Flat White

Now for government by normal, sane and decent folk – not the shriek freaks

28 May 2019

12:50 PM

28 May 2019

12:50 PM

The man on the Clapham omnibus has been travelling to and from that south-west part of London since at least 1903, when mention of his work day routine found its way into a decision of the Court of Appeal through Collins MR, quoting Lord Justice Bowen. His claim to fame is that he represents the ordinary reasonable person in the street. He is the means used by Courts to describe a legal standard of what a reasonable person would do in a particular situation.

In a 2014 decision Lord Reed noted that the man on the Clapham omnibus continues in vigorous health and has acquired some equally level headed travelling companions with whom to share the journey, including the reasonable parent, the reasonable landlord and the fair-minded and informed observer.

But nothing is perfect and apparently also aboard is the officious bystander. One can only imagine how the rest of the travellers feel about their more outspoken and interfering companion but, being essentially reasonable, they probably permit themselves no more than an almost imperceptible headshake or the tiniest flicker of an eye roll before resuming their contemplation of the passing London streetscape.

The reasonable man exists in Australia too. He was known as the man on the Bondi tram until trams were discontinued in Sydney and as the man on the Bourke Street tram in Melbourne. Lest it be thought that women are excluded I can personally attest to there being very many women on the Collins Street tram in Melbourne of obviously reasonable temperament since despite daily provocation in the form of routinely overcrowded trams they maintain their equilibrium in the crush of bodies on the way to Southern Cross Station.

These reasonable men and women have not made their presence felt terribly much in the public square despite social media opening up greater opportunities for more voices to be heard.

Yet in recent times the parameter of the public square has been patrolled by the loud and the belligerent, challenging any who dare to voice an alternative view to their own. The stocks have been hauled out of storage and dusted off, and used liberally, to attack, isolate and neutralise an opponent.

Most reasonable people have watched in concern from the side, noting the trolling and targeting, the intolerance and attempted humiliations, the mocking and domineering ploys of the heavies in the public space.

Elections are interesting things; As Abraham Lincoln stated, they belong to the people. They give a voice to the loud but also to the quiet.

Every tactic utilised against individual members of the public to ridicule their religious views, to belittle their priorities, to dismiss the importance they place on family values, to drive wedges between groups of workers on the basis of the type of school to which they choose to send their children or their politics or their views about climate change has been remembered in the voting booths.

Voters have selected the leaders they believe will best protect them from the bullies, the candidates they believe will respect their right to express an opinion or assert personal freedoms without fear of reprisals.

Reasonable people exist on the left and right of politics and many causes of the Left and Right have merit. It is the radicals with their tactics of intimidation who have blighted Australian discourse for far too long and who lost this election for the candidates they purported to support.

In the public square what reasonable people want is the fair discussion of ideas, respect for difference, the right to disagree and to debate merits. Reasonable people want to be able to distil truth from fallacy. They want peace in the public square, harmony, an attitude of goodwill towards others, the recognition that it is worthwhile looking for what we have in common and that, at the very least, our shared humanity gives us somewhere to start.

In recent times, reasonable people have not been evident in huge numbers in public discourse.

The lesson of the election might be that the regime of intimidation and attack has failed and is over and that it is time for the consensus builders, the reasonable, the listeners, the courteous and the diplomatic to alight from their buses and trams, move in from the edge of the public square and now take centre stage.

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