The question which could bring down the government

This is a retropost. Written contemporaneously in May 2020 during the height of the pandemic, but published long after the events.
The day the EU referendum was announced, the then Prime Minister came to visit our office. We were given a chance to talk to him in front of TV cameras.

This was my chance. I could ask a question - the perfect question - which would win the referendum and bring down the government. I spent the morning practising what I would say. I psyched myself up, and positioned myself in the PM's eyeline.

Of course, I wasn't called. And, of course, my question wasn't that great. The PM would have smoothly brushed me off. Or, maybe, I'd have had five minutes of fame on the local news. Or, more likely, I'd be fired.

Tomorrow, I have a call with the current Prime Minister. I expect it will be listen-in only with no chance of questions. But what if it isn't? I have fantasies of asking the question. The one which makes a madman reconsider his wicked life and repent. My mind is stewing. Could I craft such a question and get through to him? The one which trained journalists have so far failed to land.

No. Obviously not. At best, he would make a joke and move on. At worst, I'd irreparably damage my career - and sabotage the project I've worked so hard for.

The joy of capitalism means that I need to be employed to survive.


Shouldn't I at least try? What's the point of being in the room if you can't speak truth to power? What's the point of promising to give professional, impartial advice, if that advice is curtailed by fear?

I'm not a super-senior Civil Servant. I'm a tiny pawn. He doesn't know me and my words carry no weight. My sacrifice means nothing.

Morally, I know that speaking out is the right thing to do. But can I find the words which protect myself and my team at the same time as speaking truth to power? I'll spend the night tossing and turning, trying to find the right words. Trying to find any words at all.

The next afternoon They didn't allow any questions.

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4 thoughts on “The question which could bring down the government”

  1. said on

    @Edent I spent a lot of time in my last role damaging my career prospects by trying to push the organisation to do the right thing.

    Never worked, did get me deliberately sidelined and effectively demoted.

    My only consolation prize is that many of my ex-colleagues are still talking to me on a regular basis, in some cases just to tell me how awful things are going there and how much I was right about everything. Which is nice, but doesn't pay the bills. 🙂

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