• unenlightened
    The labour party is doing its bit to represent the UK by falling apart. And in this context, Hilary Benn has said of the current labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, '...he is a good and decent man, but he is not a leader. And that is the problem '.


    It is odd, on the face of it, to say that the leader, elected with a large mandate, and responsible for a great surge in party membership is not a leader. We live in curious times.

    But here's the question; is he right as a matter of fact? Is it the case in general that a good and decent man cannot be a democratic leader? And is this because 'we the people' are not ourselves good and decent, but on the contrary are best represented as greedy, ambitious and self-serving.

    Or is it rather the case that a good and decent man cannot compete with an amoral power seeker?
  • Thorongil
    Why assume he is a good and decent man?
  • Michael

    He's not saying that a good and decent man cannot be a leader. He's saying that this good and decent man isn't a leader,
  • unenlightened
    He's not saying that a good and decent man cannot be a leader. He's saying that this good and decent man cannot be a leader,Michael

    Well that seems just plain idiotic given that he is the leader elected with the largest mandate of any British political party ever. What the fuck does a good and decent man have to do or have that he lacks?

    I realise that Hilary is not saying that a good and decent man cannot be a leader; I am drawing an inference that he would reject, obviously. But it is an inference that is supported by the popularity and success of a number of less than good and decent politicians.

    So I'm asking whether it might be the case that we have a penchant for ambitious and unprincipled leaders, or whether it is the case that honesty and principle are a hinderance to leadership. I'm not actually that interested in Hilary Benn's philosophy, his comment is merely the provocation.
  • unenlightened
    Why assume he is a good and decent man?Thorongil

    I have made no assumption of the kind. I merely notice that this is how he is often talked about by colleagues, and that it is often said in an almost pitying tone, as if it is a serious weakness.
  • mcdoodle
    I have wondered, looking back, about this issue. In the 1960's LBJ, a backstairs wheeler-dealer and warmonger, nevertheless fought for and successfully enacted marvellous radical civil rights legislation. And it may be that a good and decent man, who didn't have favours to call in from racist bastards and corrupt schemers, would never have been able to do it.

    Maybe the converse applies to Obama: that he isn't dirty enough to achieve what was hoped of him.

    In this particular case, it does seem as if Corbyn is not a natural leader, and in a sense, that's why the electorate picked him; they distrusted anyone who had ambitions to lead them, in a new variant on the old Groucho theme of not joining a club that would have him as a member.

    But I do wonder if management, a form of leadership, is in itself corrupting, yet necessary.
  • Moliere
    A guess that's a bit of a shot in the dark, but some first thoughts:

    I have used the same phrase but in different ways. In those cases it was often on the line of knowing somebody's heart is in the right place but they weren't able to gather a following, or that they didn't inspire confidence. Here this seems different because you're claiming that he did inspire a following. If that's the case then he's certainly a leader. It doesn't matter how one inspires people, only that you have followers. So I would read the comment more along the lines of trying to cash in on disappointment that people might have in order to benefit himself or others he is beholden to. (It should be noted I know nothing about British politics -- this is just my guess).

    All this to say that, no, I don't think he is right as a matter of fact. As society is organized we certainly need leaders and leadership (I believe that British parliament is, at least, first-past-the-post style elections? So we are similar in that regard, at least). And those journeys to leadership, because they are invested with power, are beset by the traps and snares of the greedy, ambitious, and self-serving (many of who already have what they want, but wish to protect it).

    So we would expect fewer of the good and more of the greedy.

    In addition, this reliance upon leaders to do our bidding for us, I think, makes this an easier thing to do. We are, after all, human -- even if we are good and decent. So if you are the leader who has put in the time and effort to lead, it might become pretty easy to convince yourself that you deserve something for it.

