An Election Without Leadership

Politics is a funny old game, but it is a game nonetheless. If I cast my mind back to GSCE Sport we talked endlessly about “knowledge of performance” as compared to “knowledge of result”. In politics, as in sport, numbers and outcomes are of course fundamental. However, the utterly intangible concepts of “tone”, “leadership” and “principle” in politics (or the defeat despite magnificent performance in sport) receive almost equal coverage and column inches.

Another way to put it is that whilst people can theoretically measure the impact of election pledges on themselves and those around them; they are often more likely choose to vote based on a candidate or party’s intent. Put another way still; people expect political parties and governments to show leadership, but are willing to let government’s work out the details later on.

That said, whilst politicians can show leadership and that in itself can catalyse change; ultimately they must understand and interact with what people want, to use an unattributed quote, “a leader without followers is just somebody talking a walk”. The vast numbers of people who are not members of political parties, along with the vast numbers of floating voters are testament to the idea that people (and their views) are movable. The same must apply political parties.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy Ed Miliband being leader of the Labour Party; too many of his ideas seemed to involve legislating societal change, or legislating an outcome. He may not have won, but he didn’t collapse the Labour Party and I still voted for him. Why was that? Well he seemed to be a man of integrity, who was intent on addressing the needs in people’s lives such as energy prices, housing, and zero hour contracts. He may have got the detail wrong in his ideas and policies, but they were just that, ideas. Looking back, I feel I was too critical of him. He showed leadership through his ideas and his understanding of people’s dreams and their concerns.

Most people; the man on the Clapham omnibus, the electorate behind their front doors, the old lady being interviewed at the community centre want that approach- ideas, not ideologies. I can and will remain critical for a great many reasons of Cameron and Osborne in their leadership of the country. They did, however, grasp that they had to understand the things that were important to people; retaining the NHS, taking people out of tax, regeneration of the North of England and immigration to name a few examples. Their deeds may not have lived up to their election promises, but their promises at least showed an understanding.

The next general election however, has all the hallmarks of a car crash waiting to happen. Why? Well all of the parties seem to have shrunk into themselves; I have never seen so many people at odds with the party they usually vote for (but then again, I’m not that old, so I probably can’t make too much of a big deal of it). I have seen Tory voters furious about the headlong and undefined dive into hard Brexit, Lib Dems wishing their party would shut up about Brexit, and Labour voters simply deflated by at the whole situation. I saw somebody I know put an “X” in the Conservative box of their postal ballot for the local elections whilst simultaneously complaining that they simply couldn’t vote for them in a general election. And another first-past-the-post loving friend somewhat oddly profess that “what we need is a bloody hung parliament”.

I retain my belief that there is more than one way to Brexit (although I am not wild about Brexit being a verb!) and there should be some heavy and involved cross-party collaboration on how to get the best deal for Britain. I think Theresa May should use Parliament as a stick to beat EU with; but instead her election announcement had an authoritarian tone that showed no leadership “give me more power, because some people are threatening to be difficult”. The Lib Dems are leading the charge the other way, perhaps as a way of expunging in the minds of the public their own coalition collaboration with the Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile, said the right words in his launch speech, “It is only Labour that will focus on what kind of country we want to have after Brexit”. Brilliant stuff, except that the Britain he wants after Brexit is no different to one he wanted before Brexit. A Britain based on his ideological commitments to disarmament, nationalisation, and maximum wage caps. Ideology, ideology, ideology.

The Tories have in recent years made the case that receiving state benefits (or being poor for that matter) is exploiting normal hard working people. Meanwhile the current Labour leadership claims that high earners are doing the same. I don’t think either statement is true. So whilst I accept that there are benefit frauds, and I accept that there are high earners that avoid tax for example… (and we shouldn’t ever stop trying to sort these issues by the way), we should be trying to find innovative ways to help those in need without dragging everybody else down and get people away from benefits without demonising them.

I am a centrist, because I think government should be for everybody and that means policies normally need two sides; rights and responsibilities. We should be trying to help people with the things that are of concern, but we cannot and should not being pitting one part of the electorate against another. I could be wrong, but it feels a lot like people want the politicians to focus on the issues that affect their lives, rather than on their own priorities.

By Barnaby Howard

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