In praise of 'stayedness': George Fox's rebuke to our current politics

By Jill Segger
July 21, 2016

I am not a member of the Labour Party. But when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader with a huge mandate in September 2015, I felt a renewal of hope.

Hope that politics might escape its Westminster-centric bubble; hope for a more truthful and less pointlessly confrontational politics; hope that the party might be moved away from its focus-group oriented form of cautious neo-liberalism. And above all, hope that those who most need hope in our divided and unequal society might have it restored to them.

But it has not worked out that way. There is fault on both sides. Jeremy Corbyn's many and considerable virtues are deeply attractive to  many of us – he seems to me to have the Quaker Testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity and truth at his heart – but nothing in his political career has prepared him for leadership. He is more at home with campaigning and protest than with managing a parliamentary group with the compromises and collegiality which that entails. His failure in this regard has left the government unopposed for too long.

The parliamentary party is arguably at greater fault. From – literally – the moment of his acceptance speech, too many of its members have sniped, leaked, misrepresented and sought to undermine their leader. There appears to have been little effort to seek dialogue or to find means of co-operation and amendment for a greater good. The mismanaged coup is the sorry outcome of this.

Vitriol, lies and half-truths have taken hold in the party to an extent where it has become all but impossible to see many MPs and Labour members working together again with any kind of trust. And at a time of 'post-fact' and 'post-truth' politics, the electorate is still further disillusioned and more than ready to seek out and publicise any inconsistency in the statements, voting records and policy positions of prominent politicians.

Although it is important to acknowledge that most of us will make changes in our stances and interpretations as our thinking evolves over the years, there is a footloose 'flexibility' in many politicians which enables them to swing through 180 degrees in a startlingly short space of time if they perceive it as useful to their cause.

One of Jeremy Corbyn's greatest strengths is his consistency. He is without the streak of opportunism common in his trade because he has firm principles to which he has adhered throughout three decades of elected service. This characteristic is a significant part of his appeal to many people and it is a quality often lacking in public life. Our culture tends towards admiration of the fast moving and is given to confusing change with progress. Popularity – in many ways inimical to integrity – is more highly prized than steadfastness and constancy. Indeed, these words have an old-fashioned ring to them. And to be thought outdated or uncool is not on the wish-list of most politicians.

The present political climate is volatile, ugly and destabilising. Cynicism and despair are greatly in evidence and affect us all to some degree. The need to stand back, to disengage from the anger in order to find a more constructive and sober perspective presses upon the spirit. George Fox's admonition, “Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts” is as valuable now as it was three hundred years ago. And it is in words which arrest the attention precisely because they are 'old-fashioned' and not the language of advertising or political group-think, that he continues by turning our minds towards that strength which may “allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.”

You do not have to be a theist to feel the timeless and needful qualities of soberness, stillness and above all, of “stayedness” All of us, politicians and electorate, would do well to stay our minds on truth and on principle.


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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen







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