I’m 58 years old. I come from a middle class, West Country non-conformist tradition: my father, senior partner for twenty years in a good sized Gloucestershire-Herefordshire accountancy practice was a paid up Liberal from Jo Grimond days, my mother, an outspoken 6th form English teacher, loved Attlee’s post-war government.
I had a fabulous education at Hereford Cathedral School, read the dreaded PPE at the same Oxford college as Jacob Rees-Mogg, qualified as an accountant since when I’ve spent the last 33 years as an equally dreaded management consultant, including time as a boss in a firm you will definitely have heard of, and probably cursed for its perceived mendacity over the course of the last year.
I’ve never been engaged with, let alone involved in, politics – there was no time when countries, experiences, fine wines all needed to be repeatedly consumed with great urgency.
But we have a problem
Problem is, being a management consultant it’s always easy to see that things can be done better if they’re done differently – both what is actually done and, as importantly, the spirit with which this happens. This has never been more true than in public affairs in the UK over the last five years. It’s not just the tedious Brexit, though there’s lots to explore there on a sectoral basis (agriculture is rightly screaming but ignored right now).
I’m not sure that any approach towards the pandemic would have been great, though the catalogue of blunders has been immense: allowing horse racing to go on in Cheltenham just before a too late lockdown in March, lack of support for limited company directors (the “Forgotten 3 million”), botched GCSE results, the human and PR disaster of free school meals. All this and the test and trace system still doesn’t appear fit for purpose.
So how can we “build back better”?
What I am sure is that we need to articulate how we, as a country, want to genuinely “build back better’, and we all need to be involved and give our views – otherwise we can only blame ourselves if we don’t like the way the World looks when the virus has gone (or more likely, when we’ve learned how to live with it).
Take one example. I live in the centre of town just off the High Street. There were empty shops before lockdown, internet clicks already winning the battle with bricks and mortar. There are more now than six months ago, and it will likely get worse. We have to think and share views now on what we would like Cheltenham High Street and all the others in our area to look like – how can we avoid having hollowed out town centres.
There are, of course, so many other examples – the environment, low pay, homelessness, stripped A&E in the county etc. etc. etc.
On one of the first training courses I attended as a management consultant we were taken through the SPIN process: first understand the Situation, think about the Problem with that situation, identify the Implication and articulate the Need. We can use something similar to begin a dialogue focused on how people’s quality of life can be improved.
West England Bylines gives a wonderful opportunity to share ideas and begin the conversation that we desperately need. And, after years of saying I’ll do it, it’s made me start writing again. I’ve even started an Open University course in Creative Writing.
The Open University, of course, has been described as the single greatest step in the history of higher education. It harks back to an optimistic era, when things really were getting better.
I want this country to regain that optimism and that’s why I write. That and the fact that my long-departed parents would never forgive me if I didn’t try and do something and I’m still scared to disobey them.