    I think I'm sort of echoing mcdoodle here, now that I'm reading it.
  • unenlightened
    In this particular case, it does seem as if Corbyn is not a natural leader, and in a sense, that's why the electorate picked him; they distrusted anyone who had ambitions to lead them...mcdoodle

    The implication here, from your own words, is even more clearly that personal ambition is a necessary quality of a natural leader. It is one of those things that is true or false according to whether it is widely believed (known in the trade as a social construct). So perhaps the electorate - that portion that supports him - do not so believe.
  • Wosret
    When Stephen Dion ran for prime minister I voted for his party, and it was the first and last time that I voted. I voted for him because I thought that he was a good decent guy. He took severe risks, releasing his economic plan during the election campaign. I heard him on a Christian radio station, and he mentioned God a couple of times, so the interviewer asked him if he was doing that because it was a Christian radio station. So he paused for a moment, and said that's why he was doing it, his people told him it would be a good idea. His wife claimed to have been largely kept silent by the party, because they thought she'd just say whatever she liked, and not try to toe party lines. She even refused to introduce Dion at a women's event because she didn't want to read a pre-prepared speech.

    He had a record breaking lose, was completely devastated. Are good leaders the one's we want to have a beer with? The saint? The genius? The soldier? The megalomaniac? The one with just the right blind spot, or with the sharpest sight?

    I looked up some lists of great leadership traits, but I didn't see any examples, or samples from which they derived those traits, and correlated them with particular leadership successes.
  • Bitter Crank
    "Good and decent man" does have something of the diminutive about it, because "real men" know how to get things done one way or another, some not so good or decent.

    Good and decent men can, of course, be leaders, and can know how to get things done. They can not, generally, walk on water; cast evil spirits out of the body politic; or calm storms on their say-so. They can't hold back the tides (or raise them either) and the Brexit vote seems to have had some tidal force behind it. It's sort of like the knee-jerk blame that Obama gets whenever things go haywire.

    On the other hand, the chattering classes have been dithering a lot about a dreadful populism this summer. Apparently The People are getting out of line again, not behaving the way they are supposed to. I always thought progressive populism, at least, was a good thing and the pro-Brexit people are not Fascists, after all. I think they are wrong, on balance, even if they have legitimate complaints.
  • Bitter Crank
    Maybe the converse applies to Obama: that he isn't dirty enough to achieve what was hoped of him.mcdoodle

    LBJ was in Congress for a long time before he became president. He was in Congress from 1937 to 1961, and he was Senate Majority Whip. He had been there long enough to have favors that he could call in (which he did to get Medicare and the civil rights bills passed). Like as not, he also knew the dirt on everybody -- something sometimes as useful to dangle in front of a recalcitrant Rep or Senator, as favors owed. He also had a lot of inside expertise about how the House and Senate operated--something Obama doesn't have.
  • unenlightened
    “Jeremy’s causes are a million miles away from what concerns our heartlands,” says Lord Falconer. “He worries about foreign policy, in particular the Middle East, Trident [the U.K.’s nuclear submarine defences which Corbyn wants to scrap] and Syria. The focus should be on economic inequality since 2008 – our heartlands see pressure on the NHS, housing and school places as a result of more Eastern European immigrants.”

    Whereas Lord F, private school, Oxford PPE graduate, etc, is best mates with the disenfranchised poor. Its a downright bald-faced lie, you see. Corbyn has more than doubled the party membership in a few months precisely because he is in touch with ordinary folks in the devastated industrial areas and the parliamentary labour party is not. He has spread a disease of political hope in the face of the overt and covert opposition of his own members and the chattering classes.

    As if it isn't the crisis in the Middle East that has added urgent fuel to the inflammatory propaganda of immigrant hate peddled by the press for years. As if this propaganda is not being spread in preparation for the next world war.

    What do you think of this one? http://www.thecanary.co/2016/06/28/truth-behind-labour-coup-really-began-manufactured-exclusive/
  • Moliere
    It seems believable to me. Sounds a bit like the Democratic party at home.

