I love March; spring is in the air, the clocks go forward in a couple of weeks, buds on the trees are swelling, and just feeling the first and faintest of heat on one's face from the sun. The promise of new beginnings, new opportunities and, of course, new challenges.
Challenges fall into two different categories; those we set ourselves and those that materialise from a set of foreseen or unforeseen circumstances and so can appear out of left-field.
A part of good and considered leadership is the ability to predict and therefore prepare for the unforeseen.
Nature being what it is; of course, we get caught unaware at times. Tragedy strikes, and amongst the tears, the panic, the grief and lives shattered, we cope as best we can. Adversity introducing us to strengths we were unaware we had.
But we, in the west, have become indolent, entitled, and metaphorically soft and fat. We have developed a tendency to place immediate gratification in all aspects of our lives ahead of long-term goals and the pain and cost involved in attaining those goals.
While I am generalising, and there is always a risk in that, I believe this is generally true. You only have to look at the trivia that titillates society to understand that the majority largely ignores the really big issues. Partly, I suspect, because the more leaders explain the plans and details, the more accountable they make themselves. Our free press, on the whole, does a reasonable job of keeping leaders honest - sometimes not enough and sometimes overdoing it.
The downside of how our democracy works are that our politicians want to get re-elected, which can be counterintuitive to taking significant risks, or at least explaining them - and being honest - always leaving a scapegoat escape hole in case things go wrong, which they invariably do, as in "no plan survives contact with the enemy". But any fool can steer the ship in calm waters - but a storm soon sorts out the men from the boys.
There are two points I wish to make: firstly, we need to toughen up and escape from this ridiculous self-indulgent woke culture that is pervading western democracies. It is a path to self-destruction, and governments must take the lead on this.
Secondly, we need our politicians to be far more pragmatic and daring; to run our country more like a business. That means clear aims and objectives, beginning with; Why are we here, and what are our goals? i.e., the defence of our land and peoples, the health of our peoples, the education of us all, sufficient infrastructure that allows us to prosper and then the sense to clear out the way and let the rest of us get on with it.
But instead, we have gross incompetence, poor foresight and planning, an inability to take (and minimise) risk, a lack of attention to detail, and a complete lack of honest accountability.
Our Armed Forces: We have lamentably reduced our Armed Forces to a token force only - drastically reducing the number of personnel. It is both shocking as it is shaming - as if we haven't learnt these costly lessons in the past. Plus, our seeming inability to make good purchasing decisions instead of constantly cutting corners to save pennies that end up costing millions of pounds in waste for which no politician is held to account. Examples being; The new Ajax reconnaissance vehicle, Chinook helicopters, Apache helicopters, and the cost-saving changes to building both new Aircraft Carriers without catapult take-off and landing assistance (A British invention incidentally), which severely limit the type of fixed-wing aircraft it can carry - to one. Decent living quarters for our Sailers, Soldiers and RAF personnel; this is by no means the definitive list - it is actually a national disgrace and should be seen as such.
Our National Health Service: I hear people celebrating our NHS - why I wonder - they are, in my opinion, delusional. Our beloved NHS is a national disgrace. If it were a business, it would have gone bankrupt long ago. It isn't a business I hear you cry - it is a service. Yes, and there is a difference; it does not exist to make a profit. But never-the-less, it should be a dependable service that is not constantly creaking under the strain of under-investment, red tape and unrealistic expectations. The NHS has become this "Holy Cow" that all politicians are terrified of reformulating, even though it is crying out for radical treatment. Unless someone grabs the nettle, it will go on haemorrhaging money and disappointing its patients ad-infinitum.
Our Education Service: It is quite shocking in today's age that so many young people are seemingly let down by their parents and teachers. That sounds awfully unfair and too generalistic, but I still come across far too many young people who can not read, write, add or subtract and who have no work culture whatsoever. A quick win would be the reintroduction of a National Service. But also having a higher bar for educators. Teaching, like being a policeman or policewoman, is a profession, not a job. It requires aptitude as well as ability and character - it doesn't suit everyone.
Our National Infrastructure: We need to be far more grown-up about how we research, choose our goals, and plan and deliver the desired outcomes in a timely manner, from building new high-speed rail to Nuclear power stations to producing sustainable energy. From our road network to how we deal with raw sewage, you cannot help but feel it is all out of control.
There is undoubtedly a severe lack of clear thinking, competence and the ability to deliver good value along with the desired results - On time, In full and on budget.
In short, none of these primary and essential government duties should be political. There should be a cross-party agreement on all these issues to serve everybody's and the country's best interest.
In effect, we now have an intelligent Prime Minister who has picked up the reins of a failing country; he has selected a low-calibre cabinet - of which too many members have a proven inability to deliver, all in a party, so divided in itself - it makes it seemingly impossible to go forward with common goals.
If the main labour opposition gets into power, it promises to be beige and unimaginative, further eroding our country's credibility. The Liberal Democrats - who knows why they exist, let alone what they stand for?
Not only that, we have a war raging on our doorstep in Ukraine, the Chinese becoming ever more belligerent, the Far East still in turmoil, and selfish striking unions in all our main service sectors - So yes - I would say we have some challenges ahead.
The challenge today is to accept that nothing is for nothing. If you want to have bigger muscles - then you have to work at it, just the same as if you want to learn the piano. There is no gain without some pain.
We have to be in a place where we can accept some doses of tough love and take the medicine - that is if we want to continue to enjoy the privileges of first-world living.
If we are not prepared to pay the price - we will, in the fullness of time, get a very rude awakening.
But even supposing we are prepared to take the medicine - we still need the inspired leadership. And finding that today is more difficult than ever - and that is our fault. We are to blame for this. We are seemingly unable to attract the right calibre of people, and even when we do - we don't choose them because most of the people who do the choosing have not the slightest idea of the qualities they are looking for when selecting a leader. It is as if we are doomed before we even begin.
I had a great friend who taught history, and he was fond of the cliche; "cometh the moment - cometh the man" (or woman). Perhaps we will get lucky?
But if enough of us actually start talking, making a bit of noise, and doing something about it, we have a greater chance of getting lucky. It doesn't always work out very well when you rely only on luck.
Rikki - Suffolk - 16th March - 2023