Who can comment with any certainty on the current state of British politics? In the surge of the present media maelstrom, so many words and phrases have bubbled briefly to the surface before sinking again out of sight. Chaos reigns. But in the chaos, I think some things can clearly be said and, indeed, need to be said to call our leaders to account. Indeed, it is the very chaos which most excites comment.
Where does this chaos originate? Why could calm not have followed in the wake of last week’s referendum? Indeed, would a period of calm reflection not have been exactly the thing that was needed in the circumstances? Do we not, in emergency situations, praise the people who are able to keep their heads and help everyone else to respond calmly? What airline would want the crew to ran about screaming and inciting chaos in an emergency? Or to begin fighting each other? Indeed, cabin and flight crew are trained to do exactly the opposite: to keep their cool and to help everyone else to respond in a calm and ordered manner.
Viewed in this light, the response from our political leadership has been, almost without exception, a disgraceful failure1Or, at the very least, this is what the media has portrayed and this is what most of the well-known names in British politics have played up to.. I use the word “disgraceful” deliberately, for this is what has been displayed: the diametric opposite of grace.
What I generally expect from leaders, indeed, what is often promoted in leadership training, is character. And well-formed character will always respond, even in the harshest situations, with a measure of grace. Instead, we have experienced a week of recriminations, back-biting (even back-stabbing), posturing, in-fighting and rampant negativity. I would say that it has been like watching a particularly dysfunctional group of squabbling children, but that would do an injustice to squabbling children.
The week began with David Cameron resigning. In fairness to Mr Cameron, this is what everyone expected and would have demanded if he hadn’t acted so quickly. But why let the PM off so easily? We do not expect the pilot to abdicate responsibility as soon as an aircraft finds itself in trouble2Speaking as a pilot, the cardinal rule in an emergency is to “fly the plane”. This is drilled into you in training: aviate, navigate, communicate: but aviate first!. For better or worse, David Cameron was elected as Prime Minister and has led us into the present situation. For better or worse, the Tory Party has, up until now, considered him the best man for the top leadership job. None of this changes in the face of a vote which does not go his way. Leadership is not a popularity contest. It is a position of trust and service and, sometimes, an exceedingly difficult job to do. Presently, the job is very difficult and the last thing the Tory Party or the country needs is for the head to be severed from the body.
Do you think I’m mistaken? Look at the evidence: the party is falling apart. Worse, the removal of David Cameron is like taking the lid off a cauldron of poison which is now spewing out all over the place.
Of course, the apparent counter-example to my argument is the Labour Party. For all that the head is still doggedly attached, it, too, has been revealed to be a cauldron at bursting-point. But, I wonder. In all the chaos, I have heard only one voice plead clearly for unity and order:
Our country is divided, and the country will thank neither the Government Benches in front of me nor the Opposition Benches behind for indulging in internal factional manoeuvring at this time. [Continuing over raucous heckling:] Mr speaker, we have serious matters to discuss in this house and in the country.
This is the voice of Jeremy Corbyn in parliament on 27 June and it is a voice spoken in the face of an atrocious display of rudeness by the house at large. Indeed, in that moment, Mr Corbyn was beginning to feel the full force of the ferocious internal pressures within both Labour and Tory parties. And he stood firm! I do not think I have ever seen a politician display more backbone or character than Jeremy Corbyn in this moment and in the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting which followed.
In all the present chaos, in the face of the hurricane, one figure remains resolute. Character, leadership, grace: MPs take this example to heart.
Time will tell whether Jeremy Corbyn will survive the current unrest. But I think he’s in with a half-decent chance – after all, it was the party membership which elected him in the first place, very much against the will of the the party elite. If he does survive, then the present troubles will quickly pass. A week is a very long time in British politics which is so driven by the fickle interests of the media. When the dust settles, this week will not be remembered with anything like the ferocity of emotions that are now displayed and, if history is anything to go by, many of the flip-flop politicians who now castigate Jeremy Corbyn will somehow find ways to accommodate.
This brings me to my second observation of the past week, which concerns the extreme negativity of almost every commentator. We hear that: Jeremy Corbyn is unsuitable to run the country; the value of the pound has plummeted; the FTSE has collapsed; the economy is showing “clear signs” of a shock. Almost everything in the news is negative.
This needs to stop. There is no fundamental underlying weight to what is presently being claimed. Take just one point: the FTSE100 today is at its highest level since August last year. To be sure, it did momentarily blip downwards in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, but quickly began to climb. So why is it that I’ve heard reference made to the dropping of the index, but not to the subsequent surge in value? Is it not just that the initial drop in the index served to confirm the foregone conclusion that the out vote was bad for the economy?
Having said that, short term fluctuations in market values are never good indicators of underlying economic factors. Markets are notoriously fickle and prone to overreaction and sudden reversals. The only sensible comment which can be made about the recent market fluctuations is that they reflect an increased level of uncertainty on the part of investors3Honestly, every political leader commenting on the economy show know this!. The same goes for downgrading of the UK’s (and, remember, also the EU’s) credit ratings.
Of course investors are uncertain. The UK is entering a new and unknown phase of its economic history. But, in itself, this is no reason to be pessimistic. The future is just as likely to be very good as it is to be very bad and far more likely than both to be about average4Actually, if the current weaker pound does continue, it could be very good news for employment levels as foreign outsourcing becomes less financially attractive..
Indeed, at present, the two things most likely to affect the economic future of the country are 1) leadership and 2) expectations. With calm, confident leadership, there is great cause for optimism. Equally, positive sentiment breeds positive economies (as long as it is not the kind of over-optimism that led to the collapse in 2008). One of the clearest-known drivers of markets is the self-fulfilling prophecy. If we approach the future with unjustified negativity, we are far more likely to experience a bad future than if we approach the future with a cautious optimism.
So let’s stop all this talk of votes of no confidence. Of all times, this is one where the country and the rest of the world need confidence. Here is my plea: Let’s calm down. Let’s stop flying off the handle and bemoaning a disastrous future which may well never happen. Let’s stop fighting over power when the thing that is most needed is level-headedness.
Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May: please resolve your differences in private and then present a unified face to the country.
Jeremy Corbyn: please stick to your guns. Everyone else: please back down.
And everyone: please start looking on the bright side.
This is not a time for chaos, negativity and division, but for order, grace, positivity, unity and buckling down to the task at hand.
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|1.||↑||Or, at the very least, this is what the media has portrayed and this is what most of the well-known names in British politics have played up to.|
|2.||↑||Speaking as a pilot, the cardinal rule in an emergency is to “fly the plane”. This is drilled into you in training: aviate, navigate, communicate: but aviate first!|
|3.||↑||Honestly, every political leader commenting on the economy show know this!|
|4.||↑||Actually, if the current weaker pound does continue, it could be very good news for employment levels as foreign outsourcing becomes less financially attractive.|