Professor Catherine Staite
Something very bad is happening to our country. The sense of solidarity and common humanity that has helped our complex society to function is being eroded. Empathy has fled and so children escaping the terrors of war are feared and despised, not welcomed. We are peddled the old lies that immigrants are dark strangers who cause our problems, even though they are net contributors to our economy, as well as essential to endeavors as diverse as the NHS and agriculture. Hate is becoming embedded in political discourse, encouraged by the tabloid press and has unleashed shocking levels of bullying, racism and misogyny.
We’ve seen how government policies have both damaged the most vulnerable and undermined mutual trust and civil society. The government offers no hope of a better future, just threadbare rhetoric, full of dog whistle tropes and banalities. Ignorance and bigotry are accorded great respect, while facts and expertise are sneered at.
This much we know; prosperity doesn’t trickle down and work doesn’t cure poverty if jobs are insecure and wages low. So the poor are getting poorer and less healthy. We have foodbanks and child hunger the UK in 21st century. Funding for local services have been cut and we see the consequences in rising numbers of homeless people and poor care for the frail elderly. These things are the result of major policy failures. Little by little we have adjusted to this awful reality and stopped noticing just how awful it is.
Many of us, across the political spectrum, have been uneasy for a long time and the EU Referendum campaign and subsequent fall-out have heightened our anxiety. The campaign was full of lies and no-one has been held accountable. The Autumn Statement highlighted just how much Brexit is going to cost us all. The IFS, that most restrained of bodies, has described the fact that wages have been stagnant for 10 years and likely to remain so till 2021, as ‘dreadful’. Many of the people who are ‘just about managing’ and who voted for Brexit will be adversely impacted by the damage to our economy.
Nearly half the population voted to stay in the EU but their views are now not only disregarded but despised. Our judges are vilified when they act to uphold the very parliamentary sovereignty that Leavers claimed to value above all else.
The government is clearly floundering and the Labour party is so weakened by internal strife, manifested in rifts, bullying and anti-semitism, that it has lost political muscle, credibility and trust. Moderation and compromise are seen as signs of weakness, rather than routes to resolution and progress. Echoes of the rise of fascism can no longer be ignored, especially as the latest hate group is the ‘liberal elite’ by which is meant anyone who analyses the available information before reaching a conclusion about the right answer.
So what can be done? Shouting at the radio and shuddering at the headlines is not enough. We need to make our voices heard. We need to unite across political and cultural divides to support the core values of a civilised society. We need to speak up for kindness, courtesy and compromise. The @Stop Funding Hate campaign is a good example of how the power of social media can be harnessed to support positive change. So let’s blog and tweet and talk to people, let’s challenge hatred and bigotry and speak up for the vulnerable and marginalized and most importantly of all, for the truth.
That idea that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing’ is a profound truth, articulated by Cicero, immortalized by Edmund Burke and re-iterated by John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela. Let’s do something. Whatever happens, we’ll know we did our best.
Professor Catherine Staite is Director of INLOGOV. She provides consultancy and facilitation to local authorities and their partners, on a wide range of issues including on improving outcomes, efficiency, partnership working, strategic planning and organisational development, including integration of services and functions.