Opinion

Why we need a safe, competent pair of hands for our political challenges

Calm and steady leadership is what's needed in today's volatile climate

John Swinney, Scotland's new first minister. Image: Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock

Competence is the new rock ’n’ roll. For a time, everything that was emerging and popular was the new rock ’n’ roll. Comedy was once. So was cookery. For a while kindness was it. Intermittently rock ’n’ roll is the new rock ’n’ roll. It’s a banal language trope. But it serves a useful purpose. Which is fitting as now, after a period of political chaos, a commitment to getting business done in a timely and orderly fashion is the very thing. 

In Scotland, decent and sensible John Swinney is running the country. A year ago he was yesterday’s man, liked by many but not exciting enough to electrify the electorate, and too close to all that had gone before. After a year of Humza Yousaf not really getting anywhere and increasingly failing to unite his party or get policy through, Swinney was seen as the only one for the job, the safe hands in a time of flux. There wasn’t even a leadership challenge within the SNP. In his speech accepting the role of first minister he acknowledged that the things he had to really get hold of were “dry and technical”. 

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This was not the shambolic self-serving charisma of Boris Johnson, promising the world and delivering nothing, but the serious language of serious business. He also put eradicating child poverty at the top of his to-do list – hardly the chatter of a popinjay. 

Incidentally, this is also timely, coming as it does as we launch our Big Issue campaign for an end to poverty as an election commitment from all parties. John, give us a ring. We can talk through it.

In Westminster, though Labour still soar in the polls, the recurring message is that the lead comes despite Keir Starmer, not because of him. He is seen as a leader of good and even sense rather than of inspiration. 

As a reaction against the flightiness of those who had been in power before – and the disaster of Liz Truss remains a blight the Tories cannot shake – it’s understandable. People want lives of calm with a chance for things getting better. Conversations are not full of political science (unless John Curtice is involved) but rather about failing football managers, and how the neighbour is parking and why the trains don’t run and the roads are full of holes.

Political leaders can make all sorts of claims about how incredibly well they are doing and how things are really getting better. But every one of us feels the reality as lived experience. Make lives better in straightforward ways, not by governing through vapid sloganeering. 

There will always be external factors that impact any election (the debate about how Labour handles reaction to the Gaza/Israel issue is not going to go anywhere, unless accommodation is reached there) but, at risk of getting all Aesop on you, it does feel like it’s time for plodders to win the race.

That said, it could be moot anyway. This week, climate scientists, in a huge poll collected by The Guardian, said we’re goosed. The Earth, they believe, is on a catastrophic climate path sailing right through the 1.5°C global temperature rise this century resulting in a “semi-dystopian future, with famines, conflicts and mass migration, driven by heatwaves, wildfires, floods and storms”.

Let’s see what the competent nice guys do about that, SHALL WE!?!

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. To support our work buy a copy!

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