

I see that, just in the last few days, the wonderful old Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis has received a substantial grant to assist with its refurbishment. This is a good choice on the part of the Coastal Communities Fund, because the Marine Theatre, situated in one of the most spectacular positions occupied by any theatre in the world, has the potential not only to play an increasing role in the promotion of dramatic arts in the far west of the country, but also to become even more of a magnet for the cultural tourism that is becoming so important a part of our local economy. 

Life isn’t just going on: it is in many ways becoming richer.