Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds The leader of a political party is a very important figure. They are the public face of the party, and their image will be closely associated with the party, and its success or failure will be attributed to them. Each party elects their leader in a slightly different way. Once a leader has been elected, they become the figurehead of the party, and their language and image are forensically examined by the press. It is the job of the leader to not only be the figurehead, but really to be the boss. They will have a very important voice in party affairs. Indeed, they may well be the only voice listened to depending on their power within the party.
Skip to 0 minutes and 40 seconds The legal will be tasked with determining the roles of others within the party. They will be expected to take a leading role in the election campaign for the party, touring the country and supporting the party candidates in each constituency. They will also inevitably be the central public figure of the party, participating in public debates, television and radio appearances, and any other media work to sell their policies to the public. This means that the ability of a leader to perform in front of the media has become more important over the course of the 20th century. The appearance of the leader is very important.
Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds While the electorate like to believe that substance is more important than style, in reality style is crucial to a leader, and often how they look is more influential than what they say or even how they act. Margaret Thatcher had elocution lessons while conservative party leader and was advised on what style of clothes to wear. David Cameron had his face featuring prominently on the 2010 conservative party election posters, something which he was ridiculed for. Ed Miliband has been widely criticised over his appearance with some rather unkind comparisons made. To look like an effective prime minister, leaders will often surround themselves with advisors and press secretaries who can ensure that their public image is carefully crafted.
Skip to 1 minute and 57 seconds They will wish to appear powerful, but in touch with the issues affecting the electorate. They will want to appear able to work with their colleagues, but in a role of a leader, a presidential figure rather than one amongst equals. This is something which has gradually changed over the course of the 20th century. Prime Ministers, such as Attlee, between 1945 and 1951 were very much seen as being leaders, but also one of many within the cabinet. Thatcher in contrast was very much portrayed as a singular figure with immense power. In the cases of Attlee and Thatcher, their public images seem to have been a fairly accurate depiction of real life.
Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds The key role of a leader is to be a central point. They should know the general detail of what every spokesman or cabinet member is doing, not the minutiae of policy, but the general elements. This puts them in a powerful position as the only person who can see the whole picture rather than just some elements of it. This level of knowledge also allows them to be a powerful spokesman for the party, and their role as leader gives each policy or individual that they speak up for an additional level of credibility. A good leader will be invaluable for their party, gathering support and being the public face of the party.
Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds A poor leader will be a constant source of worry for the party elite, and their lack of power and influence will weaken the party, unless they manage to turn their public image around very quickly.
What do leaders do?
The party leaders will be hard to escape during the election campaign. But where does their power come from, and how has the nature of political leadership in the UK changed over time?
In this video, Victoria describes the key functions of party leaders. She explores how leaders are chosen and their importance as the public face of their party and spokesperson for its policies.
The party leader’s role as figurehead and the close scrutiny they receive from the media means they need to be excellent performers in front of the cameras. But as Victoria shows, to be successful leaders must also manage their party effectively and be able to see the big picture of their party’s policies and political objectives.
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