If the Labour Party loses the next UK general elections, they can blame leadership fatigue, for the incumbents would have failed against opponents who have no killer punch.

They would also have made a case for annual sabbaticals for long-term occupants of high office. There may be no pressing need to sack a long-lived exec, but an extended vacation (especially one in a low-pressured job on Everyday Street which can make them human again) may well reawaken the passion that makes high office a vehicle for a vision, rather than just another high-calibre job.

In the end, democracy is a great evolutionary junction for a society to straddle – even the Westminster variant of it. But one quickly sees the limitation of this model when elections are in prospect (which, for a politician, is all the time) when it becomes impossible to get a straight answer to the most obvious questions.

Q. Are tax rises inevitable?
A: As I said earlier, the objective of our party is to deliver excellent frontline services, to get the NHS fully staffed, the Police fully equipped, and the Army supplied with helicopters for the next war. Compare that with what our opponents are offering…

Yet the most damaging impact of the Westminster model – at least, as practised in the last few parliaments is how vast resources can be squandered simply to create the sensation of progress. Many times in the last 13 years, ‘boring’ should have been a positive characteristic to aim for, in a national budget. (To take a householder’s budget for comparison, one or two ‘exciting’ budgets over the summer months should just about balance ten sensibly ‘boring’ budgets over the year.) In many scenarios it would have been advisable to leave an institution with a pat on the back, a reprimand or a tiny tweak. But ‘boring’ appears too similar to ‘tired’ and does not catch the eye – or win votes in elections. And a spanking new quango gives a better impression of a kinetic government than the Victorian restraint that finesses fit-for-purpose institutions from one decade to the other.

Which points to an unfortunate contradiction in the fabric of democracy: ruling wisely will not necessarily get you re-elected, and wise policies will often be recognised only in hindsight.

And the Labour government, perhaps deprived of an ideological envelope, perhaps denied an overarching vision, have sometimes employed the chancellor’s chequebook as a slush fund to retain the affections of the fickle American lover, at other times to woo the positively adulterous electorate.

If Labour loses this election – and God knows there are pundits and polls enough who call it against them – it should be clear that it may have been goaded into bankrupting the coffers of state and the goodwill of party by skilled parliamentary hecklers. Democracy is not too efficient, true, although it is better by far than most alternative forms of government. It takes true leadership to rise above the baiting that goes with the dispatch box, and to refrain from gilding the budget, even when the electorate is throwing a tantrum at the polls. This is a leadership trait that is in critical demand, whether in democracies, theocracies, or dictatorships.

2 Replies to “Labour on the Ropes”

  1. Paul Le Page says:

    I was surprised (as a historical Conservative) to find that, in the recent televised debate, I was the most impressed with Gordon Brown. Out of all three protagonists, he came across as the only person that was a natural leader. David Cameron came across as style without substance (I liken him to Tony Blair in 1997) while the media darling Nick Clegg was the ‘nice guy you would like your daughter to bring home’ – but not someone to make the unpopular, tough decisions required of a national leader.

    I wasn’t surprised to learn that, in an analysis of body language, Gordon Brown was described as the ‘alpha male’ – dominant, confident, authoritative. Sadly, in these days when the electorate are swayed more by style than substance, I fear Gordon Brown’s evident leadership abilities will not be enough to win him the election. Perhaps Great Britain is about to elect their own Barack Obama – someone else who, it could be argued, won an election with style rather than substance?

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  2. Chuma says:

    Hi there Paul!

    Gordon showed leadership in his handling of the credit crisis. He moved quickly and boldly. Some of those quick, bold steps were wrong. But 20/20 vision is also a mirage. He was not too cautious for high office, but he also has to take some responsibility for the peculiar vulnerability of the UK at the time of the crisis.

    I am interested in some of the Liberal policies and hope that they can get an airing. (This blog was written before the launch of their manifesto) The death of the Trident project, for instance, will not be mourned from these quarters. Few people are willing to join the dots between the trillions of dollars blown up in the last decade in the deserts of the MIddle East and the parlous state of the world’s economy, but I think that leaders who have the courage to march from war will get my vote any day. I think it is the height of idiocy for the richest countries in the world to spend trillions of dollars in a sixty-year nuke-building contest and then billions more dismantling them, while we applaud at their various STARTS and stops.

    As for Obama, so far, he is clearly both style and substance. In my report card he is already the most accomplished US president in my lifetime. He has to work extra hard in the time he has left to rubbish that record.

    But then again, I am no voter.

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