4 February 2021
The Value of Leadership
By Paul Branch
And so to the Northern royal progress. After a period of relative peace and calm, Boris found his way to Scotland to see for himself what’s happening there “on the ground”, with vaccine manufacture and jab administration all progressing miraculously smoothly, and to make a few pointed (and probably unnecessary) remarks about the SNP’s management style. And about their apparent fixation with another independence referendum. Nicola Sturgeon pronounced the visit unnecessary; strange that neither could find the time to meet up away from the public glare of the playground, exchange unpleasantries in person over a cup of tea, and maybe start looking at how to move forward a bit more constructively. Several sharp-eyed Scots spotted the return of the lockdown-breaker and called the police, strengthening Nicola’s reputation for taking the pandemic more seriously than Boris although she does seem to struggle on other parts of her devolved brief, especially education and health in general.
Michael Gove of course justified our leader’s day trip on the grounds that the Prime Minister needs to see for himself what’s going on in every nook and cranny of the Union, and the public deserve to see him doing just that. Others might suggest that the gravest current risk to the Union’s future is Boris himself, and that it’s probably best if he were to maintain the lowest of low profiles. Strange though that he always seems to come up against those also in deep disfavour, where the public is given the unenviable task of trying to choose between the least disliked of our leaders.
While Boris was enjoying his short Highland fling he was handed a PR gift from across the Channel by the EU leadership’s ludicrous decision to trigger and then almost immediately withdraw the Brexit get-out clause. And this after having signed a contract with AstraZeneca with the unfathomable phrase “best reasonable efforts” up front. Young Ursula and her heavyweight supporters in Paris and Berlin have not covered themselves in glory, although our own recent track record in breaking an international agreement hasn’t been completely unsullied either. Happily in both instances we’ve had a screeching EU-turn, but not before tempers and relationships are further frayed between our exalted leaders.
With leaders in a democracy you normally get what you voted for, and like most other commodities the quality of leadership reflects what you pay for it. In less enlightened parts of the world the “quality” of a leader, in some cases defined by longevity (ie, the ability to retain power at any cost, without the moral authority to wield it), can be assessed in terms of their financial value or worth. Without suggesting for one scintilla of a moment that Russia might fall into that latter category, it’s interesting that Vladimir Putin reportedly tops the rich list of world leaders at around $200 billion – yup, billions. In apparent response to last week’s Shaw Sheet article describing a $100 million Russian palace, alleged by Alexei Navalny to be owned by Vlad, he’s made it clear it isn’t his but, coincidentally, it belongs to an old school friend. Which is a pity really as whenever he does decide to give up the reins of power he’s going to need a very secure hiding place against all those keen to do him all manner of mischief. For now Putin also seems to be the world’s wealthiest person, topping even Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos but not by much. Having spent a lot of money on the way to helping eradicate malaria, Bill Gates doesn’t even make it onto the podium these days, but he’s probably quietly happy that his money is being ploughed back into doing good.
Others on the leadership rich list but not in the same league as Vlad include Kim Jong-un ($5 bn), Xi Jinping (€1.5 bn), and last but by no means least Donald J Trump said to weigh in at around $3 billion. I imagine The Donald will need every cent of that to address the queue of litigants anxious to discuss the pending personal matters which they were unable to pursue during his tenure as President, which (like his counterpart Vlad Putin) may explain his reluctance to leave office just yet.
That nice Mr Bashar al-Assad ($1 bn) also deserves mention for bailing out his country in times of need. In the absence of much in the way of tax revenues from his countrymen, he’s probably having to foot the bill himself for the Russian military presence in Syria and the use of their armaments. Lower down the list of current world leaders in the mere $millions range we find some other jolly characters who seem to have profited mightily in the job: Recep Erdogan (said to be worth $50 million), Benjamin Netenyahu (said to be worth $15 million – but at least he’s now doling out vaccine shots to Palestine, albeit in small numbers), and an obscene number of other leaders of very poor African and South American countries.
From the past we find the late lamented Robert Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and even that paragon of communist virtue Fidel Castro, who all had billions at their disposal while their subjects suffered. Muammar Gaddafi is said to have left behind $200 billion which was supposed to have gone to feeding and rehousing the poor and needy of Libya … however, there appears to have been an administrative snag somewhere as the money is being distributed to “unknown beneficiaries”.
Historical national comparisons make for interesting reading: Napoleon Bonaparte at $400 million and Adolf Hitler at $6 billion dwarfing modern European leaders makes you wonder about the good old days for world leaders. But then we see George Washington at $500 million (including assets from the slave trade) against Trump’s billions and maybe there are better opportunities for accumulating wealth today.
Until you come to my last example: Boris Johnson’s worthy predecessor over the period 1852-68, the man credited with forging modern Conservatism (along with Peel and Disraeli), Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby weighed in with over $1 billion (again slavery may have figured). There are many public tributes to the former PM, at home and abroad: as the Earl of Derby he has a statue in Parliament Square, and as plain Mr Stanley the capital of the Falklands and a North American ice hockey competition are named after him. His estate at Knowsley Park just outside Liverpool housed a world famous aviary and menagerie, now a Safari Park, and it was at Knowsley Hall that he allegedly conceived my great great grandfather, with the probably unwilling cooperation of a French chambermaid. I had been planning on a visit up north to visit the relations, but as Knowsley is also the worst hit district in the country for Covid I think I’ll wait awhile. And after all, even a small share of all that money would only bring misfortune. Makes you wonder how life would be different if we were all as generous in spirit as Bill Gates.