I have returned, as General Macarthur might have said. I was only gone a week to the calmer fields of Picardy, but I feel kike I’ve been AWOL from the commentariat-sphere for months. Nothing has changed and the slow realisation of this is seeping in, which is always a disappointment. It is also odd that the biggest story – the catastrophe that has overtaken Houston – is not really on the news as it should be.
Why not? Is it because the narrative is missing? Is it because it isn’t really about Brexit, or the Royals, or Christian-Muslim relations? Is it actually because the relative narrative, creeping climate change, is somehow out of favour among those who provide us with news? It is odd.
I flatter myself that I am aware of this because, to some extent, I think for myself – it is a key objective at Radix that I should do so. To be a writer of anything very much, it seems to me, you need to be just a little out of step with your fellows.
But then, as C. P. Snow used to say, any more than a smidgen ahead of your time and they ignore you completely.
This is where leadership comes in. I have returned to a fascinating debate about a post I wrote earlier in August about why the UK is so badly governed, which I blamed partly on our collective failure to foster leadership. One correspondent asked me, quite reasonably, what we ought to do about it. I promised I would come back with some answers.
My answer, insofar as I have one, is that there is no point in expecting our leaders to show a little leadership, to think for themselves a little, if they have never been encouraged to do so before they reached those dizzy heights. Leadership, in other words, is something you can practice in small ways and over small matters. In fact, we need to learn to think a good deal for ourselves in school.
My friend Neil Crofts points out that schools are not overfond of leaders because they seem so disruptive. The same, he says, also goes for most stable organisations, public and private, and especially perhaps in the UK.
It hardly helps either that our civil servants are usually forged in the Groupthink School of Questioning – that is regarded as necessary for progress. And that our politicians are usually forged in the Boris Johnson School of Patronising Wool-Over-The-Eyes. Would Boris ever make a speech, as his hero Churchill did, offering only “blood, tears, toil and sweat”? Telling the truth is a vital component in leading people.
Unfortunately, UK politicians appear to have been bred into Gladstone’s famous definition of Toryism: “distrust in the people, tempered by fear”.
I am only too aware that this is not an adequate prescription. To start with, I would insist that civil servants start taking responsibility for decisions, and that politicians start taking responsibility for civil servants. The alternative leads to sclerosis and the kind of turbo-charged groupthink which appears to have trapped the UK establishment.
Watch this space…
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