    I am pretty ignorant when it comes to British politics. Thanks for helping alleviate that ignorance some.
    I think some people believe he wouldn't make a competent PM, and would push through policies which would put hard-left political dogma in front of common sense, and then bankrupt the country again.
  • unenlightened
    Well some people think it is all the machinations of Blair who wants to get him out of office before the Chilcot report is published. I couldn't possibly comment.

    But what I want to ask you is 'Are goodness and decency a form of incompetence?'

    Let me put it this way, he doesn't come across as hard or dogmatic, and Benn didn't characterise him as such. Such has been said elsewhere, but without much conviction - being left wing is not actually a dogma, but the position of the labour party.

    But I'm ending up defending him, when I want to look at the general point.

    If Jesus (or insert good man archetype of your tradition) came back to Earth would you follow him or crucify (or insert barbaric death penalty of your tradition) him?
  • discoii
    It's kind of similar to Schrodinger Sanders. The best person on the major field, the establishment backs Hillary, loses because idiots were duped by fraud and lesser of two evils logical errors.

    I'm considering joining the Labour party and backing Corbyn if there is another leadership election.

    So yeah in response to the maitreya analogy I would follow.
  • mcdoodle
    You can always join the Greens. I'm a member and even stand for local election, albeit unsuccessfully. 'So far', some say :)
  • mcdoodle
    But what I want to ask you is 'Are goodness and decency a form of incompetence?'unenlightened

    I wonder if, as in other contexts, the answer depends on the presuppositions of both the judger and the judged. Blinkered goodness and decency is unlikely to be beneficial, i.e. these purported virtues amid an inadequate understanding of the overall situation. It seems that that is the charge levelled at Corbyn by those who a bit condescendingly say they admire his 'goodness and decency'. The counter-difficulty is that those levelling the charge seem uncomprehending themselves, with that edge of self-righteousness that Tony Blair managed to make seem appealing for a while. They mostly inhabit two overlapping bubbles, the Parliamentary one and the faction-within-a-party one.
  • Mongrel
    Or is it rather the case that a good and decent man cannot compete with an amoral power seeker?unenlightened

    Depends on the climate. I think human life oscillates... ups and downs. Growth and recession. It's during extended periods of growth and development that the "good and decent man" you're thinking of prospers by virtue of fostering an environment conducive to cultural blossom. People are attracted to that kind of environment when they are enjoying a youthful, spring-like climb toward expression of their society's identity.

    Alas, those who are young at heart will become confused when the calendar marches on and glory is in the rear-view mirror. But that's ok because by this time, Nature has already produced a bumper crop of baby Kierkegaards to preside over the disintegration.
  • Baden
    But what I want to ask you is 'Are goodness and decency a form of incompetence?'unenlightened

    It's in most cases likely to be a handicap at least. A (political) leader's function is to inspire and convince not only the general public but the members of his own party of particular courses of action. Being good and decent are not leadership qualities at all except in so far as they make a leader more inspiring or more convincing. And when it comes to the machinations of power, that advantage is generally far outweighed by the loss of strategic options a moral leader suffers in comparison to an amoral one.
    Or is it rather the case that a good and decent man cannot compete with an amoral power seeker?unenlightened

    Not one that's a good actor.
  • unenlightened
    I can't resist this latest.

    The BBC has learned that a delegation of shadow cabinet members tried to meet Mr Corbyn on Thursday to put forward their plan, but were unsuccessful.
    Under the plan, potential leadership contenders would agree to pursue some of Mr Corbyn's key policies on issues including tackling inequality and making the party more democratic.


    So basically, they'll follow him as long as he's not the leader. >:)
  • mcdoodle
    Alas, those who are young at heart will become confused when the calendar marches on and glory is in the rear-view mirror. But that's ok because by this time, Nature has already produced a bumper crop of baby Kierkegaards to preside over the disintegration.Mongrel

    When the voices of children, are heard on the green
    And whisprings are in the dale:
    The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
    My face turns green and pale.

