Dark times ahead?

By Martin Vogel


Since the result of the Brexit referendum, nearly six months ago, I have found it hard to write. I spend too much time reading about developments and not enough time ordering my thoughts. As a consequence, this blog post covers a lot of ground and will be split into three parts.

But there’s a more subtle reason for my writer’s block: my mood swings. This month, watching the Supreme Court display Britain’s constitution working properly, I’ve been able to think that we might find a way through the challenges ahead with good sense and collegiality. But having seen – amid the broader global context of political upheaval – the intolerant and hysterical reaction to the earlier High Court ruling on Article 50, I experience a foreboding about what the Brexit vote might unleash.

I don’t think I’m alone. The foreboding extends beyond the cosmopolitan bubble I inhabit in London. I see it the eyes of visitors from northern cities. I heard it amid the chat of scores of More United supporters who turned up from far afield to campaign in the Richmond Park by-election for openness and tolerance.

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England, my England: we need to determine what it is before we can move on from Brexit

By Mark Wakefield

Orwell would have understood the state of Brexit England

I counted myself lucky to be away on holiday and out of the country during the week after the referendum result. The atmosphere was clearly pretty febrile as I watched events unfold from afar. As someone who voted Remain, albeit with serious misgivings, I was prey to a constantly shifting range of emotions, and still am to a degree. I was surprised however, to find an old friend of mine who works for a Labour frontbench MP texting me to say how ashamed she was of England. This set a whole new train of thought going for me. Whatever else I felt about the result, I did not feel any shame whatever about how England – as opposed to London – had voted. I couldn’t for a moment feel any sense of shame that the poor and disadvantaged who have suffered most from the financial crash in 2008 had vented their spleen on the establishment, even though I believe such venting to be misdirected. But the poor and disadvantaged don’t make up 52 per cent of the population or anything like it. While I am prepared to believe there was a degree of xenophobia at work in the vote to leave, I believe it far more likely that there was a grudging resentment – which I share – at the high-handedness of the EU (particularly in the Commission) and the woeful lack of any democratic accountability. Continue reading “England, my England: we need to determine what it is before we can move on from Brexit”

Morbid symptoms that precipitated Brexit

By Martin Vogel

Antonio Gramsci

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union is easily the most cataclysmic political development of my lifetime. I have spent the last days stunned and despondent; absorbing the news more than making sense of it.

Although I count myself thoroughly European, it was not a foregone conclusion that I would vote Remain. It is self-evident that the EU, as an institution, is ossified and dysfunctional, incapable of addressing the seismic challenges it faces with the Euro or of mustering an effective humanitarian response to the refugees arriving at its borders. Conceived to heal division, the EU has become a wrecker of social democracy that has engendered extreme right-wing politics across the continent.

Such concerns did not persuade me, though, of the prospectus for leaving. That Britain’s economic interests lie in being part of the EU is a no-brainer. A bigger consideration for me was the case for staying engaged in Europe’s conversation, trying to keep it’s project for co-operation on the road. As the referendum campaign unfolded, the xenophobia and hatred stirred up by the Brexiteers dispelled any notion that there might be a decent argument for leaving.

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Camus and the wisdom of not knowing

By Martin Vogel


“Democracy, said Camus, is the system that relies on the wisdom of people who know that they don’t know everything.” This observation, by Philip Collins in The Times (£) this morning sent me scuttling to consult Camus’ reflections in more depth.

Collins was giving a very measured response to the day of infamy which saw the murder of the Labour MP, Jo Cox. I hadn’t heard of Jo Cox before yesterday. But in our age of political disenchantment, it seems especially poignant that she appears to have been – as my friend, Simon, who broke the news to me, put it – a fabulous advert for everything we all want: an engaged, democratic, local, committed politician.

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The sea change

By Mark Wakefield

The Winter of Discontent.
The Winter of Discontent in 1979 precipitated the end of the social democratic consensus. Is the epoch of neoliberalism that it ushered in facing its own sea change?

We’ve been in business for just over three years now and in all that time we have consistently championed the idea of socially responsible business. When we started we were sure we were onto a winner. Our credentials in understanding and communicating the idea of social value opened doors. But we quickly realised that, much as people liked to talk, no one was much interested in spending money on this. As in the world of business, so in the world of politics. All the party leaders have talked about the need for a more socially responsible, less predatory capitalism but so far nothing has come of it. We are still, for instance, five years away from the Vickers report on banking regulation being fully implemented, and there are many who argue that it goes nowhere near far enough. Meanwhile, executive pay continues to rocket while the great majority see their incomes lagging inflation.

