What sort of Prime Minister do you want to live under? This question, while vague and somewhat generic, could ultimately decide the outcome of next year’s pivotal general election.
It is likely to weigh upon the minds of the vast majority of voters as they enter the polls next spring, and the answer that the nation provides is, in all likelihood, the central factor that will determine whether David Cameron returns to Downing Street for a second term, or whether Ed Miliband takes his place.
It is a question the nation will ask itself repeatedly in the run-up to the vote; a question that commentators and pundits will muse over again and again, that parties of all guises will attempt to provide the definitive response to, and that only the public will ultimately settle when they cast their ballots on May 7th. So it is worth beginning the long, and potentially turbulent, process of thinking about it now.
After all, it won’t be too long before any space we thought we had for clear thinking and reasoning is gobbled up amongst the chaos of a general election campaign. We shall soon forget there ever existed a world outside of irritating sound bites we have heard countless times before, endless speeches severely lacking spontaneity or passion, and excessively stage-managed photos of politicians with what they are told (by their aides) are the “normal” people they seem to talk so frequently about.
So ask yourself this indubitably important question now: What sort of Prime Minister do you want to live under for at least the next five years?
The character traits that people wish their leader to possess are numerous and varied. Surely, though, one of the most crucial qualities that nearly all reasonable citizens would wish their Prime Minister to possess – something so basic and essential that it is almost forgotten due to its fundamentality – is an ideology; a set of deeply-held beliefs that govern their emotions, their intuitions, their reasoning and, ultimately, their decisions.
An ideology – to loosely use the term with temporary disregard for its academic ambiguity – is, without question, a necessary asset of any political leader, for without one they cannot hope to run a government that is consistent and progressive. In its absence, their decisions will be purely pragmatic; a series of practical solutions devised to remedy problems when they present themselves, but what this represents, in reality, is no more than flagrant short-termism.
This approach significantly hinders a nation’s long-term development. Without a defined and clear value-set, it is impossible to make decisions for the long-term, decisions which will facilitate progression, growth and prosperity that significantly outlives the government, or the premiership, which first introduced it.
If a purely pragmatic and ‘practical’ approach is adhered to, then both eyes remain firmly, and stubbornly, fixed upon the present, and it is the future, and its potential prosperity, that are sacrificed.
This approach can also have damaging short-term effects, with a radically inconsistent set of policies across different areas leading to a fragmented and disjointed nation; politically, economically and socially. Without question, leaders need values, principles and beliefs. To guide their decisions and actions, they need at least a basic ideology.
When you return to British politics, and to the impending general election, from this perspective, you begin to see the true strength of Labour’s Ed Miliband. Behind the veil of social awkwardness, the somewhat unappealing aesthetic and the voice that many struggle to take seriously, is a man with a vision. A man who knows what he stands for and who truly believes what he says.
Put aside, for the time being, the merits and flaws of his vision – I happen to greatly admire it though I appreciate many hostages of modern thinking do not – and simply recognise that this is a man whose convictions are sincere. For this is somewhat of a rarity in modern British politics.
He is not a man who will set pulses racing – he has the honesty and humility to admit this – and there are, within even his own parliamentary party, others who could do a much better job of relating to the British public. But he is, by some distance, the best of the available candidates for the unenviable job of Prime Minister after 2015, and this is partly because he is the only one who truly possesses a consistent set of principles.
Take David Cameron, a man who has had nine years as Conservative party leader and almost a full term as Prime Minister to make plain his own set of values. He remains, even now, a bizarrely ambiguous politician; someone who seems impossible to ideologically pin down.
Initially, this appeared an understandable, and rather unavoidable, side effect of his mission to modernise a Tory party that seemed hell-bent against doing so. But as time has passed, it has become clearer and clearer that, in actual fact, he does not possess, on any level, a consistent ideology.
Is he a modern, ‘compassionate conservative’ who cares deeply about the plight of the nation’s poorest? Or does he remain, as so many of his predecessors, the lap dog of the richest in society? Is he a Thatcherite supporter of free-market economics? Or does he recognise the ‘enabling’ role that a moderately interventionist state can play?
Does he support liberal tolerance or quiet conformity to the norm? Does he stand for the individual, or for the community? Does he want Britain to play a leading role in world affairs? Or does he wish us to withdraw and sit quietly on the sidelines? These questions, and more, are not simply illustrative but strike at the real heart of the problem with Mr Cameron.
What does he actually stand for? There is evidence to support, and evidence to oppose, every question just asked, and you could reasonably justify, or refute, the case for him being labelled every one of the political characters mentioned above. The real Mr Cameron remains elusive, a bizarre cross between a centrist, progressive-thinking liberal and an old-fashioned, traditionalist Tory.
At least Mr Miliband knows what he believes in. He has a clear ideology and he stands proudly behind it, willing to defend it even against vehement criticism. He stands for the poorest against the wealthiest, for the many against the privileged few. He stands for togetherness and community against heartless individualism, for equality as well as freedom, and for growth that actually makes a difference to normal people’s lives.
Even when he is berated for naivety and utopian idealism – criticisms often rooted in no more than an inability to see beyond the present state of things to a world where things could, in fact, be done differently – he stands by his principles unashamedly.
Whether you agree or disagree with his values, like or dislike his personality or simply find him too peculiar to relate to, there is one thing that Ed Miliband has that is both admirable and, in the contemporary British politics, unique. He possesses a true set of deeply held beliefs, which while unfashionable is at least consistent and genuine.
I, for one, know that that is exactly the sort of Prime Minister that I want to live under.