The absence of leadership can leave a dangerous void

May 20


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Helen Whitten

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The absence of leadership can leave a dangerous void

There’s a theme of disillusionment with politicians and leaders today.  A movement to eject current leaders with the concept that there may be someone better, a greener grass, beyond.  However, as I look around the world I am not convinced by the alternatives we have on offer at the moment and worry that it is easy to get rid of a mediocre Prime Minister or a deranged President but not so easy to be sure that their replacement will be any better.

Ukraine is about to authorise a comedian to be their Prime Minister.  The 5 Star movement in Italy was founded by Beppe Grillo, another comedian.  The danger here is naivete and inexperience, which can lead to that person being manipulated by forces they don’t understand.  With key countries such as Ukraine this presents a real danger as President Putin is a world-class strategist who still has his eye on Ukraine.

When we look at the Arab Spring, Egypt, Syria and beyond, there was a successful movement to replace the old brigade but far too little thought put into who would replace them.  And this can lead to anarchy, as we have seen in Libya, which often can be worse than what came before, the rule of law breaks down, infrastructure disintegrates and economic depression is an almost inevitable consequence.  One needs to be clear about a vision of the future.

Division provides an impetus towards potential revolution – the gilet jaunes protesting against the elite, is an example.  In fact the movement against the elite is often a signal that a revolution is in the air – lawyers, writers, academics begin to be pilloried and eventually interned. Erdogan has been doing this with surprisingly little kick-back from our press or the EU.  Even in the UK there is a sense of anti-elitism in the air and also a limiting of free speech, as is evidenced by the no-platforming of lectures and events which somehow do not fit into the politically correct zeitgeist.

The criticism of the middle classes is another signal of revolution.  The centre ground gets lost, the extremes come to power.  But to the detriment of stability and balance.  The middle classes are almost always the backbone of a country quietly getting on with life.  On the whole they have more to lose.  They tend to value education, aspiration, economic stability, peace, low crime rates in the areas in which they live.  You tend to find them as councillors, volunteers and on parent school boards.  You find them running small businesses and right now that squeezed middle is not only under some financial constraint but also under attack from the press who tend to ridicule those aspirations, or from those who envy that lifestyle, however justly gained.  People tend only to see the economy in terms of the big powerful organisations at whom they love to throw stones.  They too easily forget that some 99% of businesses in the UK are SMEs – small entrepreneurial enterprises employing only a small number of people.

Revolutions are bloody.  Surely to be avoided if evolutional change can be achieved.  And the problem with the way our own political landscape appears at the moment is that we have factions and no-one is in the centre ground.  People promote the Lib Dems as the party holding the centre but by naming their stand as “Bollocks to Brexit” they have as effectively put two fingers up to the Leavers as the dreadful Farage has done to the Remainers with his Brexit party.  Both are divisive.  Neither give any hint, as far as I can see, of what they will do to bring the country back together again or to take care of the concerns of those who stand for opposing views.  Both the Labour and Conservative parties are too divided within themselves to lead a united country.  So what next… there lies the void.  There lies the danger.  It is into this absence that oddball narcissists such as Farage or Johnson can slide.

I have been amazed by how little in-depth debate there has been about the future of the EU or the future of the UK after whatever deal is or isn’t done.  We have heard endlessly from Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler on the BBC commenting narrowly on the Brexit negotiations.  We need new viewpoints, new perspectives. 

We haven’t heard enough, in my view, about the build up to the European elections within other EU countries, the challenges, policies and strategies that are being discussed in other capital cities.  The mood of the people in these countries.  What is happening in Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Croatia?  We hear endlessly about Macron and Merkel but not enough information about the other 25 countries.  Yet this information is key to how we think about ourselves in the UK in terms of our future relationship with the EU.  We haven’t heard enough about how any government will address the perfectly legitimate concerns of the losing party here, whether this is the Remainers or the Leavers.  We haven’t heard enough about how any government will mend the bridges that have been broken here or what they will do to maintain relationships with our close or distant allies.  The conversation and comment has been far too narrow.  I feel I still have far more questions than answers.  I am happy for anyone to provide me with more information …

And this leaves a leadership gap because we aren’t being given an accurate or desirable picture of a future that we can agree on.  I look at the options we have for leaders in the UK and am not convinced by any of them, unfortunately.  We don’t want a ‘strong man’ as they can tend to turn into egotistical dictators but we do want someone who listens to the concerns of the whole country and has a practical vision of how to take us forward in a united way.  I just don’t see this person evident at the moment… do any of you?


One Response

  1. “ …
    The best lack all conviction,
    while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”
    W.B. Yeats

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