It's a pretty clear message that I have, and in writing it I'm certain that the people who most need to read it, absorb it, and act on it will not be doing so:
Be excellent to each other.
Five words that encapsulate the central core doctrine of what I stand for, what I try to do when I am in a position of responsibility for educating young people, what I try to embody (without always being successful). It's at the core of Christianity, properly conceived, and whilst I don't pretend to understand the religions in anything like the same depth, it's a teaching that sits at the centre of Islam and Judaism as well. Here's the thing that seems to get missed, though. God might well have His chosen people, and if He does, good for them. But from what I understand of God (or Yahweh, or Allah), being one of the chosen people doesn't come with a right to blow up all the others who don't belong. I can't help but feel that some of the people who have lost their lives to conflict in the Israel will stand before God, see Him shaking His head at the needless loss of life, and weep at the senselessness of the fighting. And that's regardless of which side they were on, and that's regardless of whether they were combatants or innocent bystanders.
Part of the problem is the very real pressure to pick a side, and to have a justification for it. That has been intensified by the looming presence of social media in people's experience, where nuanced argument is conspicuous by its absence, and by the mob mentality of people in general but in particular on such platforms. I am no historian of the Middle East, but I can say with confidence that the answer to the conflict there will not be found by looking back and figuring out who really ought to be there. I can further say that conflict - whether political or military - does not seem to have much of a positive history when it comes to sorting out social, economic and moral problems. So the route to peace won't come from victory, but from the recognition that what real victory is - grandstanding aside - is an answer in which people co-exist without the need to re-contest the outcome at any opportunity.
The same goes for Northern Ireland, Brexit, whatever. As a kid, I remember being asked the question about holiday destinations - where would I like to go and where would I not like to go? And my response to the latter (I have no memory of my response to the former) was to say that I would not like to be on holiday in Northern Ireland, because people there seem to shoot each other quite frequently. The people of Northern Ireland, the UK, Ireland, the USA - whoever has a stake and whoever has any power - bear a responsibility, and that is to get right first an attitude to the conflict that is one of improvement and peace, not victory in some cause. That justice for terrible actions past might not act in its familiar way is a worthwhile price to be paid for preventing terrible actions not yet done.
And when it comes to this country and its future? I suppose my sensibility is clear enough, and my voting preferences would be so to those who had a sense of who I am. The very nature of political parties seems to be that none quite embodies my view on how the country should be run. Indeed, the desire for power in and of itself should be a fair warning. My hope is that the era of everyone being able to publicly express an opinion drives a move towards something like a coalition of government in people's interest and with their blessing. But it seems that people's attachment to their opinions is too big a barrier. And their attachment to power, in some cases.
I had the title in mind when thinking a bit about Boris Johnson and the various news we've heard in the last couple of weeks about things that he has probably done wrong (accepting money to pay for decoration) but that we have not yet had confirmed one way or the other. You can tell that something has been done that, if it gets out, will get great mileage for any anti-Johnson sentiment, and particularly in the week of local elections, it seems that all manner of lying, part-truth and ignoring the question is being deployed to try to spike this particular gun. What's really interesting about the whole story is that, in the grand scheme of things, the money spent on doing up what is inevitably a temporary residence for the occupant is trifling. It's not a small sum in the context of salaries, wage increases and benefits, but it's a small sum in the context of the untold millions spent on enriching private interests out of the public purse (probably). Why has this one got traction, where any number of reasonably clear-cut corruption stories have not? Is this the work of Dominic Cummings, manipulating newspapers behind the scenes?
Well, get ready for an analogy.
Lots of folk were disappointed by last night's relative sedate ending to Line of Duty. I thought it was spot on, and the reason is basically that the story of corruption within the police is pretty much analogous to the story of corruption within the current government. You're never quite sure who is at the root of it, and indeed when you get your answers it turns out that there's a lot less planning and infrastructure to the whole thing and a lot more making-it-up-as-you-go-along. Twitter exploded with a bunch of people feeling cheated of their mastermind, their supervillain. What we wanted was Dominic Cummings, scheming and twisted, up to his eyeballs in evil. What we got instead was a mixture of incompetence and greed. Boris Johnson. A man who clearly had the right stuff to make progress in his chosen field, despite a series of warning signs being there all along. A man who has a record of being involved in corrupt practices, but which seem to have been overlooked by the people doing the promoting. What the fourth man lacks that Johnson has is limited to a belief in his own divine(ish) right to be in charge. Johnson, as far as I can tell, simply can't compute that there are people out there who have principles other than their own enrichment, empowerment and glorification. He can't see why, when it comes to rules, they should apply to him; the rules exist to govern the common man, not him. And that is the problem currently: he is in charge of deciding what to do about forthcoming enquiries into his own behaviour. If they conclude that he has broken the ministerial code (as the one into Priti Patel's conduct as Home Secretary did, in fact, conclude) he is free to follow what is now established precedent and simply state that the conclusion of the report is wrong (as he, in fact, did in the case of the Priti Patel enquiry). It doesn't need hidden laptops and re-routing through Spanish IP addresses to stink of corruption, and even if Patricia McDonald (or James Cleverly, take your pick) is there to constantly remind us that there is no evidence of institutionalised corruption, you just know there is.
So Boris Johnson is like Donald Trump in that set of ways at least. A chancer who believes that every decision made was rather the result of inherent superiority than a system stacked in his favour. Someone for whom criminality is a concept that only really applies to others, those governed, rather than those doing the governing. What is astonishing is how each has risen to wield power in the way that they have. We can only hope that the beginning of the collapse of Johnson's power is near, because that drive to decouple the machinery of state that prevents those doing the governing from doing so in their own interests alone has already had a profound effect. It is easy to sneer at Conservative voters, particularly the ones who would be better served (in a variety of ways) by a more left-leaning administration. It is easy to caricature them as immigrant-hating, as Union Flag worshipping, as infuriated by those scrounging of the benefits system. But that hides the real truth. People seem to vote Conservative not so much because they want to be represented as they are, but that vote is cast as if they had reached their idealised version of themselves. It is as if they imagine themselves to be a part of the club that really holds them outside, needing them to achieve its power, but discarding them mercilessly once it is achieved.
What do you do? My approach so far has been to do what I can by teaching people to be good, and hoping the rest looks after itself...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought