Monday, 13 September 2021


The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “common sense” is blessedly to the point:

“the ability to think about things in a practical way and make sensible decisions.”

Recently I read something that Tony Blair said. He’s 68 and a somewhat discredited blast-from-the-past. His think-tank (The Institute for Global Change) claims that consistent,  widespread, but relatively small changes in human behaviour – flying rather less, driving a little less, eating less red meat - would achieve surprisingly major improvements in carbon emissions. The excessive radicalism of Extinction Rebellion will, he believes, achieve less,  fostered, as it is, by a desire to demolish capitalism rather than just expressing concern for the planet.

The idea that violent revolution is less effective than radical change seems utterly sensible doesn’t it? Apart from anything else, brutal change is, for most of us, hard to stomach. We can see that being played out in the various approaches to managing Covid. Well, would you like to be an Australian right now?

In politics we constantly see ambitious Ministers trying to achieve the impossible. Sadly their problem is the 5 year span for governments whereby ministers try to create attention-getting legacies rather than solid ones. They live in their own bubble of “creative destruction”. Fine when thought through as Schumpeter does. He was the Austrian economist who became a Harvard Professor. His attitude towards the evolution of transport is clearly practical. 

In contrast, not a lot of common sense, practicality and sensible planning seems to have gone into the recent MOD £3.5 billion fiasco of vastly overbudget and ineffective Ajax tanks. These put soldiers in them at risk of tinnitus and swollen joints if driven at speeds above 20mph and they’re unable to reverse over objects higher than 20cm.

Yet it’s easy to revile politicians. Too much time is spent doing that, but they tend to be their own worst enemies and be neither calm nor particularly sensible. They seek the glamour of fame but less often seem simply to focus on getting the job done sensibly and in a practical way.

In another life many of us would like fame…apparently a worrying large number of young people asked what they’d like to when they grow up reply “famous”. But fame is hard won and more easily lost without constant application. When it really excites us is when it’s unexpected.

Emma Raducanu’s extraordinary performance in winning the US Tennis Open last Saturday is, based on experience, form and world ranking, nonsensical. Pundits were reduced to spluttering disbelief as she coasted through ten matches without conceding a single set. It’s the stuff of journalistic cliché to be sure but more importantly it shows how sport can transform lives and attitudes when they confound expectation. Defying the logic and common sense of the form book when you are a smart, smiling, 18 year old is thrilling.  

Does Emma pass the commonsense test? Does she demonstrate “the ability to think about things in a practical way and make sensible decisions”? Obviously yes. Her victory was a brilliant display of ruthlessly efficient shot making. She kept her calm and her rhythm. It was the emergence, pretty well without trace, that was so mind-blowing. It reminded me of Tiger Woods who won his first golf major, the Masters, in 1997 in record-breaking fashion and became the tournament's youngest winner when he was 21. 

 Common sense isn’t boring. Think about what it really means and it’s what we all look for but the added spice is the drama of winning against the odds. And that isn’t just fame. It’s stardom.

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