    Then come home my children, the sun is gone down
    And the dews of night arise
    Your spring & your day, are wasted in play
    And your winter and night in disguise.

  • Moliere
    The definition of a leader is one who has followers. Period, full stop. In teaching union organizing I emphasize this over and over again because people get caught up in trying to find someone like themselves, more often than not, without a clear-cut definition to think through their situation. People have the tendency to ask "who do I follow" rather than "who does everyone follow"

    Something important in that to your question, un, is that it does not disclude good and decent people.

    So, definitionally at least, we can have good and decent leaders.

    Practically, so it seems, I think we can as well. My doubts arise more from the empirical case where it seems "good and decent" leadership seems to be at a deficit. Of course that depends on what we are looking for in good and decent people or good and decent leaders too. If we are people familiar in the ways of the world we might even endorse someone who wouldn't pass the muster in bible study, so to speak -- they get things done which help people, even if they bend the rules along the way. Isn't that the hallmark of a good and decent person, one who is not only willing to sacrifice for the greater good but also has the courage to do so?

    Dangerous thinking in there. But it does seem to me that this sort of thinking, or these sorts of values, are often at the heart of what people mean by "good and decent leadership" vs. "good and decent people" -- perhaps its not that we ourselves are selfish, but that we just have different ideals when it comes to evaluating good people vs. good leaders. (as if they were not quite people themselves) Or perhaps we have just been duped into thinking that we need two different systems of evaluation (or perhaps it's just a learned reflex on our part so that we don't become too disappointed?)

    One thing about the quote -- it seems the speaker believes that they are good and decent as much as the person they're hoping to push out of office. But, to read your article, that's far from the truth.

    Also, I got to thinking about "what are the tactics which the good and the decent can't use?" In the main it seems to me that we have manipulation in mind. But, in my experience at least, manipulation isn't quite as widespread as we tend to believe. Not that people aren't tempted to manipulate or don't try to manipulate people. But, rather, people are usually pretty good at sniffing out manipulation. While there may be some grade-A sociopaths who've made their way to the halls of power using their uncanny ability to read people, I think people in power have a tendency towards sincerity if that's not the case. What's incredible is how much they believe what they are saying, even though what they say is manipulative and seems to be designed to push the buttons of a certain group of people. (speech writers and experts playing their role, I suppose)

    ((This admixture of sociopathic power-seekers and sincere idealists probably explains why political groups are a confusing lot, and that it's easier to simply look at them all as corrupt.))

    When manipulation is not in play something that is in play is the need to simplify what is complex so that your people can understand the situation and, hopefully, have some opinion that they want you to act on rather than delegating everything to you. That process of translating technical policy and circumstantial situations into easier decisions for people not involved in the day-to-day operations of an organization (be it party or otherwise) is where, so I believe, a lot of automatic manipulation occurs. So you have good and decent people throughout the halls of power, from the lowest to the highest, and they all have to be able to perform this skill of breaking down the situation they find themselves in to a set of choices to be evaluated by people who are not in the day-to-day operations. Even Jesus Christ himself, to use a character earlier, had motives and agendas he was trying to accomplish. For the greater good, no less. It would only be natural for him to perform this act of translation in favor of his goals. (or, if he's climbing the party ladder, in favor of the goals of his employer, the party, in the hopes that someday he'll get to. . .) ((afterthought: You may believe the third way is to explain this act of translation. I encourage anyone to try doing so. It's a move outside the game -- it is a philosophical move -- that accomplishes nothing but making you look strange))

    So this is just the long way of arriving at a support in favor of good and decent people in government. While not all of them are, I would say that there's more than what we might prefer to say (given our disappointments with government, perhaps). But that the system of representation has limitations, and being good or decent does not erase those limitations. They could be thought of as necessary limitations if representative systems are the best we can hope for in our and any life.

