Leader Selection

Leader selection is clearly crucial, given the importance of their role as described above (6.3.4).  The method of appointment affects what sort of person is chosen – and unfortunately many selection processes tend to favour politicians with charisma rather than those with managerial skills:

·     Dictators come to power by being able to inspire, or at least control, their followers.  This does not necessarily mean that they would run a country in the interests of all the people.  A person who can seize power needs charisma, aggression, and self-confidence, which are characteristics which do not align with the need to listen to what the people want or, in the face of declining popularity, with the need to gracefully hand over power to someone else. 

·     Elected presidents also need charisma, aggression, and self-confidence, but they must submit themselves to another leader selection process at the end of their term of office.

·     Prime ministers who are appointed by their political parties are more likely to be chosen for their ability to unite the party, to manage it well, and to satisfy the population.  In a democracy, though, they must also lead the party at election time – so their public image and electability are important factors when they are chosen.

·     The two major political parties in Britain have recently experimented with a ‘pseudo-presidential’ system of appointing their leaders: delegating the task of leader selection to party members, who are unlikely to have centrist views.  As explained by The Economist, Britain’s prime minister becomes a rotten presidency:

“Candidates to become prime minister end up appealing to a narrow caucus of self-selecting members, rather than lawmakers chosen by the electorate at large.” 

MPs represent a broader range of opinion, and have more political knowledge, than most party members.  Delegation to the membership proved disastrous: Britain’s Labour Party members chose Jeremy Corbyn, who was unelectable; Conservative Party members chose Liz Truss, whose leadership was chaotic and resulted in her resignation after only 45 days in office; neither of these leaders was the first choice of the parliamentary party.

·     So-called ‘technocratic’ leaders coming from outside politics don't always have political legitimacy, as discussed in an article Mario Draghi: is Italy’s addiction to technocratic leaders a cause for concern?  Elected leaders are “more democratically accountable.”

(This is an archive of a page intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  The latest versions are at book contents).