|Is respect obsolete?
Last week, the new cohort of MEPs chosen in May’s elections arrived in Strasbourg for the first sessions of the European Parliament. Representatives from the Brexit Party hit the headlines, not for their policy proposals, but rather for their controversial behaviour, notably in turning their backs when Ode to Joy, the European anthem, was played. They, and others that did not rise to their feet for the anthem, were immediately rebuked by EP president Antonio Tajani, who told them sternly: “[It] is a question of respect; it doesn’t mean that you necessarily share the views of the European Union.”
The Brexit Party defended its actions as a protest against the “undemocratic” EU. However, they were critiqued by other UK MEPs as a show of disrespect, not solely for the institution they participate in, but also for the group of musicians, some as young as 14 or 15, who had been selected to perform at the ceremony. Labour’s leader in the EP Richard Corbett branded the action “pathetic”, while Lib Dem member Chris Davies said the move was “insulting to fellow human beings.”
The Lib Dems drew controversy themselves by arriving for their duties dressed in t-shirts bearing the words “Bollocks to Brexit.” They were criticised by Change UK MP Anna Soubry, who said there was no need for the Lib Dems to go into “that sort of territory.”
A lively conversation on respect has also surrounded this year’s series of Love Island, with some participants accused of showing disrespect to fellow competitors by saying one thing to their faces and another behind their backs. One contestant, Michael Griffith, has been particularly heavily criticised, with some equating his behaviour to gaslighting.
Bizarre as it may sound, the Love Islanders, Brexit Party and Lib Dem MEPs all have something in common. By virtue of their platform, they have become representative, of a generation or a certain political persuasion. While some may not like this, as evidenced by the appearance of the hashtag #notinmyname on social media following the Brexit Party’s stunt, the fact remains that their behaviour influences how the UK is viewed on a global stage.
This becomes problematic when those representatives, particularly political ones, are not seen to be behaving with respect. Clearly, neither the Lib Dems nor the Brexit Party are happy with the political situation at present, but it is possible to demonstrate this dissatisfaction while still respecting the events that have led up to this point. As elected officials, they have a responsibility to act with dignity, not least to set an example to anyone that looks up to them as role models.