The new government should not promise what it is incapable of delivering

Charities are making great progress in compromising and working together - perhaps politicians could learn from us

My sister is a bit of a super-mum. She is determined that her two boys will be able to fulfil their dreams, so if they exhibit interest in anything she makes it possible for them to do it. On one occasion, they expressed a mild passing admiration for the skills of street dancers. The next week she had enrolled them in a street-dancing class – alongside Scouts, sailing, drumming and parkour!

However, I think it’s fair to say that her enthusiasm for their burgeoning talents sometimes rather overtakes theirs. A few weeks ago Freddie, 13, was in the car with my parents singing along to a song on the radio. “Freddie!” exclaimed my mum. “You’ve got a really good voice!”

A spasm of fear passed over his face and, in a tone of fatalistic despondency, he begged: “Please don’t tell Mummy. She’ll make me join a choir or something.”

In this recent election, even more so than the many others I remember, it seems to me that all of the major political parties have positioned themselves as “super mums”. You want it? We’ll fix it for you. You want higher taxes on the rich? Done! You want lower taxes on the rich? Done!

It all seems a bit desperate, somehow.

And instinctively it doesn’t feel right to me. I have always believed that a government ought to be for all the people, not just for party members, those who voted for them or the loud majority.

Hindsight is, of course, a marvellous thing, but I suspect that strategically one of the biggest mistakes Theresa May made was over-compensating for the fact that she was a Remain campaigner by completely siding with the Brexit vote. The moment the words “Brexit means Brexit” came out of her mouth, she alienated and fired up millions of people who might otherwise have been persuaded to – albeit reluctantly – cooperate. It became a fight to win, rather than a challenge to meet.

I think we would be in a very different place if May had acknowledged publicly the complexity of the issue, the closeness of the vote, the strength of feeling on both sides, the difficulties in reconciling what people wanted and what was possible, and if she had asked for help.

This is something politicians could well learn from charities. Overlooking some exceptions, it seems to me that of late we are getting much better at working collaboratively with others without trying to force our will on them.

I am in particular awe of the transformational approach Polly Neate at Shelter has taken towards collaborating with smaller, local charities. The approach is essentially “let’s shrink and share in order to better serve those who need us”. This is risky, bold and brave, and exactly the right approach in my view.

My nephews don’t have the luxury of an election for a different mum every two years (the current rate of election churn), although rumour has it Freddie is campaigning for the option…!

But my sister is in a position to make their dreams possible. This new government, by contrast, should not promise what it can’t deliver. It needs to find a way to work with those of us who want something different, because not everyone wants to join the choir.


This article originally appeared on Third Sector