Guiding Principles....

1st Jul 2016


I can’t remember, in my lifetime, a time when I’ve felt more uncertain.  In a single week, by a narrow margin, we have voted to leave the European Union, the Conservatives are seeking a new leader, Labour MP’s are pressurising their leader to quit, the financial markets are in turmoil, Scotland have signalled their desire to stay in the EU and maybe hold another independence referendum, our future relationship within the EU is unknown, terrorists have managed to carry out another devastating attack in Turkey and the England football team have flopped unceremoniously out of the European Championships.  Indeed, the only national highlight over the last few days seems to have been the relative success of tennis player Marcus Willis progressing further than expected at Wimbledon - and even he is out now!

The news channels and newpapers are dominated by it, social media is alive with updates and opinions, people are talking about it in pubs and shops.  It is inescapable and I certainly can’t remember anything in my life that has felt so unsettling - like most people I worry about the implications for my families future, the countries reputation around the world, how it will affect my life, business, upcoming adventures, security and just about everything else I hold dear.  I had a precious office day today and, despite advice reports to write and a stack of emails to answer, at least half of my day was spent following the latest news and chatting to neighbours, friends and family members.  The air of doom and gloom seems inescapable.

I chatted to some friends at the crag earlier in the week and we tried to liken the situation to a new adventure. It felt like kind of Brexit therapy. I have always defined an adventure to be, like many dictionaries will agree, some form of risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome.  That uncertainty describes many aspects of the challenges that we are facing.  However, I also think that when you undertake an adventure you are, despite some unknowns and factors outside your control, largely in control of the journey and the probable outcome.  Maybe the most nervous aspect of the current situation is that the outcome is completely out of our control.

When a course participant joins a course or guided adventure they may also feel out of control.  In that case, they are relying on the instructor or guide with them to instil them with confidence and make them feel safe, cared for and protected.  If the guide is unable to instil that confidence then the client will soon feel even more nervous and out of control.  The Brexit referendum has led to the loss of leadership in the ruling party and massive uncertainty in the only current viable opposition at a time when we wanted to feel cosseted and guided safely through the rough seas ahead.  

Part of the way a guide inspires confidence is by making the clients aware they have a plan.  The plan may need to be flexible, but at least the guide and client is clear that the plan exists in some form.  What immediately became clear after the referendum was that no plan existed for the future.    The guide was lost on the mountain with no clue where the route ahead lay.  A client lost on the mountain would feel intimidated and so it is no wonder the electorate feels lost too.  Even worse, our politician guides seem clearly lost without a plan too. 

A very unusual thing is that no one in control seemed to have thought ahead to the possibility that we might get to where we are.  The leave group seemed to suggest the plan should come from central government and the remainers in the government were keen, as soon as the result went against them, to offload responsibility to the leavers.  As we found out the result on Friday we expected a well oiled plan to click into action but actually soon realised there was no plan  The guide had set out without assessing the avalanche forecast and seemed surprised when the avalanche tumbled towards them.

When clients sign up for an adventure a key skill of any good instructor is to make them clear what they are signing up for. It would make no sense to promise them a pristine ice climb and they end up on a scrabbly scree slope or say the route is a 3 star classic but take them onto an esoteric vertical garden!  So, the route described to us by our Brexit guides seemed to be wrongly described in much the same way.  The pre referendum promise of big extra spending on the NHS, for example, seemed to have become just a maybe by the morning that the results were released just as the remainers threats of emergency budgets vapourised and soon an emergency budget was not needed.  Both sides did a poor job of describing the route to their clients, or rather the summit of Everest suddenly became a scramble up Tryfan.     

But every guide gets lost sometimes (I tell you they do whether they admit it or not!).  It is inevitable.  However, that doesn’t mean they desert the clients in their rush to safety.  They work it out, get back on track and continue the adventure.  The Brexit problem we are facing now is that some of the key engineers that have either instigated the referendum or have driven the leave campaign to success are now leaving their clients alone on the mountain.  They are relying on the rescue team to find us and guide us back to the valley.  It is not the professional approach we’d expect from our guides - lets just hope the rescue team being assembled are better equipped to look after us.

Our mountain rescue teams work collaboratively, share skills, support each other and follow proven  systems.  The Brexit rescue team that is being assembled seems far less confidence inspiring.  The team have so much infighting and indecision to sort out that it is fair to suggest we’ll be on our own for a while.  Is it time to get out the bothy shelter, sit tight and wait…..or do we try and make our own way to safety?

There have been lots of groups that have coexisted in pursuit of a common dream and suddenly something has fractured the groups apart.  Expedition groups on big mountains are often like this.  The different groups may have to play a bit of a game to find themselves arriving to an empty tent platform at a certain camp or lined up for the summit just as the weather window arrives, but they still have a drink together at base camp and share route info.  Until, that is, one team sneak ahead or change the delicate status quo.  The UK has changed that status quo and suddenly a lot of balls are in the air.  Members of our team north of the border didn’t follow the same voting pattern just as teammates from the EU are now keen both to finalise the divorce and also make us realise our actions on the mountain aren’t appreciated.  The expedition has fallen apart.

So, the adventure has started and hopefully, as the route ahead becomes clearer and the rescue team is finally assembled, we will see that the climb ahead can be accomplished.  This is a blog post about disillusionment and concern and not one about taking sides.  I have my views about whether or not we should leave the European Union, but despite how people voted we all face a period of uncertainty and turmoil.  Maybe the best answer it to treat it like that guided adventure - but let’s us just hope our guides get the route plan sorted before we are lost forever on the icy plateau!

Posted by Paul 

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