Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Where is the leadership?

Now that Her Majesty has fired the starting pistol and the official election campaign is underway I am looking forward to a month of bluffs and blunders from both main parties. All politicians issue the occasional slip of the tongue or put forward the occasional idea that falls apart under close questioning, what seems different this time is just how many errors are being made by so many of the leading figures.

I try to tell myself that it might always have been the same and that I only notice it now because I am older and better able to detect these things. Yet I keep finding the same thought going through what is left of my mind - the people at the top of the main parties today are lightweights. We mustn't be too rosily-spectacled about it because there were plenty of pretty ordinary figures in the cabinet in the 1960s-1990s who have faded from memory and would appear just as hopeless as today's bunch, however they were not only few in number but balanced (and overshadowed) by a lot of truly substantial figures.

The current cabinet must be the weakest we have ever had to endure. State their names and the instant reaction of most of the country must be: "who?". Denham, Burnham, Woodwood, Alexander, Murphy, Cooper, Ainsworth, Bradshaw, Adonis, Royall ... who? These are totally insubstantial figures with no history of achieving anything, no notable speeches or policy idea on their CV and no public profile. The remaining members of the cabinet elicit recognition, usually accompanied by a laugh at the thought they could hold such high positions in government or a reaction of hostility resulting from years of incompetence and lies. The shadow cabinet isn't much better. Grayling, Spelman, Herbert, Lansley, Villiers, Hunt, Gillan, Clark and several more ... "who?"

Before the watershed elections in 1979 and 1997 far more names were known. In 1979 most of the shadow cabinet had either been in government under Ted Heath or had been well-known spokesmen for their party for several years. Most of the shadow cabinet in 1997 had been in one senior position or another since before the previous election in 1992. And in both cases they had been exposed to the public as their party's main spokesman in their designated area of policy.

Today the concentration of presentation into the hands of just a few people - Brown, Mandelson, Darling and Harman for Labour, Cameron, Osborne, Hague and Clarke for the Conservatives - ensures the continued anonymity of the others. Anonymity is not the only consequence, though. The concentration of publicity into a few hands tends also to concentrate the making of policy into those same hands and accentuates the recent trend for more and more governmental decisions being taken by fewer and fewer people.

And who are those people? What have they ever achieved? What is their vision for the future of the country? For all I know they might have a vision. People did so in the past and exposed it for debate and public scrutiny. Even the most subversive scum of Old Labour had a vision, we read about it in their 1983 election manifesto; they were not scared to put it forward and face the risk of being exposed as the hypocritical totalitarian filth that they were.

Today none of the political leaders dares say boo to a metaphorical goose for fear of a minuscule drop in the opinion polls or a "tut tut" from a focus group. Principle does not guide them so they cannot provide any real political leadership by letting us know where they want the country to go and what they want they want to achieve. If ever they start down this path they soon abandon it for want of an immediate bounce in the opinion polls.

Perhaps it is the lack of principled policy that causes me to look on them as lightweights, perhaps it is that far too few of them have had a proper job or excelled when they did have one, perhaps it is that I am now older than most of them, perhaps it is that I give unmerited weight to some of their predecessors, perhaps it is that I am frustrated by their desire to hide the truth about the long-term cost of the current state of the government's accounts. One thing is certain, however. You cannot lead a country effectively unless you have a clear plan because you will lurch from crisis to crisis by nothing other than the jerk of a knee. We've had more than a decade of that. Enough is enough.


Barnacle Bill said...

Once again I find myself in full agreement with your comments and observations Mr.FB.
If I were a humble squaddie none of this lot would inspire me to go over the top for them.
There seems to be a lack of passion, an almost just going through the motions feeling; caused I think by two things.
Firstly politics has become too much what can I get out of it, what is in it for the benefit of the Party? Rather than what is the right thing to do for the good of the country as a whole.
Secondly a lack of morals / principles / responsibility by those in office.
Is there anything that can be done to remedy it?
I fear not!

Grumpy Optimist said...

FB - it is not a plan we need from the parties and not even policies but principles and values. And on that it is clear. Labour will look to increase the power of state and the Tories will look to increase the power of the individual. Yes I know, it is immensely fustrating that the Tories cannot proclaim their belief with passion - but they believe that if they did it would scare off the Labour client state and give the media a field day - most of whom are still living in the afterglow of their orgasm when Blair was elected. So the Tories pussy foot around. But have faith FB - there is passion there and leadership.

Grumpy Optimist said...

Me again. We haven't lurched from crisis to crisis over the past decade - in fact until two years qgo it was very smooth. So much so that Bruin could delude himself that he could walk on water. What has now happened is that his chickens have come home to roost.
But as a nation we are in denial.

We have had the closest thing to a poltical experiment conducted in the most favourable political and economic circumstances possible. And we know now beyond any doubt tha the Labour way fails.
And another 5 years of labour could well be fatal for the country. The Tories cannot say that. But be in no doubt - they do know it.

Stan said...

I've wondered about the same thing myself over on my blog from time to time, FB.

I don't think there is a simple answer, but I do believe a lot of it is down to "career politicians" and the path they follow to become MPs and, ultimately, cabinet members - it's just not conducive to producing quality MPs. If anything, it is designed to keep out the really strong "maverick" style personality which we so desperately need.

Richard T said...

I agree entirely with you and the comments made. There are far too many MPs who have leapt from being political advisers to election with nothing in the form of experience of this wicked world to shape them.

The American constitution provides that no-one under 40 can stand for the presidency. Perhaps a similar provision could be considered here should the enthusiasm for consitututional reform survive after May 10th - it might take the form of an age bar coupled with a requirement to have done 'a proper job' befor being eligible to be elected to Parliament; possibly service as an elected councillor might be a suitable substitute for the employment requirement.