My last blog post was about the Shaftesbury Let’s Talk meeting, a rather dispiriting experience to say the least. National and local politics have been similarly dispiriting since then. The government seems determined to plunge to ever greater depths of incompetence in its negotiations to leave the EU (somehow taking back control seems to have ended up with us ceding even more control to other nations).

Locally politics is no better. With elections next year candidates are going all out to win votes, from taking credit for decisions taken seven years ago to deciding that trolling the local foodbank is a good look.

I’ve whiled away the last few months focusing on residents and doing my best to make their lives a little better but some of the issues raised at the fractious Let’s Talk meeting have not gone away, with considerable dispute over what was, and wasn’t, said.

Unfortunately the minutes from the meeting have not been published. The general procedure is that they are agreed with all the participants first. I know the meeting chair and I gave the OK, so can only assume that other participants have not had time to consider them yet. However, since it’s been two months and subsequent meetings already have their minutes published I’m publishing the draft minutes here (PDF). For those interested in whether or not Cllr Cook promised a tree-by-tree audit it is not mentioned in these minutes, although I recall it being promised during the relevant exchange).

Some caveats. While these minutes were drafted by council officers they are not an official record since they have not been approved by everyone. Indeed, I suspect that some will strongly disagree with the contents and, in the interests of balance, Cllr Cook’s comments on the meeting at a recent council meeting are below.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Shaftesbury Let’s Talk meeting last week.

It was a shocking meeting. While I’ve done my fair share of heated public meetings, it’s the first time I’ve ever known all the heat and tension be generated by the people on the panel. And I am sorry for those who witnessed it.

Looking at a dry list of the topics raised it was fairly typical of any Let’s Talk meeting (I’ve detailed some of them here, here and here): pavements, litter, dog fouling, planning, refuse collection, education, they all came up. The two specific issues that were new were the felling of Chestnut Avenue on Tooting Common and the proposed redevelopment of Northcote Road library and Chatham Hall. And these were the issues that ignited the meeting.

I wouldn’t say it was particularly because those issues affected residents directly, but they touched a nerve. They spoke of a council that doesn’t listen and doesn’t respect local residents, a theme that resonated. The heat though, came from Cllr Senior. The second real question of the night was directed at Cllr Cook, as the executive member responsible for bull-dozing through the Chestnut Avenue decision, but it was Cllr Senior who jumped in, shouting down the resident.

While there were Shaftesbury residents who were unhappy with non-Shaftesbury issues being discussed, they all expressed their discomfort and unhappiness with a totally inappropriate response.

The panel at the Shaftesbury ward Let’s Talk meeting
Sadly it set a tone for the night, with aggressive answers right up to the last question of the night (Cllr Senior once again shouting at a resident).

I want to apologise for my part in it all. While I think my behaviour on the evening was fine, I cannot help but feel I played a part in getting there because the shouting, the ignoring, the lack of empathy from the Conservative councillors was reflective of the culture that exists on the council.

My sins may not have been direct. I would hope I’ve never treated any resident with such disrespect (indeed, one resident who contacted me afterwards commented that he didn’t realise exactly how respectful I had been in our disagreements until he saw what could have been), but in all those years I was in the Conservative group or on the Executive I didn’t speak up.

Perhaps it would have made no difference—in all probability it would not—but I can never know that because like everyone else I just kept quiet.

So when Cllr Senior started his shouting or Cllr Cook spoke at length without actually addressing the question or showing any empathy I realised this was a symptom. They are coming from a culture in which people who disagree are never just people who disagree. They are somehow outsiders.

The most frequent explanation is that campaigns are politically motivated. Since a right-minded person would support the council, it’s likely a Labour or Liberal Democrat (or ‘dog-killer’, as Cllr Senior calls them1) campaign. But in the case of the report back meeting it can also be literal outsiders, residents from Tooting or Northcote, because no-one from Shaftesbury would ever travel to Tooting Common, have an interest in trees or use Northcote library or have children at the nursery at Chatham Hall.

