Why governments should care about what they say

Why governments should care about what they say

Why governments should care about what they say

Some 5 million people signed a petition for the UK government to reconsider a second vote on leaving the European Community. I don’t care if only one person signed it, it deserved a decent reply. It got a slap in the face as unthinking and dictatorial as I can remember. If you signed you will have received it. It begins:

This Government will not revoke Article 50. We will honour the result
of the 2016 referendum and work with Parliament to deliver a deal
that ensures we leave the European Union.

It remains the Government’s firm policy not to revoke Article 50. We
will honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum and work to deliver
an exit which benefits everyone, whether they voted to Leave or to Remain.

Revoking Article 50, and thereby remaining in the European Union,
would undermine both our democracy and the trust that millions of
voters have placed in Government.

The rest of the reply was in the same vein. “Stick that in your ear!”

I cannot speak for 4,999,999 people who signed the petition. I expect many of them feel a I do. I didn’t sign the petition to destroy democracy, Britain, Mrs May or anyone or anything else. I signed the petition in good faith, believing that what it was saying was right, sensible and reasonable. I thought that democracy was there to defend the minority not to steamroller them. I do not expect kindness from a government but I do expect politeness. I expect that my 87 years of thinking about the problems of the world count for something worth being passingly `decent about.

What I got was a provocation to utter language I don’t like and seldom use. The British political scene has become one of people out of touch with their constituents. The reasonableness for which Britain is admired has got kicked out in favour of intrigue, powerplay and arrogance.

Let me tell a short story that made a big impression on me when a child of ten. My carpentry master, Mr Basil Hirons, aged 90 walked three times a week across the Malvern Hills to reach the school; after the lessons he walked back again. A total of thirty miles approximately. Strong man. One day when a couple of boys were misbehaving he took out his house keys and threw them roughly and noisily onto the carpentry bench. Everyone stopped what they were doing.

“If you treat things, even inanimate objects like keys, roughly and unthinkingly you will probably treat people the same way,” he said. From that moment I think all of us present learnt that to be decent was a sign of strength not of weakness. Confidence, the essence of influence, requires a level of consideration that the government’s reply to the petition totally misses. Mr Hirons has been dead for 75 years. I’m happy to say his lessons of how to treat your resources live on.

But not, apparently, in the British government now. Nasty is the order of the day. Nasty and provocative. Well, here’s one response to that. I won’t take the same line. I won’t condemn you for rudeness. I won’t even pity you. I will simply ask that you respond once more with a thoughtful, sympathetic, reasoned letter that I can show to my grandchildren and great grandchildren. You are working, as am I, for their future. I want them to respect – but also to question – authority. I want them to do it politely and with an honesty that doesn’t require rough treatment.

It would, be very nice if their government could behave the same way.

It’s what leaders are supposed to do.