Lessons from the British transition

UK PM Theresa May

The world was recently treated to the British smooth transition from one government to another through the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron and the  assumption of office of Theresa May as the new Prime Minister. Given that, under the parliamentary system, what took place was a change in the leadership of the Conservative Party which has majority in the Parliament, the change of guard was not expected to have been triggered by a general election. Yet, no critical observer would have been unimpressed with the whole process of managing the uncertainty tossed up by the Brexit vote in Britain.

It is remarkable that Cameron, who called the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) in order to get voters’ endorsement for his position on Britain retaining its membership while also vigorously campaigning for this position, did not try to hang on after the electorate rejected that position and voted for exit from the EU. Mr Cameron promptly announced his resignation from office, recognizing the implication of the rejection of his own position by the voters and the importance of allowing somebody who could more easily relate to the Brexit sentiments to preside over the country going forward. Even after recommending that he would continue as Caretaker Prime Minister to allow the Conservative Party to exhaust the process of getting a new leadership perhaps by the end of September 2016, he was also quick to indicate that he would leave within the spate of two days when it became clear that Theresa May had become the only contender for the post.

And it is instructive that Mrs May became the only contender when her opponent for the vote among the membership of the Conservative Party throughout the country, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew from the race suggesting that she no longer felt that she had enough support, arguing that ‘business needs certainty’ and that the country needed ‘a new Prime Minister as soon as possible.’ This was Mrs Leadsom putting the interest of the country before her own, as nothing stopped her from proceeding with the vote and allowing the party membership to weigh in until September before she would accept defeat. The country would have lost a lot to the uncertainty between now and then and she was prepared to save the country from such a loss. This is what is expected of those who aspire to leadership. It should be about the collective and not about self, as is often the case within the Nigerian clime.

Mrs May has since assumed duties, moving rapidly to put in place her cabinet. It did not take the new Prime Minster more than a few days to complete all the appointments into the cabinet, with even major appointments made immediately after her assumption of duties. This speaks to a leadership readiness that is glaringly absent in Nigeria as the experience here is about campaigning for an office first and getting to the office before scampering to determine what to do in office. We must also acknowledge how easy it was for Mrs May to put in place a competent cabinet given that the Conservative Party, just like any other political party competing for power in serious environments, has a leadership core that is populated by different and wide expertise deliberately geared towards solving the problems of the society.

This shows that individuals do not just go into politics without having an expertise that could be deployed in the public processes, unlike what we often find in Nigeria where government appointments are devoid of known expertise. This means that the smooth transition in Britain remarked here teaches a fundamental reordering of the system of politics in Nigeria, such that politics becomes inspired by the desire for collective aspirations rather than personal accomplishments. In the same vein, the country must seek to be governed through a leadership that is based on competence and expertise instead of having ill-informed governance feeding all the negative propensities in the country.

What has been demonstrated in Britain is not a lack of disagreements among leaders, but a process in which disagreements are managed through the deployment of what is best for the country at any time, given that the whole public process is built on the use of personal expertise for the realisation of collective goals. It should be clear that Nigeria has to imbibe such sentiments if politics is to have any positive meaning and be the basis of sustainable development in the country.