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The leadership we need

There is something approaching a crisis of leadership in British politics. 

There is something approaching a crisis of leadership in British politics. The annual Audit of Political Engagement by the Hansard Society, a distinguished and neutral organisation, has revealed that 72% of their respondents think that our system of Government is failing and needs some radical changes.

Those responses are the worst for 15 years and lower even than those during the MPs expenses scandal in 2009. 54% think we need “a strong leader who is willing to break the rules” and worryingly 42% thought “many of the country’s problems could be dealt with more effectively if the Government didn’t have to worry so much about votes in Parliament”. That represents a disturbing critique of our system of Parliamentary democracy.

It is not difficult to identify the cause of these opinions in the failures of leadership in both the major parties in relation to Brexit. 52% of the electorate voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but implementing that decision has been frustrated by a failure to find majority support in Parliament for any of the terms for delivering that result without doing what MPs think would do untold harm to the UK economy and society.

Leadership calls for personal qualities that might seem to be lacking in our present party leaders. Management theory says effective leaders need vision about the future and the ability to inspire the governed to accept and back the leader casting that vision. It requires the courage that Winston Churchill considered the foremost of virtues in a leader. Effective leaders gain and keep the trust of the people with honesty. Humility is another quality of great leaders but they have to be decisive and good communicators to carry us with them. Party leaders have to win and retain the loyalty and cooperation of their MPs, something neither our Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition seem able to do.

Discerning students of the Bible might question some of those assumptions. When the mother of James and John asked Jesus to “grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom”, he responded “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them ….Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Matthew 20:20-28).

Whilst this may seem revolutionary from a modern perspective it was a pattern of leadership well demonstrated in the Old Testament. Moses was a reluctant leader (Exodus 4:10-13). Gideon (Judges 6:15), Saul (1Samuel 10:20-22) and Jeremiah (1:6) were all reluctant leaders chosen and equipped by God for his service.

This is worth bearing in mind as we see a number of politicians making their case to succeed Theresa May. Ambition is a powerful driver but perhaps the right person to lead our nation is someone who has a servant spirit and is well aware of their own inadequacy and the need to walk humbly before God. We should be praying for leaders who are humble, seeking to serve the nation in a self-sacrificial manner.

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