Our prime minister failed to chair not one but five emergency meetings, known as COBRA. The letters sort of stand for Cabinet Office Meeting Rooms In fact they are cross government committees called to co-ordinate government responses to crises.
The key word is ‘co-ordinate’. Particularly since Blair we have, too often for my taste, used the word ‘leader’ to describe the role of prime minister. Many thousands of words have been written on leadership, detailing different kinds and models. I find it uncomfortable that strong leadership encourages the use of the word ‘instruction’. That is counter to the notion of government by consent no matter how many times a government deceitfully throws the word ‘democracy’ at us.
Obtaining consent is serious stuff. Work has to be done.
During the war Churchill is regarded as giving us leadership. As his deputy Attlee, by contrast, gave us co-ordinated decision-making. Cabinets stuck to the agenda, made consensual decisions and went home on time.
If you wish to be top dog you simply must turn up for crucial meetings. This does not mean that you are the only one present that knows and understands everything, not at all. There are bound to be others present that know and understand more than you or are capable of thinking about what might be unexpected factors beyond the short-term. In order to arrive at decisions that stick you must listen and make sure that everyone capable of contributing has had their say. Then you sum up and ask if everyone agrees.
Working like this means that you avoid making silly speeches about how good it is to shake hands with people who may have the virus.
The Tories have rushed to defend a leader who regards his job as requiring none of the hard work that anything approaching real democracy demands. Autocracy is easy but mistakes can be disastrous. Democracy is far from being easy and you have to be prepared to lose arguments. That is not to his taste.
Put simply, in order to co-ordinate you have to turn up.
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