|How (not) to become Prime
Obviously there are many attributes necessary for becoming the head of a country like the UK. Having self-confidence is a fundamental quality but this needs to be allied with intelligence and the knowledge appropriate to the post. But according to Andrea Leadsom, it is also necessary to be a mother or, perhaps, a father. She complained loudly that the article in the Times was not a true reflection of the interview with the journalist Rachael Sylvester. Fortunately it was recorded and this showed that there was no inaccuracy. Without doubt, Mrs Leadsom’s decision to withdraw from the contest had a number of reasons behind it. Not the least of these was the lack of support amongst the other MP’s and the resulting risk of a situation similar to the problem now suffered by the Labour Party – a leader with the support of the members, but with the support of only 20% of her colleagues in parliament. The exaggeration in her CV also played a part, but I am persuaded that the fallout from the interview with the Times played the principle role in her decision.
It is interesting to see what she actually said – Rachael Sylvester had reminded her of the fact that she often preceded her opinions with the words “As a mother...” and so she put the question: “Do you feel like a mum in politics?
AL: “Yes. I am sure that Teresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible but genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”
RS: “So it really keeps you focussed on what are you really saying?”
AL: “It means you don’t want a downturn but never mind ten years hence it will all be fine, my children will be starting their lives in that next 10 years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”
The staggering ineptitude of such observations is sufficient to disqualify her from office, but what is worse is that I am sure that she actually believes that what she said is true. Perhaps someone extremely old with children, nieces or nephews or even friends would not be likely to worry to much about the future, but even I, someone without children, but with a life expectancy of (I hope) more than 10 years am very preoccupied with the future. To suggest that the future is the exclusive preserve of those with children reflects an incredibly closed mentality.
She also suggested that to be a ‘mum’ meant that she had a greater empathy with the less privileged in society. The idea that parents, particularly rich parents like Andrea Leadsom, will have a more empathetic attitude towards ‘ordinary folk’ just takes my breath away. We have a society in which parents with the means to do so do everything they can to promote their offspring’s’ future – moving house to get into the catchment area of a good school or buying a private education – to the disadvantage of the others less well-off, the ordinary folk. To be parents normally means benefiting your children and not becoming a saint ready to respond to the needs of others. Again, it is proof of an inability to see reality and so evidence that she does not have what it takes to lead the country.
But even her experience puts in question the received wisdom that to be a successful minister or prime minister one requires experience not only of the political world, but the so-called ‘world of work’ outside of politics. Unfortunately it is not possible to carry out a double blind experiment, but we have seen that Andrea Leadsom, someone with a lot of experience in the financial sector – particularly according to her CV – did not have what was necessary to have success in the political world. It seems to me however that in fact she was defeated by her character. I have seen a succession of prime ministers during my lifetime – 12 since I was born, and the 13th will be Saint Theresa. And I have never seen a connection between a past outside the political world of a prime minister and his success at Downing Street. After the war, up to 1964, every Conservative prime minister was a member of the aristocracy, Winston Churchill included. The Labour prime ministers of the same period may have had their origins in the fabled world of work, but very quickly transferred to the world of Trade Unionism. Margaret Thatcher was an industrial chemist and then a barrister. John Major had a background as a banker. Tony Blair was a barrister and David Cameron had experience in public relations. But what I have seen in every case has been an unpredictable interaction, and in some instances a clash, between the character of the individual and the events which arose. There are two well-known aphorisms which seem pertinent -
Harold MacMillan was asked what he feared most. He is said to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”
Enoch Powell in his biography of Joseph Chamberlain wrote: ‘All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.‘