On the death of a child

The British House of Commons suspended the weekly knockabout debate known as Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday and were replaced by tributes to a six year old child lead by the Prime Minister and echoed by the whole house which was then suspended for nearly half an hour as an act of respect for Ivan Cameron, son of David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party.

This suspension of parliamentary business over the death of a child as never happened before and, maybe, Parliament’s response to this personal bereavement was, in these gloomy times, a sign of hope.

We all know that babies and children are dying all the time, all over the World. Recently in Palestine, in Zimbabwe, in the Congo, in the Australian fires, in many countries, invisibly and horribly from starvation, disease or violence.

In Britain, we have been shocked by a spate of horrific cases of child abuse and murder.

So why all the fuss about a privileged celebrity losing his son?

Every child’s death is a tragedy. A life cut short, a promise unfulfilled, a reversal of the natural order and a reminder of the fragility of life.

Gordon Brown, who has lost an infant child himself, said and did the right things yesterday and in a rare moment in British politics, he showed what politics is, or should be, all about.

Prime Minister’s Questions, PMQ, is the highpoint, usually, for the politics of confrontation, point scoring and, all too often, smug one-up-manship and, lets be honest, it is often the only high comedy moment in British political life – and that’s not saying much.

So yesterday’s speeches by Gordon Brown and William Hague, speaking on behalf of David Cameron, were not only moving but showed us that our politics is about human beings.

Alright, what would some of those other bereaved parents have thought at this solemn hour? Why were their children consigned to their graves silently, anonymously, invisibly?

Maybe, they should take some comfort from the possibility, the hope, that Britain has two leaders both changed by the early deaths of their children.

Gordon Brown, visibly shaken by sadness, revealed that behind that gruff exterior is a man of sensitivity and feeling.

David Cameron, posh git to some, smarmy opportunist to others, has revealed not only that, he too is a man of sensitivity and feeling. He has made public not only his love for his cruelly disabled son but also his respect for the way the child endured his terrible illness.

David Cameron, is leader of what used to be known at “the nasty party.” The Conservatives have been seen, rightly or wrongly, as the no nonsense, law and order, survival of the fittest, beat ’em flog ’em, party.

Cameron, on his election claimed that he was different but not many of us believed him.

Little Ivan Cameron, without realizing it, may have changed our politics.

His father repeatedly thanks our National Health Service, rightly, for the way they looked after his son through those six difficult years. He says that our health service is safe in his hands. The NHS, too often neglected, undermined and starved of resources by the Conservatives, can look forward to his support if he ever becomes Prime Minister.

More than that, is it fanciful to think that this man, once just another old fashioned, upper class, sneery, right wing Tory, has learnt from his experience, not only in looking after a disabled child, but also in mixing with so many under-rewarded, over-worked and dedicated people?

He may have received his early education at Eton College, Britain’s most exclusive school, but he has graduated with honour from a much more profound institution, the British National Health Service.

Over the last few months, I have benefited too from the care and attention of these impressive doctors and nurses – it is good to know, or to hope, that their work will be supported by whoever wins the next election.

I don’t support his party, it has to be said, but I am more hopeful today that it is in humane hands than I have ever been before.

I have been listening to Wagner’s opera Die Walkure a lot recently, it ends, powerfully and emotionally with Wotan, the King of the Gods, who has had his eyes opened to humanity by his daughter Brunnhilde. He too will never be the same after his experience as the father of a brave and inspiring child.

I am thinking of Wotan’s Farewell:

“Leb’wohl, du kuhnes, herrliches Kind!

Farewell, you bold, wonderful child”.

Listen to it, if you want to feel how humanity can grow through grief.

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