There might be some benefit in this mentality; the sense of being separate from residents might promote impartial decision making. But it carries risks too. You’re more likely to dig in if you see it as a confrontation. And when you see others as somehow different it’s so much harder to find common ground or even the motivation to reach mutual understanding (which might still result in an agreement to disagree). I think those risks are now being realised again and again.

I felt Formula E was pushed through as much because there was a desire to avoid loss of face (certainly there were huge misgivings with the Conservative cabinet and group throughout). I suspect similar factors were at play with Chestnut Avenue, everyone knew it was questionable, but too much had been invested in saying it wasn’t questionable for the council to back down, even momentarily, to reconsider the evidence. It was the ‘council v. them.’

So when the Let’s Talk meeting descended into shouting, it was clear to me that it was the result of Cllr Senior seeing opponents, not residents.

Residents frequently complain they don’t feel the council is on their side, the problem at the Let’s Talk meeting was the inverse, a councillor not thinking residents were on his ‘side.’

The culture is corrosive. I was part of it. One of those that would keep quiet. Some of us would occasionally comment to each other about it, but we never challenged it and never raised it with someone who might be expected to tackle it. It was just the way it was. We all knew the culprits and perhaps that allowed us to relax knowing that while it might be a variant of “Boris being Boris” (before that was the UK’s brand of diplomacy) the majority of us were fine.

What we failed to recognise was that it normalised the behaviour. So you’d overlook it, try to avoid situations where friends from other parts of your life interacted with those in politics, somehow not notice those Twitter accounts. But every time it just allowed a nasty culture to fester.

Inevitably it has started to spill over into the outside world. Twitter has provided something of an insight into this, with local (anonymous) Tory accounts suggesting that female councillors should stand down or forfeit maternity rights, for example. And while the Shaftesbury Tory account was eventually shut down having over-stepped the mark once too often, the person allegedly behind the account was selected as a candidate as their reward.

You can even see it in the council’s social media accounts, which were almost gloating as they gloried in the destruction of Chestnut Avenue. Or the phone calls to the boss of someone who dared question their decision and the slightly bullying tone of their response to the Wandsworth Guardian (we “simply” called someone’s boss, what’s wrong with that?).

Organisational culture is incredibly difficult to change without strong leadership. My fear is that if the Conservatives retain control of the council in May 2018 (you can’t argue their strategy of a low council tax hasn’t delivered electoral results) the lesson they learn from events like the Shaftesbury Let’s Talk is not that their behaviour was wrong, but instead that their them-and-us analysis is not only correct and does not need to be addressed and may even be an asset.

We won’t just have a nasty party, but also a nasty council.


  1. I can’t imagine this reference to Jeremy Thorpe, a former Liberal leader, was amusing even when it was topical in the 70s 

Google Street View of Sendero Coffee, Lavender Hill, Battersea

Sendero coffee, a relatively new addition to Lavender Hill (on the corner of Lavender Hill and Queenstown Road), has applied for an licence to permit additional sales and activity.

The application is for:

  • The sale of alcohol from 4pm to midnight every day.
  • Live music from 7pm to 10pm every day.
  • Recorded music from 6.30pm to midnight every day.
  • Provision of late night refreshment from 11pm to midnight every day.

Sendero is primarily a coffee shop (and a good one to boot, I’d highly recommend it) and I think it is a good addition to Lavender Hill, providing an attractive destination at the less desirable end of a road that, despite its potential, always seems to struggle.

This licence application is not that big and largely within the council’s policy. However, you might think it moves the shop away from being a coffee shop to something else although with only the upstairs flats as immediate neighbours it might be a suitable venue for later opening and quiet entertainment.

If you want to make a representation you have until 6 October. Representations must relate to the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • Public safety
  • The protection of children from harm

The council’s licensing pages provide more information.

