Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Follow The Leader
Our new prime minister will be sworn in next week, so I am told, and despite myself I find I am beginning to respect the guy. He's moved a lot faster than politicians normally do in setting up his government. He's shrewdly got the Maori Party on board, hitting three birds with one stone: extending his somewhat slim majority; alleviating some of the public apprehension about the ACT party having their rabid fangs in the treasury's leg; and setting himself up nicely for a broad electoral appeal in 2011. Very neatly done. I respect that. But do I trust him? I don't know yet. I am dreading a return of the new right policies of the 1980s and 1990s which did such damage to so many layers of our social fabric and suspect that under his neatly brushed pate he has only three basic ideas: privatisation, privatisation and privatisation.
We had the lowest voter turnout for years. Perhaps the election was such a foregone conclusion that people just didn't bother. Perhaps none of our potential parliamentarians excited much interest. Perhaps both of the above. In contrast people got very excited about the American election. I meet a lot of people in the course of a normal day and many of them, over the past few weeks, have spoken of the presidential race. Before the election the only note of apprehension I heard from anybody was that McCain might win, and no-one, not a single person that I have spoken to, has expressed any disappointment in the eventual outcome. There is some admiration for McCain's graciousness in defeat but there is universal admiration for Barack Obama and glee at his victory. People - many people - reported being moved to tears by his acceptance speech in Chicago. He is someone that people, even these people from a different country and with no direct stake in his election, would follow.
This is, simply, what a leader is: someone with followers. Some leaders achieve this by brute force, and some by dint of who and what they are. My feeling about our own new Prime Minister is that he is not yet a leader; at least not for the majority of his fellow New Zealanders. We have elected him not so much to lead us as to manage us and woe betide him if his management falters. He has the position that we have given him, but we will be watching him like keas circling a new born lamb waiting for him to do something that displeases us, and then we will be seeking his replacement.
Tragically, with the world and the church starting to come apart at the seams and with, if you'll pardon a shift in metaphors, dangerous shoals ahead, it's leadership, not management that we desperately need - in the world and in the church. Maybe that's why we get so excited when we see it somewhere else. And maybe, just maybe, John Key can produce some of it. I'm not going to hold my breath, but he has already shown the capacity to surprise me.