Brexit and 20:20 Vision


A lot of the articles at the end of 2017 asked what the UK’s role should be following Brexit.  Some see Brexit as the next stage in the UK’s loss of international influence; others see scope for a new role, resetting relationships with the US, other European countries/the EU and countries further afield.  There have been suggestions about the role the Foreign & Commonwealth Office can play in representing the UK’s interests overseas and how the arts, universities and even football can be key components of a soft-power toolkit.

These are all outward-looking initiatives.  How the UK presents itself to the world and keeps and deepens its friendships and influence will be important following Brexit.  But there also needs to be a clear vision of what post-Brexit UK will be like for the people who live here.

That clear vision is something the UK must decide for itself; in other words, it’s an internal matter.  I’m not encouraging excessive navel-gazing here.  It’s rather that the UK needs to decide what type of country it wants to be – for its citizens, not just in what’s presented to the rest of the world.  That approach – that vision – should be one a majority of citizens can sign up to and shouldn’t offend minorities to a point one or more will seek to overthrow it by constitutional or other means.

Secondly, it’s pretty much inevitable that there will be conflicting messages to the rest of the world unless there’s a broad consensus within the UK about what the country stands for after Brexit.  The current government doesn’t always appear to be singing from the same song sheet on the subject so it’s safe to assume that a miscellany of football teams, universities, schools and businesses of all types and sizes will have wildly different messages and approaches rather than something that’s recognisably from the UK.

Thirdly (and going back to the topic of the previous post), there needs to be a narrative to ‘sell’ whatever Brexit deal is reached to UK citizens.  That requires a narrative and you can’t put together a coherent narrative without a vision – in this case, of what life will be like after Brexit.

Part of the difficulty in setting that vision is that none of the political parties seems to have a robust vision that encompasses the whole of the UK; it’s arguable that some of them aren’t clear about what they stand for themselves.  I don’t have a soundbite vision to hand, but I’d say it should:

  • Offer something for everyone, something that’s relevant to them and that they can relate to;
  • Set out the values that will be our post-Brexit touchstones, the ones we’ll keep coming back to;
  • Be recognisable, not too novel or gimmicky;
  • Provide opportunities to everyone and to the country; and
  • Show how these will underpin how we deal with the rest of the world.

These are more inward-looking than outward-looking and that’s deliberate.  Carrying the people of the UK through the Brexit process together is more important than – and is critical to – how we present ourselves to the outside world.

Brexit and the Power of a Narrative


It’s a while since I’ve published any posts because I haven’t felt that there’s anything I particularly wanted to say.  But I’ve been gathering thoughts over the last few weeks and they’ll be the subject of a series of posts of which this is the first.  It’s about the importance of having a narrative.

Whenever you need to communicate a message – whether that’s in writing or orally – tell people a story.  I don’t mean a fake-news, fairy tale kind of story.  Give your audience – the reader or the listener – a storyline that they can follow.  Journalists do this and the best public speakers do too:  think of the speeches of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.  There’s a path for the audience to follow, a vehicle for a message that goes beyond soundbites.

The same principles apply to a lot of what we do.  At an interview, you can answer questions, but it’s so much more compelling if you have a narrative about yourself, what you do, your values and how you work that you can set out over the course of the interview.  If you need to negotiate (whether with another member of the family, at work or in other aspects of daily life), an argument is more convincing if you place it in the context of a narrative.  A strong narrative will give you a reference point to come back to if you lose your way and help you identify the points you want – proactively – to make.

So, what’s the narrative on how the UK will look after Brexit?  I’ve been searching for one and there’s so little sign of anything resembling a narrative that I’ve concluded it doesn’t exist.  A deal was struck between the UK and the EU in December, light on detail and with plenty kicked further down the road, but the UK government now needs to articulate what it wants from the next stage of the negotiations.

Without a narrative, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to settle the UK’s external relationships on an appropriate footing and in an appropriate manner.  But, even more importantly, it will be difficult to carry the country and show the people of the UK what life beyond Brexit will look like and what it will consist of.

A narrative is crucial, but there can’t be a narrative without a vision.  In the case of Brexit, there needs to be a vision for the type of country the UK will be and how it will interact with EU countries and other nations and a narrative to communicate that vision convincingly.  Next week, I’ll look at what a vision might involve.

Yet Another Election


The weeks of posturing, polls, predictions and promises that mark the run-up to an election have passed me by.  I’ve been very busy with work and I didn’t know about the UK general election until a friend in New York asked me what I thought of it.  A quick trip to the BBC News app explained which election he was referring to.

Over the last few days, I’ve surfaced enough to take the pulse of the campaigning and rhetoric and I’ve been underwhelmed with what I’ve heard, seen and read.  More specifically, here are my thoughts.

1          I sense that Theresa May has lost her way.  She doesn’t seem as capable as she did before the election was called.  I’ve heard snippets of the flip-flop on social care costs, which has the hallmarks of a last-minute idea that shouldn’t have made it anywhere near a manifesto.

2          Apart from the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, appearing in a televised debate last week, Tory cabinet members seem to have been conspicuous by absence.  I don’t know whether that’s because they’ve absented themselves or they’ve been told to stay on the bench, but I’m confident that we’ll hear a lot from them if the Tories don’t hit a landslide at the polls.

3          I sense that old allegiances on party lines have been muddied by Brexit.  For many people, Brexit is the defining issue and they see neither Theresa May/the Conservative party nor Jeremy Corbyn/the Labour party offering anything that appeals to them on that crucial topic.  I wonder whether we’re heading for a political realignment that takes greater account of Brexit and who has a say in the form and terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.  Just a thought.

