Lord Coe for Prime Minister

by Nick  

So, I wrote a tweet at the end of the Paralympics the other evening:

After ages of not blogging, I thought there was enough of a point in that flippant tweet to be worth expanding on.

The London 2012 Games have been a spectacular, and profound, success. After the shadow cast by the 7/7 bombings, there were years of questions about the logo, the spiralling costs, and whether we'd even be able to build the venues on time. In the past 12 months, there was cynicism about the ticketing process, the impact of Zil lanes and overbearing corporate sponsorship. In the immediate run-up, there was the diplomatic gaffe by Mitt Romney and the failure of G4S to provide the security staff they'd promised.

But that cynicism was largely swept aside by Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony. For the people with whom I spoke, and saw writing on social media, the reaction was near universal, spontaneous, and immediate. Britons have a tendency for self-deprecation and cynicism, but the ceremony managed to combine an unashamed positivity with an honest representation of where our nation have come from. For me, it was like seeing a reflection in a mirror for the first time, and truly loving what I saw. Far from leftie multicultural crap, it accepted that Britain's past is not blameless, but said that we have a lot to be proud of, from universal suffrage to James Bond, from the NHS to the World Wide Web. It also managed to avoid many of the clichés of Olympic ceremonies, with a staging that successfully managed to span the theatrical and the televisual. By comparison, Kim Gavin's closing ceremonies and the Paralympic opening ceremony, directed by Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, were much more traditional in structure and form, and correspondingly less epic.

The opening ceremony set the stage for a Games which exceeded all expectations for British sporting achievement. The ticketed audience was vocal and engaged, and thanks to the BBC, viewers at home in the UK were able to explore sporting events with unparalleled freedom, both on- and offline. The sun came out after a washout early summer, enhancing a feel-good factor which was already growing after the Diamond Jubilee and the Torch Relay, which saw people take to the streets across the country in a way which I don't remember since the Silver Jubilee of 1977. It was the perfect precursor to the Paralympic Games, which saw unprecedented numbers of visitors, and coverage which was nearly the equal of the earlier Games. I was lucky enough to get tickets to two days at the Paralympics - one at the Olympic Park, and one at the Excel arenas - we saw wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis, boccia, and wheelchair fencing. All were great sporting spectacles in venues which managed to avoid theme park tackiness. Transport was seamless, fast, and well organised, and the volunteer 'gamesmakers' lived up to their reputation for making the whole experience fun. Among all this, the fact that the athletes had disabilities was frankly irrelevant, and I suspect this was true for many, if not most, of the spectators.

Which brings me back to Sebastian Coe. I tweeted after the Opening Ceremony that they'd have to make him King - as he's already a life peer and KBE, there's no higher honour  for him to get (yes, I'm deliberately ignoring Knight Grand Cross - after all in reality, he could conceivably become GCMG, or possibly even KG). After the close of the Paralympics, it feels to me that the office of Prime Minister might be better suited.

It's a challenging position, providing leadership to the country, whilst having to respect and command the confidence of the broad  spectrum of peoples that make up our nation. Whilst not directly elected, as would be a head of state in a republic, it is a political role, which means that the incumbent must also command the respect of our elected representatives. Too often though, we seem to expect our Prime Ministers to be more than this - people who command all the decisions that affect us. This is plainly ludicrous, yet we (well, the media, and us by extension) chastise the politician who fails to master every brief and every piece of news. Even in good times, this is difficult - consider the 'golden' premiership of Tony Blair in a time of economic boom and humanitarian intervention of NATO in Kosovo, which became mired in Iraqi WMD and Afghanistan. Yet in difficult times - and these are certainly difficult economics times - the job is tougher still.

Which is why I find myself looking at Coe. He has political experience as a former MP, and can evidently schmooze with the best of them, as evidenced by his success in the initial Olympic bid. As a former athlete, he is clearly driven, having won four Olympic medals, including two golds, and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records. He is an accomplished orator, having spoken eloquently to billions in the Games ceremonies. He is respected nationally and internationally, with an aura of statesmanship, despite being unafraid of the vernacular. Britons have given him enormous personal credit for delivering the Games, particularly given the cynicism at the outset. And evidently, he did not achieve all this by himself. He is clearly capable of leading a team which can deliver. And for a leader to be effective, he or she must be ready to give direction and take counsel in equal measure.

Coe is a leader of people. And leadership is what we need now. Economically, the western world continues in a bubble of denial, which may only need a small shock to cause an even worse slump that we've seen in recent years. The coalition government is in a state of tension which throttles sane policymaking. As a Lib Dem supporter, it's depressing to see that the current government is only marginally less half-baked than the Gordon Brown administration. The Opposition is in the wilderness, with a 'leader' who unfortunately suffers from a yawning charisma deficit, and no clear policy for change - after all they recognise the truth that the economy remains precipitous. The depth and breadth of cuts we've faced has failed to drive growth in the way it was promised by Cameron and Osborne. Personally, I fail to understand why we haven't used low-cost sovereign debt to jump-start infrastructural investment, and thereby create the growth environment that will increase tax revenues and reduce structural deficit by increasing income rather than solely cutting expenditure. Talk in recent weeks about the construction industry and Heathrow may mean the tide here is changing, even if the specific proposals are not necessarily the right ones.

And this is where we need leadership. I don't see it coming from Nick Clegg - his decision to join the coalition was toxic to his personal brand, and his position as Deputy PM means he will not be taken seriously. In the Conservative party, the prospect of Gove is almost as terrifying as Osborne, and whilst Boris would undoubtedly be entertainingly charismatic, he lacks the statesmanship and gravitas that a PM needs. Cameron has been a reasonable caretaker (given the rabidity of many Tories), but I'd argue that it's time for a person that people across the country and around the world will respect. So, let's have a nice, British, bloodless coup, where the cabinet choose to step down in favour of someone who can assemble a government to take the country along with it, in unity through challenging times. Arise Lord Coe!

(and yes, I know he's standing for the BOA instead...)

2 comments

Comment from: Mac
Mac

Hear hear! ish…

I have been of the view for some time that there are a plenty of intelligent, charismatic, successful leaders in the UK who would do a better job of running the country than any career politician. The problem is they’re all far too bright to take on the challenge. Lord Coe can find greater motivation and more personal satisfaction elsewhere, I’m sure, without having to expose himself quite as openly to the unreality of UK politics and the incompetent, wilfully destructive force which is the UK media.

Much better to offer him the throne.

ps I take issue with your description of the opening ceremony. Here in ‘Oop Narth’, where one might think lefty multiculturalism and great big molten steel rings would go down quite well, there was a general sense from most people I knew that the opening ceremony was confusing, disjointed, boring (at least in the music/dance/texting section) and lacked positivity. No-one likes the twee English village view of the world much, but why *celebrate* having it torn to pieces by the awfulness of the industrial revolution, the scars of which still stain the land today? etc etc…

13/09/12 @ 10:06
Comment from:
Nick

Interesting to hear a different perspective on the opening ceremony. Happy to celebrate diversity :-p

I’m intrigued to hear it cast as a geographic thing - after all, Danny Boyle is from Radcliffe and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce is from Rainhill - both Lancashire-born. I believe Cottrell Boyce still lives in or near Merseyside.

My interpretation (which is certainly not canonical) is that we are who we are because of the path we travelled. Not necessarily celebrating it per se, but recognising that it shaped us as a nation, and that, for generations, Britain helped shaped the modern world. Often for the better, sometimes for the worse, but we are who we are now, and we should see things to celebrate in that.

13/09/12 @ 21:36