    Another thought on goodness and decency: It seems to me that we learn goodness and decency to be a deferral of desire, or the control of desire, or acquiescing to the desire of others. But in government, and in the search for power, we are fulfilling desire. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the hardest things to help someone over when I have tried to train leaders, and may be insurmountable in some people. Goodness, in the case where you are representing people, is not stepping back and letting others have their way, but is pursing the good of the people you represent even if it happens to take away from others you don't represent. So, in part, all this might depend on what we are thinking about when we think of the words "good and decent".

    I, for one, do not want my politicians to acquiesce. In fact it seems to me that much of my dissatisfaction with the Democratic party is that they give up on things that effect me and mine all too easily (mostly because it doesn't effect they and them, except through the abstract system of representation).
  • Bitter Crank
    Excellent post on leadership, Moliere.

    One of the virtues of good leadership is knowing when to leave, and how. Any given leader is able to accomplish certain goals. They are able to bring their constituency along and help them to be successful. Then, they can help their constituency manage what they have achieved, find new goals, or become a royal pain in the ass.

    It's difficult for both the leader and the constituency to spot the critical moment of timely leave-taking.

    One boss I had did a great job starting an AIDS project back in the early 1980s. In 5 years he had found funding, hired very good staff, and formed an effective service/education organization. Had he left at that point, he would have been covered in laurel. Instead, he became a nuisance and annoyed the hell out of everybody. Eventually he was forced out amidst much sturm and drang. A couple of other people I have worked for achieved and left on time, after achieving what could be achieved. They were missed, of course, but they had done what could be done.

    "Leadership" is damned hard to define, though.
  • S
    The two sets of qualities that you mention are distinct and not mutually exclusive, so that one can be good and decent and yet be lacking in the department of leadership skills.

    I don't think that this is true of Jeremy Corbyn, however. I think that he has both sets of qualities, but unfortunately he has many people in important positions who are against him, including many within his own party and the media, as well as the Tories, and many of those Labour MPs will jump at any opportunity to oust him.

    I'm glad he got rid of Hilary Ben. I had a bad feeling about him ever since he openly disagreed with Jeremy Corbyn over his stance on bombing Syria, to the raucous applause of the party opposite. Although the consequences of doing so were far from ideal, but then Diane Abbot said on Question Time that the whole thing had been orchestrated, and that this had been in the planning months in advance.

    Yes, it did seem that his campaign to remain in the EU was a bit lacklustre, but then the media attention was focused on others such as Boris Johnson, so he didn't get as much exposure.

    It is very significant that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader with the largest mandate ever won by a party leader, and that he is solely responsible for a huge increase in Labour party members and supporters. Those within the Parliamentary Labour Party should stop trying to subvert democracy, causing division in the party, and undermining their own leader, since this will only serve to weaken the party and fail to represent the wider membership and supporters.

    And I wish that influential people would stop claiming that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable all over the media, because I fear that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • S
    You can always join the Greens.mcdoodle

    When they have a hope in hell of winning a general election, I might think of the Green Party in a different light. The problem for your party is that so many people think that way that you're stuck in that situation, although apparently gaining popularity.
  • S
    So basically, they'll follow him as long as he's not the leader. >:)unenlightened

    I know, right? And there is much irony in proposing to continue to make the party more democratic whilst attempting to subvert democracy within the party. They want democracy, but not their democratically elected leader? Okay, then let's go through a pointless leadership contest which will result in the reelection of Jeremy Corbyn.
  • unenlightened
    The two sets of qualities that you mention are distinct and not mutually exclusive, so that one can be good and decent and yet be lacking in the department of leadership skills.

    I don't think that this is true of Jeremy Corbyn, however.

    Agreed. And with the Chilcot report, one can see that the great labour leader was great in a way that we would have preferred him to be less great, and Corbyn was even then heading the right way. So it's well past time for the PLP to turn about face and start following him instead of Blair.
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