As leaders we can forget that our actions are frequently mirrored by those we lead. So, whilst teachers struggle to curb bullying in schools and the police attempt to tackle hate crime we should take a step back to consider the behaviour of those within our political classes and to ask them to do the same.
We have read and heard appalling language over the weekend. Not from hate preachers but from our own politicians. In an article in the Sunday Times with regards to Theresa May’s Brexit negotiation progress, a Tory backbencher was quoted as saying: “The moment is coming when the knife gets heated, stuck in her front and twisted. She’ll be dead soon.” (Sunday Times, 21st Oct, 2018).
No matter what side of the Brexit divide we stand, such abhorrent, unprofessional and abusive language from those in a position of power is not only unacceptable it is totally irresponsible and inflammatory. Regardless of whether we stand Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal or anything in-between there is no excuse that can make right the comments expressed over the weekend with regard to Theresa May and her negotiation process, least of all against the backdrop of the violent attack and murder of labour MP Jo Cox at the very start of the referendum process.
Yes, we may be unhappy with progress and whatever is finally agreed we will all have to make the best of it for the next 6 months, 6 years or even 60. None of us actually know. However, this does not mean we can use that as an excuse to reduce ourselves to such boorish tendencies and pass it off as ok. It is far from ok.
There is a lot of talk about our British Values but where are they right now? They appear to be missing, certainly from the very place where they should be honoured above all else – our Parliament. Mutual Respect is one of our British Values, it seems our politicians do not understand what it means. Maybe they should all take the ‘Life in the UK test’ and refresh their memories.
Is this all our political system can now offer us, a toxic cocktail of abuse and vitriol? If this is the case then it’s not Brexit that should give us cause for worry – it is who and what we have become. It was after all only recently that Dame Laura Cox published a report highlighting a widespread culture of bullying and harassment of employees at Westminster. A parliamentary notice stated that the report made for difficult reading and that bullying and harassment had no place in the House of Commons. After the events of this weekend that statement has more than a hollow ring to it and is hard to stomach.
To be fair there have been a few voices of outrage but too few to be comfortable. And in response to those voices, the Brexit Minister Suella Braverman simply says; ‘Colleagues are free to express themselves in the way they wish’ Really? Is that all we can say, is that the best we can do? We seem to be normalising this type of behaviour. There has been so much of it over the past months, propagated via our politicians, our media and in some cases ourselves.
Maybe now it is time to reassess what we stand for and who we want to be. For many millions of us, it is certainly not how we are being represented by our so-called political leaders. Many of us have spent years working across business for inclusion, diversity and respect among colleagues and all those we interact with. If our business leaders and managers behaved in such a way they would be called to account and rightly stood down. Business is not perfect and there is still work to do but we have come a long way and we are, at least, moving in the right direction.
Language is powerful, as is leadership, and when used inappropriately both remain powerful but for all the wrong reasons. If our political leaders cannot bring themselves to work to our UK Values then maybe it is time for a fundamental shift. Maybe the current political infrastructure does not serve us anymore, maybe they are too busy serving themselves. Maybe it is time for a change, one nobody expected or saw coming and maybe our wonderful young generation at some point will say enough and usher in a new era with standards and behaviours that better suit us. Let’s hope so because what we have got is not worthy of us.
Deborah Hulme, Founder and Neuroleadership Specialist, Minerva Engagement
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