If you wish to make an observation you can do so by writing to:
Head of Licensing
Licensing Section
London Borough of Wandsworth
PO Box 47095
London
SW18 9AQ

or by emailing licensing@wandsworth.gov.uk

There aren’t many places in Wandsworth you don’t notice the poor state of our streets, but the Shaftesbury Park Estate has, I think, some of the worst with the road surface starting to crumble at an alarming rate.

I have reported defects when I see them, but sadly the turnaround on these has lengthened from hours to weeks and occasionally months. However, at least some of the roads are now due for resurfacing and letters should go out to residents in the affected streets today.

The roads due for resurfacing are:

  • Sabine Road (due to start on 10 July with works for four days),
  • Tyneham Road (due to start on 14 July with works for five days ) and
  • Elsley Road (due to start on 19 July with works for four days).

I will continue to report other street defects (and you can also report them via the council’s website or services like FixMyStreet or even just let me know).

We are, of course, less than a year from the council elections, so there’s usually a bit more investment suddenly available making it a great time to get those all those faults rectified.

Various polling station signs

Since the election was called I’ve been agonising over which way I should vote. While quitting a party has lots of upsides, it’s actually hard work being a floating voter, especially when we insist on using an atrocious electoral system like first-past-the-post1. I’ve found myself flitting between parties and candidates. A week away from the election, I’m still no nearer a decision.

Battersea is spoilt for choice with candidates this time, with the usual selection of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat joined by Green, UKIP, Socialist and a pro-Remain independent.

Arguably first-past-the-post makes the choice of vote easier, since there’s little prospect, based on the 2015 result, of anyone but Conservatives or Labour winning. Indeed, based on the 2015 result it’s easy to assume it’s a Conservative hold.

Until, that is, the publication of the YouGov election model yesterday and listed Battersea as ‘leaning Labour’. Their model had Labour estimated to get 43% (with a 95% confidence interval of 36-51%) and the Conservatives estimated on 41% (with an interval of 34-47%). It struck me as unlikely, to say the least.

However, it did make question if there was any chance it might be right. I could certainly point to anecdotal evidence it might not be totally outlandish. My own experience (admittedly getting older) was that while the response to the Conservatives on the door was still warm, it never felt quite as effusive as it once did. It was certainly my experience at the time and from observation and gossip since that the local party machinery of the Conservatives—historically quite formidable—was a shadow of its former self and unable to compete with a youthful and energetic Labour party.

The mountain to climb…

The evidence of 2015 was, however, that local campaigns don’t necessary win elections. It was commonly accepted that the Labour party outclassed and outgunned the Conservatives on everything. Everything, that is, except votes in the ballot box. Jane Ellison held the seat with over half the votes cast, 52.4% against Labour’s Will Martindale on 36.8%. For Labour to overturn that it would require a swing of 7.8%.

The only published poll for Battersea, commissioned by the independent candidate, had the Conservatives on 46% and Labour on 38%. The poll was conducted before the recent shift towards Labour in national polling, but still showed Labour some way off the pace.

The YouGov model has a swing towards Labour in its national model, but only 3.5% 1.75%.2 That is arguably suspect, since it goes against the consensus of all the polls published thus far. And it’s hard to see where the other 4% 6% or so of swing is coming from, even if you accept YouGov’s close result.

…and how it could be scaled

A few factors? Labour’s campaigning is getting stronger while the Conservatives are getting weaker. It’s hard to see how this would be reflecting in polls, though, since campaigns are far more about getting people out to vote than changing hearts and minds on the doorstep. You certainly wouldn’t expect this to be a factor in YouGov’s model.

The London bubble, in which Labour somehow seem unaffected by the national unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn (and perhaps buoyed by the regional popularity of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London) may be adding a little to Labour total.

The continued Lib Dem collapse may be playing a part. There were about 5,000 Lib Dem votes ‘lost’ between the 2010 and 2015 election. Again, it’s possible these voters may now be flocking to Labour having abstained or flirted with the Tories.

These may individually get a challenging Labour party a little closer, but the biggest gains, surely would have to come from the EU referendum referendum.

