Capt. Jay Singh-Sohal works in Strategic Communications for M&C Saatchi and serves as a captain in the Army Reserve. He is the Conservative candidate for West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.
“Morale is a state of mind”. These were the first thoughts that came to me when I received the news, on Friday 13th of all days, that the Police and Crime Commissioner elections I had been working on for the previous six months had been postponed by a year.
The wind had been taken from my campaign sails with the news, but I still had to find relevant, if not rousing, words to deliver to supporters at a dinner a few hours later. And so, like a good soldier, my mind turned to duty and those words of Viscount Slim reproduced in “Serve To Lead”; the British Army’s Manual of Leadership which I first encountered at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
For when we are faced with adversity, when circumstances change beyond our control, or reality takes a sharp turn – as it has done for all of us with the global pandemic of Coronavirus, it is the role and duty of a good leader to maintain good morale for plotting the course ahead. For the team, the cause or effort, for the recovery that will eventually come, and the work to be done beyond that to pick up the pieces – good morale is essential.
Morale had indeed been high, just days before the government’s tough decision to postpone the elections. I’d just taken delivery of my banners urging people to support my massively popular campaign to stop Labour’s police station closures in the West Midlands. My campaign diary was filling up through to polling day in May, and the tempo of my daily campaigning activity was becoming a drum beat as we advanced to contact with my Labour- Momentum opponent. Being a candidate is a unique experience; this being my first time, and I was rather enjoying it.
Now, the freedom of manoeuvre granted by being a candidate for a region as vibrant as the West Midlands has been replaced by “lockdown” at home with my young family and the constant challenge of dodging long-overdue DIY and gardening chores. Uncertainty on work, schooling, even grocery shopping abounds, and not just for me – but for all of us.
We are being challenged like never before – in ways our country has not seen since the Second World War. This is not a hot war nor a cold one, where we can collectively fix on the enemy and work together to overcome him. This pandemic presents an invisible killer which could get any one of us at any time. And so, we must be cognisant of our responsibilities at home and to one another. We must fall to duty and heed the advice being given to self-isolate. Whatever our political persuasion, we must trust in our government to lead and do right by us.
The loss of our liberties is no good or easy thing to accept. While our social life disappears, what we do have, though, is time. To reflect on how we and others conduct ourselves “when the chips are down.” In this, there are the good, the bad, and the downright malicious.
The good: the NHS is serving us heroically, and we all know that the Government has to meet the challenges of equipment, beds, and testing. The police are responding well under the increased pressure they now face, and the BBC has also, in my view as a former journalist who never succeeded in getting a job at the corporation, stepped up to the mark in a responsible manner as befitting its role as national public broadcaster.
The bad: Piers Morgan. I could leave it at that. But there are also some news outlets and programmes that continue to seek editorial lines on stories, it’s their nature of course to do so, but the need to seek balance can create doubt and disbelief (which could be exploited by the malicious, more below) about what we are facing. But what can be politely said of the out-going Labour leader? Jeremy Corbyn, in his swansong, continues to play politics with this emergency. He’s not the only one – my opponent in the West Midlands does so too at a time when we should be focused on coming together, not political point-scoring. The contrast with Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, is revealing for he has been rightly applauded for his positive contribution. The sort of critical friend our country needs at a time of national crisis.
The malicious: the hard-left (be they Momentum or Extinction Rebellion) are playing politics with this crisis, and some within the Labour-supporting commentariat try to make this into a class struggle. But the real danger to our national interests comes from those malign state and non-state actors who are using this crisis to undermine our State and apparatus of government. We live in a world of constant competition with our rivals, and this emergency is not stopping them from conducting more cyber attacks, spreading disinformation, or indeed phishing for our personal data. The Russians are known protagonists in this, and have been caught out by the Royal Navy trying to send warships into the Channel. We must be on our guard against such threats, and we can do our part by not sharing information that is not 100 per cent factual or useful.
By being ever mindful of our thoughts, words, and indeed what we share, during this emergency, we can make sure our collective morale as a nation is maintained. Whether we are running for political office, like I have been and will continue to do when this is over; or running our own households – we are all leaders now. And our first duty must be to our team effort and our cause, to emerge from our isolation in a stronger frame of mind to rebuild our communities and our country.