‘I think you are classically over-stating what is in fact happening… you call it a shambles, you call it a butcher’s slaughterhouse… that’s what a shambles means, I’m surprised you don’t know’
This was Jacob Rees Mogg in 2017 discussing a vote that had gone awry. Given his knowledge of the slaughterhouses of butchers, it seems fittingly ironic that he now finds himself in one especially when he was seen to be involved in an issue last night where an MP was forcibly pushed into a vote. In the hours that have followed, MPs like Charles Walker have been interviewed saying that this is a ‘pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary party at every level’ and even Conservative voices on Twitter have taken to saying that Truss’ government has been ‘a tragic and humiliating few weeks for the Conservative party’. Yet it’s not just the Conservative party that’s taken a hit, it’s our country. In moments like this, when leadership is flailing, it’s easy to get swept up in a sort of feverish anticipation for what the spectacle will bring next.
The Past and Present
To place this week’s events in context: after 44 days in office and having been outlasted by a lettuce, Truss’ leadership has seen the Pound Sterling drop to $1.09 for the first time in nearly 40 years, a 2-year price cap on energy bills was cancelled after less than a month and bills that would have protestors electronically tagged were being pushed through Parliament. In any period of time, this would be a horrifying turn of events but if we zoom out for a moment, Britain’s position is even worse. Brexit, only recently dealt with, left the UK alone and in a vulnerable position outside the EU with many of its friends and allies antagonised. This was followed by a global pandemic which saw our national debt increased from 81% of GDP in 2020 to 105% in 2021. Just as this hurdle seemed to pass into history, Russia went to war and caused untold misery for the people of Ukraine as well as soaring fuel prices and general price inflation as supply chains took a hit. And what’s happened to our leadership during such turbulent times? Well, as final year Politics student Ethan Scanlon points out, the last Prime Minister to not resign and leave office was Gordon Brown. Read into that what you will.
There’s a host of problems that we face as a country and a Herculean task ahead of whichever leader steps up to the challenge. To me, however, it seems obvious that the biggest challenge we face is our leadership. In a book on that very topic, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger writes that:
‘Any society, whatever its political system, is perpetually in transit between a past that forms its memory and a vision for the future that inspires its evolution. Along this route, leadership is indispensable… Without leadership, institutions drift, and nations court growing irrelevance and, ultimately, disaster’
In light of recent news, these words are chilling. Nonetheless, Kissinger goes on to write that:
‘The vital attributes of a leader… and the bridge between the past and the future, are courage and character – courage to choose a direction among complex and difficult options… and strength of character to sustain a course of action whose benefits and whose dangers can be only incompletely glimpsed at the moment of choice’
I’ve always advocated people taking more action in their own lives and I’ve always had faith in our political system as a whole. The problem we face today ultimately comes down to leadership.
In your own life, have courage enough to step up as a leader. If you’ve read my article on what we can learn from the war in Ukraine, you’ll know that life is filled with people demonstrating how our individual actions matter. It isn’t always an easy task. It requires you to reflect on your own temperament, imagine a meaningful vision and inspire others to join you but nonetheless, results are achievable even if recent British politics paints a bleak picture.
The good news is that the last month and a half are over. Yet that also means a new chapter is starting. When the time to cast your ballot comes around – whether that’s in a few months or a few years remains to be seen – I ask that you vote based on who you judge to better possess these characteristics of leadership. In the meantime, do the best that you can. It’s all anyone can ask.
‘This is the end of a chapter in a very thin book that no one enjoyed reading’Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It