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The Need For A New National Narrative

28/06/2017 12:12

As I write this, the television news is leading on two stories: Brexit Secretary David Davis outlining the UK's likely response if offered a "punishment deal" by the EU, and Jeremy Corbyn promising to "share the wealth" with his Glastonbury festival audience.

As someone whose profession is to create campaigns that inspire audiences into positive action, the current state of our nation's conversation is both alarming and depressing.

Since when did the UK become so reactive? Awaiting the EU's negotiating position, rather than creating and promoting our own positive vision for the future? And is it really in our national character to squabble about the sharing of others' spoils, rather than to create a context that positively promotes collective ambition and success?

It feels as if we are forgetting the belief and behaviour that put the 'Great' into Great Britain - however terrifyingly Trump that sounds. And, if we are not very careful, the new ossifying tone of our political discourse will stifle the potential benefits of Brexit before they are even recognised, let alone seized.

It just seems remarkable that neither of the main parties have recognised and 'Verbalised' the middle ground between the rampant "nasty" Conservatism of yesteryear and the naïve socialism of Corbyn's current grand vision. It seems so obvious from the outside: our country is now in a unique position within Europe to own and exploit a, "work hard, be kind" narrative for the betterment of all our citizens, as well as to provide a competitive advantage within the modern global business landscape.

This disarmingly simple 'positioning' statement is in fact borrowed from my former headmaster, a wonderful man by the name of Dennis Silk. On the first day of each new academic year Mr Silk would gather the new entrants together in the chapel and explain the school's guiding philosophy under his tenure, "You will learn two things while you are here: to work hard and to be kind".

Sure enough, thirty years later, Mr Silk's values are so ingrained in me that they directly influence the way in which I now run my two companies: with an intense work ethic, as well as a heavy dose of corporate responsibility.

Such a simple mantra would do wonders for our sense of national identity as we navigate Brexit and beyond. It would position the UK as a meritocratic beacon to challenge the innovation-suppressing bureaucracy that muddles the EU. But also the UK as the new model of responsible capitalism that takes care of those in need, without tolerating freeloading.

The 'work hard, be kind' mantra offers a grown-up politics for the twenty-first century by supporting the betterment of each and every citizen, while also recognising that the provision of superlative education, health and social infrastructure are the means by which to enable the individual to deliver their part within the whole. Letting the achievers fly as high as their potential allows, whilst recognising that they do so on account of the support of the society around them.

This positioning feels instinctively of the right, albeit with a foot placed firmly within the middle ground. It is a narrative of aspiration built on individual and collective responsibility that avoids the desire to 'tear it all down' as expressed by a few of the more extreme Corbynistas. It acts as a call-to-action to harness the potential of our country by challenging every citizen to be part of the solution, at all levels. Proactive, not reactive. Tangible within the real world.

I would have thought that such an 'ambition in balance' narrative - that celebrates and promotes aspiration but also recognises the value of all rungs on the ladder - could do away with much of the oppositional name-calling that is currently in evidence between the two main parties? It would also provide a direction for the formulation of policies that can be understood as part of an overarching national strategy.

It is certainly my belief that it is only by phrasing such a didactic new national agenda that we can hope to overcome divisions within certain sections of our community, and excite the UK populous as a whole about the opportunities that will come as a result of Brexit.

We are so lucky to live at this time in the UK's history, in which we get to reset our own agenda, on our own terms, with a concurrent reassessment of our individual and collective responsibilities. It would be a travesty not to define the UK's new trajectory in these positive and proactive terms.

Perhaps one of the parties may wish to consider more of a 'work hard, be kind' positioning in the coming months and years? And if they did, perhaps we may all discover a renewed sense of personal and national pride that we'd be happy to share with the next generation, just like Mr Silk.

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