What leadership crisis?
The Brexit debate often sounds like a row between a long-time married couple. Each side knows exactly what the other side is about to say. If the ‘Remainers’ talk about UK economic prosperity, the Brexiteers talk about UK independence and sovereignty. If the Leavers talk about ‘the will of the people’, the ‘Remainers’ will talk about uniting a divided country. It’s all so predictable and we’re bored! We’re looking in vain for someone, somewhere to come up with a fresh idea. As someone reminded us this week, ‘Even Baldrick had a cunning plan!’
A predictable part of the debate is yet another reference to ‘a failure of leadership’. Theresa May is a failed leader because she has failed to create a plan that will please Europe and find a majority vote in the Commons. Jeremy Corbyn is a failed leader because he has failed to suggest and carry through a successful alternative. This complex problem, people say, would be solved with ‘real leadership’.
So what is real leadership? What sort of leadership do ‘we’, the people, want? Do we want a visionary leader – someone who ‘sees’ and is able to communicate the future of the country in a way that works for everyone? Do we want a consensual leader who can listen carefully to all the warring factions and then go into a quiet corner somewhere and, magically create a way forward which a majority is willing to follow? Do we want leaders who see their tasks as performing nothing more than a managerial function – simply to find a pragmatic way forward? Or should leadership have a moral function – carried out by someone who believes that there is such a thing as ‘the right way’ and therefore considers other ways ‘wrong’?
Although these questions about leadership are vital – not only in parliament but in the family and in the church, it’s not just party leaders who are important! Many people are suggesting that parliament has ‘failed’ the people of the UK. Donald Trump snorted that ‘democracy is all but dead in the UK’. But British MPs are voicing issues which resonate across the globe. The questions being thrashed out in the UK, however clumsily, will be ignored at their peril by other would-be democracies. Is the nation state any longer a reality? Do ‘national values’ still exist? And if so - what strategies can we develop as a ‘national group’ to discover and carry them forward? Who really holds power and authority? And how are they wielded?
It is clear that the words ‘a crisis of leadership’ are shorthand for a huge projection of responsibility on to a group of leaders who were set up to fail by a binary choice. Surely, all of us in contemporary society need to develop a different way of thinking about and structuring power among us. A model of government that is more appropriate to the complex society which it represents would help. In our diverse world, we need more than left/right choices based on ‘we’re right’ and ‘they’re wrong’! No leader can create that development alone. Until we all take on that task we shall continue to ‘get the (binary!) government we deserve’.
Next to the palace of Westminster stands the statue of an early parliamentary leader. Oliver Cromwell certainly didn’t get everything right but he once said in a political spat: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken’. As in many arguments in marriages, in families – and in the church – it’s not a bad place to start!