Remain, however, has to be the biggest factor in play. Battersea is a young, international constituency. Wandsworth had one of the biggest remain votes in the country and while constituency results were not declared there was some academic and polling evidence suggesting Battersea was the most pro-remain constituency in the borough. Given that Jane Ellison has long been an ardent pro-European there was understandable disappointment when she failed to represent her constituents and her own beliefs and still voted to trigger article 50.

Can Labour win?

Possibly, but then it’s a theoretical possibility that any candidate could win. Would I share YouGov’s projection? Probably not. They might get a few bits and pieces from some factors, and will probably get a good chunk because of the remain factor (something they are clearly pushing for in their literature). There are definitely many who are angry with Jane Ellison for, as they perceive it, putting her ministerial career before her principals and the national interest. My sense, though, is that many of those would not have been voting Conservative in any case.

So, possible? Yes. But likely, even in YouGov’s nuanced language of ‘leaning’? Probably not: so many things have to stack up it would have to be an outlier.

And my vote? I’m still stuck.

  1. Yes, I once was a supporter of first-past-the-post, but people change and I’m older and wiser.
  2. By my reckoning, I’m only using the very simplistic Butler swing model and not factoring in the potential effects of the smaller parties or independent candidate. I also got this wrong in my initial post, meaning there’s an even bigger mountain for Labour to climb.

Two trees on Tyneham Road have been killed by vandals. They were young trees, placed in as part of the replanting programme, but will die after their trunks were severed close to the roots.

Quite what motivated the vandalism is a mystery. There have been some justified concerns about the size of some of the trees on the estate, but these were many years off falling into that category.

I contacted the council’s tree section who confirmed that the cut was so low there was no potential for the trees to survive but that the sites, outside 99 and 109 Tyneham Road, are scheduled for replacement in the winter planting season later this year.

Unfortunately there are no witnesses at present, although the council are preparing a letter for nearby households to see if anyone has any information. If you did see something, please contact the council or, if you wish, feel free to contact me to pass on the information.

I don't like International Women's Day. Not really. And not because I'm misogynist, but because I just think we should have moved on by now. As a species you would have thought we'd have developed enough, educated ourselves enough, that such days were unnecessary.

Of course, we haven't. Inequality persists. And that perhaps gives me another reason to dislike it: a day just seems a bit of a feeble response.

The council meeting last night did, of course, mark International Women's Day. The Labour group put down a motion noting the role of women in local politics historically and today (pdf) but which also noted that woman and minorities are hardest hit by austerity.

Perhaps predictably the Tories responded with an amendment celebrating Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. I often think that's something of a fig-leaf used by the Conservatives. Highlighting only the number of female leaders totally neglects the underlying issues: that there are still disproportionately few women in politics1. I'd argue Labour, as a party, has done far more to address that by all-women shortlists and funded development than the Conservatives who are only slowly catching up on this.

However, that's not to belittle the huge achievement of women who have led parties. So Malcolm Grimston and I proposed and seconded a further amendment that recognised both Thatcher and May, but also all those other woman who have led political parties, including Margaret Beckett and Harriett Harman (who acted as Labour leaders), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Ruth Davison (Scottish Conservatives), Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Arlene Foster (DUP) and Caroline Lucas (Green Party). I'm sure I've missed some.

While Labour immediately supported this and a few on the Conservative side did likewise (Kathy Tracey was notably early to support) I was shocked, and a little ashamed, at the opposition the motion provoked.

There were suggestions that procedurally the motion was improper. The council leader, Ravi Govindia, was one who felt this way and suggested—in an almost threatening way—that the Mayor "might want to reflect on that", even though it clearly was procedurally fine. There were several members grumpily muttering they would not support the motion and several minutes of confusion passed before a vote was actually taken, with the Conservative group initially keeping their hands down, before realising voting against was indefensible.

