Bush Brown Mills & Boon

July 29, 2007

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Tony Blair was said to have had an unhealthily close relationship with President Bush. The new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, meets George Bush this weekend. But are we at risk of making sense of their first encounter in terms better suited to romantic fiction?

The widespread view over here is that Tony Blair became too much in thrall to George Bush. The ‘poodle’ metaphor might have become clichéd, but it has outlasted other more nuanced terms. Maybe there will be a historical revision, but for the moment the story has been established, and the ending settled in the public’s recollections of both leaders and their relationship.

Gordon Brown became Prime Minister after a long and bitter succession battle. Maybe, again, the official line will soften the accepted version of the story. The official line is that the two men had a long-standing friendship which carried them through the long period of Blair’s dominance as Prime Minister, and Brown’s not inconsiderable political influence as a highly effective Chancellor of the Exchequer. In this version, any discussions between them did not amount to a deal that Brown would not complete with Blair for the top job after the sudden death of Labour’s leader John Smith. Blair would smooth the way for Gordon’s succession, but not with a time-scale attached to the arrangement, which as I have just said, was not in any way a deal.

In the version presented through the media, there was a deal, and in time Brown became increasingly convinced that he had been conned, and would not be given Blair’s support in a future leadership contest. The Blair/Brown relationship was to become as dark as the Blair/Bush one was to burgeon into an idyllic friendship of sweetness and light.

That was then

Gordon eventually takes over and ‘sends out signals that changes are on the way. It’s tricky because he can’t change too much of the things he was assumed to be partly res;onsible for. He might be accused of being Blair’s poodle! would be then accused of heavily involvement in under Tony. But it is thought that he will meet those two Kiplingesque impostors of threat and opportunity . over Iraq, and thus inevitably the Anglo-American relationship

Now Gordon journeys to Camp David to meet Blair’s old buddie. The meeting has attracted a little attention in the UK political circles, less so in America. The White House press machine seems to have reached an embattled compromise with the media in its standardized delivery of standardized news stories. The travelling members of the Washington Press Corp dutifully attends at Camp David and reports on the information provided. The item will slot into the back end of news reports in its rightful place after the breaking news of personalised tragedies, and the doings of celebrities from the overlapping celebrity worlds of sport, entertainment, and violent crime. No big deal. Gordon gets his allotted coverage, roughly that allocated to the meetings of the last and next international visitors with the President.

Does it the meeting matter?
Interested journalists seem to think it does.

Maybe this is so, although I am inclined to think the idea is too close to that romantic tale of a first encounter, and of the critical importance of first impressions. A misunderstanding leads to many a twist and turn before the two principal characters find their true relationship. Its too close to Mills & Boon, as we like to say.

First impressions are important, not least in the world of business. Rickards and Clark cited several examples of the importance attributed by business leaders to first impressions. It’s up there with other assumptions, such as the idea that trust, once lost, is never regained. That’s a more deterministic version of the ‘first impression’ assumption.

Here we have a chance to evaluate these notions in a well-documented (if well-packaged) form, as well as the suggestion that a new leader can expect a honeymoon period. In Gordon’s case, this is measured by the so-called Brown Bounce in opinion polls.


Sicko: Moore reveals his wider game-plan

June 30, 2007

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Michael Moore believes he has been thinking like a chess grandmaster in planning the impact of Sicko, his new health-care movie. But has he checkmated his political and cultural opponents in doing so?

In an interview with USA Today [Friday 22nd June, 2007] the controversial film-maker continued to plug his new movie, Sicko, which has already been widely pre-trailed. He describes how his earlier movies had failed to achieve his political goals.

“Did going to (former NRA president) Charlton Heston’s home reduce school shootings in this country? I don’t think so ..[ recalling a scene in Columbine] ..
“Did trying to get onto the 14th floor of General Motors (in Roger & Me) to see (chairman Roger Smith) convince GM to start making cars that people want to buy? No ..
“ Did Fahrenheit stop the re-election of George W. Bush?”
“So a lot of thought went into, ‘OK, I get it. It’s a game of chess, and so far I’ve been in checkmate.’ … I need to find a different way to get to where I want to go.”

As there’s only one checkmate per game ..

Strictly speaking, Moore means that he has been playing a whole series of chess-like battles through his movies. And that in Sicko he’s found a different way for him to win this particular game.

He went on to explain that his earlier films have not succeeded in winning people over to his side of the argument. A closer examination suggests that he believes specifically that the stunts in the films may have made people laugh, but did not win converts to his cause. The different way, is to retain much of his compelling style but to avoid demonizing individuals. This will, he believes make him, through the film a more potent political warrior.

It’s a point of view

He may have been able to put a clearer case under less pressured circumstances (he was interviewed while taking a break from a public meeting with a thousand wound-up health care workers). As stated, it’s a bit muddled and a bit megalomaniac. What sort of film might have ‘convinced GM to start making cars that people want to buy’? Or one that might reduce home shootings? Or change the course of a presidential election?

I’m inclined to argue against the idea that any film, however brilliant, can achieve such goals. That’s because I believe what I learned from the writings of the great Kurt Lewin who presented social systems as stabilized through a set of forces which tend to be mutually self-adjusting. And I believe in such a systemic view because it has been confirmed whenever I have found myself caught up actively or otherwise in systems going through change processes.
That’s not to say that thought leaders and their creative efforts can not play a part in great revolutionary changes. Tyrants are notoriously sensitive to the dangers of being made to look foolish, or even to look less than special. Charlie Chaplin in The Dictator didn’t defeat Hitler, but I share the view that humor can be part of a radical cultural move.

Or, if we stick to the chess metaphor

Michael Moore may well have been playing quite a successful series of games of chess. Only he has been playing against in more than two dimensions, and against more a range of powerful opponents. He is unlikely to checkmate them all. But he shows his resilience, and may indeed have worked up a better plan. By attacking a system not its agents, Sicko may leave the film-maker-cum-chess-warrior feeling not completely checkmated in the end-game.


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