I had the first of my two vaccine shots on Saturday. It was a humbling experience. I left my local Primary Care Centre (an otherwise soulless place) feeling tearful rather than elated – proud of what Britain, at its best, really can do.
This was not about British exceptionalism, heightened by prevailing Euro-squabbles over access to vaccine supply. This was volunteering Britain; community Britain; multi-cultural Britain. A Nation of people, not institutions.
As I sat patiently in the waiting areas, levelling-up suddenly looked real to me – no soundbites; no posturing; no fanciful claims. Just people. All of us in it, together – patients and volunteers alike: fat and thin; rich and poor; black and white. A collective energy and endeavour, where the person handing out sanitiser and cleaning seats is every bit as much a key worker as the volunteer medic applying the final shot. We were – and are – united by a common enemy in the virus.
Levelling-up needs to be about people, not just places.
As the rubble settles on the Brexit schism, we would do well to reflect on this. No more triumphalism or extreme remoaning: that moment has long-passed and we’re exhausted by it. No more hard political ideology: we need consensus, not conflict, and a shared understanding of what a better society really looks like, where new priorities lie, and how we can shape it together.
We all have agency in building back better.
At Jericho, there are healthy flickers that the shift is underway. Appetite for further fighting is waning, and Britain’s role in the world is becoming clearer, as Matthew Gwyther reports in this recent podcast for the Stifel-supported Ahead of the Curves series.
A more positive energy is slowly emerging, as discussed at this late January roundtable. “Just” being a member of the chattering class is no longer enough: commentators, too, must now become agitators and activists for change. We all need to get our hands dirty and Just Do Something: actions, not words.
The just-launched Healthy Work Project likewise champions the much-needed transition from extractive to regenerative leadership. And COVID-19 has shown that new and different styles of leadership (more empathetic, agile, vulnerable) are feasible as well as desirable, evidenced by recent research.
We do not need to shroud ourselves in Union Jacks to celebrate the best of British; we certainly do not – and should never – “other” the people or communities who make this country special.
I must confess that the past few years diminished my love for my country, though I always maintained hope and optimism. Looking around me on a bleak and rainy Saturday afternoon, a certain sense of pride and understanding was restored and even re-born. The best of British is what we can achieve as a community, as citizens, together. A shot in the arm for positive change.
Keep well. Stay safe.
3 February 2021