I suppose that the first thing that comes to mind on reading the word 'delivery', after long hiding from Covid in our homes, is delivery of parcels by Amazon or the local supermarket. During the pandemic we began to realise that there was an army of people, usually very poorly paid, who went to work every day, often in crowded warehouses, to keep us supplied with the necessities of life.
One thing that inspired me during that worrying period was the cheerful friendliness of these people on the doorstep, when I knew that their devotion was putting them as much at risk of infection as those who worked in the NHS or in care homes. They did more than deliver goods, they delivered a message of goodness in dark times. In its active sense, the verb to deliver is usually positive; I ask and you deliver, and I am grateful. But they, the least economically secure, are now among those suffering most from the present financial catastrophe and from over 30 years during which wealth has continued to flow from poor to rich.
There is also a passive sense to the verb. Those brought up as Christians are familiar with the Lord's Prayer – 'and deliver us from evil'. A request to relieve us of a burden, the basis of the Litany in which Christians seek help in avoiding sin. In Yorkshire, this is parodied as: 'From 'ell, 'ull and 'alifax, good Lord deliver us!'
The word deliver came to us in Chaucer's time from the Romans, via France, originally from liberare, to save or free. Since then, we have used the word in both senses of a woman in labour – she delivers the child and at the same time is delivered of the many burdens of being pregnant and the pain of labour. When you think about it, the word carries a weight of meaning, obligation, service, kindness and perhaps altruism. Not to be used too lightly.
Sometimes the delivery is unwelcome, even painful or fatal. Judges deliver sentences after juries have delivered their verdicts. Schoolmasters used to deliver punishment with the tawse. Professors deliver depressing lectures on climate change, and doctors may deliver bad news about our health. The parcel may contain a bomb. Every blow a boxer delivers to the head increases the risk of dementia in his opponent.
In these cases, there is weight on both sides – the deliverer must carefully consider the benefits and hazards of the message and the recipient's life and behaviour may be changed by its receipt. Think of poor Steven Gerrard, such a peerless footballer, who tried and failed to deliver success to Aston Villa and in return was delivered the sack. One assumes the club's owners took a purely commercial view before delivering his punishment. Again, the word has serious implications, and is not to be used lightly.
This, of course, brings me to Ms Truss. The thing that struck me most forcibly was her self-confidence, even hubris. She was elected to deliver, indeed she claimed a record of delivery. Time and again, she said 'I deliver'. It became a mantra, and when she delivered an instant rise in inflation and mortgage costs, it brought her nemesis.
Most of us watching this Greek tragedy were appalled when she and her fellow millionaire Chancellor, Mr Kwarteng, produced a budget disguised as not really a budget (as Putin's war is not really a war) that was blatantly designed to please her small band of supporters while inadvertently impoverishing further the poorest in society. It was an object lesson in how not to deliver policy, by not thinking through the possible consequences. The fundamental mistakes she made were acting too quickly on purely ideological grounds, by surrounding herself only by those who were her supporters, and by sacking the most senior civil servant in the Treasury as her first act.
In the case of both her and her Chancellor, it was not lack of intelligence of which both have plenty; rather it was its manifestation as low cunning intended to further the cause of libertarianism and thus their reputations for posterity. Her delivery has had exactly the opposite effects and has done untold harm to all of us.
This was an echo of the process that was used the persuade the gullible of the supposed benefits of Brexit. A momentous change in the history of our continent was engineered by people shouting slogans based on an historical view of Britain's greatness but without consideration of any likely consequences on the island of Ireland or of cutting us off from our biggest market. This failure to understand the implications of 'get Brexit done' is behind this pathetic procession of Prime Ministers, none of whom has yet discovered what the mantra means, never mind how to achieve the promised benefits. While I expect it will be a long time before their responsibility for our economic decline is acknowledged by the Brexiteers, most other people do not have much difficulty in seeing the connection.
I suppose it is the influence of advisors, young advertising types, that leads to the perceived need for mantras like 'I deliver'. Easy to say, it comes out as reassuring, someone you can trust to get things done. But it is a verb that requires an object – you deliver what? And how? Not so easy when you are talking about growth and people realise how complex that issue is (see last week's
issue) and how long it will take. So now Truss and Kwarteng will be remembered for delivering the UK records for shortest holders of the offices of Prime Minister and Chancellor and for wrecking an already creaking economy.
As I write, Conservative MPs have just decided who of three candidates is most likely to salvage their sunken reputations before the next election. The important issues of climate change, inequity and poverty are secondary to the great cause of preventing another party taking over. They have been in power now for 12 years and what they have delivered is obvious to all but the most indoctrinated, yet they are now giving us a fifth Conservative Prime Minister over this short period – another record.
Mr Sunak has a challenging job and may not survive long in the role, having made enemies on his own side (albeit only apparently among the least likeable). He is certainly more personable and possesses more common sense than his predecessors and, so far, has only made one serious mistake when he urged us to go out to restaurants during Covid at a time when that was obvious folly.
If another General Election approaches, we all need to remember the over-riding issues. No future economy based on other than renewable energy will survive long. No society that does not rebalance the inequity that we have will thrive. No country that cuts itself off from its closest allies will thrive. No country that neglects early education, housing and care of its disadvantaged deserves to survive. Nor does any politician who does not tell us what we face.
So, I have a litany. From politicians who only care for their power, from politicians who surround themselves with lickspittles, from politicians who think they know better than experts, from politicians who use words without explaining their implications, good Lord deliver us. And if this fails on this occasion, it will soon be up to us to consider carefully whom we vote for in the interests of all our fellow citizens and our young.
Anthony Seaton is Emeritus Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Aberdeen University and Senior Consultant to the Edinburgh Institute of Occupational Medicine. The views expressed are his own