Published on November 26th, 2014 |
by Sean Silver
The ‘cult of personality’ in British Politics
The big news this week in the sporting world has been Fifa’s publication of a two year report into corruption. Apparently the winning bids were whiter than white whilst all those bitter unsuccessful bids were bloody bribing officials anyway. Oh and it didn’t work because Mr. Blatter and co. are immune to such underhand tactics!
Well except for Mohammed bin Hammam who did take bribes and offer them, but he wasn’t in anyway involved in the fact Qatar is hosting the world cup though so it’s okay.
Something like that anyway. This before we’ve even mentioned that Michael Garcia disowned the report the day it was published*
Anyway all this got me thinking about Mr Blatter’s stewardship of the governing body of the worlds most popular sport. From there I thought about ‘Leadership’ in general and what it means to us.
It seems that the only reason Labour do not have the 2015 general election wrapped up already is the public’s perception of Ed Milliband. Apparently the fact he looks like a bit of a tit when eating a bacon sandwich is justification for not voting Labour, whilst UKIP’s appeal is because Nigel Farage had a beer in a pub that one time.
Perhaps you may be starting to see my cynicism here. The fact that I wouldn’t vote Labour because of a complete lack of any meaningful economic policy, and wouldn’t vote UKIP because of a complete lack of any policy, is apparently redundant since all we need to know is what someone looks like whilst doing everyday things.
The cult of personality is well documented, and clearly impacts our perception of successful pubic figures. It’s importance is so broad that not only has it been explored in the tabloids but also studied in modules at universities.
For those who do not know what I mean try this explanation from the Princeton website;
This idea has been used to describe the authority of everyone from Martin Luther King through to Hitler. Barack Obama, Kim Jong-Il, Vladimir Putin and Boris Johnson have all benefited from creating a cult of personality to lesser or greater degrees. Riding a horse shirtless (Putin) or dangling from a zipline (Johnson) would have been career kryptonite to Messr’s Milliband or Brown and yet only seem to enhance the reputations of those others.
It’s become part of our culture now, more important to be famous and personable than intelligent and impersonal or aloof. This for me is where Ed Milliband falls down, he clearly is intelligent but is not as slick as his brother, Cameron or even Clegg. His inability to blend style and substance is looking like it will ultimately cost him.
Rupert Murdoch, John Stewart, Sean Hannity and Piers Morgan. All are prominent media figures who use their platforms to push their own agenda. Whether you agree with their viewpoint or not is irrelevant, the problem is more systemic.
Instead of listening to the idea’s and arguments put forward we focus solely on the packaging they come in. Our perception of what it means to be a leader has become far too uniform. We have forgotten that for all of Churchill’s brilliant wartime rhetoric and military experience it was Clement Attlee to whom we entrusted the far more delicate job of rebuilding in peace.
This is a serious problem, the image we have of ‘a leader’ leaves little room for nuance or growth. What chance do the brightest women in the country have when we associate masculinity with leadership? What chance do we have of reforming the failing school system, of fixing the NHS or bringing in welfare changes when compromise is seen as an abandonment of principles? Also this isn’t some right wing conspiracy. It was Labour press who coined the term Con-Dem to describe the current coalition, prejudice in action if ever I’ve seen it.
The cult of personality has evolved, it isn’t solely the preserve of authoritarian dictatorships anymore. It’s everywhere we look, on our tv’s, in our newspapers and in the imagination of our children (particularly young men). We’ve created a harmful image of masculinity and leadership, something I applauded Emma Watson for saying in her inspirational speech at the UN. Why should leaders be the ‘great men’ of the past when we’re not in the past anymore?
I play a lot of sport and I’ve had some great leaders. Some are men of action, some more sensitive to the needs of those around them whilst others have been able to fire everyone up with a few choice words. None of these are better than the rest. All are important in the right situation.
It seems to me that we have forgotten the importance of that last bit. The modern Identikit Politician conforms to societies expectations and I fear we’re all worse off for it.
Mr Milliband I salute you for being different. Just don’t expect me to vote for you for it.
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