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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > October 2017 > Is this the man to stand up to Trump?

Is this the man to stand up to Trump?

UN Secretary General António Guterres is everything the American president is not. But is he ready to lead?

“The city that never sleeps”? Sinatra was clearly never in New York for the speeches during leaders’ week at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The global foreign policy elites’ annual jamboree, held every September, can feel pretty low-octane. More podium than purpose. Airy words in airless rooms. The bleary eyes of the jet-lagged entourages and the perma-tanned swagger—even after 2016—of the Davosphere.

Sometimes there is a celebrity leader—last September it was Justin Trudeau, this year it is Emmanuel Macron. They turn heads, amid the cast of leaders who were the future once. Sometimes a rogue speech—Muammar Gaddafiripping up the United Nations Charter, or Hugo Chávez smelling the sulphur after George W Bush had spoken. But mainly there is monotony, as another leader ticks off a platitude for each conflict. “Turning now to Chad, we must remain concerned and engaged.” This is, after all, the world’s talking shop.

Away from the podium however, it is frenetic: statecraft speed dating, or what diplomats call the plenaries, pull asides and pool sprays; the bilaterals and brush-bys; the grip and grins. Most are carefully choreographed, but not all. At one UNGA, I organised the physical ambush of South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki, who was avoiding a difficult meeting with Gordon Brown. At another, I had to shoulder charge David Cameron into a side room to avoid an unwanted encounter with Robert Mugabe. Promising careers can be broken by a graveyard speaker slot or uncomfortable placement. It is the Congress of Vienna, but without— in most cases—the mistresses, banquets and wigs.

Yet all this matters. While the UN is far from perfect, no one has yet come up with a better lubricant for global coexistence. Despite the protocol and preening, the tedium and tantrums, this is the only forum the world has got for grappling with the conflicts which so remorselessly demonstrate that history has not ended. And perhaps the single most important meeting of 2017 will be taking place there in late September.

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In Prospect’s October issue: Andrew Adonis, Steve Richards, Gaby Hinsliff, Rachel Sylvester and Jennifer Williams look at the idea that leadership is the only thing that matters when it comes to elections. Adonis leads the cover package arguing exactly that point and outlining his ratings of the leaders who have competed every election in the UK and the United States since 1944—Richards offers a rebuttal. Hinsliff, Sylvester and Williams profile three potential leaders in waiting—Amber Rudd, Jo Swinson and Angela Rayner. Elsewhere in the issue we map out the potential road the UK might travel down to stay in the European Union and explore the relationship between UN Secretary General António Guterres and Donald Trump as the two prepare to meet at the UN. Also in this issue: Philip Collins on the similarities between Britain’s Brexiteers and the Gaullists of yesteryear, John Bercow explains how parliament could function better and our “View from” comes from Nairobi, where the recent election result has been annulled.
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