Pathetic, spineless, rubbish

PUBLISHED: 06:51 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:36 25 May 2010

There are two competing theories of democratic leadership.

There are two competing theories of democratic leadership. One of them holds that you should only say or do what you know the voters are comfortable with. You're a true democrat if you stay true to your electors, and only change things when the wind of a majority consensus is filling your sails.

But that's pathetic, spineless, rubbish according to the other side. They say that good leaders forge a consensus themselves, by setting out in the direction they know is right and expecting everyone else to follow. Leaders should be courageous, marching in front as their troops go into battle rather than cowering miles away from the action.

The truth is, of course, that really great leaders will apply both techniques in different circumstances. Sometimes they will lead strongly from the front, but on other occasions they'll ask questions and spend months consulting to make sure they've got democratic support before they act. Tony Blair, for example, changed Britain's political weather before he became Prime Minister by unilaterally declaring that NHS funding should be increased. But later he took several years of careful, painstaking consultation and negotiation to forge a consensus around reforming the state pension.

North Somerset Council have decided to take the 'lead boldly' approach over their proposed new offices in Clevedon. They've done their homework and, they tell us, it's a great deal. To be fair, in most parts of the county they've pulled it off: many voters seem broadly supportive and willing to go along with the plans. But not in Weston, where local people aren't convinced at all. Perhaps its time for a bit of local consensus building instead...

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