Finding common ground – dealing with reality

In his book, Eminent Churchillians, Andrew Roberts wrote a chapter on my late grandfather: “Walter Monckton and the Retreat from Reality”. Walter was Minister of Labour from 1951-55. Roberts’ historical hindsight was that the concessions my grandfather made to the unions ultimately led to the industrial unrest of the 1970s.

I recently came across some of my grandfather’s papers. An eminent barrister by background, he had hoped to be Attorney General, but Churchill told him, “Oh my dear, I cannot spare you for that. I have the worst job in Cabinet for you.” Walter noted he had no political experience (he was elected an MP at the age of 60) to which Churchill said that a lack of political past would be a great strength. Walter retorted that Churchill was making sure he would have no political future. However, loyal to a fault, Walter took the post and Churchill’s instructions were to preserve industrial peace.

Walter wrote,

“One’s task was not to give judgement as in a Law Court; it was much more to examine and explore the field of conflict and reduce it patiently to its narrowest limits and then to indicate a way in which in that smaller field the Parties might find a way of getting together.”

According to Roberts, Walter’s mistake was to ignore, or not grasp, the extent of militant control of the unions. Thus, conceding to them simply led them to come back with more unreal demands rather than accept that their deal with employers was of mutual benefit.

Seventy years on from his appointment, the art of facilitating negotiation should be no different from the quotation above. However, a good facilitator, or mediator, will look to achieve a transformative result to avoid any unintended long-term consequences.  This is much harder today because social media makes it difficult to “explore the field of conflict” as opinions and beliefs are formed in echo bubbles that are often based on rumour or wishful thinking.

The extraordinary events in the US this year, from potential violent coup to peaceful presidential transition, underline the need to find common ground in US politics.  The echo bubbles of red and blue have been a real ‘retreat from reality’ as extremists control the opposing media messaging. President Biden’s unifying inaugural address staked a claim to lessen the field of conflict.

How often, in our own disputes and disagreements, do we dig in, believe in our bubble, and not attempt to understand the merits of the opposing view nor explore what we have in common on which to build?  Often it takes a third party who has no ‘skin in the game’ to guide, encourage, and bring two opposing sides to reality – to that small field of conflict where getting together leads to an equitable resolution. Lawyers represent one side, the courts have a large backlog, so now, more than ever, there is a need for a third way. If this resonates with you, I recommend The Moot Route.


Article by Anthony Monckton, Moot Hill Consultant

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