Where did all the leaders go? It seems incredible that Britain ended up with its choice at this critical moment in its history being between Theresa May, her reputation in ruins, cast unfairly in the popular telling as Cruella de Vil, and a losing Labour leader who resembles a poundshop Che Guevera sporting a Gordon Brown red tie.
That’s the theme of a weekend essay The Times got me to write for today’s paper. Politicians are not useless. There are plenty of talented people in the Commons – but the legitimate need to make money means that the high-achievers usually clear off when they lose prime ministerial office, or depart the Treasury or other senior departments.
The way to improve the situation, I suggest, is to encourage leaders and senior figures to keep their seats (voters permitting) and to be on hand to serve again if needed.
Stay, regroup and serve. Macmillan did it, waiting 33 years from becoming an MP in 1924 to become Prime Minister in 1957. Thatcher didn’t walk in 1974 in a huff when the Tories lost. Jim Callaghan, a great patriot, didn’t flounce when he was moved as Chancellor in 1967 after devaluation. He kept going and in 1976 got to Number 10.
If the old set-up of big beasts staying on as MPs had been maintained, William Hague might this weekend be Prime Minister. Talents such as Alistair Darling, Alan Johnson, David Miliband, David Cameron and George Osborne, would all be around too. They leave, entirely understandably, to make money. That’s no crime. If we lose the idea that talented people can make money then the UK really is screwed.
But voters attitudes need to change too if we want a deeper reservoir of talent in our national life. Is there a compromise to be struck that keeps the tribal elders of both parties in play? I think there is and I explain how in The Times.
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