What would Nelson do?

This week has been dominated by coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela after a long illness. Tributes have been fulsome, worldwide, and totally deserved. As an example of the power of forgiveness, reconciliation and positivity, it is unlikely that we will ever see Mandela’s equal. It is to his eternal credit that Mandela managed to achieve the trick of being both ordinary and extraordinary. He was able to maintain a ‘common touch’ that allowed him to remain as a kind of social glue, holding together the emerging, post-apartheid civic society of South Africa even after he had resigned from all formal positions of power and influence. His primary focus – his driving force – was social justice and the achievement of a free and fair society for the people of the country that he loved. His extraordinariness stems from the fact that he held to this vision through decades in prison and in spite of the abuse that he suffered throughout that time at the hands of the apartheid regime. In an interview in 1994, Mandela was asked about his attitude towards death. His response was typical of his approach to life : “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity”

Mandela’s legacy will be the standard that he has set against which all future world leaders will be measured. It would be great to think that in the future, the walls of the Oval Office, of 10 Downing Street, of the Kremlin, and the Great Hall in Tiananmen Square, will be graced by a portrait of Mandela and the words : “What would Nelson do?”

It’s probably a naive vision, but at the very least I hope that the thought crosses the minds of the UK’s Members of Parliament when they consider a proposal from the independent panel on their pay and conditions that their basis salary should increase by 11% this year. To be clear, my objection to this is not because I think MPs are overpaid (they’re probably not, given the responsibilities that they carry). However, to accept such a large rise at this time – when the people that they have been elected to serve have seen real-terms salary reductions for two years and are faced with the prospect of (at best) inflation-equalling rises for the next 3 to 5 years – would be to send out completely the wrong message to the population as a whole. The excuses have already started to come out : we need to pay well to encourage people from all walks of life to present themselves for election (a claim already roundly rebuffed by MP Owen Jones); and this is an independent process that operates beyond the influence of party politics and government (technically correct, but ultimately it is still for Parliament to decide whether or not to implement the recommendations)

So – let’s make this the first application of the WWND test in the UK. What about it, MPs – What Would Nelson Do?

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