The Northern Autumn of 2022 will long be remembered in the annals of political gaffes for an apparent breakdown in comprehension. As discussed in a previous Daily Paradox, the world is waiting for reassurance on so many fronts that you’d think the up-and-coming generation of leaders would be busy avoiding a whole set of predictable mistakes. Not at all. The British Chancellor (Finance Minister) gives rich people a new tax break only to withdraw it three days later. The British Business Minister – I think that’s what he is called; his real name is Rees-Mogg – vows to withdraw employment rights from many, only to renege on the proposition twenty-four hours afterwards. The UK Prime Minister trumps them both by pronouncing the second most unnerving thing anyone can say – “Trust me”.
The competition for the absolutely most unnerving thing you can say is now being fought out between Putin and Erdogan with President Xi as mediator. I can tell you the winner, even at this early stage. “Everything’s going to be OK”. It comes from most 1950s / 1960s movies made to endorse the winners of WWII. There were, you may recall, rather a lot of claimants. I have heard the expression many times in my life. I shudder more each time. It is the one statement guaranteed to annihilate any confidence in what happens next. I thought we all knew that. Not, apparently, the case. Take a simple proposition like a bank. Banks are supposed to safeguard your money. They get a bit stretched from time to time when finance markets become volatile and unpredictable. Scared depositors and investors can behave quite irrationally at periods like this. It’s understandable. Bleeding is never comfortable.
So if you were the boss of a big bank rumoured to be rather unsteady would you send your cohorts out to say “Everything’s going to be OK”? I don’t think so. The predictable response is not printable in the annals of decent comment. And yet we do need reassurance. Our lives are riddled with uncertainties. Forecasting what a madman like Putin is going to do next is not possible; the climate is demonstrating its vicissitudes in a particularly aggressive way; governance is at a crossroads of brutality and impotence. How can we be reassured in these situations? What can we be told that will encourage us to fight on and win the day?
Certainly not meaningless words and phrases of comfort and consolation. These have their place in times of sorrow and upset but they won’t reassure anyone about the massive problems facing the world right now. People want to know what their leaders’ policy is, not what tinkering the bosses are going to do with things that frankly don’t matter much. They ask whether the institutions that control standards are working – and, if not, what is being done about them. They need to have a “Tree on the other side of the Field” to aim for. They want to know that someone in charge actually understands what she or he is doing. “Everything’s OK” simply won’t do.
If voters aren’t aware of what the policy is how can they possibly vote for or against it? If they are to be distracted by minor irrelevancies to steer them away from the big issues, how can they have any confidence in the people claiming to lead them? If the press of news is purely entertainment, what need do people have to vote at all?
We claim education; we demonstrate thoughtlessness. Let us treat the people as grown up.
Let leaders behave as grown ups.
What do you think? Please tell me at email@example.com. I’d like to know.
12 October 2022