‘The Lady’s Not for Turning’: Political U-turns and why they matter

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Margaret Thatcher, 1987

On 10 October 1980, Margaret Thatcher would delivered a speech that would change the way we think about political decision-making for the foreseeable future. Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, she uttered the words: ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning’ – a phrase that would transform her refusal to reverse a terrible and hugely unpopular decision into an example of political power and virility. Thanks to Thatcher U-turns were now considered representative of inexcusable political weakness. And my, how we’ve grown to love the stupidity and incompetence that they represent. As Nesrine Malik wrote in a recent piece for The Guardian, ‘There is nothing opposition politicians and journalists like more than a good old flip-flop.’

Whilst Thatcher is long gone from Downing Street, the impact of her political stubbornness has been significant. One has only to type ‘Political U-turn’ into Google to gain insight into just how much power her words held at the time, and how much the media continues to enjoy ridiculing those who are guilty (as if it were a crime) of backtracking on their political decisions.

Of course, in some cases political U-turns are wholly unfair and deserve all the ridicule they get. May’s recent backtracking out of her energy price cap proposal, for example, has left millions of over-worked and underpaid Brits with increasingly unaffordable energy bills to pay. But even in cases where U-turns are made in favour of reasonable objections and for the greater good of the people, we are still prone to condemning them as nothing more than lack of conviction. Unfair and misguided as some government U-turns certainly are, it seems there may be more than meets the eye to the disdain that many of us feel towards them.

Politicians sometimes make mistakes. And, like everyone, they sometimes change their minds.

And I think this can be explained via meritocracy. In a society which overvalues success and fears failure like the plague, it’s no wonder we’re so hard on those who demonstrate any kind of uncertainty about their actions or ideas. After all, the notion that we must never fail at anything, including any decisions that we make, is something that most of us internalise from an early age. It’s something that we’re first made aware of at school, where we’re expected to work hard for good grades if we are to achieve anything of value in life. And then at college and university, where we’re encouraged to compete with our peers for academic merit. It is then drilled in again when we reach the workplace, where we’re expected to keep moving up through the ranks and making more and more money as we go.

What we often neglect to realise in the pursuit of success is that, more often than not, failure is a necessary part of the journey. Other than the incredibly wealthy and privileged of our society, there are very few who find success without making some mistakes along the way. So, if we consider that political decision makers are some of the most successful people in the country, and that like everybody else they are expected to succeed without any failure, the idea that their U-turns are always rooted in incompetence seems pretty harsh. Politicians sometimes make mistakes. And, like everyone, they sometimes change their minds.

And this isn’t to say that I’m not well aware of the fact that some government U-turns are merely tactical rather than based on genuine mistakes. But I must say, I’d rather live in a society where political decisions are sometimes reversed than one in which policies are always stubbornly implemented and held in place regardless of the objections that they are subject to. In a democratic society, the ability of our politicians to admit their failings, change their minds, and decide to go down a different path is something that I would personally like to see more rather than less of.

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Standing Up for Singledom

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The unmarried goddess Ishtar – photo credit: neilalderney123 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Like most, if not all, people I know, I was raised to believe that being in a loving committed relationship is something that I should not only want, but actively seek out. And, like everyone I know, I have experienced a great deal of joy and pain in both the pursuit and attainment of romantic love. A few years ago I entered into my first serious relationship with someone I cared deeply about. However, like many couples I’ve known over the years, our love didn’t last,  and just four years after getting married we decided to break up.

Before entering into this partnership I had been single for several years, and I was very independent as a result. With only myself to think about, I did whatever I wanted whenever I liked, and enjoyed spending time with whoever I pleased. But rather than appreciating the independence that being single afforded me, all I could think about at the time, and all I wanted in fact, was to be somebody’s girlfriend.

Part of the problem with being single is that we’re constantly reminded how undesirable it is. And this is especially true if you happen to be female: if you’re a single woman having sex then you’re likely to be thought of as a slut, a sexual conquest, or a ‘home wrecker.’ And if you’re not, the chances are you’ll be perceived as sad and lonely, or labelled a frigid spinster (God forbid you’re a cat-lover too!) One has only to think of popular films and TV shows like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually, How to be Single, and Sex and the City to realise just how pervasive these stereotypes are.

Everywhere I turn there seems to be some hint to the idea that single people are not as happy or content as those lucky souls who have found ‘the one.’

Some might argue that single women are beginning to be portrayed in a more positive light in the media. And whilst this is true, it’s also fair to say that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Bar a few examples, including (suprisingly) the 2012 Disney Pixar film, Brave, in which teenage Princess Merida saves herself from being married off against her will, the ‘damsel in distress’ and ‘happy ever after’ tropes that we’re all so familiar with are, unfortunately, still very much the norm.

However, the perceived undesirability of singledom isn’t only strengthened through our engagement with films, TV shows and books; it’s also reinforced by certain friends and family members who persist in asking whenever they see us whether we’re seeing anyone yet. In fact, everywhere I turn there seems to be some hint to the idea that single people are not as happy or content as those lucky souls who have found ‘the one.’

But being single isn’t always an unhappy experience. For some, including myself at the moment, it’s a perfectly worthwhile and valid choice. Since coming out of my last relationship I’ve been hugely grateful for the freedom and autonomy that being single offers. It isn’t a sad or lonely experience, nor is it characterised by an increased appetite for casual sex with strangers. For me, being without a partner is an enriching and stress-free experience which offers a multitude of learning opportunities. And, most importantly, it’s exactly what I need right now.

And this isn’t to say that I don’t hope to one day meet someone who enjoys my company enough to want to share their life with me—being in a happy and healthy relationship would, of course, be lovely at some point. However, for the time being (and potentially for the rest of my life if this never happens) I’m perfectly content being single, getting to know myself, and learning to feel adequate and complete just as I am.

Should you happen to find yourself wondering whether your single friend or family member has found someone yet, I beg you to reconsider whether this is an important question to ask.