Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Being strong

The idea that the Prime Minister of the UK should be a ‘strong’ person is core to the Tory election appeal.  And I can understand why anyone would want to think that the country’s leader was a ‘strong’ person.  Whether the current Prime Minister meets the criterion (which is the other side of the Tories’ campaign) is another question; and the answer depends largely on what the word ‘strong’ actually means.
Over many years – in both politics and my working life - I’ve come across a variety of leaders of different types, some of which I’d regard as having been strong leaders, and others of which I’d regard as having been weak leaders.  And I’ve been thinking about the attributes which lead me to those conclusions. 
Strong is certainly not the same as stubborn; a degree of determination can make a leader appear strong, but a refusal ever to consider the possibility of an alternative approach is stubborn rather than determined.
Then there’s the question of discussion with others.  Indecisiveness – and giving the impression that you agree with whoever was the last person you spoke to – will always come across as weakness, but it’s often the strongest leaders who have the confidence to listen to and discuss with others before forming a conclusion.  The line between those two positions isn’t always clear, but it’s an important distinction.  Being unable to hear an opposing view is invariably a sign of weakness rather than strength. 
In any negotiation, having a clear idea of what you want to get out of the discussions from the outset is clearly a strength, but being unable to articulate that – or, even worse, being unable to distinguish between a wish list and an acceptable outcome – is a weakness, not a strength.  And assuming that the other side will roll over if only you shout loud enough is not negotiating at all.
So, confidence tempered by a willingness to listen; an ability to persuade rather than simply instruct; and an ability to be flexible around the detail whilst working for a clear overall aim – all these things would help me to feel that a leader is ‘strong’.  Applying all of these tests to the leaders of the two main UK parties doesn't give me a whole heap of confidence in either, but insofar as there is a 'winner' at all, it isn’t Theresa May.  So how are the Tories and their friends in the media getting away with portraying a weak leader as something she patently is not?

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Yes, what constitutes strength is indeed a fascinating subject. Surely considering this subject at this point in time absolutely demands a consideration of Donald Trump? This man is having a deep effect on British including Welsh, politics, unarticulated at present. But I have been watching this man on his own patch which is the USA. He comes from the Boro(ugh) of Queens in New York, not Hampstead in London. So can I offer a view? (Lots of metaphors from boxing, kind of illustrates my theme.)
Yes Trump is inarticulate - The Wall (and so much else) will be "beautiful". Suicide bombers (and lots more) are "horrible" etc
Yes he uses exaggeration, not that Americans mind though. They all exaggerate,not being British. So they allow for Trump's exaggerations. And his mistakes.
Yes he breaks the BBC Question Time version of the Queensbury Rules. Even though he might (if articulate) give a reasoned reply, he (Queens-style) might well think he gets a quicker more complete demolition by gouging the eyes or hitting below the belt. When he was Candidate, there was a lot of blood on the canvas of the boxing ring. After the first Debate against Hillary, he floored her and won the Presidency as in: Hillary: "its just as well the Candidate is not running law and order!" Trump (quick as a flash): "Yes, because you'd be in jail!" (Fascinating that in UK terms, to this ex-Prosecutor, Hillary has astonishingly escaped an Indictment. Remember Clinton, tarmac, Attorney-General Loretta Lynch? So blatant! Americans know both Clintons all too well. But that's the USA, which is not the UK.)
But many Americans are saying openly that running the USA requires strength (our subject) by which they certainly mean at least the appearance of physical strength, enregy and also being street-wise. Trump has both attributes, naturally and having grown up in a business surrounded by the NY Mafia. Like lots of Americans by the way. The "optics" in the Debates showed Trump instinctively protected/shepherding Hillary about the stage. You see, there is no getting away from it. Many many people like an alpha male as their leader. The American one is going to have to get in the ring with Putin, be heavier and also fight dirty. Needs a street-wise alpha male, say the Americans. Russian leaders have nearly all been like this. I think all those Sunni Arab states work the same way. I am not knocking Bundeskanzler(in) Angela Merkel whom I admire because she is steady and thoughtful and has kept her morality despite being brought up in Communist East Germany. But another thing the Americans like about Trump is that he attacks political correctness. Women are of course particularly sensitive to this. Many many American women welcome Trump for precisely this reason. They are fed up with what some of their sisters impose on them, and they value Trump's animal strength. A lot of American women do not welcome Trump to say the least, of course. Analysts in the US are moving closer to a male v female view of politics in the US, and are reaching striking conclusions about gender conflict that will hit the UK too before long. Alpha males v Alpha females - fascinating, and I think we're watching it. (Question: is Theresa May is beta-female masquerading as alpha-female? Interesting how this unfolds too!)
PS - please don't shoot the messenger. But if you do I can handle it, I've got the scars already. I am after all a Welshman who has been around and am not that other American creature - a "snowflake"