Leader Selection Process

The leader selection process is crucial, given the importance of attracting and retaining support, but it is often deeply flawed

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.  These are not characteristics that 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’ leader selection process: delegating the task to a vote of 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.”

●  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.”

Professional politicians represent a broader range of opinion, and have more political knowledge, than most party members.  And they have been individually selected by those members, who should therefore trust them to select a leader they can work with.

Delegation of the leader selection process to the party membership proved disastrous in Britain: 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 their parliamentary party.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6345b.htm.