Monday, 11 July 2016

The Renewal of Expectations of Political Leadership

by Helen Jackson (a presentation made as part of a political discussion with Portsmouth South MP, Flick Drummond, during a PGS visit to the Houses of Parliament on Friday, 8th July). Photographs courtesy of Mr Gallop

PGS pupils and staff, with Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond, Westminster Hall

A wise man once said “times, they are a-changing”, and recent events have shown that something else is changing: the expectations of political leadership. Certain expectations, such as charisma, the ability to debate (both in parliament and on television) and crisis management, have always been prevalent in British politics. However, events such as the EU referendum and the increasing need for a media presence have meant that expectations have also had to adapt.

The Internet heralded the advent of 24 hour access to leaders, and they have been expected to adjust accordingly. Leaders are now expected to be able manage multiple social media accounts, respond to comments made by both their political opponents and members of the public, and keep the country up to date on their activities. Privacy is of little importance. Anything can become a news story overnight due to the Internet. Taking David Cameron as an example, the political leader of the country saw certain events take centre ground online, first when he left his children in a pub, and, of course, piggate.

Pupils and staff outside No. 10

All political leaders must be careful of what photographs are posted online, case in point Ed Milliband and the infamous bacon butty picture, but the EU referendum has brought with it more acute expectations. The need for unity has come to the foreground.
The conservatives need a leader to unite a fragmented parliamentary party in a post-Brexit Britain, and more generally, the country needs a leader to negotiate Britain into a strong positional we leave the EU.

Labour, on the other hand, has seen dissent among the parliamentary party with cries from the shadow cabinet and labour back benchers for Jeremy Corbyn to resign, and yet he satisfies the grassroots labour members, raising questions over whom the leader of a party should be expected to satisfy, but also proves the importance of the expectation that the leader of a party will have support from both their MPs and the rest of their party.

To conclude, the changing expectations of leadership have seen greater involvement of leaders online, and most importantly the need for unity within the party, which although always important to the success of a leader, its has been enhanced hugely by the divides within parties and the country as a whole.

Reassuring leadership, in troubled times. 

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