Archive for September, 2020

We need more Mr Nice Guys

16/09/2020, 10:45:17 PM

by Jack Lesgrin

Despite the blandness of the term ‘nice’, the rehabilitation of nice human attributes, particularly among political leaders, is needed more than ever in a world in which those who are far from nice keep winning.

Dictionary definitions of “nice” behaviour that evoke kindness, generosity and graciousness sound wholly positive. Yet society has an awkward relationship with the concept. It is a required attribute in the caring and nurturing professions but often eschewed in the arenas of business, politics and sport, where aggression, competitiveness and ruthlessness are the watchwords. Bill Gates’s hugely impressive philanthropy indicates profound niceness, he himself admits that in his Microsoft days he had been “tough on people he worked with” and that some of this was “over the top”.

This ambivalence can be seen in the way the ‘nice guy’ motif features in popular culture: international drug dealer Howard Marks benefits from niceness chic in his 1990s autobiography ‘Mr Nice’; Alice Cooper rebels against niceness in his song ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’; sports coaches chant “nice guys finish last”; while Richard Dawkins added a new chapter entitled ‘Nice guys finish first’ to The Selfish Gene.

The challenges faced by our communities, at any scale, can be overcome most effectively by people who exhibit niceness. Cultures of kindness and collaboration are more likely to thrive. Leaders with compassion as their core value are inclined to address the great persisting injustices of our time, at national and international level.

Star Trek’s fictitious Jean-Luc Picard shows a leadership style that is valued as much for its kindness and empathy as its decisiveness and bravery. It is no accident that the rare glimpses of this utopian future on earth imply that global problems have been overcome by such leaders.

We are a long way from Star Trek’s 24th century and niceness is in retreat due to much more than the indifference expressed in J.S. Mill’s quote, “bad men need nothing more to accomplish their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing”.

Niceness is foundering because its behavioural attributes are not sufficiently respected and promoted within society. Despite general entreaties of the law for compliance and truthfulness, there is no law about being nice. The best efforts of parents and teachers to inculcate niceness have not been ultimately successful and many people learn that it impairs their personal advancement.

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Labour needs to talk about Brexit

15/09/2020, 11:13:23 PM

by Robert Williams

There is an ongoing debate in the Labour Party about whether Sir Keir Starmer should talk about Brexit. There have been so many other sticks with which to beat the government with, on COCIV test and trace, the highest excess death rate in Europe, the neglect of care homes, the growing scandal of PPE procurement contracts that make Al Capone look like an honest businessman, the A level fiasco. I could go on, and simply list the failures of Boris Johnson and his government for another few thousand words, but readers might lose the will to live.

So why reopen the wound of Brexit, which certainly contributed to Labour’s worst electoral performance since 1935. Why should Labour risk the wrath of its former Red Wall voters? They may not have liked Jeremy Corbyn, and that played no small role in making Labour less popular than a bad case of diarrhoea, but the Brexit saga was also significant. (Sorry for the analogy, but Corbyn was utterly toxic to voters, including former Labour voters, and it feels appropriate for his effect on the body politic).

Voters were exhausted by the political drama and wanted it over. They seized, or at least a large enough proportion of voters in key target seats did, on the promise of an “oven ready deal” and gave the Tories their largest majority since 1987. So one can understand why Labour has been as quiet as a monk in a silent order on Brexit. Even at last week’s PMQs, Keir Starmer did not mention, even in a limited and specific way, the government’s proposals to break international law.

The Labour leadership thinks that talking about Brexit at the moment is a lose-lose situation for them. It will remind voters, particularly those in the “Red Wall” that Labour backed Remain (it didn’t, they promised to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and put it to another public vote – and yes, it was a farcical policy). Labour also fears that raising Brexit again will take the focus off the government’s handling of our exit from the EU. The “don’t interrupt your opponent making mistakes” view. And finally, Labour thinking is that they cannot do anything about Brexit in any case now that the government has a majority of 80.

So silence, as the government damages its own reputation for competence and now reneges on its own election manifesto – the one Johnson made every one of his candidates pledge to support – is, possibly sound politics. Let the government destroy themselves and wait on the sidelines. It is appealing, but I think it is wrong

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