“The initiative will have to come from below. I only know the right men – and women I say – will be there when the people say they really want the,for it is the movements that make leaders and not leaders movements. A real shove from below will accomplish it”. George Orwell, The English Revolution.
Great leadership in mid – 20th century and how it emerged
Dunkirk. The Dunkirk disaster in 1940 resulted from incompetent leadership. Following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation, Winston Churchill, hitherto in the wilderness thinking his career was over, emerged. An all-party coalition government headed by Churchill, supported by Clement Attlee, transformed the war machine. After the Pearl Harbour in 1941, USA led by Franklin D Roosevelt entered the war. British and U S industries were rapidly converted to wartime production. The Allies with overwhelmingly superior resources defeated Germany and later Japan.
The challenges facing leaders at the end of World War 2 were very different from those facing Britain today. Britain still had a vast empire and was a world power, though deeply in debt. It was bankrupt. The industrial economy was exhausted. Much of continental Europe was in a far worse state. There was a huge need for housing. The nation had to be better fed. Women, who had played a major part in the war effort, had yet to exert their influence on politics. The state had an all-powerful role in addressing these challenges. There was a national consensus about the need for a social security system. Clement Attlee led the introduction of a social settlement that became a model for the Western world.
In November 1942 William Beveridge, with cross-party support, produced the Beveridge Report that formed the basis for the Welfare State, including the expansion of National Insurance and the creation of the National Health Service. It was highly popular with the public – another significant factor compared to today. The 1945 General election manifesto, “Let Us Face the Future” gave government and people a clear sense of direction and purpose, together with achievable immediate goals. It is crucial to have both vision and a set of practical policies.
Often great individuals are not seen as great at the time. Attlee was understated. He had to ensure consensus was reached in Cabinet. His skill lay in getting the best out of a team of great men. He ensured their quarrelling did not undermine the government – rings a bell? His “chairmanship” model was very effective. Now we need a totally different kind of settlement to which we consent and leadership that is not only transformative and far – sighted but enabling. More on this later.
In the aftermath of the war, mindful of the1929 financial crash and Great Depression, Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John Maynard Keynes and George Marshal were instrumental in creating the UN, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the International Monetary Fund. The Bretton Woods system of exchange rate management was created to provide exchange rate stability and survived until 1971.
Again, great leadership is needed but of a different kind
Our second Dunkirk. Today’s challenges are far greater. Chief amongst these are climate chaos, destruction of the eco-system and the possibility of nuclear war. If we don’t wake up in time, humanity could face self-extinction through environmental destruction (An uninhabitable Earth ). We have been here before. Empires have disappeared as they destroyed the resources on which they depended for survival and expanded beyond their reach. This time it could be the whole of human kind.
Humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 Earths in one year to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate, through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester (Global Footprint Network ). Cooperation is needed more than ever. And just at this time we are choosing to withdraw from the EU which for all its faults was established to create cooperation, at that time to prevent another great war. Brexit is not only damaging this much needed framework for collaboration; it is diverting attention and energy away from the most urgent challenges.
Britain, now a small country, still has a vital part to play in tackling global threats: the environmental crisis, cyber war, mass migration and the tragic deaths of desperate people that result from poverty, civil war, and violent conflict. Leaders still need to learn that military interventions, for example in Iraq and Libya, rarely work and often have disastrous consequences, particularly when there is no long-term plan for building peace. This is a wonderful time to be alive, and more and more people are realising that they want to contribute to healing the planet and making it peaceful (Scilla Elworthy ). Yet many politicians have not even learned how to conduct dialogue without verbal abuse. They need to learn. (NVC ).
UK’s challenges. We are a deeply divided nation in multiple ways. Many feel left out, powerless and hopeless. Humans are hard wired for hope. It’s essential they have it. When they lack hope they fall into despair.
We may be the fifth richest country in the world but what matters is GDP per head and the distribution of wealth. Wellbeing is vital (The Equality Trust ). UK scores poorly compared with other wealthy nations. We have dangerously high personal debt. Britain’s economy is broken. Our wealth largely derives from the financial sector and far too many people are living in poverty. We have a housing crisis of enormous proportions, originating in Mrs Thatcher’s badly thought out “right to buy” policy. Homes were sold off cheaply and not replaced. Local authorities are unable to build affordable homes for rent. Land that could be used for this purpose is being sold off by cash strapped local authorities, hospitals etc. The shortage and cost of homes is exacerbated by the property market and concentration of wealth in the south-east. Invariably policies are not rigorously thought through. In making policy, all stakeholders, the whole system and the best think tanks need to be involved. It’s is crazy that when a government changes, the work of dedicated people is swept away overnight. Serious consideration is being given to establishing independent commissions for key reforms too important to be at the whim of illiterate politicians.
