I’ll take Ben Mitchell to task for the first few sentences of his post over at Speaker’s Chair today. The ones where he says the following (the bold is mine):
2005. The last time I was this unsure about who to vote for. Iraq dominated everything. I was angry. A lot of us were.
Yet the man responsible for this disastrous course of action was also the man who persuaded me to vote for him.
Tony Blair had then what we’ve been lacking in British politics ever since: gravitas and oratory brilliance. An ability to bring you along with him, even if you weren’t always convinced. Sometimes when you weren’t convinced at all.
That’s some feat. It’s a feat we continually underestimate. A great leader can get away with a lot.
I recall watching his 2004 party conference speech, impressed as he reeled off his achievements as Prime Minister. I could trust a party led by him. I would be perfectly happy to see him as Prime Minister for a third term.
“A great leader can get away with a lot.” “I could trust a party led by him.” “Tony Blair had then what we’ve been lacking in British politics ever since […].”
The reasons Ben gives as positives about Blair, that, in particular, a leader can get away with a lot, are undeniable. It’s also undeniable, however, that they are precisely the reasons we don’t need the kind of leaders he continues to hanker after. I find it peculiar, in a post otherwise full of cogent and generally even-handed analysis, that the irony of the above affirmations are utterly lost on their author.
Hagiography was never so powerful an instinct as today, in a society where the body politic’s discourse more generally demands that the voters and their families be independent of the state – and yet, at the same time, reserves itself the right to create dependency-perpetuating hierarchies and relationships.
Vested interests, I suppose, which maybe Ben forms a part of. Either that, or a political dedication to existing institutions, acquired from a heavy involvement in – and honest appreciation of – all those traditional ways of doing and seeing. An involvement which perhaps makes it difficult for him to even sense the irony in question.
Ultimately, he concludes that (again, the bold is mine):
Whatever happens on May 8th (and most likely for several days after), the Lib Dems deserve another shot at power-sharing. Come 2020, that may well be power sharing with Labour. First, Labour will need to find a better leader, and a clearer, more positive vision for the country.
In this I might agree; Labour does need to find a better leader. But not in the sense that Ben is suggesting. If Ed Miliband wins the election, it will be because he’s not only a man of a party which knows and understands empathy, but also because he’s a man of a very 19th century body politic, attempting to drag it, by the scruff of its old-fashioned neck, screaming and shouting into a 21st century of devolved democracy and properly impatient citizens – tired, as they are, and rightly so, of the retrograde economics of an unfailingly unjust world order.
The leaders we’re missing in #GE2015 – if indeed we’re missing any – are you, me, our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren all.
It’s we who should step up, not another charismatic “keep your hands off my politicking and let me do what I choose” clone.
What we need is everyone, and anyone looking to participate in a better world, to pick up that almost techno-gauntlet that’s been thrown down by our evermore connected societies.
The leaders we really need aren’t more of those who through their gravitas and oratory “get away with a lot”, but rather those who with the little we have, “make a sincere lot sincerely happen”.
I’m voting Labour at #GE2015.
And that’s precisely because of its leader’s leadership qualities.
We don’t need pyramids of privilege telling us where we belong, Ben.
We need enablers and facilitators; leaders aiming to lead not the sheepish but, rather, the courageous, thinking people we would all like to be treated as: people, like you and me, who in turn are willing to lead each other – into that progressively kinder world which we all surely deserve.