Reflections 2017: John Marriott – Don’t unfasten your seatbelts just yet!

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“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” said Bette Davis’ character, ageing actress, Margo Channing, in the 1950 Oscar winning film, ‘All about Eve’. That’s what 2017 has been like for many of us and 2018 looks like offering more of the same.

As far as the international scene was concerned, the Middle East seems to be in as big a mess as ever, while the new occupant of the White House was elected by an arcane device called ‘the Electoral College’, constructed with the best of intentions by the founding fathers when their country comprised a few colonies on the eastern seaboard; but totally inappropriate for the nation of over 230 million people it has become today.

He actually lost the election by over two million votes, and has struggled to get many of his campaign ‘pledges’ into law, despite his party having control of both Houses of Congress. His only ‘success’ so far appears to be a Finance Bill that blatantly rewards his billionaire buddies and, while it has gone down well on Wall Street, will arguably do nothing for what our American cousins call the ‘Middle Class’ (known here as ‘Working Class’). Surely a nation, which has for so long been called ‘Leader of the Free World’, with the riches it possesses in terms of population alone could have come up with a better choice – and to think that some of us thought that George W Bush left much to be desired.

China continues to build up its military strength in the Far East and its pre-eminence in manufacturing and trade around the world, while in mineral rich Africa, despite all that overseas aid their largely despotic and corrupt  governments are receiving, many people continue to starve. In North Korea the antics of dictator, Kim Jong Un aka ‘Little Rocket man’ continue to offer an excuse for you know who to rattle his substantial sabre.

Nearer to home we have Brexit, and then we have Brexit and then even more Brexit. When will it end? You can forget about a reform of Adult Social Care, improving the NHS, building enough Housing and the rest. Westminster appears to be locked into the tortuous process of trying to make ‘the will of the people’ a reality some time soon. It was the coach of the 1971 British Lions Rugby Team, the late Carwyn James, who urged his players, when confronting the mighty All Blacks, to “get your retaliation in first”, a tactic that Messrs Davis, Johnson, Fox and Gove appear to be copying. Did they and those who believed them really think that extricating ourselves from over 40 years of increasing integration with what is still a mighty powerful organisation would be a walk in the park?

2017 saw Prime Minister Theresa May’s female interpretation of Sir Vince Cable’s famous ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’ description of the transformation of PM Gordon Brown. Buoyed by the local election results in Spring (more of them later) and sensing a chance to give Labour a good kicking she went to the country offering ‘strong and stable government’ and ended up with nothing of the kind. What we did end up with was a return to ‘two party politics’ in Parliament for the first time since the 1960s with both Tory and Labour parties sucking in a level of support they had not enjoyed for many years. With a turnout of nearly 70%, the highest in 25 years and with strong support for nationalist parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland, national campaigning parties such as the Lib Dems and the Greens were left to pick up the scraps. Whilst over 80% voted either Tory or Labour, it’s pretty clear that, given the current polarisation in both parties, particularly in England, there is a large hole in the centre ground that nobody seems able to fill at the moment. Somehow, I can’t see an SDP like coming together of remainers in either major party of the kind we witnessed in 1981. The current voting system makes pluralism in terms of seats in Parliament still a pipe dream.

Nearer to home, following the local elections last May, Lincolnshire appears even more to be a one party state (nothing new there then?). Barely one third of the electorate bothered to vote and the Tories picked up 58 of the 70 County Council seats available. ‘Official opposition’ Labour was reduced to a rump of six, the Lincolnshire Independents and the Lib Dems one councillor apiece with four independents. UKIP, the largest opposition party after the 2013 elections (but not for long when defections reduced its number to thirteen), was wiped out completely. The fact that local government is facing an existential crisis appears to have gone unnoticed; but the problems it faces will not go away.

On a personal level, in the year I retired after thirty years as a councillor I was pleased that the Central Lincs Local Plan, in which I was actively involved as a member of the Committee tasked with producing it, got the blessing of the Inspector, which could bring the elusive Lincoln Ring Road a little closer as well as putting a brake, amongst other things, on speculative planning applications. However, I’m still awaiting that consultation with the public on streamlining local government in the County, let alone, on a national level, the reform of local government finance, which in its current form just isn’t fit for purpose any more.

So, what does 2018 hold for us here? First of course is Brexit. Opinions vary as to how it will proceed. About a month ago, Lincoln’s doyen of Industry and Commerce, the ex boss of RGT/EGT/ALSTOM UK, Paul Barron, in his Lincolnite column, ‘My Plan for surviving Brexit’ adopted the Doris Day approach. Some of you may remember her hit song from the film, ‘The Man, who knew too much’. It went like this:

“Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see Que sera, sera.”

Paul summed it up in the phrase: “It is what it is”, and that’s very much my view as well. However, in order to lead us to the promised land, we need leadership that is up to the job, and here again, I refer to something Paul Barron wrote on The Lincolnite about a year ago in a column entitled: ‘Filling the void: Leadership post Brexit’. He wrote that we needed “a leader who can stand above the rhetoric, with a clear vision and plans to deliver it, communicated in a language everyone can understand.

I agree and might add that we also need a REALIST. But, where are the candidates for this role? So far, I can’t see any of the current crop being up to it, and that includes the Leader of the Official Opposition! Perhaps there is another Winston Churchill out there. And perhaps, with the first round of Brexit negotiations more or less complete, we have, to quote his famous words as the tide of WW2 was beginning to turn in late 1942, reached “the end of the beginning. I sincerely hope so. Mind you, it took another three years of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” before that particular job was done.

A Happy New Year to you all, but don’t unfasten your seatbelts just yet!