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Thursday 14 November 2019

Summit 2019: Managers need to respond to ‘toxic’ populism

By MiP

MiP chief executive Jon Restell urges members to show true leadership in tackling toxic workplaces and preserving NHS values.

Jon Restell speaking at an MiP Summit

Managers must “learn and act together” to tackle toxic workplaces and preserve NHS values in a hostile political atmosphere, MiP chief executive Jon Restell told delegates in his keynote speech to MiP’s 2019 Members’ Summit.

Restell warned that the rise of “political populism” was a “profoundly challenging and disturbing development” which had created a potentially “toxic environment inside the NHS” to which managers needed to respond.

“The political culture is setting our weather inside the NHS,” he said. “Managers trying to tackle bullying are working in a setting where bullying is the normal political currency. Managers trying to deal with racism and sexism are working in a political culture where racism and sexism is sanctioned and openly used in debate.”

He cautioned delegates against “trying to respond with a populist edge of our own” or giving into the temptation of “disengaging from the public debate by slowly switching off to what’s happening”. Instead, he argued, managers need to look at what they can do individually and collectively to defend NHS values at work.

He said: “Many managers don’t think they can deal with racism and sexism in the workplace—that it’s a societal problem that’s bigger than them—but in reality there are things we can do by learning and acting together to change the culture in which we are operating in this country.”

MiP as a trade union will “give you the space to do that and to be yourself—to live your values and act and learn together,” he said. “We’re committed not just to take on the individual case but to take on the bigger issues too—but we need to be aware of the broader political context within which we are operating.”

Restell cited the post-war Labour prime minister Clement Attlee as an example of the kind of leader who had been lost to British public life. “He was completely uninterested in public relations and was the ultimate uncharismatic leader,” he said. “But he managed a group of Labour politicians who were complete egomaniacs for 20 years.

“He wasn’t an ideological socialist… but through social work in the East End of London he had developed a strong set of values which he applied pragmatically,” Restell added. “Attlee never walked away from difficult decisions. And he made life better for the people of this country. I think a lot of our political leaders have lost those qualities.”

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