Thursday, April 12, 2007
Will all Future PMs be a bit like Blair?
Let me explain the train of thought behind today's post. Having just voted in Paul Lindford's poll I thought of the article by Dominic Sandford in last Sunday's Observer which placed Blair below Attlee in his historical rankings of Prime Ministers. Then I wondered about Gordon Brown and whether it might be possible for him to cultivate successfully a personna as a serious, policy led, and, yes, maybe rather boring prime minister, as Attlee most definitely was. He was also, according to most historians, especially the distinguished Professor Peter Hennessey, far and away the most capable, honest and effective PM Labour have ever produced.
'Serious, policy led, rather boring'? Yes, it could be our Gordon couldn't it? But the question I'd like to pose is; 'Is it possible to be this kind of PM in the world of the modern media?' We observe that the Opposition seem to have a template for accession to power which accords Blair almost holy status and drives Cameron's image managers to make him ever more slick, smooth and winningly glib. We also observe that Brown, in recent months, has sought to make his own image voter friendly in a rather similar, though so far markedly less successful, fashion.
So would voters welcome another Clem? Well, I suggest we examine Attlee's provenance a little. As Deputy Leader, he inherited the interim leadership after Lansbury was blasted out of it by Ernie Bevin in 1935. Maybe his excessively modest style went down well after the empty bombast of the traitorous Ramsay MacDonald, and he beat both Morrison and Greenwood in the subsequent post election contest. And he went on, of course to be a successful deputy PM under Churchill and PM of the historic post 1945 labour government.
But his laconic minimalism would not, I suspect, suit modern times. Our 24 hour media require a PM to be more readily available for comment and display than Attlee would ever have been capable of or happy with. And I fear Attlee's ability to persuade via the broadcast media would today be found desperately lacking. I have to conclude that these days, we don't warm to 'boring and dull'; Gordon had better carry on taking his 'Tony Blair' lessons if he wants to succeed as prime minister as his opponent seems to much further ahead in his transformational studies than he is.
Well, I mentioned Cameron and that Brown was seeking to do 'Blairish' things. I mean politicians who would feel it necessary to play the PR game in order to make themselves compatible with some sort of brand image. I was wondering how many would seek to do this in order to make it into Number 10- given that even a curmudgeon like Brown seeks to do this suggests that any of those people you mention might be capable of tarting up their public image should they be advised by their spin doctors to do so.
A student of history such as yourself would also surely acknowledge that "charismatic" leaders tend to be followed by those who operate in a lower key: Lloyd George - Baldwin; Churchill - Attlee; Macmillan - Home; Thatcher - Major. Blair - Brown seems the logical extension to this trend.
Certainly a less pro-active PR style would suit any PM who takes over after Blair and I'm sure Brown- who will succeed him I'm sure(though would be delighted if a genuine contest suddenly flared up of course)-will adopt a lower profile just like all those examples you cite. But it won't be as low as Clem's was by a mile.
Of course the last major politician to attempt this in the UK was Iain Duncan Smith in his 2002 conference speech - "Never underestimate the determination of a quiet man." Even IDS had to admit it didn't work and a year on he famously told us that the quiet man was "turning up the volume."
From a Labour Party point of view, I don't know why you welcome a serious contest so much - it will be bitterly divisive, leaving Gordon badly wounded even if he wins, and will ultimately only help the Tories.
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