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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rulers and leaders part two

My first post was a bit of a ramble that tried to tie in the threads of top-down vanity projects and ruling by consent. I just re-read it and, like many of my blogs, starts as one thing and becomes a stream of consciousness that goes where it will.

So I'll try again to pull together all the different thoughts going through my mind these past few days.

Question- how do you know if you're a leader?
Answer- people follow you. If they don't follow you then you're not a leader.

Which is why our rulers have to resort to the law or the threat of force in order to get us to go where they want us to go. But then they're not leading us, they're driving us. Or they may appeal to some concept like tradition, respect, allegiance to a flag or organisation. So instead of following the man, you follow the flag, or the party. (I use the term "man" in a non-gender way)

We've just endured the Party political conference season, a bunch of staged events put on for the media's benefit. I don't know how many people are actually members of these parties. The Conservatives refuse to disclose the numbers, so it must be pretty low. I expect that Manchester United fan clubs have more members than any of the political parties, and some church denominations would probably have more as well. These conferences are so boring and predictable that many MPs don't bother to attend, unless there's a chance of appearing on TV. It's a bit like professional cycling. Every now and then a no-hoper goes to the front of the field, not that he has any chance of winning, but just so that his sponsors can see their logo on TV. Meaningless apart from showing the face/brand/logo. An MP gets his face on TV and it gives the impression to his constituency that he is "getting the job done" or "representing his voters". All windowdressing and meaningless.

There were only two newsworthy items in all the three weeks of conferences. The first one of note was the speech by a deputy head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh. Here it is:

The second was the interminably boring election of a new Labour leader.
The reason it was boring was because of:
the quality (or lack thereof)of candidates;
the length of time from nomination to the result;
and the sheer irrelevance of it all.

I read a lot of books and one of my favourite authors is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. About forty years ago he gave an interview that was published in a magazine which was subsequently republished in a book called "Wampeters, Foma and Grandfalloons".
He was asked why a particular candidate lost a presidential election and his answer was simple and to the point.

"People vote for winners and he was a loser"

The reason the Labour leadership election was so boring was that it was electing a bunch of losers to lead a party of losers.

The second reason is was so underwhelming was that although the contest was about electing a "leader", none of the candidates could in any way be described as natural leaders. This country has had very few natural leaders in the recent past. Churchill was one, and so was Thatcher. Bliar was more concerned about his "legacy" and how good he looked on TV, and the least said about Brown the better. There are plenty of natual leaders in industry and commerce, but so few in politics. Why is that?

The third reason for the lack of interest in the Labour leadership election was to do with the voting arrangements. As Vonnegut famously said, people vote for winners, not losers, but the top losing candidate (the one who came second) was declared to have won.

So a party of political losers ended up with a loser as a leader.

Except of course, he is an unproven leader. He has no identifiable leadership skills. He has no charisma, no spark of whatever it is that makes other people want to follow him, to risk everything if necessary. All he has at his disposal is patronage. And as any newly poor person will tell you, you don't need those kind of friends, those who befriend you for what they can get.

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