Searching For New Leaders: Britain’s Temporary Power Vacuum:

There’s a cartoon in the latest edition of the satirical magazine “Private Eye” which encapsulates the UK’s current political situation. An extra-terrestrial , having just landed its space-craft on Earth, is consulting a passer-by for advice: “Take me (it asks) to anyone who remotely resembles a leader”.

If this conversation was taking place in (for example) London’s Hyde Park, where should “ET” go next? To 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence? Not much point doing that, really. The present occupant, David Cameron, after insisting during the Referendum campaign that he would continue in office irrespective of the outcome, promptly resigned on the morning of Friday 24th July when it became clear that “Leave” had won. This decision has provoked the anger of former Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, who told The Guardian in an interview on 9th July that it had been Cameron’s “duty & job as captain to stay on the bridge”, at least until the immediate post-Brexit turbulence has subsided.

Cameron’s successor as PM won’t be decided (by 150,000 Conservative Party members) until September 9th. This might be too long a wait for ET, so what are it’s other options? Not, for the moment at least, UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence Party): It’s leader, Nigel Farage, stepped down from the role on 4th July in order “to get his life back” after achieving his 17-year ambition to take the UK out of the European Union.

Hyde Park, however, is just a brisk walk from High Street Kensington, where the Labour Party has its provisional HQ. The only drawback is that ET might not get an opportunity to meet the man nominally in charge of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. He’s currently busy “clinging on” to his position , despite The Observer’s editorial of 3rd July depicting him as “finished as a credible national politician” and more than 172 of his own MPs demanding he quit.

A thoroughly bemused ET could by now conclude it should try it’s luck in another country. How about “North of the Border”? It would undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from the SNP (Scottish National Party), though the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, appears to be somewhat exclusively focused on keeping Scotland within the EU and planning for the next independence Referendum and so would probably delegate the meeting with ET to her Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs.

So who else on the international stage “remotely resembles a leader”? Possibly not French President Francois Hollande, whose popularity ratings are down to 14%. In Italy (according to the Daily Mail), the “anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) would easily beat incumbent Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party if a national election was held now”. In Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party (PP) won most seats in the recent election but not a majority in Parliament.

The Guardian reported on 9th July that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity ratings “have surged to a 10-month high” – so perhaps ET should now fly it’s spaceship to Berlin’s Britzer Garten or Friedrichshain Park. In the USA, Barack Obama is in his final few months as President, while Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are vying for who is the least unpopular candidate to replace him. Vladimir Putin (Russia), Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus) and Kim Jung-Un (North Korea) all appear to be firmly in charge of their respective nations – but would ET really want to take it’s chances in Moscow, Minsk or Pyongyang?

The American “pioneer in leadership studies”, Warren Bennis, has defined leadership as “the capacity to translate vision into reality”. For his compatriot, the pastor John C.Maxwell, “ a leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. There’s a prevailing view that aspiring politicians should gain experience in the “outside world” before attempting to enter Parliament. The Independent’s Steve Richards disagrees. He notes that “When outsiders move into politics they often struggle to adapt. They make mistakes because they do not understand the unique rhythms of politics, the fatal dangers of one word out of place”. For him, communication is vital: “Leaders have to find a way to convey what they stand for and must be (or become) a decent speaker and an engaging interviewee”.

Richards lists as “the absolute number one qualification” previous ministerial experience, or at least some background political battles – the lack of which is viewed by many commentators as the main weakness of Andrea Leadsom, one of the two contenders for the Conservative Party leadership & PM. Her rival, Theresa May, has been an MP since 1997, Home Secretary for the past six years, is considered (by The Guardian) as “a safe pair of hands” and has been described by her fellow MP Ken Clarke as “ a bloody difficult woman” – which has apparently improved rather than damaged her prospects of winning the contest.

Most politicians and members of the public would probably concur with Richard’s view that “leaders should possess boundless energy, the ability to respond to unexpected crises and be genuinely courageous” – but not with his insistence that they “must be indifferent to criticism and attacks from the media”. On the contrary, the press reflects popular opinion on key issues which a Prime Minister needs to take into consideration.

Richard’s assertion, however, that “there is no point in having a programme that is guaranteed to lose an election” is an accurate reflection of the ongoing battle for control of the Labour Party. Most of its MPs share Kinnock’s view that they risk being reduced to a “social protest movement”, merely angry voices shouting from the sidelines instead of acting as “a strong, effective opposition holding the Government to account”. Hilary Wainwright, on the other hand, argued in the “New Statesman” on 5th July that “today’s mood of anti-establishment politics has changed what it means to be a leader”, that Corbyn’s personality, style and principles mean he is the ideal person to “give a voice to those who have no vested interest in the system”.

The Economist has portrayed Brexit as having led to “Anarchy in the UK”. The Observer has lamented the “chaos, rancour and parade of pitiful leaders”. The  Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has declared that “England has collapsed: politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically”. The Spectator’s riposte to all of them has been that “Britain’s strengths were never drawn from EU membership and won’t be damaged by Brexit”. The Referendum result, it proclaimed, was “the greatest ever vote of confidence in the United Kingdom” and heralded “a new chapter in the country’s history”.

 

Filed under: Politics | Posted on July 11th, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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