Hardly a day passes without public lamentation about the paucity of leadership in the Western democracies. Where, cry a score of the nations pundits, is a Churchill, Kennedy, De Gaulle, Adenauer for our generation? As a biographer of Churchill, I answer that question partly by saying: be grateful that, however turbulent our times, they are not so dire as to demand his resurrection. Warriors are usually unsuited to addressing social and economic issues. Wellington, the great commander, was a disastrous prime minister, while Churchills response to Britains 1926 General Strike was histrionic and divisive. Many contemporary leaders must suffer spasms of self-pity at being charge during an era when exposure of the limits of power makes high office seem unrewarding. Todays economic problems are vast and intractable. Contrast the 1990s experience of John Major. Almost as inadequate a British premier as Gordon Brown, he faced many embarrassments and humiliations recession, ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the Balkan wars and Tory strife over Europe. Yet with hindsight, none of these were remotely as dangerous to Britain as recent events. Mr Majors shortcomings did not matter that much on his watch, the country suffered no game-changing crisis on the scale of the 2008 banking collapse and what has followed. The same might be said of Bill Clintons US presidency. Though there were plenty of dramas some of his own priapic creation nothing tested him as presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson were tested, and as President Barack Obama is being tested now. Some national leaders also enjoy luck: Margaret Thatcher generated much of her own weather, but her exchequer benefited from the North Sea oil boom too. Cometh the hour, cometh the man is a foolish clich: history is replete with dramas that caused nations to look expectantly at the door, only to see someone no larger than French president Nicolas Sarkozy walk in. But todays western leaders face difficulties that cannot all be attributed to their own inadequacy. Their fundamental task is to reconcile electorates to accepting less of everything than they have had in the past. It seems mistaken to suppose that mere Churchillian rhetoric or Rooseveltian guile could achieve this. I admire and usually agree with the columnist Matthew Parris, but a fortnight ago he expressed a view that seems overly optimistic. He thinks it wrong to assume that prime minister David Cameron will be punished electorally if the British economy tips back into recession. Voters, argues Mr Parris, are sufficiently grown-up to realise this would be the fault of global forces beyond the governments control. I question whether such rationality is the norm among the British, American and European peoples. Our societies cherish a gross sense of entitlement. We have also become wedded to the doctrine, profitably promoted by millions of lawyers, that for every misfortune someone must be indicted as blameworthy. Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, said in a recent speech that Britain is at the midpoint of seven lean years. When I recently put it to a central banker that most western nations seem more likely to be starting 70 lean years, I was shocked by the readiness with which he assented. Yet if todays leaders told their peoples the truth, and articulated the most plausible and bleak scenarios for their economic future, I will bet my socks most would be electorally trounced by rivals claiming to offer panaceas as Mr Obama might be in 2012. Voters acknowledge the theoretical notion that the west faces a challenge from Asia, but few grasp the scale of upheaval and sacrifice necessary to meet it. Here, some people will say: Ah, but that is the job of real leadership to make people confront unwelcome truths. That is where our politicians are failing us. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Sarkozy, to name but two, flunk their responsibilities by declining to admit what markets are telling the world that the debts of several eurozone nations are largely irrecoverable. Mr Obama seems unable to achieve an emotional docking with the American people, such as former US president Ronald Reagan made, by telling a sunshine story. How much bad news will pampered European and American voters take? Not that much, I suspect, in the absence of bombs raining down around their heads, figuratively or literally. We get the political leaders we deserve. Recent evidence suggests that in America, especially, charlatans prosper on the hustings, while good people flinch from exposing themselves to the humiliations and deceits essential to secure public office. Unless or until electorates become more rational, I doubt we shall see leaders much better though, please God and the Tea Party, no worse than today. Critics who demand that our rulers show themselves more heroic might recall the experience of Lord Uxbridge, Wellingtons second-in-command. Placing himself at the head of the Dutch-Belgian cavalry at Waterloo, Uxbridge ordered a charge and galloped a hundred yards towards the French line, before his aide-de-camp felt obliged to point out that no other horseman was following his dash for glory. He beat a sheepish retreat. Ms Merkel might say that she knows exactly how he felt, and sees no virtue in going there. Financial Times