THE unexpected Conservative majority after the General Election
last week has clarified one thing: no one can win an election
without a strong sense of leadership.
We could see this directly when three party leaders resigned on
Friday afternoon: their leadership was found wanting, and so they
had to go. For Philip Collins in The Times, it was Ed
Miliband's poor leadership that cost the Labour Party the election.
Mr Miliband campaigned with conviction: those convictions were not
shared by the electorate.
With hindsight, we can see that Mr Miliband's failure was
inevitable. As soon as the Labour Party selected him as leader in
September 2010, the election was as good as lost. Since then, we
have seen someone who is "decent, clever and possessed of
superhuman resilience", as Mr Collins noted, but also "a notch or
two shy of the standard required of a prime minister": "Economic
competence counts, leadership matters and you cannot win from the
Mr Miliband's incompetence as a leader seems decided. It is
unclear whether David Cameron's leadership skills contributed to
his victory. Some people argue that Mr Cameron's hands-off and
disdainful style with his MPs will cause problems in managing a
slim-majority "awkward squad". Others believe that his leadership
has been vindicated by the electorate's response, giving him a
mandate to continue his modernisation of the Conservative
Verily, the sciences of psephology and astrology are alike: the
reader can find what he or she wills in the post-election reading
of the entrails.
THE British election results did not pass unnoticed here in the
United States. Sixteen months before the next presidential
election, 38 candidates are already declared, each one of them
promising strong and appropriate leadership for the country to
regain its rightful place in the world.
This leadership has very little to do with the exercise of
politics. Most candidates, even the career politicians, are running
against Washington. Such things as minority government, bipartisan
negotiations, and manifesto horse-trading are disparagingly
referred to as "inside the Beltway" (the "Westminster bubble" is
the equivalent British insult).
Instead, what is required of politicians in the US is strong
conviction leadership. And the US expects the same thing of the
Government of the United Kingdom: strong leadership to preserve the
Union, to reform Europe, and to maintain an effective military co-
operation with the US. The American press is not confident that
this is possible. One Sunday opinion piece here was headlined "The
Suicide of Britain".
In all this talk of leadership, there was, however, precious
little examination of what leadership might actually be. Mr Collins
seems to believe that it is nothing more than finding out where the
people are going, and then walking in front of them (an insight
apocryphally attributed to a former Bishop of Norwich).
Mr Cameron needs to placate backbenchers and disaffected UKIP
voters at the same time, a practice of leadership which Professor
Ronald Heifetz of Harvard University has called "disappointing
people at a rate they can absorb". Every other commentator has
called for strong and clear leadership, and left it undefined. We
do not know what leadership is, but we want more of it.
THERE is at least one politician whose thought belies this
vagueness. Jon Cruddas is the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham,
who was re-elected last week with an increased majority. When the
House of Bishops issued its pastoral letter to British politicians
this year (News, 20 February), Mr Cruddas responded in a most
unusual way: thoughtfully.
He welcomed the involvement of religious leaders in political
life, not least because the faith traditions "do not think that the
free market created the world". Faith treats human society, Mr
Cruddas was pleased to note, as something more than commodities and
transactions, but rather as rooted in relationships, and expressed
through the noble calling of work.
He hoped that the Bishops' letter would be the beginning of a
"covenantal conversation" about how we as a nation work together
for the common good. The letter was nothing less than a "true act
Mr Cruddas has also thought about the basis of leadership. In
January, he gave a speech to the Relationships Alliance (a
coalition of Relate and other couple-based organisations), in which
he called for a renewed honouring of the place of love in
Following William Morris, he said there were only two things
that made life worth while: love and work.
Politicians talk a great deal about work, Mr Cruddas said -
creating jobs, managing the economy, and so on - but they "don't
talk enough about love". Many of the failures of our society - the
abandoned eld-erly, the hopeless young, the oppressed adults - are
failures of relationships. When relationships thrive, individuals,
families, and societies thrive.
We recognise these relationships, Mr Cruddas said, quoting
Morris, in the expression of love: "Love is the duty we have to
others, and the sense of self we get by living with and for other
people." If government, national and local, was able to put
relationships at the heart of the services needed by and provided
for society, only good would come of it, "a new settlement based on
relationship, reciprocity and responsibility".
We could take hope from Mr Cruddas's electoral success. We could
hold MPs and the Government accountable for encouraging deeper
relationships in all levels of society. It is possible to ask our
elected representatives about the place of love in their speeches
and actions. If we did so, perhaps we could leave the fruitless
quest for leadership behind, and instead find the power of the
The Revd Dr Justin Lewis-Anthony is Associate Dean of
Students at Virginia Theological Seminary.