Image taken from socialworktutor.com
Periodically I suffer from depression and with depression comes a self loathing. The depressed individual sees themselves only in terms of their failings, it is a worse picture scenario. When going through a bad patch I would compare myself unfavourably with others, in my mind I over exaggerated their strengths and virtues and under estimated my own. Something similar has happened to Western democracies, they seem to be under going a collective depression. This collective lack of self confidence negatively impinges on our choice of leaders. We just them by their failings not their strengths, we have lost the ability to pick leaders on the basis of their strengths.
Womanising politicians such as John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Lloyd George would have never made it near the top in our contemporary world. A rival would have revealed their many liaisons to the press so as to destroy their career. Yet these three men were visionaries who could envisage a better world and could motivate others to share their visions. David Lloyd George had a vision of a society in which the ills of the industrial revolution were ameliorated through the provision of unemployment benefit. Franklin Roosevelt bought into effect the New Deal which ended the mass unemployment and poverty of the Great Depression. John F. Kennedy initiated the Great Society and under the aegis of this umbrella term many reforms such as Medicare where introduced to improve the lot of the less well off in American society and he started the process that ended worst forms of racial discrimination in the USA. Black Americans now had the protection of the law and killing of ‘uppity Negroes’ had became a crime. This is not to deny that politicians with exemplary family lives don’t make great leaders, but as leaders are chosen on the basis of whether or not they behave well towards family, excludes the great leaders who have had a less than moral personal life.
Britain in particular cannot conceive of leaders except in terms of their vices or relative lack of vices. Not being a self confident society, it like the depressive only sees the world around them in the worst possible terms. Great ideas and the associated visionary politics have disappeared from British society. Now great ideas are seen to be a propaganda cover for a particular interest. Words are bandied about by politicians but those words have no real meaning. Rather than explain a policy vision a politician’s speeches contain a number of key phrases designed to evoke the right feeling and response from voters. In the words of a former Prime Minister, that ‘vision thing’ is lacking from politics. Our depressive society cannot believe that there can be any great ideas or leaders.
There is one example that I can call to mind, which illustrates perfectly the current low level of personality based politics. During a wartime debate in Parliament Winston Churchill was accused by an opposition MP Bessie Braddock of being drunk. He replied that ‘I may be drunk now, but I shall be sober in the morning, you are ugly now and shall still be ugly in the morning’. The sexist language is no longer acceptable but the important fact is many people in Westminster and the press where aware that he had a serious drink habit, yet it was considered of no significance. What mattered were the outstanding qualities he embodied as national leader. Churchill was also subject to intense periods of depression, periods he referred to as the black dog’. Today a rival would have leaked stories to the press about his drinking and depression ensuring that he would never get anywhere near the leadership of the country.
A more current example illustrates how a political career can be destroyed through gossip. Charles Kennedy as leader of the Liberal Democrats took the party from being an insignificant fringe party to the centre of British politics. He increased the number of the parties MPs from less than twenty to over sixty. Unfortunately he as with Winston Churchill had a serious drink problem. A problem which destroyed his career in these timid times. His rivals leaked stories about his drink related problems and he was forced to resign the leadership. After rejecting the next leader for being old, they selected a leader fit for the times. He was a very presentable young man who was a devoted father and good husband. This leader displayed such a lack of political acumen that he led the party to disaster at the polls. Now the total number of Liberal MPs could be comfortably be seated in a small family car. The party rivals by focusing on Charles Kennedy’s weakness, were able to obscure the fact that he was an inspiring and effective leader, who in spite of his drinking towered above his rivals. Charles Kennedy’s rivals were able to leak stories about his drinking problems to a press that saw an MPs vices as the story, not his politics. It is true as had been said that the British press rarely ventures out of the gutter in which it habitually wallows. Only a society with no confidence in itself would think that politicians foibles rather than policies are the main story.
There is an interesting historical comparison. In the dog days of Athenian democracy, when it was in decline, politicians stopped attacking each other’s policies and instead attacked their rivals by claiming their bad behaviour in their personal life made them unfit for high office. These politicians planted informers within the entourage of their political rivals. These informers would report salacious stories about these men to their employers. Political careers were destroyed on the basis of what can only be called malicious gossip. A situation not unlike today’s Britain were the informers are political rivals in the same party ever eager to leak damaging stories to the press. These stories are then published in the news media and a run of bad stories can ruin a politicians career. Today’s politicians have delegated the role of destroying political rivals through the publishing of malicious stories to the press. It is the press not politicians than determine the success or otherwise of a politicians career. These stories can be quite trivial in nature but the cumulative effect is the destruction of a career. One such example this trivia is the leaking to press of stories that a particular senior politician had a quick temper and threw staplers at his staff. A story that was totally irrelevant to his leadership capabilities. Unfortunately in today’s Britain politicians prefer to destroy their rivals anonymously through the leaking of malicious stories than through open debate.
Suggesting British society is going through a period of collective depression is unusual, but I can think of no other equally valid metaphor that can be used to describe Britain today. Only a society in this strange mood which can see nothing good in their politicians, a country in which the least bad are chosen as our leaders. One characteristic of all our leading politicians is their emphasis on their normality. They never aspire to greatness, oratory has vanished from our politics speeches put the emphasis on their ordinariness they always agree with the generally accepted opinions. The leader of the opposition party is subject to vilification for not going along with the majority view in parliament. When one reads about the actions of the members of his parliamentary party one gets the impression that there is a desire to abandon these challenging policies and retreat the safety of the parliamentary consensus. These MPs have been baying for military intervention in Syria in unison with the members of the governing party, they are afraid of seeming to be different. This fearfulness and the seeking of a security blanket is also typical of depression. The depressed individual seeks to hide from the world, normal social intercourse becomes difficult. There is also a desire for the peace of anonymity, a desire not to stand out. All characteristics of the current political classes.
All to often commentators speak of the loss of hope among the young, as they face a world which is increasing hostile to their aspirations. Yet this loss of hope is common to all levels of society, but particularly among the political classes. They also lack in the future, they lack the confidence to introduce for example radical policies on climate change. A selection of policy proposals from the last election demonstrate this timidity, rather than offering private rental tenants security of tenure, they were to be given the right to ask for it from their landlord after a certain period of time. Rather than ban zero hour contracts the employer would be given the right after twelve weeks to ask to be given permanent contract. Taking the last one it is obvious that employers would dismiss staff after eleven weeks to avoid having to offer that a permanent position in the workforce. Probably the same employer would after having given an enforced break to their employees, would rehire them on a new eleven week contract. A good example of promising to alleviate a major social ill, while in fact doing nothing to change the situation. What could be a better example of the mood of hopelessness that infects the mood of politicians.
Often it is the young who are cited as having no hope, which may be true but its more true of our political classes. They as with the depressed individual have lost hope and believe it hopelessly misguided to think they can do anything to improve the situation. They as with the depressive see themselves as helpless pawns who are the playthings of greater forces, such leaders lack the self belief to implement changes necessary to arrest the slow decline of this country economy a decline that will see the living standards of the majority fall towards those prevalent in the less developed economies. Already this country’s fall from major power status is obvious, as it can only provide six ageing fighter bombers for the campaign against Isis.