On leadership

As the vanquished political parties seek new leaders; and the 'winner' (which is to say, in the current climate, the party that did not lose) presents evidence on a daily basis of having no notion of a 'vision' or a 'theory' or an 'organising principle' of any kind (merely, ahem, a 'long term economic plan', the contents of which are secret); I find myself wondering:-

What would persuade me I had just seen
a leader worthy of the times?

And, rather more quickly than I had anticipated, I found an answer in the cross-hairs of two insights:

"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership." [my emphasis]
John Kenneth Galbraith, 'The Age of Uncertainty', Andre Deutsch (1977)

"We have, in my view, reached a position which is potentially of great historical significance. We are witnessing a decline in confidence, and sometimes a growing mistrust, not only in political processes and politicians, but in social institutions such as the media and journalism, the police and religious organisations. Inequality is rising on many crucial dimensions. We have, for many, a confusion or anxiety around moral or social values, and community or individual identity. In my own subject of economics, we have less confidence in our ability to understand processes of growth, employment and change. We must seek growth that is sustainable in relation to our natural environment. And these difficulties are not confined to our own country; they are reflected in many societies, rich and poor, around the world. These difficulties affect us all, from young people looking for work, to older people worried about the future of their healthcare."
Lord Stern of Brentford, 'Prospering Wisely', British Academy (2014) 
[my emphasis]

I was fortunate enough about a year ago to hear Lord Stern talking about his work on 'Prospering Wisely'.  His summation centred on 'anxiety', that most corrosive state of being, gnawing away as we wonder where the money will come from, who will care for us when we are old, whether we will ever be able to have our own home, if the fighting will ever stop...  And it stretches, he suggested, to a planetary level: how do we acknowledge and access and then address our anxiety about the planet - the only one we have, the one that we seem hellbent on poisoning?

Anxiety.  The spirit of the age.

A leader - the one who can confront that anxiety, who can name it for us, who can stare at it with unflinching gaze.  Who can help us to work out what to do.

I can barely imagine such a person emerging from the current panorama of politicians.  There are, to be sure, some wonderful, even inspirational individuals among them; and though I subscribe to the proposition that politicians are coming from an ever narrower subset of the population (and may even be members of a 'chumocracy'), I am in general admiring of politicians: most of those I've actually met really are trying to make the world a better place.

And I have a suspicion that, should a leader of the kind I am describing ever appear before the great British public, he or she would be forgiven a great deal in return for understanding our anxiety.  Perhaps they wouldn't be quite as televisual, or as erudite, or as processed or as sound-bitten as those we've become used to: perhaps their 'back story' would contain themes and sub-plots currently considered untenable; but they would speak and move and operate with an authenticity that would simply overwhelm such minutiae.

It's a fantasy, of course.  A vain plea.  A Utopian cry in the wilderness from one who is far from having even to consider whether to take the extraordinary risk of putting one's head above the parapet...

Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Or anxious.

[If there's a photo down here it was added August 2017 as part of blog refresh.  Photo is either mine or is linked to where I found it. Make of either what you will.]


Che Bourne said…
You could argue that Cameron did confront 'the major anxiety' - to a large chunk of the electorate this was the national debt. As you say, the fact that he kept the 'long term economic plan' to achieve this secret was irrelevant as long as voters believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was the key issue. Cameron appears to achieve this trick by accident - even better for them. I think we need politicians with heart and not just TV appeal but I also think they need to be a lot shrewder.
Dr No said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr No said…
Yes, so much anxiety... so much of it justified (will I have enough money? will someone look after me when I'm old? will my kids get a job?... or be able to afford a home?)... but a lot of it not (there's no room/infrastructure for all these immigrants... an unelected EU bureaucracy rules our lives... climate change mitigation is a socialist conspiracy... business is a Jewish conspiracy....)

Perhaps we need a leader who is brave enough to not only empathise with real anxieties but also call the bluff of those who peddle abject bollox (mentioning no names but let's start with the Daily Mail...)?

Another thought: they've been saying this week how good Charles Kennedy was at genuinely connecting with people and their concerns (anxieties?). His greatest leadership achievement was to win the largest number of seats for a centre-ground party for a century or so. But he wouldn't deploy that bloc to a meaningful purpose - he stood against the LibDem's formation of a coalition with the our Tory friends. Despite his empathy, does he fail the test of leadership?

Popular Posts