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Sound Judgement essential for national leadership

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“I cannot understand a politician who is lukewarm about vaccination or not prepared to take a stand. Are they not aware that they are going against the tide of history?”

(Former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell, quoted in midweek SEARCHLIGHT, 28/09/21).
“Instead of providing enlightened leadership, they are tailing the misinformed, the misguided and the mischief makers….. The broad coalition is on the wrong side of history.”

(Renwick Rose, The Eye of the Needle, August 27, 2021)

We shall return to these quotations later on, relating their relevance to the current situation,, but if you would bear with me a bit, there is a biblical saying which goes like this, “Many are called but few chosen”.

How relevant is this to the ambitions and aspirations of politicians and would-be leaders of our country and its people? There has historically been no shortage of such persons, aspiring to political office right up to the highest available. It is said that “ambition burns eternal in the human breast”.

In this quest for power, fame, even heaven forbid, wealth, it does not seem to matter what are the abilities of the aspirant; ambition becomes the motor. In countries like ours where the two-party system is like the Gospel, fulfilling that political ambition means first and foremost getting attached to one of the two major parties. Third parties rarely, if ever, make it to the top save for a merger or accommodation with one of the existing parties.

This narrowness of choice and the constitutional leeway which allows a Prime Minister to become like a virtual ruler, the role of the Opposition, and particularly that of the Leader of the Opposition, assumes great importance. He/she must not just lead opposition to the Prime Minister and government, that leader must also project him/herself as an alternative to the Head of Government.

Unfortunately, the attraction to the word opposition often proves to be a fatal one and too often, aspirants to top leadership fail to stay the course, either by way of lack of quality or failure to measure up to the requirements of being a prospective National Leader. It is far easier to oppose than to propose credible alternatives and it is on this altar of alternatives that many careers are sacrificed.

Among the qualities required, nay demanded, of an aspiring political leader is that of having SOUND JUDGEMENT. This is as important politically as it is personally. Our old people love to say, “Show me your company, and I will tell you who you are”.

If, for instance, a political leader insists on being surrounded by a bunch or irresponsible rabble-rousers, ideal for pulling down but no use in building anything of lasting value, then one needs to look askew at and examine the character of that prospective leader. If that leader in the face of a major challenge, cannot have the vision to propose a way out, is unwilling or afraid to tell his supporters where they are going wrong, to propose an alternative line of action, and to try and win his supporters to his line of action, then one can only ask, “what kind of leader is this?”

A time of crisis helps to define the quality and depth of what leadership skills one has to offer. How then, with a country racked by COVID, battered by the fallout from a volcanic eruption, with the productive base significantly damaged, and the service industry seriously jeopardised, could one choose politics of confrontation, instead of rising to the occasion to provide alternatives for a way forward? And, worse of all, less than one year after losing a fifth successive election, could a defeated party, out of the blue, suddenly demand “fresh elections”?

Perhaps if some strategic programme of rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction were outlined which could win the approval of the public, then perhaps one could sit up and take note. But no, the alternative seemed to be to sit down in front on fire engines on the road, and to, even by omission, appear to be at least not condemning those who openly hailed a physical assault of the Leader of the country on his way to Parliament, -“Show me your company….”

It all reveals a lack of sound judgement, both on a personal as well as on a political level. The deficiencies, on both an individual and party level, were nakedly exposed by the former Prime Minister of this country, Sir James Mitchell, including in the quote with which I begun. Sir James is not only seized of the moment, he has made proposals to address the challenges of the time. One can agree or disagree.

How can one, with COVID “mashing up de place”, not try to convince the misguided about the need for vaccination, and having been vaccinated, along with your family, not tried to convince the dissenters that it is in the best interests of the country to vaccinate?

Rather the choice was to join and be led by them in what turned out to be flying in the face of the wind?

Where is the leadership, the judgement, and now the shame? Yes, “Many are called…….”

Those who are not are “on the wrong side of history”

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.