For some time now, it
has been apparent Britain is going through a profound crisis of confidence in
its institutions, its leaders, and in its place in the world. There doesn’t
seem to be anyone around in public life at the moment who has the vision or
wisdom to offer us a way through, or is there …?
In recent times, there has been a growing sense that the country is adrift. That Britain, a once
strong and confident nation is losing its way, its people increasing bewildered
and disaffected by the political and social leadership on offer. That
corruption, lack of integrity and general shiftiness is the hallmark of those
who occupy leadership positions in any area of business or public life. The
Queen alone seems to float above her people, immune from the growing sense of
disillusionment. But how has this come about and why does no-one seem to have
any idea on how to rebuild the nation and its morale?
The lack of
political understanding of modern Britain and its challenges is particularly odd since our leaders fanatically consult focus groups and commission polls
in the same way as their predecessors peered into crystal balls or gazed at tea
leaves, with apparently the same effect on their understanding of what is going
But it is more than
failure of political leadership. This malaise has infected virtually every area
of our national life and activity. It informs the view that honesty is somehow
quaint and old fashioned. That integrity and decency is for those who can’t
quite cut it. Taking responsibility is only something you do if a success has
been achieved. You know when a politician includes the phrase “ … it’s the
right thing to do …” that they are almost certainly doing the wrong thing.
The police are in a
prolonged multi-decade crisis reaching back to the acquittals of the Birmingham
Six and Guildford Four, through to Stephen Lawrence, Hillsborough, ‘Plebgate’,
to the leaking and selling of information. It is remarkable to note that every
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police back to Sir Robert Mark has had to
launch a corruption inquiry into his own force. A Royal Commission into the
future of policing is long overdue.
MPs remain in group
denial about the level of hostility and contempt in which they are held. It’s
not just the expenses scandal but the repeated failure to take responsibility
for implementation and policy failures. At some point they need to grasp the
fact that if they are to command the respect and the support they crave they
have to behave in a way that earns it.
The media is often
blamed by other institutions for causing and exacerbating trouble and worry. As
soon as you hear someone say it’s the fault of the media you know they
themselves have failed. The media is but a mirror of what is going on around it.
There are now too many sources of news and information for anyone outlet to
seriously affect what we think but that doesn’t absolve the media from the need
to hold to a higher standard of integrity. Too many journalists cling to the
belief that the importance of the work they do in the end excuses the appalling
practices that some indulged in. Not one newspaper has apologised for the
wrongdoings of the industry.
Bankers are the
current lightening rod for displeasure with business. Not so long ago it was
private equity, BP, the petrol companies, and the privatised utilities. Bashing
big business, outrageous pay packets, the returns to shareholders is all great
fun. It has become perfectly acceptable. In turn business leaders flail about,
cite they are operating in an internationally competitive market and convey no
sense that they are living on the same planet, let alone the same community as
their customers and shareholders.
The way the BBC
handled the Jimmy Saville issue and, now, the way it is emerging that the NHS treats
its patients show us clearly that no institution can be relied upon. But
perhaps even more sadly the corruption of purpose and practice extends into our
churches and voluntary groups. In both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church
of England the horror of child abuse has arisen. Neither institution has
conveyed convincingly the sense that they have dealt with the issue with
focussed determination. How many Bishops have been sacked or censured in either
church in Britain for mismanaging the issue? Not one.
In an entirely
different way, many of our leading charities have lost the sense of their own
purpose. Many who deliver welfare or social services have become entirely
dependent on state funding. They are no longer separate or additional providers
of services, instead they have become simply one of a number of ways the state
has of delivering its services. This financial dependence has corrupted many
charities sense of independence and purpose.
It is a bleak
picture. Compounded by a time of economic depression and weakening military
capacity. Good examples of our sense of national bewilderment manifests itself
in the way we talk about immigrants, our fear of building our
relationship with the 26 countries that are our immediate neighbours, or saying
gay marriage is a thing we want to introduce because it helps our political
party change its image rather than just because we feel it is a good thing to do.
But we are a
creative, dynamic and energetic people. We are outward looking, tolerant and
inclusive. We know things are not right because most Britains still have that
sense of decency, integrity and honesty that seems to be eluding our leaders.
We deserve better than this. The question is: who
is going to provide the necessary leadership?