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Lack of leadership underpins this week’s Clegg, Mitchell and PCC fiascos

Lack of leadership underpins this week’s Clegg, Mitchell and PCC fiascos

🕔27.Sep 2012

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard (and to be honest used) the L word this week, I’d…well, be able to afford my overpriced frothy coffee habit for a week.

There is plenty of professional advice and academic studies on what makes good leaders. Much of it is well considered, useful and apposite. But as Simon Cowell might suggest, in the end more than any template you simply know it when you see it.

In three political environments this week, leadership has been sadly lacking.

First, GateGate. Here, I take a different view to Steve Dyson. Not because the deed is worthy of the boot, but as always in a crisis it’s the cover up rather than the original crime that should make the culprit pay. Mitchell was clearly wrong to begin with – but right to apologise. The lack of Leadership comes from the PM. I admire Mr Cameron for not knee-jerk reacting in a crisis by sacking every minister, spin doctor and SpAd on the spot.  He should await evidence and proper explanation before deciding. The fact that Mitchell effectively denied using the term ‘pleb’ (even in his hamfisted second apology on camera near the said gates) which was then contradicted by the police log is the reason Cameron should have marched him out of the gate. Unless Mitchell can prove the log to be inaccurate, surely his earlier denial in the eyes of the Tory leader is left open to question. The PM is left looking weak, keeping a man in office who has effectively been economical with the truth but remains in charge of party discipline just when the Tory ‘plebs’ are more restless than ever. At the same time, Call me Dave has effectively said he doesn’t trust the word of the police guarding his street. That will come back to haunt him.

Most of the West Midlands PCC candidates took part in Birmingham Chamber’s hustings event this week. This is for a post that will pay around £100k and will set the direction and oversee the work of the region’s police force. For such a job, you would want to see candidates who demonstrate a sense of authority, gravitas and grip.  Surely, we expect our Commissioner to exude a sense of power as well as respect. Based on brief pitches and some Q&As (and so this may be unfair) none seemed to demonstrate the depth of leadership qualities you might reasonably expect.

Yesterday, we saw the first of the leaders’ annual conference speeches from the three main parties. Now, here’s an admission. I like Nick Clegg. I respect the decision he took to go into the Coalition. I don’t like everything he says or does, but I think history may be kinder to him than contemporary commentary. But his speech was hardly a barnstormer. I don’t think anyone will be setting it to music. I recognise it was more of a pep talk to his members and a steady the ship, we’re serious message to the outside world. But it was an odd speech – oddly constructed, oddly written and, at times, oddly delivered. If this week was about moving beyond the line he drew around a broken pledge, it didn’t go very far to develop a refreshed narrative around his purpose, philosophy or policy agenda.

I draw two conclusions from this week’s examples. First, too many leaders (and would be leaders) are taking either poor or not enough advice. (By the way, a tip for Cath Hannon’s PCC campaign team. I would worry less about posting twitter rebuttals and spend more time with your candidate preparing her for Q&As.) You need to hear from people who are not afraid to challenge you and live (at least part of the time) outside of your bubble.

Second, we are clearly not doing enough to encourage potential leaders to come forward in public life. Even with a £100k salary, the PCC role (and indeed putative elected mayor role) has not been enough to tempt a new generation of fresh and exciting leaders to come forward. There’s a whole different blogpost (and indeed essay) on why that might be, but surely the desire for a healthy democracy (and localism) demand that we rethink our approach to encouraging new leaders for public life.

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