Austerity is economic illiteracy and continues to do immense harm. It is widely recognised now that neoliberal policies, the dominant ideology of recent years, has failed to deliver prosperity and wellbeing for all. It systematically transfers wealth from those who create it to the 1 percent – and similarly from southern to northern Europe and from poor to rich nations. Debt created by the banks, profiting from supplying 97 percent of our money, plays the major part in this transfer of wealth (Positive Money and Jubilee Debt ). Borrowing or using scandalously costly PFIs and PPPs for investment in infrastructure, schools and hospitals is unnecessary if Sovereign Money is used.
Great leadership may again emerge from incompetence. But only if we realise we are in a new century. We cannot turn the clock back and we must innovate in every way. A recent article in the Times described the Conservative government as criminally incompetent The Conservatives are criminally incompetent . Every day there is more evidence of the disastrous consequences of austerity and cuts on the lives of many ordinary people, the health service, maternity services, schools without sufficient resources, young people with emotional problems, social care and so it goes on. Grenfell is a wake – up call.
Opportunities today are extraordinary. The scientific and technological revolution, comprising artificial intelligence, the internet of things, robotics, 4-D printing and continuous medical discoveries such as gene therapy could bring enormous benefits. Robotics could transform work for the better, eliminate unhealthy or unsafe work and enable a three day week and shorter working hours. William Morris’s utopian dream News from Nowhere becomes possible. Wealth will make a Universal Basic Income possible. More people will be enabled to pursue work in the creative arts and caring work. Equally, rapid innovation could result in massive unemployment and transfer even more wealth and power to a new elite. The role of the state is to ensure outcomes benefit humanity as a whole.
Citizens are different from how they were in Attlee’s time. Deference is dead; people are more empowered, especially the young, many of whom are better educated. We live in a far more diverse society in every respect. The internet, although it can be evil, is transformational. It empowers people with information as never before. Thanks to sites like Fact Check and Full Fact fake truth can be exposed. People have more power to organise, lobby and petition. Today there are vast numbers of progressive organisations. More and more they are initiated and led by women and minorities. Many of these are democratic and use inclusive processes for decision making. The stage is no longer the conventional news media. Political parties are catching up, but not fast enough.
There is a constant stream of deeply shocking, depressing news. Yet, reality is far more is positive. The prevailing energy in the world is love. It is said that we live in the most peaceful era in history. However there are grave risks, especially from unpredictable, narcissistic and psychopathic pleaders.
There is no shortage of solutions. The obstacle is the lack farsighted leadership. More so-called ordinary people must inform, empower themselves and Dare to be great . Our representatives in Parliament need courage. Who dares say Brexit is not the will of the people? Who dares to say the people were not well informed? Or, Brexit must stop.
The UK is a good place in which to do business partly because of the rule of law. There is boundless creativity, resourcefulness and entrepreneurship. The people of Britain succeed despite poor government. Regions, cities, business leaders, universities and technical colleges, communities and individuals will just get on with creating prosperity and tackling environmental threats. They will do more if they feel they are part of a great national vision and are given enlightened support.
Crucially power and financial resources need to be devolved to regions, cities, towns and communities under the principle of subsidiarity. Now, instead of improving transport everywhere, central government is planning to spend vast sums on grandiose vanity schemes like HS2 that will largely benefit the south-east. Funding for the south-east is disproportionately high. London gets 24 times as much spent on infrastructure per resident than north- east England . A farsighted government needs to provide the enabling support that only government can provide for research, more appropriate education, innovation, and the woman and man power planning needed in the long term. This is what the most successful economies do.
The 21st Century leader
Again, we need leadership that creates a new spirit of hope, a clear sense of direction and purpose, together with achievable immediate goals. Above all a great leader must be a far sighted, transformative, enabling host (Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host ) and courageous, courageous enough to say “Brexit is NOT the will of the people”. Even more impotant, the courageous leader would say ” We must live lightly on the planet”. Collaborative, embracing the whole nation. Leading a learning organisation; a learning nation. Able to admit when wrong; able to change her or his mind. A leader with compassion who recognises the need to live and work in the four rooms: heart, mind, spirit and body. Embracing diversity and welcoming difference. Difference makes the whole. Getting the whole system into the room, skilled in facilitating. Not putting party before nation. Bringing people and nations together, a servant leader. An internationalist. Above all she/he will clearly prioritise the need to prevent environmental disaster and present a new “Let Us Face the Future”.
How do we get there? We, citizens, must take responsibility and demand radical reform of our out-dated democracy. A government voted for by a minority of the electorate has no mandate. Proportional representation, long resisted, is the first step; this requires support for a Progressive Alliance . Comprehensive constitutional reform must follow.
Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness