Great leaders have great ideas; they set out those ideas in great speeches and those speeches have a great impact that produces great change.
Martin Luther King had a dream, Harold Macmillan, saw the wind of change and Emmeline Pankhurst wanted freedom or death!
These were all great leaders who made great speeches in the 20th century that produced great change, most of which is it still ongoing.
The world is no less in need of great leaders now than in 1913 when Emmeline Pankhurst made her stirring speech in which she described herself as a soldier. ‘I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain – it seems strange it should have to be explained – what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women.’
The speech is every bit as revolutionary as the suffragette movement and it leaves the listener (and the reader today) in no doubt as to the commitment of the suffragettes and Emmeline Pankhurst to their cause, which is that, ‘We women, in trying to make our case clear, always have to make as part of our argument, and urge upon men in our audience the fact – a very simple fact – that women are human beings.’
There are many leaders hitting the headlines at the moment, as it is conference season, but I wonder, where is the conviction and revolutionary message?
Peter Oborne in the same week that he exposed Tony Blair in Channel 4’s dispatches as a leader with questionable judgement, interpreted Ed Miliband’s much maligned speech as a redefinition of British politics. While Peter’s analysis of the times is unerringly accurate: ‘The history of Britain since the Second World War can be divided into two long phases, each lasting several decades,‘ his conclusion that Ed Milliband or the Labour Party are capable of executing this much needed redefinition is questionable at best but more probably, highly unlikely.
Not only does Ed Milliband lack the conviction of the leaders quoted above and those quoted by Oborne in his piece, namely Attlee and Thatcher, the Labour party as a whole has lost its place as the party of militancy, conviction and the pioneers of revolution.
Tony Blair, in erasing clause 4 and turning the Labour party into ‘wanna be Tories’, which Tony Blair himself always was, deprived them of the one thing they had going for them as people with conviction and a cause they believed in and could make other people believe in too.
I think Ed Miliband’s speech was received so poorly because people can sense the lack of conviction behind it. This lack of conviction is because he refuses to acknowledge his commitment to the leftist values of the unions, because he thinks it’s politically incorrect, but still needs to find a way to get the message across, so when he refers to ferral business men without the context of socialism, it sounds insincere and lacks conviction.
Similarly, both the coalition leaders have a problem because they both have things they can’t admit to and so have become defensive in this 24-hour media savvy society. The reality is that the public are much more astute than they are given credit for and no amount of spin or polish can hide a lack of conviction.
One thing all the aforementioned leaders had in spades was conviction, determination and belief in the cause to which they were committed, without it, no one would remember who they are.
Who can disagree with Nelson Mandela‘s conviction when he says, ‘During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’