David Cameron – Britain’s first Slacktivist Prime Minister?

Today, after weeks of vacillation and inaction, our Prime Minister David Cameron announced Britain would accept ‘thousands of Syrian refugees’

In doing so he lagged  behind Angela Merkelthe bold’  (The Economist) and Tim Farron who have both spoken up clearly, passionately and with conviction for concerted action to support Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives.

They have demonstrated genuine leadership on this issue. In doing so they have shown that they are activist politicians.

On hearing the news it occurred to me that Cameron is showing all the behavioural characteristics we might associate with slactivists.

f you’re a regular person sitting at home wanting to ‘do something’ perhaps after seeing a disturbing photo online or watching a distressing news broadcast this is acceptable behaviour.

Not, I’m afraid if you’re our national leader.

I signed this petition myself yesterday because as Tim Farron pointed out it was swiftest way to get our elected government to take action on the refugee crisis.

But I’m not elected. I am not the Prime Minister. If anyone can ‘do something’, David Cameron can.

And this not just about him exercising the influence he has over what happens in the UK.

He is also a global leader of a major nation in one of the most influential countries in Europe and the world. He has a duty to exercise global leadership on this issue.

Cameron’s comments today were redolent of the yawning gap in his leadership where moral courage should be.

To misquote Macbeth his speech was all sound and fury and ultimately it signified nothing.

Vague pledges were made to help thousands but if you read his speech no firm commitments were made so as not to frighten off would be voters at next year’s referendum.

Slacktivism is defined by Wikipedia as:

‘a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed. Slacktivism can be defined as the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low-cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research….

The Joint United Nation as  describes the term “slacktivist”, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.

Sadly, this is starting to look a lot like an accurate description of the behaviour of our Prime Minister.

Of course, he cannot solve this European-wide crisis, but he can use his influence and the resources of his office, his government to help a great many people.

Merkel gets this. She described leadership like this in 2013:

[My task is “to advance and solve problems. Even if it is only a few centimetres.”

Barack Obama also gets this.

The very phrase ‘yes we can!’ is about recognising the role leaders themselves can and should play in inspiring hope and belief in people that  seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved.

Unlike Cameron, Obama has shown in his actions recently that he is a leader not a follower when it comes to taking a stand on tricky issues – particularly those that cut acoss international boundaries.

This week in Alaska on the issue of climate change he said:

“This is within our power. This is a solvable problem – if we start now.

“We are starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will to get moving.”

Yesterday I contrasted Cameron’s weak leadership with that demonstrated by Tim Farron and Nick Clegg before him on the issue of accepting Syrian refugees.

Today Cameron invoked the language of Nick Clegg :

But his recent lack of action on this issue speaks louder than these words casually tweeted.

Cameron lacks Nick’s moral courage and Tim’s conviction on the issue of Syrian refugees.

He lacks Merkel’s bold leadership.

He is a slactivist.

Desperate refugees, and we citizens, deserve better.


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