Even then, several were visibly repulsed at having to recognise the contribution of non-Conservative women. They'd happily vote to recognise Thatcher and (perhaps a little less happily) May, but it was a vote for their politics and not their gender.

It's debates like that which prove exactly why we do still need International Woman's Day. When a majority of a council (and both men and women among them) are so openly hostile to a simple motion, is it any wonder there isn't a gender balance in our political institutions?

I keep returning to a mantra of how a council should be setting a tone, it should be showing moral leadership. But when I watched it in action last night, needing it's arm twisted to vote for something as straightforward as gender equality, I think we can probably do without moral leadership from that particular crew.

  1. I think it's still Rwanda that has the record for the highest proportion of female legislators, around 60%, although for somewhat tragic reasons and there are some questions about how meaningful that is in a highly patriarchal society.

Wandsworth Council failed to show leadership on the Trump travel ban at the full council. The Labour Party were proposing the council leader and opposition leader should jointly formally state their opposition. This, however, was too much.

Even when the opportunity to show leadership was thrust upon him, the leader was unable to grasp it. Wandsworth does not have a foreign policy we were told. Wandsworth can do nothing about it we were told, petitions about road speeds were more our level. It was an awful, pernicious, measure we were told, but it really isn't our place to do anything about it because every issue under the sun will affect some of our residents and we can't take a stance on everything.

These are arguments against doing anything, to be sure. And they have been used repeatedly throughout the years all over the world. I know the council leader is not in the most secure position and there may be good short-term politics in avoiding a stance some of his members will not support. But this is one of those issues on which the right thing might not be easy—it might not be business as usual—but it should still be done.

Wandsworth doesn't have a foreign policy

It doesn't. The council takes a perverse pride in this. We are happily parochial. Except when we're not. The lack-of-foreign-policy policy is only deployed when convenient for the majority group.

You could equally argue that we don't operate an airline, or that we don't own an airport (a few councils do the latter) but we somehow manage to spend great time and effort on our aviation policy.

We don't manage Clapham Common, but we have plenty to say about how Lambeth manage it.

That is not to say that these are bad things to do, but to highlight that when it chooses the council is perfectly happy to take a strong stance on those things that happen outside its borders.

We can't do anything

This is a stronger argument. What's the point of doing anything when we have no control? The council leader was clear that there are all sorts of things we could take a view on, and say affects our residents, and perhaps hinted that because there were so many it was easiest to do none.

But how seriously do we think our chances in getting the government to back down on Heathrow? Exactly what powers did we think we were going to bring to bear when expressing our support for Wandsworth's EU citizens at the last council meeting?

The fact is that by raising awareness, by hoping to influence decision makers, we do and should take those stances on issues we don't control.

Even in the day-to-day life of the council we constantly adopt positions that seek to influence other partners. We hope to persuade TfL on issues around their roads. We seek to influence the police on their tasking. We try to entice businesses to invest. It is not just uncommon for the council to seek to influence: it's a crucial part of how it works.

We can't take a stance on everything

I wholeheartedly agree. We could debate every single issue endlessly. But sometimes there are issues that are important enough to make an exception. I would contend this is most definitely one.

In some ways I think it's an irrelevance whether or not one, 100 or 10,000 Wandsworth residents are affected. Trump's policy is nasty and dangerous. By discriminating against millions of people purely on the accident of where they were born or because of their choice of faith doesn't make them second class citizens, it potentially makes anyone and everyone a second class citizen: it impoverishes us all and acquiescence is not an option.

Doing something

We can all sit around and say we don't have a foreign policy, or we can't do anything, or it doesn't affect us. But I think we should be better than that. As a council and councillors we have to strike a balance between service and leadership. A big part of leadership, something the current council either can't, or won't, do is creating the narrative for their community. A vision for the future.

While this is absent in Wandsworth, the contrast between Obama and Trump's narratives for their nation and the world could not be clearer. And faced with that it is clear now is not a time for parochialism.

