Has there ever been a time when good political leadership was as needed, or as lacking?

The IPCC’s climate change report shows we desperately need good leadership, but can our political system provide it?

Has there ever been a time when good political leadership was as needed, or as lacking? (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Has there ever been a time when good political leadership was as needed, or as lacking? (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Our political system currently seems incapable of producing leaders who can attract anything like majority support, nor build unity across political divides to tackle the massive and imminent challenges we face on both a national and global scale.

With the publication of today’s summary report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are given a stark reminder of the true scale of the most threatening of these challenges.

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As one of the largest economies in the world and with diplomatic influence way beyond our size, the UK’s role in tackling this threat will inevitably be about more than reducing our own emissions. We will also need to contribute toward global leadership and show that where in the past we have outmatched our size in contributing to emissions, we are now prepared to shoulder more than ‘our share’ of the burden.

This will require incredibly difficult decisions, which will in turn require highly effective political leadership, which will, in turn, require a broad base of public support.

Under our outdated electoral system, first-past-the-post, the prospect of an election delivering a government which actually enjoys the support or represents the interests of the majority, is slim.

Some might suggest that, as a result, electoral reform to a proportional representational model is the solution. In theory this may be right, but in practice would likely mean spending at least a couple of years campaigning for this change with no certainty of achieving it. Some might characterise this as fiddling while the world burns.

This means that in all likelihood, the person who will lead us through what will almost certainly be among the most crucial and challenging years in human history, will be the leader of one of the two major parties in Britain. This, at a time when the most recent opinion polling shows that a little-known candidate named “Neither” outperforms either of these current leaders.

In Boris Johnson we have a PM who seems to at least be able to acknowledge that there is a problem, but, given his government’s continued support for large-scale fossil fuel projects, that he doesn’t grasp the reality of it. Or could it be that he and his party are just too closely tied to corporate interests which have, at best, a clear incentive to play down the scale of the crisis?

So our other option is Keir Starmer. The former director of public prosecutions cannot reasonably be accused of incompetence, but at a time when the need for them is so great, he seems almost entirely devoid of big ideas.

What plans the Labour party has put out on the climate crisis are encouraging, if far too thin on detail. But even if we are to take the leap of assuming they would be enough to help avert the worst outcomes of this crisis, and the leap of assuming Starmer would be able to deliver them, he would still need to win an election first, and resoundingly.

Given his inability to get within touching distance of the Tories in the polls throughout most of the last 18 months, that seems like the biggest leap of them all.

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