4          Labour’s campaign message – For the Many Not the Few – struck me as being more likely to resonate with voters and hats off to whoever came up with it.  Not so convinced by what seems to be Theresa May’s slogan, rather than the Tory party’s campaign message:  Strong and Stable.  From where I’m sitting, it only seems credible if the alternative is having Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

5          That said, with the television on mute, Jeremy Corbyn appeared more Prime Ministerial than Theresa May last week.  He looked purposeful and confident.  His head was held high.  He exuded authority.  But the television was on mute.

6          Personally, I’d like to see a hung Parliament and a coalition government.  I don’t have confidence in either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservative party or the Labour party, to run the country or negotiate our exit from the EU.  It would be ironic if a coalition required a deal with the Scottish National Party, which would no doubt want a further referendum on Scottish independence and might also seek to re-visit Brexit before forming a coalition government.

7          What I really wouldn’t want is another general election in short order, as happened in 1974.  We had a general election in 2015 and we have another one this year.  Last year, we had the EU referendum and we had vicarious participation in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the US presidential election throughout the whole of 2016.  Even though I’m a staunch advocate of democracy and I’ve missed most of the campaigning this time round, I have a severe case of election fatigue.


As the Brexit dust settles …


There’s a sense that some dust is settling in the UK political scene after what one commentator described as ten years of political events in a week.  Here are a few thoughts.

  1. There’s a relief in having a prime minister who isn’t a lame duck. I want someone firmly at the wheel after the seismic result of the referendum vote and I wasn’t relishing a summer of jostling for position by the Conservative party leadership candidates.
  1. Theresa May is an unknown quantity as Prime Minister, but she didn’t hang around appointing a new Cabinet. She’s made interesting choices.  The appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary has attracted most attention, but establishment of new cabinet positions (Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union; Secretary of State for International Trade) and accompanying government departments show thinking outside the box and a pragmatic approach to events.
  1. The new Cabinet has some old names. It’s a while since David Davis and Liam Fox have been Cabinet members and it’s many years since I felt that the country is being run by people older – and, I hope, wiser – than me.
  1. None of this makes delivering Brexit any easier or, for those of us who voted Remain, any more palatable.
  1. Pretty much every conversation I have with people still turns to the referendum. Why was it held?  Why did so many people vote to leave?  What package will be negotiated?  Increasingly, talk is turning to practicalities – how will the UK find enough people to negotiate trade deals and work through the changes in law that will be needed?
  1. And there’s still a sense of bewilderment. As someone said to me last week, are people in London so out of touch with views around the country?  The answer has to be Yes – and, as I’ve said before, that’s one of the most important lessons of the referendum vote and one of the most important points for the new government to address.
  1. We need to rake over the coals, but we also need to move forward. In that time-honoured phrase, we are where we are.  The time for shock is over and we need to roll up our sleeves and make the best of some badly-spilt milk.
  1. It would help to have a viable opposition party. (For readers outside the UK, that’s an example of the very British art of understatement.)  Politics in the UK is designed for there to be an opposition to the government.  Please would the Parliamentary Labour Party get its act together and start behaving as the opposition?  Vacuums have a nasty habit of being filled with things we don’t expect and I’m not at all comfortable with there being a vacuum in opposition in the current political climate.

We live in interesting times …


A very British protest


It has all the ingredients of a very British protest.  A vote in favour of the underdog.  A visceral dislike of being told what to do.  A belief that the country can go it alone and its people will be plucky heroes, whatever the price to be paid.  And the trigger would be a vote about what is often referred to as “Europe”, as though the UK isn’t part pf that.  Which some would say it no longer is.

The UK referendum was about protest, more than it was about EU membership.  It was an opportunity for those feeling excluded from the political debate and economic and social opportunities to proclaim a plague on the houses of all political parties as we know them, the political process, a capital that’s seen to bear no resemblance to the rest of the country and an Establishment that looks out for itself and doesn’t care about them.

The referendum result represents a further dismantling of the old order that began with the financial crisis.  I don’t know what the end-product will be, but I have a strong suspicion that the country – and society – will be significantly different at the end of the process from the way it looked ten years ago.  I hope there will be a fairer society.  I’m pretty sure that it will be one where people expect to have their say – and be heard – to a greater extent than has happened in the past.

I expect we’ll see the end of politics dominated by two parties that are perceived as traditional and out of touch.  Both the Conservative party and the Labour party are going through convulsions at present and both appear to have lost touch with the electorate.  New political alignments seem inevitable.

And we need a new vision and new values, not clinging to nationalism as a smaller identity, but looking out, providing kindness to all, offering shelter to those who need it (regardless of nationality and place of origin) and sharing what we have.

On the evening of voting day, I was at a summer party – linked to work; not a social event.  I left early.  Inside, there was an air of the last days of the ancien regime.  Outside, it was pouring with rain and thunderstorms had been raging during the afternoon.  One of the worst storms I can remember in London had clattered and banged throughout Wednesday night.  We’d upset the gods and they were telling us to sort ourselves out.

And now we have to do that.  We have to pull together and look beyond the rhetoric, the international debate, the legal issues, the economic indicators and the personal positioning.  We need politicians – and the Establishment as a whole – to pull together and heal the wounds of a damaged country that triggered the backlash we saw last week.


Federalism and the UK


This is a very short entry – more of a question I’ve been pondering, rather than anything of substance at this stage.  How is it that the UK appears to be considering something that looks remarkably like federalism for the country’s component parts, while also considering withdrawing from something that looks remarkably like federalism in Europe?  More on this when I get my thoughts in order.