The council may not have power, but it has influence. It can set the tone for residents, highlighting the type of borough and world we value. And it can seek to influence decision makers; directly in the case of local MPs and through them indirectly influence national leaders and diplomats.

Over one and a quarter million people could have said they don't have a foreign policy. They didn't: they signed a petition.

Thousands and thousands of people in towns and cities could have said they can't do anything. They didn't: they attended demonstrations.

But contrast that with a group of Conservative councillors1, in the comfort of their chamber, who were given the chance to do something and show leadership…

They didn't: they sat on their hands.

And that was literally it. Rather than supporting an adjournment that asked the leader to express his opposition to the ban on behalf of the council, they waited 30 seconds and stuck their hands up to vote against instead. You could hardly have asked for less, but still they couldn't give it.

It was a failure of leadership.

  1. With one exception, Jane Dodd voted for the Labour motion and should be commended for that.

Dog poo is inevitable, both for the dog and the councillor. Sooner or later it will be an issue. I was aware of this even as a school boy when having a history teacher who was also a local councillor could lighten even the darkest moments of world history. All it took was a reference to the latest leaflet in his crusade to (we paraphrased, chortle) ‘stamp out dog poo’. How we laughed.

But it is a quality of life issue. People rather like living in relatively clean streets. The fact it is becoming an issue again in the Shaftesbury Estate was highlighted to me as I checked email on my phone yesterday while doing a Poo-shoi Ballet impression around the post-digestive remnants of Pedigree Chum smeared over the Ashbury Road pavement by (I assume) an unlucky child on their way to the school. And what emails popped up? Another resident complaint about the issue and a response from the council to my attempt to get something done.

I’ve mused on dog turds before, sadly it’s not a terribly inspirational topic and it’s hard to come up anything new to say. The council have the same problem. It’s an issue of education and awareness, and they had a session on the Shaftesbury Park Estate last December talking to over 30 dog-owners about the issue.

The problem, it seems, is that it was the dog owners they didn’t meet that are causing the problems. It’s certainly my, and many other people’s, subjective opinion the issue has got worse. (I’m afraid I’ve not quite started keeping detailed statistics on the phenomenon, so objective proof is beyond me.)

Several have pointed the finger at the removal of the litter bins that were, until recently, on the estate and it’s hard not to think there is a correlation, if not causal, link. I did ask the council to consider reinstatement of these, or at possibly even the introduction of some dog fouling bins but the idea got short shrift.

To be fair I think the council’s argument that the bins created more problems (like fly-tipping) than they solved has some merit. Likewise, this has long been a problem on the Shaftesbury Estate, in my old campaigning days people coming to help from other parts of the borough, and even other boroughs, would comment negatively on how bad the problem was. One Westminster campaigner told me in no uncertain terms how bad it was before leaving me to clear up the dog turd he’d unknowingly smeared over the hall carpet.

Wandsworth is not the council it once was, street cleaning is one of those areas that have degraded and there has to be an adjustment of expectations from residents. But there are some standards that we should not see lowered. The daily game of Poo-ssian roulette (I have lots of these puns) is not one residents should be expected to endure.

Despite my sympathy for the ‘irresponsible owner’ argument I can’t help coming to the conclusion that the council should be doing a little more in the area to tackle the problem: they are, after all, the only ones with the authority to enforce the by-laws relating to dogs. So I’m asking them to undertake some more active work on the estate to tackle the problem in the hope it will see an improvement to the cleanliness of the pavement.

Eight years ago I wrote a short post about Barack Obama’s inauguration. It was a banal little thing, with the saving grace that I recognised in it no-one cared about my opinion. It did, however, somewhat foreshadow my growing faith in the institutions and machinery, rather than the personnel, of government.

I’m obviously a snowflake, one of those people with the temerity to believe the world would be a better place if the UK remained in the EU and Donald Trump weren’t inaugurated as President of the United States. Perhaps it’s my curse, but I’m a proud member of the metropolitan élite.

