“So which is to be preferred: saviour or cynic, preacher or pragmatist, believer or blusterer?” aaks Melanie Phillips in The Times today in an article about leadership (or the lack of it) among recent British Prime Ministerd.
The missing word here is “competence”. Harold Macmillan famously said that the main challenge was to deal with “events dear boy” and to do this you above all need to be competent. Not least in handling the unexpected. Frankly anyone should be able to do any job if it only takes place in the world of the familiar. You do the same as worked in the past. It’s the unexpected events that test you.
Margaret Thatcher did some things her ideology told her to do. But once or twice she did them incompetently – the privatisation of the railways or the Poll Tax for example. The Falklands was the opposite. Her ideology (patriotism aside) had not prepared her for this “event”. Or anyone else for that matter. Nobody had heard of this distant bit of the detritus of Empire. Thatcher unhesitatingly launched a task force. High risk, a bit of luck along the way but resolutely competent.
In the competence rankings Gordon Brown scores for me the highest of all. The financial crisis tested him and he was not found wanting at home or at an international level. David Cameron is at the other end of the competence scale. Threatened, as John Major had been , by the barmy bigot wing of the Conservative Party, augmented (in his case) by the preposterous populist Nigel Farage, Cameron buckled where Major had stood firm. Britain’s current traumas significantly attributable to Cameron’s incompetent weaknesses.
On the competence scale Boris Johnson is nowhere. Worse even than his schoolmate and Bullingdon chum Dave. Couldn’t run a whelk stall let alone a nation. Whilst politicians sometimes yearn for ostentatious ideology there’s rather more to be said for competence. The worst of all worlds is ideological malevolence combined with incompetence. Sadly that’s where we are now.