What leadership is for…

Alex with some pertainent thoughts from the Newsletter last Saturday, on the meaning of leadership, and what it doesn’t. He argues Blair should go, someone should challenge Brown, and the DUP should learn that being ‘top dog’ is not good enough in itself. Sometimes the country’s needs should come before narrow party interest.By Alex Kane

Over the last few days I have been reading Roy Jenkins’ magisterial biography of William Gladstone and I was particularly struck by one comment; “Nearly all Prime Ministers are dissatisfied with their successors, perhaps even more so if they come from their own party.”

The truth, of course, is that Tony Blair doesn’t actually want Gordon Brown to be Prime Minister. He knows that Brown is the weaker man and he has known it since that moment in the mid-1990s when the two of them reached an understanding that Blair would have first shot at the top job. At that point in their political and parliamentary careers Brown was clearly the more experienced and more respected politician. He was certainly more interested in philosophical left-of-centre values than Blair and had a firmer and more intense vision of what Labour should be.

Blair, on the other hand, had a much better understanding of the “image and legacy problem” facing the party and knew that a coat of paint on old Labour wasn’t going to get it back into power again. So Blair, today, more so than anyone else, should understand both the nature and scale of the problem he faces. It is his image which is utterly tarnished; and in an era when voters gravitate towards the leader rather than simply the party, it is their perception of Blair himself which could result in electoral catastrophe in 2009.

But Blair is the first Prime Minister from the rock-and-roll generation and, as we all know, old rockers never fade away, they just embark on endless farewell tours. Blair is adopting the same approach, desperately hoping that one more version of an old policy hit will reassure the hardcore fans and win over some new ones. Brown, meanwhile, remains trapped in the gilded cage; too scared to resign and force a real crisis for Blair, even though he knows that the Prime Minister is in a very weak position. His inability to move in for the kill is another sign that he lacks that genuine thirst for power which is essential if you are to be an effective leader.

Speaking a couple of years after she was brutally and swiftly turfed out of office, Margaret Thatcher said, “I think sometimes the Prime Minister should be intimidating. There’s not much point being a weak, floppy thing in the chair, is there”? Mr. Blair should watch again the footage from those few weeks in October 1990 and draw the only available conclusion. He cannot carry on until next spring or summer. He has lost the power to intimidate and he has become that weak, floppy thing in the chair. He lacks the personal, political, public and party authority to remain in office. He should announce his immediate departure at the annual conference in a few weeks time. And the rest of us should hope that someone will challenge the please-let-me-have-the-job Brown and seize the crown for themselves.

Closer to home, some within the DUP will be watching the Labour debacle with interest. Ian Paisley is not immortal and nor is he immune from illness or accident. While I don’t subscribe to the view that the DUP is a coalition of warring factions held together by Dr. Paisley, I do detect signs of internal tensions and long-term strategy differences, all of which could tumble out in a free-for-all power struggle if there isn’t an orderly handover of the leadership reins sooner rather than later.

Leadership isn’t just about being top dog. Sometimes it’s about knowing the right time and the right way to hand over to a successor of your party’s choosing. Sometimes it’s about putting the interests of the country above and beyond all else. My father once told me, “never be entirely dependent upon the advice of people on your payroll, for it will always be one-sided and self-interested.” Mr. Blair should go and go quickly. The longer he hangs on, the colder and lonelier he will find the Number 10 bunker.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 9th September, 2006.

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  • Kathy C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all,

    Good comments about blair…but the author got it wrong about paisly and the dup. Blair is out…he just has to leave…he is a weak dog…but paisly…is anything but a weak old dog…yes, Paisly is old-very old- but not weak. So, the dynamics are not the same for labor and the dup and their respective leadership.

  • Here’s a question for you all.

    Who said “Leadership is about saying No”

    Was it;

    a/ Blair

    And when you have worked that out, then consider that being called Dr No is perhaps not the worst nickname in the world.

    Alex is right in much of what he says but whilst the DUP leadership is imperfect that of the UUP is non-existant. So I suppose Unionism is poor at producing collegiate leaders…?

  • Mick Fealty

    According to Google, neither did. The imperfect nature of the DUP’s leadership clearly arises from some important difficulties associated with charting a way forward.

    As the fortunate collapse of the Leeds Castle deal a few weeks before the Northern Bank robbery demonstrates there is serious vulnerablity in striking a deal too early.

    But the point Alex makes might also be paraphrased: what’s the point of saving every last scrap of political capital when the time comes to do a deal and move forward.

