One government not so long ago was marked by endless apologies, mea culpas, unending national broadcasts, non-stop media interviews, press conferences and press releases with an overarching level of Western style political correctness that judging from the turnout at the last general election, Jamaicans by and large simply have zero appreciation for. Since the voter determined termination of that administration’s reign the people have absorbed a leadership that does as it pleases with such an incredible display of ill-governance that people have all but decided to mind their own business and carry on with their own lives.
THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING
The recent passing of Margaret Thatcher who served as Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1979 and 1990 and held the record as the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century, has again brought to the fore the want by many for bold, strong, decisive and clear-minded leadership. Mrs. Thatcher nicknamed the “the Iron Lady” rescued Britain from accelerated decline and if the words of noted British Economist Roger Bootle writing in the Telegraph is to be believed, Thatcherism brought about a people, “more strongly motivated, competitive… and harder working. Companies were more efficient…, and the country was more open and self confident about its place in it.” Beyond that, Britain moved from having the highest unemployment rates in the developed world to one of the lowest, underwent transformation of its tax system with London becoming one of the world’s premier financial and global centers and Britain on a whole, enjoyed healthy growth. But probably more significantly is the Thatcher ideological footprint that has only illustrated to us what transformational leadership is really about and how it can change an entire society for the better. Mrs. Thatcher believed in something and set about to implement it even when pressured to change gear as her unpopularity went to record highs in British politics. As she has been quoted in response to criticisms of her tough and sometimes painful economic policies, “There is no alternative” and while speaking at her Conservative Party Conference in 1980, she said, “To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only this to say, ‘You turn if you want; the lady’s not for turning.”
While she worked to maintain a healthy level of political pragmatism it did not get to the point where the interests of the betterment of Britain were compromised. Meanwhile, in Jamaica our political pragmatism set off a vicious cycle of economic stagnation, crime and debauchery in return for comfortable victories at the polls time and time again. Whether we like it or not Jamaicans are not too unsettled by bad governance as long as they see some benefit from it no matter how terribly short-sighted and pitiful it is.
Leadership in short is the process of social influence whereby an individual can bring about the support of other individuals to achieve tasks or objectives. Here in Jamaica what is required is transformational leadership, one where typically a charismatic individual is able to inspire others to perform beyond their usual selves. A quick glance at academic literature on the subject points to a range of traits and skills embodied by successful leaders worldwide.
These include being adaptable to situations, alert to one’s social environment, ambitious and achievement oriented, assertive, cooperative, decisive, dependable, dominant (influence others), energetic, persistent, self-confident, tolerant of stress and willing to assume responsibility. Margaret Thatcher easily fulfils most of these traits.
On the side of skill sets, this includes being clever (intelligent), conceptually skilled, creative, diplomatic, fluent in speech, persuasive, socially-skilled, knowledgeable about group task and well organized. Again, Thatcher easily fulfils most of these qualities.
Importantly for me, a clear vision must form the foundation of transformational leadership; people must know where you are heading. Thatcher and thereby Thatcherism wins on this score. The same can be said for Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew who set out on an incredible journey to turn his then small, uncivil, futureless, fractious, communist ridden and problem plagued Multi-ethnic Island state into a now beaming, prosperous and awe-inspiring metropolis. He had a vision, assembled a competent team and set about to deliver on it.
One area in which Margaret Thatcher deserves cautious commendation is her stance on consensus. In her book “The Downing Street Years 1979-1990” she boldly stated,
“Consensus: The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”
For some, that’s a controversial statement that must be taken into context. Nonetheless, after experiencing the failure of consensus politics whilst he served as Prime Minister, Bruce Golding appears to have come around to the Thatcher approach. Speaking last month at a Jamaica Chamber of Commerce Dinner at the Jamaica Pegasus, he said,
“Too often the demand for consultations leads to the insistence on consensus; consensus invariably requires compromise, that often so disembowels the original policy proposal that the objective is lost. Many of the issues that must be dealt with are so contentious that consensus is just not possible given the competing and indeed conflicting interests of the various groups in the society. After the consultations have been held the government must be bold enough to take the tough decisions that it considers necessary and it must get on with it, and claim the credit for their success or be prepared to accept the blame for their failure.”
It was the drive for consensus that derailed the previous International Monetary Fund agreement. Public Sector wage demands were simply uneconomical and did not serve the broad interests of Jamaican society. Many times too our Politicians strive for consensus as a means of wanting people and varying interest groups, including the schizophrenic and exceedingly hypocritical media and civil society, to like them, much to disadvantage of the nation’s best interests. This want for people to like them is exactly the reason why Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller occupies that high office today. Her leadership is based on populism and in Jamaica’s case that means the undying love of the poor, who make up the majority.
In the end our representatives have become welfare leaders easily handing out the nation’s borrowed money and scarce revenues through all sorts of innovative and not so innovative schemes to impoverished and not so impoverished constituents who have suffered decades of economic stagnation and a psychological reprogramming to adore freeness and handouts.