What should UKIP look for in a new leader??
I, like many others in UKIP, became involved in politics out of a frustration with what was going on and the desire to do something about the stale 2 party system which was wrecking things locally giving playground politics, and of course the overbearing activities of the EU starting to interfere in all out lives. I didn’t feel I fitted in with the Conservatives, and definitely not with Labour, though some of their basic ideas I felt were not far from the right path.
Then came UKIP, and the then leader, who seemed to be able to articulate much of what I was thinking, and so, for the first time in my life, in my mid 50’s I got involved in politics.
My background has been interesting in that my job for many years has been running large scale corporate events and technically being involved in running others, for a whole cross section of companies and industry sectors. So, in this I’ve had exposure to a large range of senior level people in all industries, from the NHS through to major UK and international companies, Banks and yes, government departments and politicians. Some people, you just sit up and want to listen to, others, you switch off. I therefore look at things and people with a particular view which directs my thinking.
So, what do we need from a leader?
First and foremost the function of a leader is to, well, lead! In that I mean to communicate and inspire. Now this is on two levels, they need to energise and inspire the members, which is one task, but the other is to communicate with and inspire the public, to get them to either join or support UKIP.
The leader also needs to drive the policy direction of the party, at least in the major policy areas. They need to be really involved in and understand the key elements, and have to have personal commitment to the major policies, because this comes across when communicating outside through the media, Honesty and belief shines through and conviction politicians are rare and come across well (in most cases), people are becoming immune to professional politicians
So what would I look for in a leader?
Well the key here is what do we have to choose from? It’s no good people saying ‘Nigel’, he’s not standing and, to be honest, to survive long term we cannot be reliant on just one person to always be leader.
The leader we need is someone who can carry an audience with him, who come across as honest, thoughtful and direct. They need to be able to deliver a message in a simple way that does not sound like they are talking down to people, and they need to be able to chose the right policies to connect with the public and deliver that message in a way that is engaging and acceptable.
They also need to look like a serious player, a leader in the way they dress and carry themselves.
Some people just look ‘right’, while others look ‘wrong’, and if you don’t look right, they you come across badly and your message, no matter how good, will not be heard. Michael Foot always looked ‘wrong’, so did Neil Kinnock, they didn’t have the carriage or dress sense that conveyed the perception that they were ‘in charge’, nor did John Major, he never looked or sounded like a leader. Maggie Thatcher however, did carry herself well, and dressed appropriately, she looked like the leader of a country, and despite her failings, this was a key to her success in many areas.
Now I know that many will say that you shouldn’t judge by appearances, but in the real world that happens and people tend to have automatic responses to certain things, people, who are smart and well groomed tend to be viewed as having a degree of authority from the off, but there are also ways of standing that tend to indicate indecision, or uncertainty, or arrogance – think of pictures of Mussolini and his stance. If you have someone who fulfils the first requirement, if they then add to that a posture that shows confidence but also a degree of humility, then you start to appeal to the majority of people, before you even speak.
So, appearance and the way people carry themselves and dress is important, so is their ability to communicate, speak and have a presence when addressing a group.
Next is policy and the way of putting that policy across.
The tone used in communicating policy is really very, very important, and negativity, being ‘against’ something is not a good way to put a proposition to the British people, we tend to support those being oppressed and giving that position to anything, tends to give it support it would not otherwise have. Putting the positive side, which would, by implication say that the opposite is negative or not good, is the only effective route. Opposing something is useless, you have to give the balanced argument.
The general policies within UKIP are very much common sense, and with proper promotion would really gain traction with the British public, but some pronouncements can overshadow even the best policies. As I personally found this year, the ‘Burqua’ announcement overshadowed everything else that UKIP had said in previous weeks. A Radio interview, where as a PPC I wanted to talk policies on NHS, Foreign Aid, Service cuts by the Conservatives, was drowned out by the presenter concentrating on what was effectively a non important policy!
Its this tonality which is key, to put forward any policy as being positive, rather than concentrating on the negatives and giving our opponents something to hang a label onto and to drown out the key issues we need to communicate.
But policies and their delivery should not be the sole prerogative of the leader, it’s crucial that there is a strong and very visible team backing the leader, taking part of that important spotlight. Part of the leaders key role is to develop and promote talent within the party and to delegate responsibilities. One of the biggest problems we have had is the lack of real delegation of responsibility from the leader, and it’s this that led to UKIP being seen as a one man band. This delegation and talent identification and promotion is a vital leadership role.
Finally, the party itself. I think many of us will agree that the party is in serious need of reform in almost every area. Too many comfortable relationships within the party which protects people and prevents other voices being heard, too little money or support. And it is important that the leader has a party structure that meets their needs, and allows them to drive the party forward. But, is party reform the job of the leader? I’d say no, it should be the job of the party chairman, because, if the leader is bogged down with structural reform, then he is not out their talking to people, communicating and actually, you know, leading? So, the appointment of a Chair is a key decision.
The leader, the visible face of the party, the embodiment of what we are trying to be, has to be someone who will, from the first moment they are seen, say subconsciously “a leader” to anyone they meet. They have to do that bit, from day 1, being positive, approachable, confident and communicative and having that indefinable air of authority which makes anyone say ‘They are in charge’. Then, they can deliver our major policies to people who are listening!