Defeat in the general election can be the start of something positive for politicians

Some politicians will wake up on May 8 and not know what to do. For the past five years, their attempts to ascend the greasy pole at Westminster have dominated their every waking minute.

Now many will be out of office. No one is holding on the line from Sky News or the Today programme. They are Honourable Members no longer. As Enoch Powell said: “All political lives … end in failure.” How then will our former MPs cope?

The Catholics among them may fare the best. As Fr Shaun Middleton, the parish priest of St John Fisher, north Harrow, says: “Catholicism is a wildly optimistic religion.” At its heart is the dramatic tragedy of Good Friday, swiftly followed by the Resurrection and the promise of hope. “What we perceive as failure on one level can be seen as the opening of something else. We need a wide vision, and must not be too myopic,” he says.

Certainly my own experience is that what seems like failure can indeed be the start of something positive. During many dark years, when I was dogged by depression, it didn’t occur to me that my illness would eventually lead to a new and fulfilling career. I now run poetry workshops for mental health charities and to help those suffering from depression in prisons.

I used to repeat one mantra endlessly when I was hospitalised at the start of my first depressive episode, in 1997. It’s from 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” I would emerge stronger thanks to my ordeal.

The other line I turned to was from Psalm 84, verse 6: “He, who passing through the Valley of Baca, made it a well.” Hidden in the nettle of failure and disappointment is the flower of growth and hope.

Disappointment, rejection and failure are what make us human. Without experiencing mighty lows, we would not know the highs – or, indeed, our fellow men. And only through setbacks are we forced to think more deeply.

Different politicians presented us with different visions of society during the campaign. Some of them cannot enact what they wanted to do. Those politicians who were thrown out at the ballot box now have plenty of time to consider why. Perhaps they will need to think more about what people need to hear and less what they think people want to hear.

The personal winners in the campaign seemed to be those who spoke with authenticity, whether they were Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage or Nicola Sturgeon. Their messages might not have been to your liking, but few doubted their sincerity. The best political survivors will be those who spoke their truth, and who will keep doing so even if they do not hold high office.

The outcomes will be even better for those former politicians who can accept that failure and pain are all part of God’s purpose. Cardinal Newman, in his Meditations and Devotions, put it like this: “If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him… He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still He knows what He is about.”

I used to ask my mother to read me this passage when I was bedridden with depression. I did not know what my purpose might be, or in what way I could serve. But it was comforting to surrender to Newman’s view that God at least knew what He was about. The weeks and months of illness had not been in vain.

And so it will prove for the most thoughtful of our failed politicians. It’s an extreme example, but look at how John Profumo turned disgrace into a life of service in east London. Arguably, John Major is a major statesman now in a way that he never was when Prime Minister.

Oscar Wilde tried to get better conditions for his fellow prisoners in jail, where he also wrote his extraordinary meditation on suffering, De Profundis: “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground. Some day people will know what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.”

This morning, some former politicians will be playing patience on their laptops, or be considering the virtues of the pub when it’s still only eight o’clock. But others will be using their rejection last night to enjoy a chance to truly know something of life.

Rachel Kelly’s memoir, Black Rainbow: How words healed me – My journey through depression, is published in paperback by Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99. All author proceeds to SANE and United Response. Follow @rache_Kelly on Twitter. For more information on Rachel’s #thewordsdoctor workshops go to blackrainbow.org.uk

This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (8/5/15).

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