The leadership deficit. Who would be a politician?

Over in the FT Janan Ganesh bemoans the quality of leadership of our political class:

Rishi Sunak does politics as though he is just back from a residential course called How to Do Politics. There is something rote-learnt about the gestures of hand and speech. There is something formulaic about the tactics: now woo the right, now pivot. In a thriving democracy, he would be a good Downing Street chief of staff with a hawk’s eye for a vacant parliamentary seat.

As it is, the former UK chancellor is plainly the best candidate for prime minister in a dire Conservative field. By all means, deplore the lack of competition in Westminster as he rose in recent years. But don’t assume that it would have been much stiffer elsewhere. In the US, the two most senior Democrats are a pensioner and his maladroit vice-president. The last German election pitted Olaf Scholz against Armin Laschet in a pageant of nondescriptness. None of the last six Australian premiers have impressed enough to log four years in office. For the second time in a decade, Italy has a globocrat called Mario corralling a domestic political class that lacks stature.

Western democracy has a personnel problem. It has been in the works all century. With a good brain and a plausible manner, it was absurdly easy for David Cameron to become Tory leader within five years of entering parliament in 2001. When Dominique Strauss-Kahn combusted through scandal a decade later, the French Socialists’ recourse was the plodding time-server François Hollande. Look around the major democracies now. Emmanuel Macron, it is true, would have sparkled in any white-collar profession. But who else?

The newly published diaries of Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, are meant to be an elegy for that place. They end up leaving the reader wistful, yes, but for a certain genre of politician. Smart, administratively able, undoctrinaire: Patten wasn’t even the outstanding member of a Tory cohort that included a lawyer who took silk at 40 (Ken Clarke) and the builder of a commercial fortune (Michael Heseltine). By way of comparison, Britain might soon be run by someone who tried to get the word “cock” into a parliamentary speech as often as she could. The crisis of democracy is the crisis of the restaurant trade and of Heathrow airport. You just can’t get the staff.

Locally we are quick to point out the failings of our elected officials, but we have an issue in that not many people are interested in going into politics. In this year’s Assembly Election we had only 239 candidates contesting 90 seats.

Politicians may no longer be under the threat of getting killed, but instead, they have to cope with getting endless abuse on social media or on the street. Even the most inoffensive of politicians can’t seem to escape it – look at the Naomi Long bonfire effigy as a case in point. Also, while the money is decent, if you are a professional, there are easier ways to earn your crust. Then there is the privacy aspect; when you become a politician, suddenly you are fair game for every intrusion into your private life.

When you think about it, it is a wonder anyone would want to be in politics. Society suffers when good people do not put themselves forward for public office. How do we make politics more attractive? Let us know your views in the comments

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