It doesn’t matter what your political complexion is, what the Great British public cares about is fairness.
Whether ‘Judge’ Rinder knew it or not, he was speaking on the 537th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth, when Richard III, seen as a tyrant by a majority of his more powerful subjects, lost his crown and his life to the army of Henry Tudor.
So that was a good day for Rinder to confront the challenge that has faced every ruler of Britain since 1485: how to ensure that enough of the people who matter will support your regime.
Over the course of half a millennium, the number of people “who matter” has swelled thanks to a process called democracy. But the nature of the challenge has remained more or less the same: satisfying sufficient of them that the way in which a leader distributes the riches and resources of the land (as well as the way in which they permit those with the capability to do so to enrich themselves) will benefit their own interests. In other words, to make them feel they are getting a fair deal.
Richard III fell because not enough of those who could put armed men on a battlefield to defend him would do so. They felt that the cronyism and incompetence which had defined his two-year reign did not serve them or protect them. One faction that the king had relied on – the notoriously fickle Stanleys who had managed to fight on both sides in the brutal civil wars of the 15th century – switched allegiance during the fighting, converting a starting majority of about 16,000 to 6,000 soldiers in Richard’s favour to a minority of about 10,000 to 12,000 in favour of Henry. If ever there were an ‘election’ decided by swing voters, it was Bosworth.
Today, democracy means that the number of those who must be convinced which of the rulers on offer will best serve their interests is greater, although not by as much as we might like to think. In fact, the realisation that we do not even know the size of the electorate choosing between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss as our next leader, because the Conservative Party refuses to disclose how many members it has, ought to give us pause for thought about how democracy works in Britain in 2022. It is estimated that 150,000 Conservative members are being asked to cast a vote, a mere seven times the number that ‘elected’ Henry VII.
Both Sunak and Truss know full well that a much wider electorate awaits them, but Rinder was right that the challenge they face is the same as it has always been. The Great British public really care about fairness, regardless of how they cast their vote.
His anger was raised by news that average salaries for CEOs have risen by 39 per cent in the past year, while nurses are struggling to get 5 per cent rises to mitigate double-digit inflation.
Faced with that raging inflation, rising interest rates, a post-Covid health service in chaos, trade-unionism reviving, corporate greed making itself manifest every day, it is not enough for potential leaders to offer that wider electorate vague promises about what they will do to help. Nor will a winner in the general election that must come in the next 27 months achieve power by pandering to the tax-cutting, EU-hating preferences of people who belong to their own party or to their equivalent factions on the other wing of politics.
The ‘Stanleys’ of Britain in the 21st century want to vote for someone who will distribute what we have in ways they see as fair, who will limit the unfair distribution of power and wealth that seems to have grown only wider since the Great Crash of 2007-8. They want someone who will provide sufficient fairness in sharing our resources that poor people do not starve or freeze while their rich compatriots choose the preferred temperature of their living rooms or the preferred restaurant for their evening meal; they want someone who will address the growing unfairness between generations, where a younger cohort faces a lifetime of renting while the older chooses between which of their homes they spend time in; they want someone who they can trust to be competent, trust to govern on behalf of all not some, trust to protect and serve not just those who share a party loyalty, but a national one.
That is the Bosworth of today and the numbers in the ranks of the Stanleys is only going to grow.
Ben Fenton is the author of To Be Fair – the Ultimate Guide to Fairness in the 21st Century (Mensch Publishing)