Tempted as I often am to throw up my hands up in despair, something happened just recently that encouraged me to think that change is on the way, though it will take time to be fully realised. When I’m not working for Vogel Wakefield, I have an unpaid role as a priest at St. Mary the Virgin Primrose Hill. A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on the subject of money by way of launching a money season at the church. Inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s campaign on payday loans and in conjunction with the Centre for Theology and Community, our aim in the money season has been to support individuals in reflecting on the ethics of making and spending money, and to encourage the whole church to identify local needs that it can help address.

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Different kinds of truth in health care

By Martin Vogel

University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff

The unharmonious sound of an establishment closing ranks could be heard last week when an NHS hospital attempted to discredit the account by the MP, Anne Clwyd, of the death of her husband while in its care. While conceding that Ms Clwyd’s husband, Owen Roberts, died of hospital-acquired pneumonia, the University Hospital of Wales said it had no evidence to support Ms Clwyd’s assertion that Mr Roberts had died “like a battery hen.”

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board released a summary of an independent inquiry into Ms Clwyd’s allegations but declined to release the full report. So it’s impossible to assess what evidence it evaluated before reaching a view that Mr Roberts didn’t die like a battery hen.

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The Co-op, revolution and public leadership

By Martin Vogel

99 per centThe tragic mistake that the Co-op keeps making is to try to accommodate itself to the era of unrestrained, crony capitalism just as we need it to prove that its 19th Century mutual values are a plausible alternative to corporate excess.

Euan Sutherland – who resigned this week after the leak of his £3.5m pay package – demonstrated not only a poor fit with the Co-op’s mutual ethos, but a complete lack of the leadership values that will turn round public disaffection with business.

It may have been lame of Sutherland to declare the Co-op “ungovernable” before he’d even attempted to reform it, but this was consistent with an executive whose leadership style had demonstrated – as Will Hutton put it – no understanding of his organisation’s core challenge:

“That challenge is to marry Co-op values with a new and better functioning business model. What is astounding is that it occurred to nobody, not the executives themselves, that by being offered and accepting sums this large the management were trashing the very values they were on a mission to rebuild.”

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Co-operative values: missing in action

By Martin Vogel

Spinning in their graves? The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Co-operative Movement
Spinning in their graves? The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Co-operative Movement

Last week, I ended a 30-year customer relationship with the Co-operative Bank. The move was precipitated initially by financial caution as a gaping hole was revealed in the bank’s balance sheet but cemented by dismay at the catalogue of mismanagement revealed in recent weeks.

While I feel a litte sad as a customer, I’m also discomforted professionally as the collapse of the Co-op Bank raises questions about my advocacy of values-driven leadership. I believe the problems of the self-styled “ethical bank” stem not from an excessively values-driven approach but from a disconnection from its values. But – and here’s the sting – the complacency generated by its intent as an ethical business may have played a role in the bank’s undoing.

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Scotland’s independence debate: where’s the leadership?

By Mark Wakefield


“[It] makes America’s historic Declaration of Independence look like a post-it note.” So wrote Joan Mc Alpine, Scottish National MSP for South Scotland in the Daily Record of last week’s Scottish Government white paper on independence. It says something for the debased nature of our public discourse that she did so without apparent irony. The Times, in its leader column, commended the Scottish Government for engaging with the future on “a more terrestrial basis”(£).

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Purpose and values in the NHS

By Martin Vogel


It was only last month that we were asked whether a hospital, of all things, would ever need to consider its purpose and values. To those outside the NHS, it is self-evident that a hospital exists to treat people’s health problems and to save lives. Yet today both Robert Francis QC and the Prime Minister have dispelled any notion that the NHS can currently be trusted to deliver such a purpose.

Introducing the final report of his inquiry into the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal, Robert Francis spoke of an NHS trust that “put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”  Responding to the report, David Cameron condemned “a focus on finance and figures at the expense of patient care” in the culture of the NHS.

The facts of the Mid Staffordshire scandal were already established, in part by Robert Francis’s earlier inquiry but also thanks to the campaigning efforts of relatives of some of the hundreds of patients who needlessly died because of negligent and inhumane “care”.

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