Thursday, March 09, 2006


Apropos of this over at the excellent Stumbling And Mumbling:

The Nameless Tory:

Undeniably interesting. But would dispute the historical accuracy of some of it.

In many ways Wilson was a proto-Blair. He was a creation of the media – someone who actively played up to it. He also watered down the beliefs of his party to make it more acceptable to the middle classes. He was undeniably a great public speaker, and used to warm up audience by rebutting heckles so they were fired up for the televised speech. But his time in office is fiercely average at best, hence the fact that he managed to lose to Heath in 1970 (and in terms of votes received, 1974 as well).

Also Attlee cannot really be considered great. He was a good manager, and certainly his first administration achieved the most of any prior to 1979. But his successes were mainly down to the likes of the brilliant Bevin, Bevan and Cripps. Likewise, MacMillan was a manic depressive arch cynic but like Attlee he was generally effective at managing people allowing his more brilliant subordinates to manage the country. Very few of the Prime Ministers have been the brightest and the best – and if we are going on academic background, Thatcher should also be classed as brilliant as she was Oxford educated and worked both as a research Chemist and Lawyer prior to entering Parliament.

It is quite interesting to note that the likes of Eden, Douglas-Home, Callaghan and Major can all be seen as failures – but this is generally down to the fact that they replaced popular Prime Ministers from their own party. There was nowhere left to go for any of them except to the centre ground, which leads them to try and make their mark on history with some bold idea/policy. Be it the Citizen’s Charter or Suez. It will be interesting to see what on earth Blair’s replacement does (and I do not accept a Brown coronation just yet) as Blair has already sat in the centre ground. To some extent it would go against historical precedent for the replacement to move towards the left, but I struggle to see, given Cameron’s commitment to wishy-washy conservatism, where else they can go.

With regard to the security issue, yes, there is an iron wall around Blair that Wilson did not have. But times are very different. There have been at least two credible plots (one by the IRA and one by Al-Qaeda) to kill Blair at public events. And there has been an extremely close call on a PM – the Grand bombing on Thatcher was just feet away from claiming her life. And Blair is still much more accessible than the US President, for example, who will enter and exit a building under a tent *just in case*.

The Moai:

I would argue that serious academic intelligence is almost a bar to a political career. Aside from the fact that the electorate by and large do not like openly scholarly characters (Clinton hid a world class mind behind public bonhomie and enormous charisma), intelligent people realise that real life is too messy, too complicated to be boiled down to quick fixes and one dimensional solutions (viz. my well worn theories on mental tools in problem solving.) Furthermore, in order to have the cast-iron self-belief you need to become a top-ranking politician, you must be incapable of doubt, and intelligence is, to my mind, at least partly, an acceptance of the sheer complexity of the world around you. Blair has cast-iron confidence - as he has recently stated, he thinks God himself is on his side, and that takes front - and that is why, by and large, he does well at PMQs, and made Major look so amateur in opposition. There is, however, a short push from self-confidence into hubris, and he has taken that jump.

Mangerialism in New Labour is endemic for a variety of reasons, not least that their top ranks are stuffed with ex-management consultants, and also that Blair et al are totally enamoured of big business.

The security issue also has negative impacts - witness Walter Wolfgang's hasty exit from the Labour conference, and subsequent detention under anti-terrorism laws.

Interesting points. Clinton is a highly intelligent man who combines intellect with good ol’ boy charm from the South. But he is not brilliant – he has some serious personality flaws, including a raging temper, jaw dropping self pity (note his tantrum in losing the governor’s mansion in 1980) and a uncontrollable libido based on poor self esteem that nearly cost him the White House.

I agree that you have to have an iron certainty in your beliefs to have the steely determination to get to the top. Thatcher had utter conviction that she was right, and that sustained her through some very tough times. It is interesting to note though that Blair has struggled against both Hague and Howard at PMQ – two men who were basically unelectable in spite of having iron convictions. The difference was that both Hague and Howard spoke from the heart, whereas Blair has had to water down his beliefs for the public. He is speaking from the heart through a spin doctor – witness Alastair Campbell’s''we don’t do Go'' pronouncement. Well, clearly Blair does.....

Perhaps the US security services could learn a lot from the US Secret Service. They maintain a highly visible presence but I cannot recall a time when they have done anything like the Wolgang moment. Probably the closest was their treatment of Hinckley. Then again, Hinckley had just shot the President in the heart so…


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