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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Power reveals as nothing else does

So we have a new Government.


And more to the point, the transition will be seamless.  Our outgoing Prime Minister gives a farewell speech at Downing Street, in the very place where he was soaked just six weeks ago: he then goes to the Palace to submit his resignation to the King.  This will be at 10.40 am. 


Then Sir Keir will have an audience with Charles III, who will invite him to form a government.  Finally, at around 12.25pm our new Prime Minister will give a speech in front of the infamous black door, setting out his agenda for government, a defining moment. 


It’s the precise timing which intrigues me, 10.40 am and 12.25 pm.  In other words all this has been worked out to the last detail by the Cabinet Office, I assume one of two alternative plans depending on the decision of the electorate. 


For this we can thank God, that our government can so easily change, almost without missing a beat.  No riots in the streets and certainly not the result being contested by the defeated Prime Minister. 


It’s something we readily take for granted and yet we see throughout the world governments clinging to power through election fraud, most recently in Russia.  No Tory mob rampaging through the Palace of Westminster, no Army lining up to seize control., no rush to the borders. 


As the New York Time commented in this morning’s edition: “When there is a clear opposition victory in Britain, the transition of power takes place with ruthless speed.”  For unlike in the US, few people actually lose their job.  The civil service stays the same; it’s just the policies that change. 


Much is written about ‘broken Britain’ and yet our very basics as a society are in good order.  We’re talking here about the very fundamentals of our nation.  You could argue (but I’m not going to try in this blog) that our ability to change governments so smoothly goes back to the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when King Charles II replaced Cromwell’s Commonwealth.  


Here the influence of Christians was crucial, even the Puritans, many of whom had renounced violence and were prepared to serve under a restored monarchy.  Many were committed to the well-being of the nation, setting their own interests aside.


It wasn’t an easy transition:  it could never be following the execution of Charles I just eleven years earlier.  But this was the era which gave us both the Book of Common Prayer (1662) and “Pilgrim’s Progress” (1678)


It is no coincidence that it was at this point that Anglicans started to define the CofE as the via media or middle way between the religious extremes of Catholicism and Protestantism; Arminianism and Calvinism; and high church and low church.


And as it happens it is this very day the General Synod meets in York to find a way forward through contemporary issues which threaten to fracture the church.  They get a lot of stick over this, of course:  but the very fact the members are trying so hard to reach an accommodation says a lot.  Here in action is the Anglican gift for compromise, which is so often ridiculed. 


It’s not going to be easy for our new government, given the complexity and confusion in the world in 2024.  No doubt many Labour voters will become disillusioned, simply because they had the illusion that government is relatively simple.  The very opposite, in fact. It was another Labour leader on coming to power in 1997 who discovered that when he pulled on the levers of power, he discovered they are not connected to anything.


Moreover, there are – to quote PM Harold MacMillan – “Events, Dear Boy!”  That is, things happening of potentially great consequence which no one saw coming:  Falklands, Covid-19, Ukraine.


As it happens, unusually for an incoming prime minister, Sir Keir has some experience of running a complex and demanding organisation as Director of Public Prosecutions from 2008 to 2013.  I recall that during the trauma of the 2011 riots, he prioritised rapid prosecutions of rioters over long sentences, a bold decision which certainly helped to restore order.


But there again, like most of his colleagues, he has never held a position in government or sat around the cabinet table.  He has never been in a “Yes, Minister” relationship.


Moreover being PM is an altogether different ballgame, alone at the top of a tall greasy pole.  As William Hague recently wrote in the Times: “The Labour leader’s true political character will only emerge in office — and it may surprise supporters and even himself.”


He continues:  “In power there is nowhere to hide the qualities or weaknesses of a leader; power illuminates mercilessly their ideals, stamina, work ethic, morals, persuasiveness and instincts. ‘Power reveals,’ says Caro. ‘It doesn’t always reveal you for the better, but it reveals.’”


So however we voted, we pray for our new Prime Minister and his government, in the words of the 1662 BCP Collect, “for right judgment in all things.”  


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