Is being authentic enough to be a leader?
The FT's editor Lionel Barber and Janan Ganesh, our chief political commentator, discuss the recent political party candidates and examine whether being authentic is sufficient to be an effective leader.
Produced by Alessia Giustiniano. Filmed by Rod Fitzgerald.
The British political season is almost upon us. And many people are asking, might Theresa May face a leadership challenge. And what about the leadership qualities of Jeremy Corbyn newly rejuvenated? What is the ultimate test of leadership? Is it authenticity? Here with me to discuss this is Janan Ganesh and you made a quite extraordinary attack this week on authenticity and a putative challenger to Mrs. May, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Yeah, authenticity has become the gold dust when looking for political candidates in the modern world. Jeremy Corbyn is seen to have done well as labour leader because he has authenticity. Boris Johnson for a long time looked like a plausible prime minister because people said, well, he's authentic. He's unspun. But I think him Jacob Rees-Mogg you have an example of someone who's clearly authentic, doesn't disguise the fact that he's a very privileged man, and doesn't disguise the fact that he's--
Some of the times editor.
Former newspaper editor.
But doesn't also disguise the fact that he's a committed Catholic. And he expressed views on abortion and same-sex marriage that annoyed a lot of people who were big fans of him only two weeks ago. And that's an example of the fact that when people say they want authenticity, what they mean is the kind of authenticity they like.
There's good authenticity and then there's the bad stuff, which they suddenly go cold over.
Yeah, but Janan, I mean, we watched the British election campaign earlier this year in which Theresa May, for all her qualities, was incapable of spontaneous talking, speaking on the trail. And she wasn't authentic.
She could argue that that was the authentic her, that she's not a natural public performer. She's not a natural people person. Actually she's a diligent, behind-the-scenes kind of politician who works through a brief and does her best in that way, rather than a spectacular personality. But that's fine. The problem I have with the authenticity cult is that people think it's somehow enough. That if someone is expressive of views that are unusual, doesn't employ a media adviser, it's very direct--
That's the point about media advisers. I mean, you know, I've covered American presidential campaigns. I mean, they're all over the place. You get the blow dried hair cut candidate.
And he's totally scripted or she's totally scripted. Look at Hillary Clinton last year.
And that's annoying to a lot of people and hard to connect with. But in office, is it enough to say, well, I'm authentic and, therefore, I should be national leader of a country of 60 million people with nuclear weapons and a very large economy. I think authenticity is not even necessary, let alone sufficient. And we started to talk about it as though it was almost a sufficient criterion on which to elect a national leader.
Well, I'm coming round to your point of view. But what about Jeremy Corbyn? I mean, isn't he authentic? I mean, the flat cap, the beard has been trimmed now, of course.
A bit, yeah.
But you know, he is what he looks like, which is a 1970s style socialist.
Completely, I think he's entirely authentic. Hasn't changed his views since he entered parliament in the early 1980s, completely unspun, slight trimming of the beard. I think he started to wear a suit now, or at least a jacket and tie but nothing artificial really. But is that a sufficient criterion on which to elect a national leader? And my only--
So what are the qualities that we need? And if we're going to put authenticity slightly to the side, not completely--
What are we looking at?
I think that-- I still think a good national leader will, to a large extent, be inauthentic. And we will find them objectionable in many ways. And so someone like a Tony Blair or a John Major was seen to be sometimes underhand to not say the entirety of what they mean. And that's necessary. You're having to balance interests within your cabinet. You're having to balance principle with practical reality. You're having to set this interest group up against that one and somehow keep some semblance of popularity while governing the country.
You can only do that as a national leader if you are a little bit sly, a little bit inauthentic, and are willing to not say absolutely everything you mean at any given time. So I think it's almost kind of weirdly juvenile demand that we, as the media, and to a certain extent the electorate have come up with in expecting everyone to be completely honest and authentic all the time.
So I'm writing down Jacob Rees-Mogg's chances of being the next Conservative Party leader. Thank you Janan Ganesh.