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Political leaders who lack ‘decisive vision’ risk becoming corrupt, Archbishop Welby warns

05 February 2024

Lambeth Palace

Archbishop Welby gives the keynote address at the Royal Society of Arts, last week

Archbishop Welby gives the keynote address at the Royal Society of Arts, last week

COURAGEOUS political leadership requires a “decisive vision”, shown by the likes of the former Prime Ministers Churchill, Thatcher, and Blair, “resilience”, and the will to challenge the status quo, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Related to this, the next General Election, he said, had to set out a vision for the UK’s “place and prominence” in the world.

Archbishop Welby was giving the keynote address on the theme of courage at the Royal Society of Arts, on 31 January — the first in its 2024 series.

Corrupted courageous leadership — seeking power without restraint — could have “the most terrible consequences in world affairs,” he said. “The 1930s opposed weak and worried leaders to powerful and courageous tyrants — courageous, but of the dark side, as they say in Star Wars, and evil rule.”

But, he continued: “The courageous leadership that is required needs a number of aspects if it is not to be corrupted by the exercise of its own strength. It must carry a decisive vision. We saw that in Lincoln, Rostock, Kennedy, Reagan, Churchill, Attlee, Thatcher, Blair; we observed it in Monet, Agnard, de Gaulle, and many others. We may differ with any or all of them, but they set out ideas well formulated in opposition and in government.

“Certainly obstructed by events, inevitably failing in many of their dreams, they did not believe in their own infallibility, and were accompanied, like Lincoln, by a company of rivals. They drew on deep thinking in numerous areas from philosophy through the sciences to philosophy.”

These leaders were also honest and had achievable aims, the Archbishop suggested. “Courage must relate those aims, especially when they’re overseas, to the needs and hopes of domestic life. . .

“The next election here poses questions in economics, of productivity, stagnation, equality, infrastructure, and many others. It poses questions of rearmament of the means and ways to peace, and a foreign policy on which depends not only our security but our contribution to the rest of the world. It has high challenges in health, housing, university, and other further education.

“It has . . . to at least set a vision for this nation’s place and prominence in the world.”

Archbishop Welby was speaking, he said, as the leader of a Church that had “serious internal differences on a range of issues. I won’t talk about them. And in this we are an example of a bigger social truth. The fact that the ability to disagree as fellow human beings rather than as enemies seems increasingly elusive in our culture, and not only our churches.”

Courage rested on absolute values, such as “loving your enemy”, and required the desire to serve, not to be served, he said. “A political culture that sees politics as a step along the way to wealth is built on sand and will be corrupted. We see both.”

He concluded: “I believe passionately [that] there is no problem so bad in this country that we have not shown in the past that we have the capacity to overcome it. We have an extraordinary story of overcoming the greatest obstacles, rising above our worst selves, and coming together when we need to.

“We can do so again; but, to do so, we must set our sights on developing courage of the right kind across our society.”

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