Boy treated on hospital floor epitomises the political disease infecting Britain on General Election day – Tom Richmond

HUDDLED in the coats of his parents as he sleeps on a hospital floor with an oxygen mask attached to his sick body, the haunting photo of a four-year-old suspected pneumonia victim was not just the photograph of this election.

The plight of a four-year-old boy being treated on a Leeds hospital floor dominated the final days of the election campaign.

It was also indicative – because of the reaction that its publication in The Yorkshire Post engendered – of the societal challenges that will confront the next Prime Minister when they take office and why we must never have another election like this one where trust and centrist politics have lost out.

No amount of statistics, soundbites and slogans from Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn mask the fact that the photo, which was taken by the boy’s parents in a corridor at Leeds General Infirmary, had far more impact than any of their fanciful spending commitments.

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Politics is at a crossroads after the most depressing election in living memory.

And it also illustrates how this country is crying out for a leader who can make a difference to the day-to-day running of key services without blaming others or avoiding scrutiny over record waiting times and bed shortages (as Health Secretary Matt Hancock did during his SOS visit to try to smooth things over).

A premier who can show empathy without snatching the mobile phones of journalists – that’s you Mr Johnson – or a leader, in this instance Mr Corbyn, who ignored the wishes of the youngster’s parents as he gratuitously exploited the little boy’s plight.

Boris Johnson began the last day of the election campaign delivering milk in Rawdon and Guiseley.

And a genuine statesman who can inspire an unity of purpose that exposes the keyboard warriors hiding behind the cloak of anonymity on social media as they peddle misinformation and mistruths that threaten the very fabric of a society which once prided itself on its care and compassion.

For the record, both Leeds General Infirmary confirmed the family’s harrowing account – officials said care provision fell below “its usual high standards” – while the PM, campaigning in Yorkshire yesterday, accepted the story’s veracity.

Yet the anger spewed out on social media brought into focus the coarseness of current society. The very fact that a respected Yorkshire lawyer took to Twitter to condemn this paper’s coverage of the boy on the hospital floor, without realising the wider public interest about rising waiting times, show how the tribalism of the main political parties – fanned and fuelled by Brexit – is now infecting and contaminating daily debate.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to make NHS privatisation a central feature of his election campaign.

All this came to mind as I reflected on the ugliness and unsavouriness of this dispiriting general election compared to the relative civility on polling day 40 years ago – my earliest childhood memory of an election.

It was May 1979 and I was sitting in the back of the family car, a Mini Clubman, as my late mother drove our then elderly neighbours, to the local school to cast their votes. I recall the conversation as they discussed whether Margaret Thatcher had done enough to deserve the chance to govern over James Callaghan at the end of the ‘winter of discontent’.

A pivotal poll of historical significance, the actual campaign was still relatively respectful, in spite of the social strife which had taken place in preceding months, and the outcome accepted.

Compare that contest with this contest where there have been activists from all parties, lifelong election campaigners, who have been reluctant to go door-knocking because of the abuse and anger that they will face from voters.

And while today’s political class have brought much of this upon themselves – not least because Britain has still not left the European Union three and a half years after that referendum – it’s a depressing indictment on these times that so many will want the new PM to fail from day one. This is difficult to fathom when I was brought up to respect the Prime Minister – irrespective of their political affiliation – and give them the benefit of the doubt (Gordon Brown being an example in 2007 and Theresa May more recently).

As such, this boy’s case – and the reaction – is proof that this election, and its aftermath, must be a watershed if dialogue and democratic debate is to be more constructive and collegiate.

I write this after a campaign that has left me totally depressed, dispirited and demoralised about the state of politics because of the extent to which senior figures resort to dishonesty and deception to mask their many failings.

I also write this as a columnist who will accept the election result – irrespective of the outcome – in the sincere hope that every MP returned to Westminster will do likewise and help the next PM do their best for this country.

For this will be needed if the politics of the next decade is to be underpinned by values rather than vitriol; decency instead of diatribe and consensus coming before conflict if youngsters, like the boy on the hospital floor, are to grow up in a country where the choice at future general elections is about what is best for Britain rather than the least worst option.

Tom Richmond is Comment Editor of The Yorkshire Post. He tweets via OpinionYP.