Choosing a Prime Minister
Thursday, June 8, 2017
It was an interesting start to a short week. A Tuesday morning visit from Jeremy Corbyn. It may sound a bit grandiose when I say that I have met two previous leaders during an election campaign, both of whom became Prime Ministers. I don't know what this means for Mr Corbyn!
His visit resulted in a lot of press energy because of his failure to answer a question on Women's Hour about the projected cost of his childcare promises. I hope that we veered the argument away from Mr Corbyn's inability to answer the question, instead focusing on the actual costs of childcare to the sector and the continuing inability of two governments to deliver a correctly funded childcare offer.
Like the previous leaders I have met including Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, Mr Corbyn presented as thoughtful, articulate and engaging. It is surely what you expect from a leader. I remember being surprised and affected by Mr Cameron's passionate espousal on the importance of Big Society over his cup of tea. Mr Corbyn also enjoyed a cup of tea and was just as exercised about a range of issues at the heart of social justice. Sitting there listening I was struck by their decency and integrity, unlike the haughtiness I have experienced during visits from more junior ministers.
I haven't met Mrs May so I cannot comment about how I would feel after sharing a cup of tea with her. All I know is that she describes her leadership as strong and stable. The thing about leadership is that it's an elusive concept.
There is no one perfect model. No one way to do it. It requires the right balance of knowledge, experience, confidence and skills that enable flexibility, agility, intelligence and strength. If it was easy we would have a surfeit of good leaders.
Right now, we are being asked to choose our future Prime Minister from television debates, radio interviews, Twitter, newspapers and all the range of modern media which gives us everything from detail to soundbites, gossip to chatter.
I liked the quote from Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963: "I read a great number of press reports and find comfort in the fact that they are nearly always conflicting."
Few of us are lucky enough to meet them in person. In the past we had the hustings where there was a chance of the public meeting the candidates. It may have given us more of a sense of how the leader makes us feel? Do I feel strongly enough to believe? Am I convinced that they are telling the truth and will listen? In the end, whoever becomes the next Prime Minister will need us to trust them and willingly engage in the social contract that requires us to pay more tax or give up our autonomy or accept their word of honour. I wonder whether a media focusing only on the leader's mistakes, confusions or policy u-turns gives us the right information to make a fair judgment that is best for the whole country?
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website