    Simply doing nothing is no guarantor of the elimination of risk.

  • slug

    Its an interesting one.

    Clearly Balir’s desperation provides an opportunity for rent extraction for the DUP.

    On the other hand, what’s the point of expending captal on a PM who won’t be around 5 months later?

  • lib2016

    Unionists have political capital outside Northern Ireland? In your dreams, maybe!

  • Mick,

    Google is imperfect.

    Sometimes books have an advantage. Try the Oxford Dictionery of Thematic Quotations, more effort than a click, but more fulfiling.

    Tony Blair 2 October 1994

    “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say Yes”

    To return to my point, all the DUP has to do is follow Blair’s advice. Just say NO to Provo’s in Government (and remind Gregory when you’re at it!)

  • Bretagne

    Its a bit of a conundrum.. I favour the no to Provos on the government myself – problem is that nationalists do not want a stable political entity in NI – so strategically no governmnet suits them just fine.

    After this sustained effort to get on by the PM, I cannot see they next guy in wasting even a day a year here.

    So three years down the track with high rates, less and less subvention (Gordon’s like that), and greater unemployment with the Civil Service being shrunk rapidly (less departments – no need for a DVLNI, kill off the DOE, etc) we will see what leadership in NI politics will be. It will be a bit harder to be principled when rates are high but we are up to our ankles in sh*t when the sewers fail through lack of investment.

    I suspect that the next lot of leaders (DUP,SDLP,UUP) may then be condidioned to be up for a deal. I would be very comfortable with my view – were it not for the dread that Sinn Fein share it.

  • Nationalist

    I think if people are truthful they would agree that the DUP are an opposition party and not a party to provide leadership. They are right wing fascists – support the far far right wing tory policies but want others to make the hard decisions on the rates etc. before they will even think of trying the leadership role for the Unionist people.

    Over the years the DUP has provided support for Unionist terrorists and regularly attend band parades for dead Unionist terrorists who just happened to have been members of the Orange Order.

    The mask on the DUP slipped again when Gregory Campbell told us that he would accept released prisoners into the Police (PSNI) if they had “Repented”, presumably in the same manor as the DUP members and political representatives who had been terrorists convicted for murders etc. The same DUP members who having repented their sins set out to terrorise mass goers in Harryville every Sunday.

    Maybe Gregory will let us all know what those prisoners have to do in order to receive his and the DUP’s forgiveness – how and what do they have to do in this act of repentance?

  • john

    Its about time the DUP started to listen to the people who put them in the position they are in, they may be the largest party at the present time but by getting on like a bunch of school kids they are not doing themselves any favours. From where im sitting it seems to be the DUP way or no-way, Gregory made that clear when he made his statement about released prisoners being taken into the psni as long as they repented, who made them God although at times i think Ian Senior thinks he is. What the DUP need to remember they are only as good as the next election and to be honest the unionist/loyalist people need leadership and we are not getting that from the DUP.

  • mauser

    For years the people of Northern Ireland have watched the DUP stick knives in the back of successive UUP leaders and throw mud at the Ulster Unionists in general some of which has stuck. The DUP now appear to have blundered into some of that mud which did not stick, the expressed wishes of the people at the ballot box during the last assembly elections made the DUP the biggest party the UUP second largest followed by S/F and the SDLP. The treachous defections from the UUP to the DUP overturned the will of the people making S/F the second largest party, the UUP assembly group would have re-dressed this injustice and given the UUP the representation gifted to it by the electorate. Robinsons manoeuvre has placed S/F ahead of the UUP giving S/F second choice of ministers, Current speculation that letting Paul Berry back in (an unfortunate phrase)is a more moral position to adopt than the UUP’s arrangement with David Ervine must be balanced against Berry’s support for the asscertion that loyalist’s should not have been punished for killing republicians,although it may concur with Gregory Campbells recent comments on policing.
    We must await confirmation to see if photographic or video evidence of repentance will be required. The more they twist the deeper they sink.

  • Witherspoon

    Even if the DUPs get Berry back they still would end up giving the 2nd most important ministry to Sinn Fein.

    The only way of keeping the top two ministries in Unionist hands was the Reg Empey-Ervine move.

    Which the DUP promptly went and scuppered by running to the Speaker about it.

    The DUP have thrown away the only chance we had at keeping the top two ministries with Unionist ministers – and all just because they hate the UUP!

    Talk about Unionism cutting off its nose to spite its face!