Churchill’s lead­er­ship

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Arthur I. Cyr Arthur I. Cyr ([email protected]) is Clausen Distin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War.”

Britain’s Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son likes to com­pare him­self to Sir Win­ston Churchill, the great leader who pre­served his na­tion through the truly ter­ri­ble, high­est-stakes early chal­lenges of World War II.

Churchill then played piv­otal roles in cre­at­ing and bro­ker­ing the al­liances, in par­tic­u­lar with the United States, which cre­ated the road to to­tal vic­tory. Fi­nally, he was in­stru­men­tal along with Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and others in chart­ing the frame­work for the United Na­tions.

Some jour­nal­ists have pro­moted the com­par­i­son. They di­rectly equate Churchill’s lead­er­ship in the to­tal global war three-quar­ters of a cen­tury ago with the in­tense con­tro­versy re­gard­ing Brexit, the short­hand ref­er­ence to Britain’s with­drawal from the Euro­pean Union.

This John­son anal­ogy to Churchill is ut­terly false. See­ing the two as com­pa­ra­ble dis­torts Churchill’s true tal­ents and strengths, triv­i­al­izes pro­found lessons of his­tory and might add in­flu­ence and stand­ing to a cur­rent prime min­is­ter who de­serves nei­ther.

John­son was ap­pointed head of gov­ern­ment by Queen El­iz­a­beth in July, af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May failed in three at­tempts to se­cure pas­sage by the House of Com­mons of an agree­ment her gov­ern­ment reached with EU of­fi­cials in Brus­sels to leave that or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The House of Com­mons is the gov­ern­ing cham­ber of the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment. The other cham­ber, the House of Lords, has lim­ited pow­ers to re­view, amend and de­lay leg­is­la­tion. Nor­mally this au­thor­ity is unim­por­tant, but be­comes sig­nif­i­cant in times of con­tin­u­ing ten­sion and cri­sis, as dur­ing the cur­rent on­go­ing in­tense Brexit dis­pute.

John­son has been able to take ad­van­tage of the con­tin­u­ing dis­ar­ray and in­de­ci­sion over Brexit. He has an­tag­o­nized and in­sulted lead­ers in his own party, as well as others, in­side and out­side Par­lia­ment. He be­came leader by win­ning a ma­jor­ity of votes of his Con­ser­va­tive Party in the Com­mons, then a ma­jor­ity of votes of in­di­vid­ual party mem­bers.

The party chooses their leader in this con­tem­po­rary man­ner. Pre­vi­ously, the Con­ser­va­tive es­tab­lish­ment, dom­i­nated by tra­di­tional aris­to­crats, made the se­lec­tion, a much more in­for­mal and class-ori­ented process. To­day, a more for­mal process is also more demo­cratic and trans­par­ent than in the past.

How­ever, greater fair­ness does not guar­an­tee bet­ter lead­ers. A politi­cian can get to the top with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in de­vel­op­ing coali­tions or prag­matic com­pro­mise. In early Septem­ber, John­son abruptly dis­missed 21 M.P.s who op­pose his rigid or “hard” Brexit, in­clud­ing Ni­cholas Soames, the grand­son of Win­ston Churchill. Soames, in turn, de­nounced John­son, which is not sur­pris­ing. How­ever, his point that the cur­rent prime min­is­ter lacks Churchill’s long, dif­fi­cult life ex­pe­ri­ence is ex­actly right.

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