#ThinkingAllowed: The loneliness of leadership
It’s a week since we woke up to the news that Daniel Feetham was resigning as Leader of the GSD. The shock that wasn’t really a shock. The resignation that really wasn’t that unexpected.
This is not about Daniel Feetham failing. As he said “the time for Danny Feetham has gone” – the reality is that his position as Leader of the GSD and Leader of the Opposition was a poisoned chalice. Taking over from Sir Peter Caruana (and in a party going from 16 years of Government to Opposition) would have been a “colossal task” for anyone.
Unfortunately for him, it may well have been one of those jobs that just needed to be filled until it was time to open the door for the next candidate.
Mr Feetham speaks of how “leadership is a lonely, lonely place.” He is so right.
As a journalist who has covered a few election campaigns, and their aftermath, I’ve seen first-hand how quickly some people can change their spots. I’ve seen a Chief Minister surrounded by hundreds one day and walking alone in a Gibraltar side street the next after losing an election.
Mr Feetham’s decision will have made a weak opposition weaker but it will also give them the time to restructure ahead of the next election. To have held on for longer would almost certainly have meant leading the party to another landslide loss.
This will not have been easy for Daniel Feetham and he deserves our full respect for it. As the Editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle Brian Reyes pointed out last week “love him or loathe him, no one can question his commitment to the community”.
The GSD has already said the long-term successor may or may not come from the elected opposition bench. This will spark furious speculation about names that may have been waiting in the wings ready to return to frontline politics.
In our world of sometimes ‘Punch and Judy’ politics, where Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition always seem engaged in a constant personal battle against each other across the floor of Parliament, there may also have been a glimmer of hope.
The Chief Minister's statement calling on the public to respect Mr Feetham’s decision as well as respect for his privacy and that of his family was the behaviour of a gentleman. At a point when Mr Feetham needed support, they were not political opponents but two men who want the best for Gibraltar and sacrificed so much. It’s a pity we can’t have more of this respect in Parliament.
Some will argue that's what politicians get paid for. Defending Gibraltar with a passion and putting your community before family is not a task money can buy (lawyers who become elected politicians would, I imagine, make more money in private practice than they make as parliamentarians).
The opposition is in disarray and they will need to take action so they can fulfill their duty of holding the elected Government to account. One of the challenges it faces is having become a GSD opposition of five and two independents. My colleague Stephen Neish said last week is his opinion piece that in his view the “honourable” thing for Marlene Hassan-Nahon and Lawrence Llamas would have been to “resign not only from the party but from parliament too”.
Whilst our system means we vote for individuals both stood as members of the GSD, under its manifesto. That’s what the electorate voted on. It was the ticket on which they won their seats. They should have sparked a by-election and contested their seat. Only then can they have the mandate to fully represent the people of Gibraltar in Parliament.
In the UK when Zac Goldsmith resigned his seat in Richmond in protest over the Heathrow expansion there was a by-election. Mr Goldsmith then stood as an independent and lost against Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney. He has since regained his seat but it may, however, reflect why both Mr Llamas and Ms Hassan Nahon do not want a by-election.
Let the summer recess be a time to ponder on the many implications for the opposition bench and what it means for our democracy. May it also be one for our elected leaders to be able to spend some time away from the constant spotlight with their families.
Like the GSD slogan in the background of an emotional Daniel Feetham at his recent press conference read – ‘There is a better way…’
Perhaps that way is for politicians to be able to take a break and not put the weight of the world constantly on their shoulders.