Leadership and political judgement are two qualities one might expect a Prime Minister to possess. But on occasion, Young Dave makes one wonder whether he understands either. Yesterday’s nearly-state funeral for his predecessor Margaret Thatcher brought this to the fore, and Cameron did not exactly come out smelling of roses, even before the gentle questioning of Dimbleby Major.
The great economist and commentator J K Galbraith made two observations on leadership which are immediately relevant to yesterday’s events. “A leader can compromise, get the best bargain he can. Politics is the art of the possible. But he cannot be thought to evade”. Dimbleby challenged Cameron on his suggestion that the Thatcher funeral plans had been put in place by his predecessors.
Young Dave was reminded that it was he who had added the military aspects of the ceremony, the armed forces’ participation that turned the last part of the journey to St Paul’s Cathedral into the spectacle that undoubtedly swelled the crowds. At this point he evaded, and waffled about his “input” being to make the funeral “fitting and right”. So that’s a yes, then. Why not say so unequivocally?
The second Galbraith observation that Cameron has failed to follow is this: “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”. He had a very obvious example, that of Franklin Roosevelt addressing the USA of the Depression years.
But here, again, Cameron fails to get it. On the morning that we learnt of an increase in the number of unemployed of around 70,000, here was the Prime Minister shamelessly justifying the expenditure of an eight figure sum on turning a funeral into some kind of grand military send-off. And justifying it, in part, by being evasive. Long after the memory of the event is gone, that major anxiety will remain.
The economy continues to stall. Purchasing power is in decline. This affects the whole population. Yet Cameron tinkers around the edges, giving tax handouts to the well-off while demonising the disabled, that most vulnerable part of society. Instead of taking action, his Government come out with more daft ideas such as enabling bigger extensions to houses. Then they drop the idea.
Dave’s Education Secretary dreams up wonderful new syllabi for schools. Then the opposition kicks off and he drops them. Undeterred, Dave gets jolly tough with the EU, except he doesn’t. Then he gets tough on immigration, but it’s all spin. And in the meantime, he fails to address the major anxiety of his people: when is the economy going to improve? When will those new jobs arrive?
And when will politicians stop having to re-learn the basics of leadership?
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