Ruffling feathers is all part of being a strong leader - Sarah Todd

STRONG leaders shouldn’t be afraid of ruffling feathers.

It’s a notion that keeps coming to mind in our increasingly woke world.

There is a lot not to like about the government minister for efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg – his arrogant slouching on the front benches for starters – but he was right to tell civil servants to get back behind their desks.

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Somebody needs to stand up and say the same thing to doctors about resuming face-to-face consultations, banks about opening hours and pretty much every business in the country with a pre-recorded message advising callers to ‘visit us online’ rather than expecting to speak to a human being.

Jacob Rees-Mogg. Pic: Getty.Jacob Rees-Mogg. Pic: Getty.
Jacob Rees-Mogg. Pic: Getty.

The world’s gone soft in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We pussy-foot around, not wanting to upset people and, in the long run, it does nobody any favours.

Politics isn’t this correspondent’s specialist subject. The Yorkshire Post pays people at the very top of their game to give opinions and analysis. However, it’s obvious to this middle-aged mother that ‘partygate’ could so easily have been nipped in the bud.

It’s been said that no member of staff would have dared crack open a beer or share a take-away curry, birthday cake or whatever, when former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was at the helm. He would have given them a proverbial kick up the backside and told them to get on with their work.

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But wait, his “abusive behaviour and volcanic eruptions of foul temper” are alleged to have left Downing Street staff so frightened that he received an unprecedented reprimand from the head of the civil service.

A book published in 2010 recounted how an angrily impatient Brown became so furious with a Number 10 typist he turfed her out of her seat and took over the keyboard himself, along with numerous other outbursts.

When did striving for perfection become bullying? On numerous occasions this writer has been subjected to an old-fashioned roasting.

As a teenage junior reporter the dictionary was thrown across the newsroom every time a spelling mistake was made. Did it leave mental scarring? No, it sharpened this scribe’s ideas up.

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This is an unpopular opinion, but there is something about Boris Johnson…

When he walked through the war-torn streets of Ukraine, when he addressed the Russian people in their own language and his charismatic ability to unite the nation both before and after his own battle with coronavirus.

Oh, and the way he got us all vaccinated. However, he can’t be everybody’s friend and – this is the point – it shows weakness to even try.

Thinking aloud, is it because our beleaguered Prime Minister is so well-educated – such a libertarian – that to tear a strip off any of his partying staff would have been against his very nature? There is a very apt quote about never having met a strong person with an easy past.

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Leaders like the aforementioned Gordon Brown or former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott – who famously left-hooked a protester who egged him – had that inner grit of a previous life lived in the real world.

Same with Angela Rayner, the current deputy leader of the Labour party, who was brought up in poverty and left school as a pregnant 16 year-old.

Comprehensive school educated Home Secretary Priti Patel also has that certain something; not bothered whether people like her or not.

She has been accused of bullying civil servants but will there not have been some who needed straightening up among their number?

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While others have skirted around the very real crisis of asylum seekers illegally crossing over to our shores, Ms Patel has dared address it with her controversial Rwanda plan.

There was an interesting television documentary last week entitled Britain’s Strictest Headmistress and the subject, Katharine Birbalsingh, was wonderful. What a woman.

Wait for it though. A quick search online to find out how to correctly spell her name – still heeding the lessons of that flying dictionary three decades later – and it became clear that the general public weren’t as impressed.

Viewers of ITV’s Lorraine programme declared her ‘vile’ and ‘terrifying’ while newspapers ran stories suggesting that pupils at her London school will need therapy to recover from her no-nonsense teaching methods.

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For heaven’s sake, what she was doing wasn’t rocket science. It was a very old-fashioned speak when you are spoken to, have respect for others and do the very best you can approach. Pupils were thriving as a result of having some rules.

Over the years our children have cringed at their mother telling their friends to finish eating before leaving the table, to not gawp at their mobile phones when yours truly is talking to them and pulled them up for not thanking us for ferrying them around. Guess what?

A straw poll would suggest they all, now in their late teens and early 20s, haven’t suffered mental health problems as a result. A look can still get a ‘phone turned off and a ‘sorry Sarah’ from the coolest of 6ft-something lads who all, by the way, say they love spending time at our house.

To conclude, it’s society’s loss that the tide has turned away from expecting our leaders – from politicians to parents – to be strong characters. Of course, as we celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee there is no finer example of leadership.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli first coined the pithy ‘never complain; never explain’ and – along with other great leaders like Winston Churchill – the Queen has wisely followed this sage advice.

While this red-head wants to see leaders giving it some welly and bashing bureaucracy, our monarch’s quiet dignity is undoubtedly the greatest strength of all.

- Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.