There probably never was a time throughout history when individuals did not look to someone else to take the helm, whether that was in families, tribes or nations. I also suspect that at other times, when people might have felt they were able to take care of themselves, some pushy individual muscled in on the act anyway and likely took them where they'd rather not have gone! Leaders are certainly not new to the scene. A world without leaders is unimaginable, but how have things changed over time?
Governments of all types see it as their right to lead. My view is, if we must suffer political leaders, surely we need to have more to say about it than simply putting an X in a box periodically. We don't want just anyone and we want to be able to review performance with the option to remove any dead wood, which is a useful function of our democratic process. But is that as far as our involvement goes and what are our expectations of leaders today? Should we be looking for something specific in their relationships with us?
I don't believe it is enough to simply rely on the recycling that goes on at election time. Naturally, it is the opportunity to get rid of the 'dead wood' mentioned, but it should also be a chance to compare the policies on offer from the different parties. This is where it gets tricky. I have yet to vote for a party that represented all my views. How could that even be possible in a modern democracy? My way around this is to identify which policy areas matter most to me and to look for the best match with what's on offer out there. Speaking personally, it's education, health and the environment. It isn't that I don't have other concerns, it's simply my needing to align with my primary priorities at election time.
Under my system, therefore, I need political parties to be clear about their policy priorities and I need to be able to rely on them upholding their pledges if they get into office. If I were a political leader right now, this is where I would be leading my party. However, I am sure I'm not alone in realising that we are a mighty long way from being able to have confidence in the system on either count.
As a general rule, I want political leaders to understand that my relationship with them and the system has changed from my father's days. Apart from demanding that politicians say what they mean and mean what they say, I need them to display a willingness to listen to the voice of ordinary people when they are in office, especially when a substantial number of individuals speak out.
I'm sufficiently street-wise to know how political leaders will react to this idea. They have come into office because of the free and open electoral process we enjoy in our country, so, why should the conflicting views of those seeking to challenge official policy be acted upon by them at any other time. My response to this is, while the electoral process continues to attract such low levels of support at the ballot box, it may be a step too far to assume that those who have not taken part agree with official policy over the views of those who disagree. Would not our leaders be wise to acknowledge that by engaging more openly with interested parties they might well enhance the quality of our democracy when significant dissent is registered by ordinary people?
The present debacle over education policy very aptly illustrates what I am saying and I would hope that at some point, our leaders would agree to pay heed to the substantial groundswell of opinion in opposition to the current direction of education reform.