A Spectator’s View

October 12, 2013

William Thompson

Seven leadership stories from The Spectator, 14th September 2013, are annotated by guest reviewer William Thompson for Leaders We Deserve

Leadership in the Christian Church
Are universities the breading ground of non- believers? Richard Dawkins the academic atheist describes the post-Christian world at Oxford. It is rare to meet someone who is religious in academic life he proclaims. He is influenced by Steven Pink’s book which believes that ‘humans are just getting nicer.’

What world are they living in? Come to our universities from across the world and we will convince you that Christianity is a myth. Is the Country that played a major role in the spread of Christianity leading the world away from the faith that sustains millions of people across the world?

Lack of Leadership at the BBC
The huge pay offs being made by the BBC have led the Trust and the Executives to blame each other for the missuse of license fees. The leadership from Lord Patten seems not to be bad but non-existent. Lord Reith’s mission was to entertain and inform to enrich the experiences of license fee payers; Patten’s pension payments merely enrich senior executives at the expense of license fee payers.

World Leadership
John Kerry US Secretary of State has a major leadership role dealing with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the issue of chemical weapons. Kerry also refers to the difference in tone between Rouhani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the President for 8 years who by his leadership caused Iran to be feared as a threat to civilisation across the world. Change of leader, change of tone.

‘As the leader of the football World I have decided not to decide..’
Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter aged 76 made a decision not to make a decision to move the 2020 World Cup from summer to winter. This is leadership of the highest order.

Silvio Berlusconi
The disgraced former prime minister of Italy was abandoned by five of his ministers plunging the government coalition into crisis. Has Berlusconi’s time as a significant leader come to an end?

Golden Dawn in Greece
In the news this week are four MP members of the neo-Nazi party who are charged with being members of a criminal group. Leadership of the wrong kind?

Jacques Rogge
Jacques Rogge 71 stood down as President of the Olympic Committee and was replaced by Thomas Back aged 59. Rogge is still younger than Blatter and Berlusconi. Can you be too old to be a leader?

Ann Widdecombe’s ‘Are you having a laugh?’

March 28, 2013

Ann WiddecombeTV Review: BBC1 Wednesday March 27 2013

Last night I watched a rather sad late-night programme fronted by Ann Widdecombe. Her focus was the hurt caused to Christians by assorted humorous treatments of religious themes. The humorists she interviewed argued they were mocking not Christianity but attitudes of Christians


Ann Widdecombe has celebrity status in the UK, for her uncompromising views on matters political, social, and religious. Following a career in politics she moved into the world of media and journalism. Her visibility is enhanced in a culture which delights in unself-conscious eccentricity. Her views are mostly of a socially conservative kind which she is prepared to back up by taking a moral position, at one stage refusing higher office during her time as a junior Government minister which would have required her to work against her beliefs.

A regiment of mockers

In the programme ‘Are you having a laugh: Humour and Christianity’ She offered an unshakable position, setting out to confirm it under the guise of rational discourse. Anger at the mockery naturally led her to name, shame, and confront a regiment of mockers ranging from the Monty Python team, Ricky Gervase, stand-up comedians as a tribe, and a few producers of other assorted media programmes.

Feel my pain

Her pain, induced by what she sees as the mocking of her beliefs, seemed genuine enough for some of her interviewees to show empathy, not a quality particularly manifest by the interviewer. I found my own sympathy diminishing she moved from the [in]famous crucifixion scene ending of the Life of Brian film to other less cogent examples of blasphemy through mockery.

Dangerous Territory

There was one point made about fundamentalist evangelical Christians in America, which fitted in with the general narrative, and yet was different. For once, Widdecombe’s views were not expressed with clarity. She seemed to be sensing dangerous territory to be skirted. Or maybe she felt that however egregious were the actions of these leaders, the basic point did not really fit into the theme of blasphemous mockery.

The arrogance of the mockers

The examples seemed to be located along a wide spectrum of any mock scale. Collectively they capture the libertarian component in British culture rather well. The perpetrators, one confessed to the confronting Widdecombe, are often prone to arrogance and a belief in the superiority of their views. Ms W, who presents herself as rather similar to another Conservative, Margaret Thatcher, in her grasp of irony, found only pleasure in the repentance of the wrong-doer.

So long as it doesn’t offend…

I detected an inauthentic note in her conclusion that ‘we’, (presumably Christians), should be more robust about such humour,’as long as it doesn’t mock ‘our’ beliefs.’ Quite so.

It was then I turned

I watched the programme feeling that I really should go to bed, or turn over to anything else that might provide me with less disappointing viewing. Eventually, I turned to my trusty non-religious tablet, and began writing…

Hugo Chavez will have a foothold in world history

March 9, 2013

Hugo ChavezHugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, who died this week, deserves study as an example of an visionary revolutionary leader whose influence impacted on global events over several decades.

His life story is the stuff of legends. The disentanglement of myth from reality is difficult. Inevitably there is the view of his supporters who find it easy to support the great leader narrative. Conversely, the view of his detractors provides the mirror image, that of a delusional tyrant who misapplied the oil revenues of his country through his foreign policy adventures.

A platform of understanding

There is a factual basis of events which forms a shared ‘platform of understanding’ or POU, regardless of which of the rival ‘maps’ you subscribe to. I have drawn the following synopsis from an obituary in the Guardian, selecting information which can be found in other sources.

Chavez was born in humble circumstances and had no obvious natural advantages by birth. What he achieved he did largely through his own efforts. If there were other factors it would be the natural resources and particularly its oil which give Venezuela considerable economic clout beyond its borders.

His parents were both teachers by profession, but a passion for baseball led young Hugo to enrol in the military academy at the age of 17. As a young officer, he became disillusioned with [corruption in] the armed forces and led a failed uprising against the military. The successor to President Pérez, Rafael Caldera, ordered the cases against them to be dropped. Chavez later stood for president with a promise to sweep aside the old order, rewrite the constitution and eliminate corruption. Riding a wave of disgust with politics, and strode to power. Later elections consolidated Chávez’s grip on power. There followed a period of unrest, a resignation, and a subsequent reinstatement.

During his 1998 presidential campaign, Chávez had insisted that he was “neither of the left nor the right”. But by 2006, he felt sufficiently secure to declare that socialism was the only way forward. Specifically, it was “21st-century socialism”. By 2011 Chavez was in poor health, and he stood and won re-election in absentia earlier this year [2013]

Internationally, he supported allies through his oil revenues and was particularly influential in Cuba. His political stance was increasingly distasteful to the United States. His presidency has been described as fostering a socialist pink tide sweeping Latin America including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Arguably Brazil, under Lula, a more cautious leader, internationally, supported Chavez in principle, without risking the roller-coaster ride in political fortunes.

What can be learned about leadership from studying Hugo Chavez?

I believe that students of leadership should study the accounts of influential leaders. However, my view comes with serious reservations. The stories tend to be either highly favourable or highly dismissive. In either case, what is missing (and what the student has to provide) is the lessons from the way the leader deals with the tough problems or dilemmas. Too often I read essays in which leaders appear to overcome all obstacles through natural brilliance.

21st century socialism

Chavez consistently faced difficulties including imprisonment and possible impeachment or worse. He was consistent in placing himself in a high moral position by appealing to a higher cause including ‘Bolivarization’ of his country, the emancipation of the oppressed, and (more recently) 21st century socialism. This implied a creative leadership stance of ‘Both And’ permitting him a retention of his Christian faith, while supporting other socialist and communist leaders who rejected it.