In the 21st Century, we need a completely different political leadership model. Until now human history has been about building empires and nations fighting each other for power and resources. The British Empire, backed by a huge navy, was the most successful example. We were the best at war. We were however not alone in committing atrocities on a massive scale. Now the challenges facing humanity are existential: we’ll self-extinct unless we reverse climate chaos and destruction of our habitat. We risk nuclear war unless we learn to resolve conflict without violence. Collaboration between nations, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, offers the possibility of vastly greater wellbeing for human beings and all life. That vision led to the creation of the United Nations after WW2.
In its extreme form old leadership leads to horrendous crimes against humanity. The Arab Spring offering the hope of democracy in nations ruled by despots was crushed. Horrendous crimes against humanity are still being committed in Syria by a leader unwilling to compromise. Babies, children and their parents are being slaughtered. Similar atrocities have been committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya people. There is a danger that the hopes of the Turkish people for democracy and a solution for Kurds will be destroyed by President Tayyip Erdogan. Catalonia is another example of the need for building consensus and compromise.
British politics is bedevilled by old-style leadership. It is about winning power and imposing change when what matters most is the wellbeing of all. The current adversarial system places leaders in the position of putting party before national interest. One of the consequences is a deeply divided nation. Conservatives and Labour alike are divided over various forms of Brexit or Remain. Despite Corbyn’s declared intention to democratise Labour and give power to constituents, the reality is factions still fighting for control of the party.
I listen to the usual Radio4 Today formula. Put two people with opposite views together and let them fight. Often they are unable to listen to each other, they talk over each other and cannot wait to get their word in. Many of us hate this approach and switch off. It contributes to a general gloom and pessimism about British politics. Essentially it is violent talk, when people are looking for vision and hope.
In PMQ in the House of Commons, a kind of warrior mentality is fostered by the opposing rows of seats in the antiquated House of Commons chamber, like a student debate. Who can be the wittiest combatant in the arena, rather than having a sensible inquiry into what will work best. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn try to score points over each other with accusations and answers which are at best selective truths. May quotes rising employment figures; Corbyn counters with low pay, insecurity and poor employment conditions.
The same is true of much of the media. An accusation is made; it is contradicted by the other side. Claims about the amount of money pumped into the NHS avoid the fundamental issue that it has insufficient resources and needs radical reform. More nurses and midwives are leaving than joining the profession. Medical students are shipped in to help in the NHS crisis. 2.8bn school funding cuts risk educational outcomes. School heads are asking parents to contribute more and more money. In both cases staff are worn out and frustrated by changes imposed on them without their involvement – a basic leadership failure. Many dedicated people quit as a result.
We learn by making mistakes. How refreshing it would be if Tony Blair said “I apologise for the appalling consequences of the Iraq war, but I have learned”. He would earn great respect. Gordon Brown did well in handling the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis but he might well say, “I made a mistake when I continued to use PFI contracts ” (a way of avoiding borrowing appearing on government books and outsourcing services). The Carillion collapse has precipitated a complete rethink about outsourcing. Amongst the devastating consequences of ideological policies are record levels of child poverty and homelessness.
George Osborne (recently appointed Hon Professor of Economics at Manchester University!) has a lot to answer for. His illiterate austerity policy, including a public sector pay freeze, reduced staffing of public services, delayed economic recovery, put people out of work, reducing tax take, resulted in the decaying infrastructure and continues to damage almost every aspect of British society. It failed to cut the deficit. His support for the Northern Powerhouse is admirable. However, much needed investment in rail infrastructure in the North (rather than HS2) on which this depends, need not be delayed if People’s QE or Sovereign Money is used instead of borrowing. Botched implementation of Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit has had and continues to have dire consequences for vulnerable people. Instead of ideological strategies, governments need the advice of expert bodies such as IPPR, Rowntree Foundation, Resolution, Sutton Trust and New Economics Foundation, Kings Fund, Royal College of Nurses.
One-party government not only leads to incompetence, it wastes the talent of potential government ministers. It causes distress and alienation amongst the population who have a different view and feel disempowered and unrepresented. This applies to people working in schools the NHS and other public services who are not involved in vital decisions. It is increasingly recognised that cross-party collaboration, in a commission, is required to create long-term strategies for such vital systems as the nation’s health, economic policy and education. Such a system works well in Parliamentary select committees.
Re-imagining Democracy – A Collaborative Democracy
- A written Constitution
- A citizen-led Convention to determine the Constitution
- Parliament to be the principal decision-making body of Government
- First Minister as head of Government elected by Parliament as a whole
- Proportional representation for national, regional and local government
- 50:50 representation for women and proportionate representation for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities
- Devolution of power from Westminster to regions and local government
- An elected reviewing chamber
- Total recall for all elected politicians
- A cap on individual funding and complete disclosure
- End the so-called “revolving door”
- Votes from age 16
- The Rights of Future Generations to be recognised.
(Main source: Green Party and Electoral Reform Society)
We’d all be better off if there were equal numbers of female and male MPs in Parliament, the next government was formed by a Progressive Alliance and the Prime Minsister is again a woman but from this Progressive Alliance.
Re-imagining Political Leadership
Here are some ideas in no order:
- Compassionate – compassion is the most important factor in making decisions
- A servant leader
- Enabling – a leader of leaders
- Getting the whole system into the room, involving all stakeholders, using Citizens Conventions in making change
- Collaborating to bring about change
- From Heroes to Hosts
- Modelling good leadership for others such as valuing difference, non-violent communication and listening
- Able to unite a highly talented team as Clement Attlee did
- Internationalist – wanting all nations to flourish. Peacemakers
- Inclusive, involving diverse people in creating a vision for the future. Standing for diversity
- Integrity – truthful, values based, able to admit mistakes, putting national interest rather than party interest first
- Not engaging in silly point scoring.
My experience is that women often make better leaders than men.
Britain should be among the nations setting an example for the world. We have a choice. Do we continue with an outdated democracy? Or do we collaborate to bring about fundamental change? It won’t happen unless many more of us decide that to get involved and campaign for positive change.
What you can do to use your power:
- Get a group together to talk with your MP urging her/him to commit to fair votes and comprehensive constitutional reform in the next Parliament.
- Support organisations campaigning for democratic reform: Make Votes Matter, Compass-Together for a good society, Electoral Reform Society, The Citizens Assembly Project, Constitutional Convention, Unlock Democracy, Counting Women In, 5050Parliament and Voice4 Change.
- Other organisations not already mentioned are: Polly Higgins’s Eradicating Ecocide campaign for the UN Ecocide law – the fifth crime against peace, Client Earth, Education Forward , Hope not Hate , Oxford Research Group – building bridges for global security, Global Justice Now.