Cameron is “Napoleonic” ?

July 30, 2010

David Cameron is labelled “Napoleonic” by a former political opponent who later joined his coalition Government. But the term was used to convey the strengths and weaknesses of the great General’s leadership style

Nick Robinson of the BBC [JUly 29th 2010] tells of conversations he had in the run-up to the General Election [May 8th 2010]. David Cameron, he was told, was the only leader in European politics who could be described as “Napoleonic”. Robinson interpreted this to mean he was the only leader who could successfully make policy decisions confidentially and unilaterally.

Neil Sherlock, an adviser to this and many previous Lib Dem leaders, rang to remind me of what the Tory leader had said in a Radio 4 documentary I had made about Disraeli. Cameron had praised Dizzy for outmanoeuvring Gladstone on the issue of political reform and quoted a historian who said that the former Tory PM had “taken a leap in the dark and then leapt again”. Neil’s view was that anyone who could appreciate Disraeli’s bold risk-taking was capable of replicating it. Chris Huhne told me and his party that Cameron was the only Napoleonic leader left in Europe. In other words, whatever the Tory leader said became Tory policy. Both were proved right.

It is tempting to push the analogy a little further. A Napoleonic leader might be expected to

charm would-be opponents into becoming faithful followers

make bold unexpected tactical moves which enhance his reputation

make bold strategic moves which risk his entire venture, and

acquire “nodding donkeys” around him rather than colleagues who influence his plans

This week the Prime Minister has been particularly Napoleonic. He has been accused of media blunders and political naivity. In America he stated that Britain had been a minor partner to the US in 1040, at a time when America had not entered the war (regardless of Hollywood interpretations which suggest otherwise). In India he remarks which were seen as ill-judged regarding Pakistan’s dealings with terrorism. Napoleonic, but are they bold tactical moves or evidence of a dangerous stategy?