Saturday, May 13, 2017

Hail to the Leak!

We don’t yet seem to have any idea who it was and why they did it, but I personally feel very grateful to whoever it was that leaked Labour’s draft manifesto this week. It has breathed a bit of life, excitement and scandal into an election campaign that had been dull and tedious. Calling the election in the first place was a cynical move, of course: Mrs May had said that she wouldn’t have an early one and then changed her mind because the democratic process wasn’t allowing her to get her own way, and she didn’t like that. The right-wing press have been predictably venomous and hypocritical, and we’ve had the usual dishonesty delivered in the form of the memorable soundbite that evades any meaningful discussion about actual policies. (Strong and stable leadership: isn’t that what the pigs in Animal Farm promised?)  And yes, if I’m totally honest, I’d found the whole thing dull and tedious. Cynicism? Venom? Hypocrisy? Deception?  Absolutely mind-numbingly predictably boring. It’s a political campaign in the UK! Of course it’s going to be like that. Weren’t you even paying attention in 2010…2015…2016?

So thank you very, very much Mr or Mrs or Ms Leaker! You may well have helped Labour’s cause (and to be fair this might have been your genuine intention) but more than that, you’ve made me interested. You’ve got me talking and thinking and debating. Well done Sir/Madam/Miss!

And what of the leakage itself? How has the wider public responded to the leak? Has it been an embarrassing and unwanted wetting of the pants, or has it brought a much-needed gasp of relief to an organ that had been swollen with poison? It seems to have been a bit of a mixed response as far as I can tell. The good news is that people seem to like the message, (The Independent was one of many that provided evidence of this) suggesting a consensus amongst many that seven years of Tory ideology is quite enough, thank you very much. The bad news? They’re just not that keen on the messenger.

Jeremy Corbyn, it seems, is the problem. The message that activists and campaigners are hearing on the street, and indeed the message that some Labour MPs are themselves communicating, is that whilst there’s much to applaud and admire in the party’s policies, Corbyn himself is simply not Prime Minister material. He’s not up to the job. He’s not what a leader should be.

Which leads to the interesting and hopefully not too philosophically vexatious question: what should a leader be?

Society teaches us to value strong leaders. It’s hard to disagree with that, but then what does strong mean? Society thinks it knows. The extrovert…the loud-talker…the one with the ‘power’ handshake…the one whose presentation is the most slick and whose appearance is the most polished. They tend to be the ones who get the best jobs, the most air-time, the most credibility and enjoy the most influence.

Do individuals like this actually make the best leaders though? Could these characteristics be used to describe people like Emmeline Pankhurst, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi? What about Jesus Christ? He deliberately spurned the external pomp and ceremony of leadership. His decision to arrive in Jerusalem riding on a donkey was almost a piss-take of the pageantry and ostentatiousness that accompanied the home-coming of most ‘kings’. And he was tortured to death alongside two common criminals by the political elite of his day. And yet in terms of impact, longevity and number of followers he is almost unquestionably the greatest leader of all time. There is nothing inherently wrong with being good at the external stuff, of course. There are times when we need individuals like Winston Churchill and Barack Obama. Martin Luther King brushed up very well and he was one of the great leaders of the twentieth century. His influence and impact would have been greatly reduced, however, were it not for the quiet, introverted, courageous and dignified Rosa Parks alongside him.

I have my doubts about Jeremy Corbyn. He appears to be a decent and principled man but his achievements and impact do not stand up to any kind of comparison with the individuals just mentioned and probably never will. (Jesus, in all fairness, is an impossibly tough act to follow for anyone) I’m not at all convinced that he’s the right man to be leading the Labour party at this point in time and I worry about the extent to which his personality and character will damage his party’s performance at the General Election.

I wish I didn’t have to worry about that though, because if these great leaders from the past teach us anything it’s that personality shouldn’t matter. With the exception of Jesus they were all flawed individuals but what made them great were the principles and values that they stood for. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party have set out their principles and values in this leaked manifesto. The principles and values of the Conservatives are apparent from the things they have said and done during their seven years in office.

If you haven’t already done so then please read through a summary of the leaked manifesto – this is a good one. If you like the policies, then vote for them. And hopefully we’ll get an outcome on June 8th that reflects how people feel about the policies, not the personalities.

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