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Opinion Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or woman

PAUL DONOVAN looks at that rare quality among politicians of a knack for leadership

LEADERSHIP is something that has come under the spotlight recently, particularly in relation to Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has come in for criticism for his leadership and the way the exit from that country was executed.

I would applaud the president for his decisive action in getting out of a country that the US and Britain should never have been occupying in the first place.

A bit more focus on the failed leadership of former US president George Bush and prime minister Tony Blair in invading and occupying the country in the first place would have been more in order.

Leadership is a difficult thing to quantify — is it based on achievements or perception?

Perceptions also change with time. The old adage that every political career ends in failure is probably true.

There is the question with leadership as to how much the individual is a figurehead, a bit like the Queen, or really pulling the strings.

Good public relations can go a long way on perception. The present Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been very effective at cultivating a certain avuncular image.

His close relations with those who own many British media outlets no doubt help.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith fared less well. He lacked a positive image, as well as becoming leader at a bad time for his party, with Labour in the ascendancy.

Luck also plays a part in leadership. Margaret Thatcher was one of the luckiest leaders of modern times. Had the Falklands war and/or the miners’ strike gone the other way, Thatcher would probably not have survived. 

Had Labour prime minister Jim Callaghan gone for an election in autumn 1978, rather than spring 1979, he would probably have won and Thatcher would never have been PM.

What is important as a leader is to first and foremost recognise yourself as a first among equals.

Someone who must take responsibility for all political decisions taken, not taking those that succeed but looking to blame others for those that don’t.

A bit more honesty and responsibility from politicians today would go a long way. It is failures in these areas and often blatant abuse of people’s trust that has led politicians generally to be held in contempt.

Effective leaders must stay in touch with their own parties and the electorate.

In the case of the Labour Party, the struggle for a leader is to try to keep all the strands of left, right and centre together.

The most successful leaders of the Labour Party, such as Harold Wilson and Clement Attlee managed to do this effectively.

The problem of recent times is having leaders positioned in one part of the party, who then try to destroy other parts of the party.

It is a waste of the combined talents and infighting does not play well with the electorate.

Attlee was a remarkable leader, the effective manager of the wartime coalition government, behind Winston Churchill, then leader of the great reforming postwar 1945 Labour government.

Attlee was a great manager of people and events. He had little personal charisma, not a man who wanted his picture in every paper but a great leader.

The recognition of the effectiveness of Attlee’s leadership has only come with time.

How such a leader would fare today in the era of 24-hour news, when the PM is expected not only to run the country but also know what us going on in EastEnders, who knows? 

But one thing is for sure, it’d be great to have a few Attlees around at the moment.


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