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Ken Livingstone, it was revealed this week, hasn’t flushed his toilet after urinating for the last 15 months. His point, it seems, is that by doing what appears to come effortlessly to half the population, he’s helping to save the planet and leading by example.

It’s good to know that the art of political leadership isn’t dead and buried, though as cabinet ministers desperately seek to cling to their credibility you might be forgiven for wondering. Suddenly the prospect of having that big-name government minister at the opening of your programme doesn’t appear so inviting after all.

It may be frightening how quickly political assets turn into liabilities, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Those who remember the dying days of the Thatcher and Major administrations shouldn’t be shocked as history repeats itself, albeit with an infinite variety of new twists.

Those with a genuine concern for civic renewal are unlikely to draw much comfort from this week’s local election results. Combined with the sight of a government that increasingly appears to be not waving but drowning, it’s little wonder that disaffection with the political process continues to grow.

Yet that’s not the whole story. Politics, like any form of social activity (using the word social in its broadest sense) needs to continually refresh itself. But it needs to do so with a new-found respect for the electorate if it is to drag itself from its current mire.

To achieve that we need more strong and respected leaders outside politics as well as inside, so that power and influence aren’t the preserve of the few. The job of creating sustainable communities is a political one, in that it calls on a huge diversity of people with a plethora of interests to work together for a greater purpose. But it does not need to be party political; indeed it’s vital that all mainstream political parties recognise its importance.

Leadership is an essential focus of the Academy for Sustainable Communities, which officially launches next week. If the academy can help nurture a generation of leaders in local authorities, private sector organisations, professional institutions and regeneration agencies who can provide long-term vision and focus, negotiate robustly with ministers and civil servants, and view their role in terms of service rather than personal gain, society as a whole will become far healthier. That’s a prize worth striving for.

Julian Dobson, editor

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