A few thoughts about leadership
I have long been an advocate for the position that Christmas should not be a factor in our lives until well into December. The arrival of Christmas cards and mince pies in the shops in October has never been a source of joy to me. But this year, the grimness of the events which form the lion’s share of our news diet has had even me seeing the arrival of Christmas advertising on the television as a welcome bit of light relief.
The situation in Gaza is clearly dominant in news terms. I am not going to comment on it.
Reporting on Gaza has been followed in our news bulletins by, in turn, the Covid enquiry and the political tremors emanating from the conflict in Gaza. Both have significant implications lying underneath the events themselves.
The current phase of the Covid enquiry has featured, in essence, a series of personal accounts, confirmations and, in some cases, denials of actions and events and the examination of personal opinions expressed in relation to them. They have been in turn revealing, informative and, depending on how cynical you were at the time, surprising or even shocking. We have to be cautious not to fall into the trap of judging what we have been hearing with the benefit of hindsight. We also have to accept that mistakes and misjudgements are bound to have taken place as the Government and Civil Service dealt with an international health event the like of which had not been seen since the sweep of Spanish flu around many parts of the world in 1918 and 1919.
Nevertheless, there is a common thread. 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet were rudderless. A leadership team which had been elected on the public promise to get Brexit done and the more private agenda of disrupting the established way of doing things proved incapable of establishing or maintaining a measured response to the crisis. We sensed it at the time, but we have now seen the Government’s ability to respond to Covid to have foundered time and time again on the rocks of egocentricity and disrespect. It has not given the core of Government a good look.
Have lessons been learned? Maybe not. Liz Truss and her doomed premiership were based on a promise of change and challenge with no effective means of making it happen against the inevitable reaction of global financial markets. The frequent outspoken utterances of the Home Secretary, the most recent having apparently been made without clearance from the Downing Street press office, seem to rely on controversy as a means of leadership. Loose use of facts and arguments don’t matter and the sowing of division and feeding of disharmony appear to be regarded as worthwhile collateral damage in her desire to be seen as the darling of the right.
But does this really matter? That all depends on what you expect of our leaders. In many respects, it doesn’t really matter whether they’re colourful or rather dull. What they do have to have is a respect for the institution from which they derive their power and an ability to use that power to serve the public who have given it to them. That carries with it obligations of responsibility and restraint, even for those who believe that significant change is needed. To do otherwise risks the destruction of voter confidence and respect, and with it a lasting diminution of the strength of democracy.
We only have to look across the Atlantic to see where an absence of those qualities can lead. It sems incredible to us in the UK that an individual with an interesting relationship with the truth has managed to persuade a significant part of the electorate that any calling of him to account is nothing more than the product of an establishment conspiracy against him. Having cultivated this claim, he actively uses it to drive popularity as an innocent, but powerful, victim of state oppression. The possibility of a man who by the time of the presidential election may have been convicted of several offences, including some relating to efforts to subvert democracy and its institutions in his own cause, is real and it’s not very comfortable. It is particularly uncomfortable in a world riven by wider conflicts.
Now back to those Christmas ads…