Thursday, July 23, 2015

St Ignatius advises the Labor Party

When was it I wonder that politicians decided that a defeat meant that they should resign?

Nixon was serially defeated for the Presidency of the United States but did not resign himself to obscurity (though perhaps you might have wished he had)!  Gladstone, Churchill, even Harold Wilson kept bouncing back, returning to win, sometimes after monumental defeats - the Labor landslide of 1945 in the UK, comes to mind, booting out Churchill  even after he had 'won the war'! Why have politicians come to take defeat so personally (and why have we come to expect it)? All three 'defeated' parties in May's UK General Election immediately announced their resignation (though Nigel Farage recanted) plunging their parties into contests before even the dust, let alone the shock had settled.

It especially came to mind watching the Labor Party in the UK scrap over who its next leader should be and how 'everyone' in that party's establishment has taken fright at the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn, eternal left-wing 'rebel', fronting the, highly unreliable, polls. If he wins we will be unelectable, they cry, for elections are won in the U.K. from the center. (Though, in truth, they are more often won by whoever can mass a sufficiently concentrated number of votes in the right constituencies under our rickety first past the post system and who best appeals to pensioners who are more likely to vote. 40% of actual voters in the May election were over 55).

This is before anyone in the party seems to have either come to terms with its defeat or understood why. This is a bad moment to be making a decision.

As St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits would advise - never take a major decision at a time of 'desolation'. He was applying it in his Spiritual Exercises to individuals, but I have no reason to imagine that this should not apply to collective bodies. How do you move from 'desolation'?

For St Ignatius, you return to your core value - the recognition that you are loved by God and that God is in the facts and, however, the appearance to the contrary the facts are kind (as Gerry Hughes SJ one of the great modern interpreters of the Exercises would put it).

Though the Labor Party used to be more Methodist than Marxist, turning to a recognition that they are loved by God might be a stretch, but they might try to rest awhile in what they perceive not as their 'policies' but their core values. For what and for whom are the Labor Party for? If those values matter, are in some sense 'eternal verities', then they are still there amongst the facts (and wreckage of a failed campaign) and transcend them. I suspect one of the 'kind' things the facts will reveal is that answering that question has become obscure and the narrative clouded.

So, St Ignatius would advise not embarking on a decision-making campaign but a retreat to ponder anew what are we for and who? Refreshed one hopes from this, then one could begin to discern who should be the leader, the best possible embodiment of their values, who, I suspect, will be better equipped to win elections and as an outcome, not as an aim.

They might find a party too, better equipped to answer the questions of the twenty-first century than refight the battles of the twentieth.

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