The cult of followship

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I've just returned from the US, where I spent the last few days in Kansas City, Missouri, at the Cerner Health Conference. Cerner is one of the world's leading healthcare IT suppliers, but they also devote a lot of time and effort to 'thought leadership' and healthcare policy reform. That's why I was there.

One high point was hearing Fred Thompson – the former senator, presidential candidate, and Law & Order star – give the keynote address. I also had the chance to talk to him briefly afterwards. A number of things struck me. First of all, it's no wonder his presidential campaign didn't go well – and I mean that as a compliment! Thompson came across as far too honest and straightforward for that kind of election.

He made the point that politics was suffering from a lack of leadership, and a fundamental dishonesty on the part of the politicians. Absolutely everyone knows that medicare and social security, for instance, are completely unsustainable and will soon either become insolvent or impose an unbearable burden on American taxpayers. And yet no one is prepared to stand up and say that or to propose real alternatives.

True enough. But Thompson also made it clear that the electorate must shoulder some of the blame for this. Voters punish politicians who tell them the truth, and reward those that tell them what they want to hear. In terms of leadership, they reap what they sow.

That being said, the thing that impressed me the most was the audience's reaction to his speech. At one point he said that people needed to stop looking to government for the answers to their problems, and take responsibility for themselves. The crowd of several thousand healthcare professionals burst into spontaneous applause. Can you imagine that happening at a British health conference? No, thought not...