Opinion

Jeremy Hunt has shown our leaders are all out of ideas. Might be time to ask a chimp what to do

This week the chancellor took to Instagram and Twitter to call for new policy ideas ahead of the spring budget. We’re now at the crowdsourcing stage of national governance, writes Big Issue editor Paul McNamee

Chimp

Image: Shutterstock

What is your thing? You know, your THING. If your friends were asked, what would they say? That you’re good with dogs? Dogs always know. That you can cook effortlessly well, without panic? That you can walk on your hands or recite the names of all kings and queens of England, post-Norman conquest? Everybody has their thing. Chimps do, as we’ll discover.

What would happen if you lost it? What if the immutable just dissolved?

It’s where we are now. For as long as I can remember the Conservative and Unionist Party of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have thought of themselves as the natural party of government. Such is the power of their thundering self-belief and ability to embed the idea so indelibly in the national consciousness that it has been set as a given. They have won a huge number of elections through the 20th and 21st century. 

But now, the wall is crumbling. It does not feel like we are being led by a party of government. And when perception grips it becomes reality.

It’s all a bit 1996, all very in office but not in power. Except without the promise of a new Oasis album or a grand plan from the opposition to rebuild. 

Everywhere around the echoes sound – the dodgy dealings, the nest-feathering, the unstoppable inequality growth and rising poverty with its dark consequences, the NHS on the brink, an education system that is spiralling, the justice system that can’t cope, the sense that tin hats are on the chosen few for the last chopper out of Saigon and damn the rest of us.

It’s evidential too. There is no plan, beyond vague promises. This week the chancellor of the exchequer took to Instagram and Twitter to call for new policy ideas ahead of the spring budget. We’re now at the crowdsourcing stage of national governance. You could argue that this is good, government by consensus, meritorious in the best way, allowing the finest ideas to inform next decisions. But really, there are clear issues to be dealt with right now, an orbit of emergencies that are threatening to crash with devastating consequences at any moment. Dealing with them first meets the stark and obvious need, rather than a paper exercise.

We’re only a step from asking the chimps for advice. Which in truth might not be a terrible idea. Scientists at St Andrews University published a report last week identifying dozens of communication methods that we share with chimps and bonobos. These signals might be hardwired into some shared primordial DNA – human babies still use them until other language skills develop. 

Why wouldn’t we just ask the chimps? They function fine, they’ve been around longer than us and no research has yet uncovered evidence that poor governance on their part very nearly broke the entire economy within weeks of a new leader rising.

We know that, for now, communities are going to hold on, many by the skin of their teeth, by the efforts of groups on the ground, often led by focused and fearless women. And we know also that strikers are not going away. The February 1 day of action, at time of writing, is set to see almost 400,000 workers remove their labour as they ask for a better tomorrow. It’s no longer possible for those in charge to demonise them as a disruptive few when so many people are involved. And this does not even count nurses.

 The next number of weeks will have huge implications for us all. It’s essential now for some leaders to show us that they have, you know, a thing.

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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