One cannot deny democracy though. 52% of voters disagreed with me on EU membership and the US electoral college took a different view on Donald Trump’s suitability. That is the way things are, however much I and others wish it were different.

Why institutions matter

The EU referendum was a rejection of a huge set of supra-national institutions. There is still a debate on what exactly was rejected. The referendum question was not specific on which institutions:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Just as I voted remain in the knowledge the EU was not perfect, I felt on balance we were better off in. Should we be so naïve as to think that the 52% of leave voters all shared a common purpose of hard Brexit? Of course not. That 52% would have comprised everyone from isolationalists through to the people who were only 51:49 in favour of leaving.

But did anyone seriously think that voting to leave those supra-national institutions did so thinking it meant we were also rejecting national institutions? I suspect nobody thought their vote also meant the Supreme Court would lose jurisdiction? Or that Parliamentary sovereignty was somehow overturned?

It may well be that the brand of Brexit being put forward by Theresa May is exactly what you want and you’d be happy to see it just happen. For the 48% who didn’t want to leave, and for the sizeable number who voted leave but had a different—or simply no—conception of what Brexit actually meant those institutions are there to make sure the decision is made properly and legally, not just on the meaningless soundbite of a prime minister

The best thing about a liberal democracy like ours is not the voting, it’s the rule of law: if you don’t have that, everything else is worthless.

The locker rooms of politics

One of the more depressing elements of the US election was the revelation of Donald Trump’s ‘locker room’ comments. His comments were reprehensible, but we should also fear that he’s entering a world of political locker rooms. Private spaces, defined by power, full of testosterone where everyone will be keen to show their strength and fit in.

To a degree, politics needs these locker rooms. It requires those private spaces in which policy can be safely discussed and ideas floated, and there needs to be a common bond, and sense of togetherness that binds the people in them into a team.

I know from my experience at Wandsworth—a pond of minnows on the world stage, to be sure—that those political locker rooms are full of pitfalls. The lure of groupthink is strong, the need to acknowledge power and define the in-group and the out-group irresistible. Lord Acton observed that power corrupts, he could have added that it doesn’t need that much power for the rot to set in.

I would sit in our private cabinet meetings while people guffawed at comments deriding the ability, intellect, motivations and on one rather shameful occasion the mental illness not just of opponents, but even those we should have called partners.1 The purpose was not (purely) to make derogatory comments, but instead to mituallt assert right and dominance. We do what we do because it is right and because we can.

I’m sure there were others around that table sharing my discomfort, maintaining a shameful silence for some personal reason. The locker room, or perhaps the power, or the secrecy, or the groupthink, changes people. Someone like Donald Trump might be odious anywhere, but that odium incubates and infects in those circumstances.

I worry there will be too many locker rooms in Washington, DC over the next 4 years.

What’s a snowflake to do?

We can, of course, write about our anguish. There have been plenty of blog posts and articles sharing the snowflake angst. Misery loves company so here’s another. You’re welcome.

Or we could retreat to our safe havens. Occasionally looking miserable while chewing a croissant or sipping a Pinot in an outward display of Weltschmerz, but generally taking comfort in being part of the metropolitan elite who probably won’t be the hardest hit by Brexit and knowing that geographical luck has put the whole Atlantic between us and DC. (Retreat is an option I have found very tempting, and still haven’t fully rejected.)

But perhaps the best option is to retain faith. Faith that the national institutions like the courts and parliament will long outlive governments, and throughout it all will make sure that even if we don’t always agree, at least things are done properly. Faith that a long history of judicial independence, but also judicial inventiveness, will always be on hand to ameliorate the most egregious excesses of populist governance.

And faith that continued scrutiny will make sure there are as few political locker rooms as possible. They will never be entirely eliminated, but the more scrutiny there is, the fewer the opportunities there are for terrible decisions to be made in the unquestioning arenas.

We may be humble snowflakes, but collectively there is so much we can do.

  1. To my shame I said nothing. I spent my last few years operating on the basis that it was better to be in and do a little good than out and do no good. I was wrong.