I’m struggling to capture this week – one where the Game of Thrones scriptwriters apparently took over politics. So I’ve checked my Facebook feed for the highlights.
It starts with the referendum result and the local vicar’s wife posting that things are so bad she’s sounded the Octo-Alert. Then there’s Farage braying triumphantly in the European Parliament (including that hand signal from the MEP behind, and the moment he tells a neurosurgeon he’s never had a job in his life). There’s Icelandic football humiliation, Cornwall asking to keep their EU subsidies despite voting out, Corbyn’s “I’m-not-sure-this-is-a-good-
How to make sense of such drama?
The night before the referendum a neighbour told me he was going to vote Leave. “But it’ll crash the economy”, I said rather lamely, in the interests of avoiding a street fight.
The next evening I found him looking pale and stunned outside his front door. “I wasted my vote. I didn’t know this would happen, everything has gone wrong. I liked Cameron….” Truly distressed, this man works on a contract basis for one of the companies paraded on the news for its astonishing share-price crash on Friday.
Why the surprise?
Well partly because some of the experts were wrong. As Andrew Gunn explains here, when the pollsters become the message, accurate prediction is impossible because voting decisions shift to reflect what is assumed to be likely. Hence people saying that they wanted to protest with Leave votes but didn’t expect to actually Leave.
Meanwhile other experts were appallingly right, specifically on the economic fall-out. Yet somehow these warnings were consigned to political dramatics and overstatement. People couldn’t see the risk even when it impacted on them personally and immediately. The next morning at the school gates, parents were shocked to realise their summer holidays were going to be more pricey.
We’ve been speaking to clients all week. Reflective, they cite the need for help with resilience, change and communications when they don’t know what will happen next. They are inundated with employees asking if they will keep their jobs if they don’t have British passports, or if headquarters will move abroad. Some are providing support for colleagues who feel isolated, even threatened, by the referendum result…
Chaotic as events are, they do illustrate some of the themes we’ve been talking about:
Many people – both for and against Brexit – have become activists for the first time. One client attended his first rally on Tuesday evening, spending two hours shouting ‘Boris Out’ outside Parliament. Quite the result for your first protest.
Last week it was very clear who the powerful men in the country were. Now we hear of Cameron weeping in Downing Street, see Lord Hill breaking down and follow the Vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Corbyn. Boris of course also ends the week dangling from his own petard. At this very moment when we need leadership, there appears to be none, says Robert Phillips.
This was the moment where, for many, British politics entered the post-truth age. While voters demanded the “facts” it turned out there were none to be had. This kind of turbulence and unpredictability means big plans and ideas – all of which are subject to events – are really no more than wishes. To paraphrase Michael Gove, “promises” are really “possibilities”. As if to acknowledge this, the Leave side quietly wiped clean its digital trail of claims as fast as the pound dropped.
How confident we were, climbing out of the hole of 2008. And how fragile that optimism has proven to be, with Alistair Darling saying he’s more worried now than he was then. “Merchant” banks and multinationals are firmly in the frame and Management Todaytells us that even trust in charities is at an all-time low. A subject Deborah Doaneaddresses in this article, published in The Guardian.
In the coming weeks, we will focus our energy on the things we believe in.
· That the priority must now be good leadership because of – and in spite of – turbulent times. This means being more certain of your direction and principles, but more agile about how you get there. For more on leading through turbulence read this concise overview from Alaric Mostyn.
· That everyone – including (perhaps especially) corporates, banks and multinationals – has a critical role to play now. But to get it right they will have to build different relationships and change the way they behave.
· That there is a need to create safe spaces for new coalitions to flourish and as a way to embrace complexity and dissent with optimism. This depends on a new social contract between business, politics and civil society; that silver lining Neal seeks.
· Finally, actions matter – not words. As we use our words to think in this moment, we must also plan what to do next. In light of which you may be interested in Charles Leadbeater’s take on investment here.
As to the action, watch this space. Or friend me on Facebook.
July 1, 2016