In an interview broadcast this morning, Tony Blair argues that what people want is strong leadership. He told Nick Robinson that seven times.
I still think people, what they actually want is clear leadership and direction. They want answers to their problems. … There is a whole swathe of the population that thinks, “I elect my government, you guys go and govern. You know, don’t keep troubling me every three seconds with what I should think or shouldn’t think.” They want to see their leaders leading.
The way he put it put me in mind of one of the test questions used in the classic study of The Authoritarian Personality: “What this country needs is a few strong, courageous, hard-working leaders in whom the people can put their faith.” That question was included in the study, of course, because it is so deeply opposed to democratic values.
There are certainly some people who want the smack of firm government, but fortunately they’re in a minority. What more people want, and what they are entitled to expect from people who are elected to office, is service, not instruction. They want people who listen, and people who are competent – the two tend to go together, because it is not possible to serve people adequately or to deal with problems if you don’t listen. And as long as the political class is convinced that what we really ought to get instead is “leadership and direction”, someone telling us what to do, we will have neither understanding nor competence.