The UK is suffering a void of political leadership

Willem Marx
Jacob Rees-Mogg Visits New Bagpuss Pop-up Shop
Jacob Rees-Mogg's potential candidacy proves that persistence pays off (Source: Getty)

Entire libraries are replete with lengthy tomes that attempt to define the essence and significance of political leadership through the ages; whether it is innate or earned, the power it can wield for better or worse, and the varying role that it plays in diversely governed societies across the globe.

But as we approach the end of this second decade of our third Christian millennium here in the United Kingdom, many businesses and citizens, together with their elected representatives, are once more intensely debating the importance of political leadership and the potentially negative impact its absence can create.

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Did former Prime Minister David Cameron show strong political leadership by offering the British people the chance to vote on a non-binding referendum over continued European Union membership? Or was it – as some argue – a cynical ploy to appease the increasingly vocal eurosceptic element of the Conservative party?

Did opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn show weak political leadership by agreeing to a rather tepid endorsement of the Remain vote prior to that momentous June 2016 referendum? And was his current opponent and 10 Downing Street incumbent Theresa May any stronger, when she failed to share her views on Brexit during the campaign as publicly as some of her then-cabinet colleagues?

Did Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove (now the UK foreign secretary, trade secretary and environment secretary respectively) consider themselves strong political leaders hoping to appeal positively to voters' patriotism, when they promised hundreds of millions in extra funding for Britain's health service? Or how about former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron in the run up to May's snap general election, railing against the Brexit process and promising to turn back the clock if his party were given the chance in office?

Voters in Northern Ireland may applaud Arlene Foster's leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party, for signing up to a “supply and confidence agreement” with May's Conservatives, promoting stability and continuity at a time when the UK as an entity needed it most. Others have labeled May's deal a craven back-room bargain with a bunch of "crackpots", to quote a memorable headline from one British newspaper.

And while many Scots may consider Nicola Sturgeon's repeated references to a second Scottish independence referendum a sign of a strong political leader fighting to win her constituents as many concessions as possible, less charitable observers may denounce such threats as “naked hackery” designed to distract from the SNP's (Scottish National Party) less than stellar performance in some areas of government.

Hopefully this recent potted history of British politics provides some context for the current Conservative leadership debate playing out across the pages of the country's often partisan press publications, during the height of the so-called summer “silly season”.

Reporting outside Downing Street on the morning of the recent election result, I felt comfortable positing an oft-repeated adage that the Conservative party does not like a loser, even if the party's cadre of elder statesmen represents a veritable pantheon of leadership and electoral losers, from Michael Heseltine to Michael Howard, John Major to John Redwood, and not forgetting William Hague. But if the squabbling Conservative backbench briefings and counter-briefings are to be believed, voters across Britain will hardly be faced with an awe-inspiring choice for a post-May prime minister.

Current Brexit secretary David Davis has already failed to win his party's leadership twice. Meanwhile Jacob Rees-Mogg's potential candidacy at least proves that persistence pays off – he was only seated as a member of parliament on his third attempt – and during his first campaign as a 28-year-old in a staunchly Labour seat, he canvassed alongside his former nanny.

Would either men represent strong political leadership, or introduce positive and fresh ideas to a country in desperate need of them? That is, of course, highly debatable.

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