Follow the leader? OK – where is s/he?

I was watching Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany the other night, and the commentator remarked on the leadership qualities he brought to the Man City team. It seemed an obviously valid remark. Kompany is a big guy who takes his football very seriously and never stops driving to overcome obstacles, impose his will on the game. Leading from the front. So is there a  political version of that?

It would appear so. Edwin Poots was on TV the other day (no, Virginia, I would not put dear Edwin down as an example of leadership).  He was denouncing Sinn Féin for having sparked the flags row and for having supported the Castlederg republican parade, and said all this showed a lack of leadership by Martin McGuinness.

That’s a bit like saying  Belfast’s Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir showed lack of leadership by going to the Shankill area, where he and several PSNI officers were injured by an angry crowd.  Au contraire. O Muilleoir showed courage by going to the Shankill, and even though the crowd let themselves down by baring their intolerance in that attack on Belfast’s first citizen, it was just the kind of visit that’s needed if we’re ever to break down the laager mentality that prevents us uniting for our shared interests. 

You could say, as did Poots, that Martin McGuinness showed lack of leadership by expressing support for the Castlederg parade, but only if you think that the Castlederg parade was a bad thing. Most republicans, I would imagine, would have viewed the parade as a reasonable commemoration of their dead and would have seen McGuinness’s support as showing political courage – a vital ingredient in leadership.  Likewise Gerry Kelly, who knew what opprobrium would be heaped on him for attending and speaking at the event.  
The one quality you do not want to see in an effective leader is cowardice. Peter Robinson showed some cowardice with his famous Letter from America. Had he delivered the message while here, there would have been less sense of him as a man pressured into saying what he did. And personally  speaking, I can’t rid my mind of  his ‘The best Dad in the world’ speech when Irisgate was raging. In fact I don’t know how he’s lasted so long; maybe because  he’s had at his side the redoubtable Deputy First Minister, who has repeatedly propped him up when the heat was on. 
And the others? David Ford of the Alliance Party  sounds good on TV but looks  bad. Rightly or wrongly, a bald head and prominent teeth work against a leader today, however talented he may be.  Mike Nesbitt, UUP leader? Some  see him as empty and desperate. I would be more optimistic.  He’s at his weakest when he’s looking over his shoulder to see what others – other party members, the electorate – are expecting him to do; on the other hand I suspect he’s as near to a unionist leader that nationalists and republicans can like as we’re going to get. If he could have the courage to do something different and bold and beneficial, he could make a historic contribution. But I’m not holding my breath.
Which leaves – oh right, the SDLP. Almost forgot. Alasdair McDonnell has the hair and bulk – the gravitas – that’s useful to a party leader on TV. On the other hand he’s not so hot at handling interviews – that jeez-I’m-blinded acceptance speech did him terrible damage.  These days he looks increasingly like someone who’s filling in rather than someone who’s going places. 

In sum, I think leaders need to show courage in adversity, courage in the  initiatives they mount, and a warmth and empathy with the electorate. I’ll leave it to you to decide which party leader in the North best fits that description.  If any. 

3 Responses to Follow the leader? OK – where is s/he?

  1. John Patton August 21, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Leadership is not the prerogative of politics. One can think of many fine examples of leadership in trade unions, the voluntary sector, equality issues etc

  2. Anonymous August 21, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    So they’re all lacking in the vital qualities except for Blessed Martin.Jude Collins still big fan of D F M.Pope still Catholic!

  3. giordanobruno August 21, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    “Most republicans, I would imagine, would have viewed the parade as a reasonable commemoration of their dead “.
    There is no basis for this imagining.
    There are many people in Ireland who consider themselves republicans who would not necessarily consider these men to be ‘their dead’.
    Furthermore many who now vote for Sinn Fein may feel no affinity for their links to violent men. Look at how their vote increased when the guns were put away.
    Not all republicans are of the physical force variety.
    Sinn Fein do not own republicanism.