The leadership debates were a dominant narrative in the 2010 general election, and contestation over which parties will be included in televised debates next year is already rife. 50for15 wanted to take a step back to think about what we actually think good leadership is. In Brentford and Isleworth, a key Labour-Conservative marginal, currently represented by Conservative Mary Macleod, we asked voters what they think makes for good leadership, and whether they think any prominent politicians possesses these qualities – we even made a video of it all!
Voters differed about want they want from a leader: one said, “A leader should not really be seen as a leader, but more as a facilitator of sensible thought.” However, another believed that leaders should take a more direct role in policy making and team work and should recognise that they cannot “please everybody.”
There was near universal agreement that political leaders need to be charismatic, but less consensus about which leaders have these qualities. Leaders of the smaller parties, in particular Natalie Bennett of the Green Party and Nigel Farage from UKIP, were more often accredited by voters as having charismatic appeal, rather than the leaders of the current three largest parties.
In an interview with 50for15, the constituency’s MP Mary Macleod highlighted how she thinks politicians must put aside ideological differences on different positions and be pragmatic in order to effectively work together: “I spent 20 years in business before coming to politics, so I think that you just have to make things happen and work with people… At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be doing this job if I thought I couldn’t make a difference.”
Not everyone we approached was particularly eager to appear on camera, but plenty of them were happy enough to tell us what they thought made for a good political leader. Some of their responses are written out below: