Ed Miliband’s three leadership dilemmas, and how he dealt with them

September 29, 2010

Political pundits have poured over Ed Miliband’s acceptance speech at the Labour Party Conference of 2010.  We examine the three dilemmas facing the new leader, and the way in which he addressed them

First, some background:  A defeat of Labour in the General Election of May 2010 was followed by the formation of the coalition government of David Cameron’s conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.  It also led to the resignation of the leader and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  The Labour Party initiated a lengthy selection process for a new leader.

There were five candidates, and a tortuous voting procedure with transferable votes.  The original front runner was David Miliband.  He was widely regarded as Blair’s preferred candidate, or ‘heir to Blair’.  He had risen through the political ranks to become one of the youngest Foreign Secretaries ever.  David was a committed member of the Blairite faction of the party, which still subscribed to the concept of New Labour which had kept them in power since 1997.  Despite the unpopularity of Tony Blair, particularly for his supportive role to George Bush in the Iraq War, David Miliband appeared as the likely winner of the contest.  The anti-Blairites had been badly damaged by the defeat of their leader Gordon Brown, and there was no obvious emerging leader from their ranks.

Enter Ed, Stage Left

The campaign was enlivened by the emergence of David’s younger brother Ed as a serious in the campaign.  Ed, a relative inexperienced politician, started as a 33 to 1 outsider.   But as the weeks of the campaign passed, it became clear that the two brothers were running neck and neck. There was much psychological talk of sibling rivalry.  He became labelled ‘Red Ed’ by the Red Tops (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.  I meant labelled by the right-leaning popular tabloid newspapers).  Ed indicated his willingness to support the Unions who were talking up the possibility  of widespread protest strikes against the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government.  

The bookies know something

A week before the voting figures were announced, David was believed to have held off the surprisingly feisty campaign from his younger brother (based on straw polls).  Curiously, there was then a swing in the betting to Ed (must have been a leak somewhere).  Because of the complex transferable vote system, the pundits still considered the contest too close to call.

The drama of the vote

The day of the announcement of the secret ballot arrived. This was a taster before the Labour Party conference.  Much tension.  The candidates, informed only shortly before, arrived at packed conference hall.  David was smiling (rather unconvincingly, I thought).  Ed looked spaced out, face drained of emotion.  There was a painful period of suspence as candidates were eliminated and their votes redistributed.  David retained a slim lead, with far more support among MPs and Direct party members.  Ed had secured much of the ‘block’ Union votes.

Ed squeaks past David

At the dramatic final announcement, Ed had squeaked past the long-time favourite.  He had become leader against the wishes of the great majority of his fellow MPs and party membership. The two brothers embraced in a ‘well-down you deserved it/I’m sorry it had to be you I beat’ sort of way.

Agony and ecstasy

In the following days, the anguish of the defeated Miliband became clear. Slated to make a speech on the first day of the conference, he gallantly conceded his aspirations to the leadership.  He received a rapturous reception as did Gordon Brown, who had come to make his farewells to conference.  But David did not go so far as to say he would put himself forward for an appointment in Ed’s new shadow cabinet.   He remained another day, long enough to witness Ed’s acceptance speech.  By then the scribblers had decided David’s defeat career in politics was ended.  They were quickly proved right, and David Miliband announced a day later that he would not put himself forward to serve in his brother’s shadow administration.

Dilemmas of leadership No 1: Dealing with the Blairites

This how the drama was seen by the BBC’s Nick Robinson:

When Labour’s new leader declared that the Iraq War was wrong, he and other former ministers who voted for the war ­- Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and Andy Burnham – sat stony faced. Not so Harriet Harman. Seeing her clap David turns to her and angrily demands to know “you voted for it, why are you clapping?”

If ever evidence were needed of why David will, almost certainly, leave front line politics tomorrow this is it. He, and many others, deeply resent the way in which Ed – who wasn’t an MP at the time – used his rather less than public opposition to the war to win the party leadership.

This episode addressed Ed’s first leadership dilemma or ‘what should I do first about the potentially troublesome Blair faction of the party?’.  The cold logic was to take out its acknowledged leader.  Who just happened to be the brother he loved. And that’s about it. Dilemma No 1 addressed if not sorted.

Dilemma No 2: Dealing with the Unions

The second dilemma was equally clear:  ‘what should I do to show I am not a puppet of the Unions?’ The logic was to signal in his first speech that his support for the Unions was far from unequivocal.  He could not, would not, support ‘reckless’ strikes.  Despite mutterings, the assembled Union leaders rather sullenly acknowledged that Red Ed was not as full-blooded a supporter as they might have imagined.

Dilemma No 3: Dealing with the Red Ed tag

The third dilemma was how to defuse the potential weakness of being labelled dangerously left-wing and therefore unelectable. The immediate step was to reduce the sting of the Red Ed label.  His rather effectively mocked the epithet with a humorous call for more grown-up political discussion.

Explaining what Ed did and why

The analysis of Ed’s speech for dilemmas offers a plausible explanation of the issues the new leader considered most urgently in need of addressing.  Such an examination looks beyond the rational towards the symbolic significance to find some sense in what has been said.

Miliband the victor had to remove all threat from the still hugely-popular Miliband the loser.  As they say in the mafia movies, this is business.  Nothing personal.  Except of course it was deeply personal.   He further judged that two other developing stories had to be confronted that otherwise might have weakened the invention of himself as leader. In the one case he had to scotch the claims that he was in the pocket of the Unions, and in the other the related claim that he was too left-wing to be a credible figure as a future Prime Minister.

Dilemmas are not problems to be solved.  They do not permit correct solutions, nor decisions which seem likely to have no painful consequences.  There were many ways in which Miliband minor could have avoided antagonizing important groups in the party.  He chose to act the way he did.  His speech has the merits of offering a coherent and courageous strategy.  Will it succeed? That is beyond the scope of this analysis.

The Mail offers testable predictions for a new leader’s prospects

September 27, 2010

Andrew Pierce writing in the Daily Mail reveals his deep admiration for the leadership qualities of David Miliband, and predicts the further decline of the Labour party under the younger Brother Ed. The article provides some testable predictions

The Daily Mail remains one of the Conservative party’s staunchest allies, and custodian of various values which may be threatened by the Government’s coalition with the Liberal democrats. So it comes as little suprise that The Mail is less than impressed with the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition [September 2010].

Only minutes after the applause had died down on Gordon Brown’s valedictory address, [David Miliband intended to] savage Brown’s record as Chancellor and Prime Minister. He [would have] mocked the claim that Labour had ended the cycle of boom and bust. [and would have] warned that they had to stop burying their head in the sand over the need for swingeing spending cuts.

There was probably a leak somewhere, although the Mail report may be based on an act of journalistic creativity. Whatever, it was a good journalistic effort to discover the contents of a politician’s undelivered speech. Perhaps it was intended, as Mr Pierce suggests, to distance David Miliband from Labour policies associated with Gordon Brown.  That is a plausible suggestion (although the acceptance speech would have been delivered more in Conferencespeak than in Mailspeak).

The article went on to make the case for Labour having elected the wrong Miliband, wrong for the country and Labour’s electability under Ed Miliband.

Ed, whose speech when it did come was rather more measured, is already preparing to rip up the Party’s agreed pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years. The swaggering trade unionists who got him elected are all over the conference and the airwaves demanding no cuts in spending whatsoever. Ed will defy them at his peril. (Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, gave him £100,000 and will demand a healthy return on that investment.) As for David Miliband, his closest confidants say he is so wounded by his younger brother’s betrayal in standing against him that he may walk away from politics altogether by the next election. Their relationship will never fully recover — just like Labour’s standing in the polls under Ed.


Let’s do a little map-testing. There are various testable predictions here:

[1] Ed is already preparing to rip up the Party’s agreed pledge to cut the deficit by half in four years.

[2] ‘Swaggering’ trade-unionists got Ed elected

[3] Above mentioned swaggering trade-unionists are demanding no cuts whatsover

[4] Ed will defy them at his peril

[5/6] David’s closest confidants believe he has been “so wounded by his younger brother’s betrayal in standing against him that he may walk away from politics altogether by the next election.”

[7/8] “Their relationship will never fully recover — just like Labour’s standing in the polls under Ed.”

The argument is clearly put: Labour has elected the wrong leader. The election process was Machiavellian. The new leader will be in thrall to the Unions. The Milband siblings will be unable to work together. The Labour Party will never fully recover in the polls.

Some of the reasoning is based on attributed beliefs of unnamed sources close to the defeated Miliband.  However, the thrust of the argument has the merit of testability over the coming months and maybe years.

Do business leaders read business books?

September 22, 2010

Do business leaders read business books? It sounds like a no-brainer, but the answer may not be the obvious one.

A student at a leadership seminar recently expressed surprise that any business leader would not read business books. I rather unthinkingly offered the opinion that quite a few of them probably didn’t. I added for good measure that I’ve also met Business leaders who have little time either for book learning or ‘what they teach you at business school’.  A little research and I still haven’t come up with any serious evidence that answers the question.

Does it matter?

The question is posed in a rather clumsy way, but it does hint at an important point. There is a big industry in how to do it management books. Books on how to become a successful leader is part of that flourishing industry. Bookshops at air terminals have their fair share of the latest best-sellers. But there is still the suspicion that these might be OK for the wannabe leader, but real leaders wouldn’t need to read any of that stuff.

Us academics have a bias in favour of reading. Maybe it is counter-intuitive to consider that business leaders can get by without reading books, or without a formal business education. There’s plenty of evidence that the latter assumption is just plain wrong. Never mind the leaders who strugggle with dyslexia, or even in minority of cases with illiteracy, or the favoured heirs to some family business who have leadership thrust upon them. Some other leaders have a suspicion of what they see as business school mumbo-jumbo. “I didn’t get where I am by reading business books” the character from Reggie Perrin might have roared.

One-minute guides

Thinking about it, the popularity of various ‘one minute guides’ suggests that busy people are prepared to take on board their information needs in pre-digested chunks. The situation is not helped by the dire quality of the advice offered in many of the books published on business in general and leadership in particular.

So there we have it. Another leadership question I don’t know the answer to, but would very much like to find out. Any ideas?

Charisma and Transformational Leadership Revisited

September 15, 2010
Statue of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. The ...

Image via Wikipedia


The ancient concept of the charismatic leader remains in everyday use. It was explained by Weber, and partly modernised as transformational leadership, but the older idea retains much of its potency

In 2004-5 while writing Dilemmas of Leadership, co-author Murray Clark and I had many discussions about the old idea of charisma, and the modern concept of transformational leadership. It was clear that the style of the transformational leader had some similarities with that of the charismatic leader described for at least two millennia.

The Taming of Charisma

We suggested that the newer concept had ‘tamed’ charisma. By that we meant that charisma in its pre-modern form had too much that was mystical about it. The twentieth century was a period in which such older ideas were being swept aside by advances in the newer branches of knowledge such as psychology and sociology.

Bernard Bass had influenced thinking about leadership, moving attention away from the difficult question of what a leader is, to the more scientifically amenable question of what a leader is observed to do. Maybe, we suggested, the idea of transformational leadership was not so much a radical move forward in thinking, but an attempt to bring charisma up to date by stripping it of its mystique, replacing that with the rationality accompanying a factorial analysis.

Elements of the Old Remained

Elements of charisma could be detected in the new formulation. For example, the objectified factor of idealized influence of the transformational leader was acknowledged as an aspect of charismatic leadership, as was inspirational motivation. And the factor of individualised consideration might be seen as a ‘taming’ of the more mystical skills of a charismatic leader at makingleaving  each follower feel  special and uniquely valued.

One of the pioneers of transformational leadership, James MacGregor Burns, drew on his study of President Kennedy. But Kennedy is also frequently as a charismatic leader. In the run up to his election as President, the same labelling was being applied to Barack Obama.

Charisma and Its Redress

In the first edition of Dilemmas we entitled the relevant chapter ‘Charisma and its Redress.’ The reference is to the work of Seamas Heaney and his book, The Redress of Poetry. In it, he explains that poetry always compensates for popular unthinking opinion. The redress of poetry is its power to challenge conventional beliefs. We were suggesting that transformational leadership offered a redress, a compensation for the age-old assumptions about the magical nature of charisma. Of course, Weber had got there before us, and with far a richer analysis of charisma. He had seen charisma as becoming less suited to modern organisational structures and their leadership. 

Charismatic Leadership

Since the first edition of Dilemmas, there have been further contributions to our understanding of charismatic leadership.  John Potts wrote a particularly thoughtful study from a historical perspective. There is plenty of scope for further reflection. Our earlier suggestion followed Burns and pointed to the dilemma of empowerment associated with charisma. We noted “we are left with the impression that Burns now feels that such a view of leadership and power is inadequate for dealing with the dilemmas posed by transformational leadership. [ DOL, pp91, 93]. ”

Revisiting the Dilemmas of Charismatic Leadership

It seems to me now that charisma, far from being tamed by the more modern notion of transformational leadership, is co-existing very nicely with it. Despite attempts to welcome in a post-charismatic era, it fits nicely with popular conceptions of the specialness of such figures as Obama, and sporting leaders such as Jose Mourinho, and of course the still-potent idealisation of Nelson Mandela (witness the retelling in the book and film Invictus).

Work in Progress

My own work in progress is taking a closer look at the style of these charismatic leaders and how it deals with a dilemma of retaining specialness while conveying the impression of being one of and at one with the tribe. From such a perspective, we begin to see another dilemma of being isolated from (protected from?) information that might require a more rational relationship with the technical over the symbolic aspects of leadership.

Tony Blair’s ten tips for conflict resolution

September 11, 2010
Tony Blair's signature.

Image via Wikipedia


The following ten principles to follow for conflict resolution are offered without further comment from Tony Blair’s recently published A Journey.

1 Find the core principles around which agreement and a framework can be built
2 Never loosen grip on the core principles
3 Don’t treat as small what is important to others (‘small things can be big things’)
4 Be creative
5 Conflict needs outside helpers
6 Conflict is a journey not an event
7 Disruptions are inevitable from those who see benefits in maintaining the conflict
8 Leaders matter but leadership can be tough and lonely
9 Success requires external conditions to favour peace
10 Never give up.

Blair blow by blow. A collaborative review

September 3, 2010
US President George W. Bush, UK Prime Minister...

Image via Wikipedia

When Tony Blair’s biographic account of his Premiership was published in September 2010, it attracted enormous sales and instant comments.  Leaders we deserve offers an extended collaborative review sharing observations about the leadership issues which it raises.

September 1st Tony Blair’s A Journey is launched with global publicity.  Instant comments appear regarding the 700-page book, some even trying to sound as if the book had been read …

Susan brings home a copy for me.  First glimpse inside. Seems to be written in a chatty style.  Is he chatting to me?  That’s rather a creepy notion.

September 2nd Book breaks publishing records in UK for non-fiction (in the old sense of the word non-fiction).  Early observation:  brief mention of his father early on was interesting … ‘ [Dad] was secretary of the Glasgow Young Communists; then to war as a private, ending as acting major and Tory ..became an academic, a practicing barrister and then an active Conservative’ [p7]. The narrative hastens on to young Tony celebrating the election victory that was to make him Prime Minister and where ‘I saw my dad.. realising that all his hopes could be fulfilled in me.’ [p11]

A lot in a single paragraph.  The p7 material is factual. So it’s a good platform to build upon. It has the feel of the profile of a driven high-achiever who might become an entrepreneur or maybe a business leader.   The p 11 material is highly interpretational.  At very least it is worth another few lines of reflection of the conservative father and one time communist whose dreams were going to be fulfilled by his son (who will go on to help create a radical ‘new’ labour political perspective.)

September 4th Destiny and mythology

We don’t have to believe this story.  We only have to it examine it for the narrative that the author would have us believe. That is step one of a process which metaphorically is studying a map.   If we stick to the metaphor, this particular book tells from its very title its intention to tell of a journey.  Which suggests that we are in the realm of myth-making.

It has been suggested that there is one archetypal myth of a journey, retold since ancient times in cultures around the world. We will re-travel to story of the hero leader departing on a quest or mission, overcoming dangers, and returning having fulfilled what may be seen as a pre-destined role.  The journey may or may not bring contentment.

Blair addresses his journey directly early in the book.  He tells of becoming aware of his destiny, moments of revelation.  The impact of his first visit to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament was one such revelatory episode.  There were several critical incidents each of which ‘told’ him that he had no other course than to claim his rightful place as leader.  The destiny was explained as requiring him to seize the moment.  As in, for example, Shakespeare’s treatment…?

September 5th Dublin, Demonisation, and Respect

The book is creating its own story, as its author continues a promotional tour.  In a Dublin book-signing there is evidence of demonization in a large anti-Blair demonstration continuing the anti-war anti-Blair protests.  However, as The Guardian points out, there were also supporters of Blair who had retained a positive view of his contribution to the extended peace process in Northern Ireland.

September 7th

‘A touch of the coggers’

I am beginning to see how TB presents himself as having unshakeable self-belief. It’s through a process which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. One colleague of mine would say he might have ‘a touch of the coggers’.

Human beings generally can deny the existence of unpleasant evidence which challenges self-esteem. Their reflective processes are curtailed, and this state of denial is a psychic protection mechanism. The example which suggested this possibility is the account [p 88 on] of TB’s decision to send his children the a ‘good’ school rather than a neighbourhood school. These sorts of decisions are seen as presenting dilemmas for some parents. Not Mr Blair. However, the decision of Harriet Harman to send one of her children to a grammar school was ‘shocking’, although TB considered it morally justifiable if politically dangerous. During the account of this episode Tony Blair suggests that opposition to these views by traditional labour supporters as coming from beliefs (which, he adds in parentheses, might be called prejudices).

When I ask managers about their actions and rationale, sometimes their reasoning makes sense. Other times, I am left wondering whether there are less than rational forces contributing to the case being made. In other words, there might be ‘a touch of the coggers’ about it. An isolated incident is not much evidence. There’s a long way to go in the book for testing the idea.

Reader’s Comment:

“In my view, Blair is a Hitler-type nutter. Give him a decade of unfettered power and he would have been very dangerous (His personal ideas/beliefs are more important than reality). He claims that Brown is an analyst without the ability to relate to people but the evidence is that he, Blair, is the exact opposite. “

September 8th: Clause 4 and the Power of the myth

The textbook Dilemmas of Leadership has a chapter about symbolism and why myths are important in leadership. Reading another chunk of TB’s book supported the view that he reached decisions through the lens of a symbolic leader, which is another way of saying that he has a style which involved symbolic thinking and acting. The style is prominent, even when it is contained within some narrative which is closer to the rational treatment of someone with legal training. (Unanswered question yet: how might private conversations between Tony and Cherie go? Will we get any hints later in the book? Or will this remain strictly off-limits).

His willingness to take on Clause 4 is outlined in a highly symbolic fashion. Clause four is labour party short-hand for its historic commitment to public ownership. The identification of it as a target for change is an act of creative leadership (creative destruction for the traditional labour party activist). TB describes it is an icon that has to be smashed (although he is also aware of the need to approach the symbolic act with the greatest caution and heightened awareness of the consequences. His public announcement at the party conference and was crafted as the importance of re-examining the hallowed mythology of old labour in the interests of the emerging New Labour movement he was bringing to power. The myth-makers of Hollywood recognise the grand myth, the battle of the forces of light and darkness (For Tony Blair read Indiana Jones, or Superman).

September 9th The People’s Princess

The death of Princess Diana has become regarded as a defining moment in British popular culture. The widespread public displays of grief were seen as untraditional. Tony Blair’s interventions were considered significant in several ways. It was reported that he recognized a mood of hostility towards the treatment of Diana by Royal family prior to and immediately after her death. TB suggested more public gestures of mourning particularly by the queen. In the book, he recounts his sensitivity to taking a high-profile role and risking being seen as presumptuous (Lèse majesté?). Here as elsewhere he is convincing in his insights to the symbolic impact of leader’s speech, including that of his coining of the phrase The People’s Princess.

He sketches briefly his feelings towards Princess Di.  Elsewhere, he provides several brief pen pictures in emotional terms. Even the eventual antipathy between himself and Gordon Brown is referred to as a kind of love gone wrong. Other similar declarations of love can be found, mostly of a Christian kind of brotherly rather an erotic kind. Here, describing his feelings towards the glamorous princess, he notes Diana as someone he ‘liked’. [Comments?]

To be continued …

September 11th: Anniversary of the World Trade Fair bombing

How did TB describe the events of 9.11? Did he have the same feelings of dislocation and disorientation that appears to have been widely shared by others? To a degree [chapter 12], but his account is clumsily written for someone with his instinct for the impact of his words. He does briefly convey his emotions, but in preamble, he sets the context with his visit at the time to a highly forgettable visit to a Trades Union Conference which is described with misplaced assumption that readers share the author’s enthusiasm for what Tony did next. [‘The great thing about Brighton is that it is warm…’, followed by a brief paragraph in which I counted 11 uses of the first person singular pronoun.]

How did he feel on first learning of the attack? ‘I felt eerily calm despite being naturally horrified…Within a short space of time I ordered my thoughts..it was for a battle for and about ideas..it came with total clarity, and stays still.. as clear now as it was then.’

The chapter quickly becomes a justification for war in Afghanistan as a moral and strategic imperative. His speeches at the time have impressive clarity, and convey what now seems to be an unshakeable belief in the rightness of his judgement.

September 13th Blair’s leadership style

By chapter 10, Tony Blair’s preferred leadership style is clear. For his closest aides, the principle is a preference for control, with the alternative of delegation of clearly-set responsibilities. It is close to the fundamental principles of scientific management, and still retains significance as the simplest means of crisis management. It has a great deal of face-validity. I have heard such principles offers as precious ideas from captains of industry (armchair Generalship?). Tony Blair has undoubtedly heard and been encouraged in his beliefs by his wide range of industrial contacts, and maybe a few old-style military acquaintances. He notes ‘at crisis time forget delegation forget delegation, that’s the moment you are there for (p294)’. Unfortunately for AB, and perhaps many others around the world, it is a hopelessly inadequate set of beliefs for developing trust and motivation among staff and colleagues under many circumstances. ‘What they teach’ about leadership at Sandhurst as well as Harvard is delegation not of tasks but of responsibilities to act, and with the bonus of trust in the relationship with the leader. Mr Blair does not seem to have taken on board such views openly shared by military figures such as John Adair on action centred leadership, or more directly accessible the views of Admiral Lord Mike Boyce who became chief of his Defence Staff. These more nuanced approaches suggest that delegation and development prior to a crisis means that more people are willing and able to take effective undirected actions.

September 15th 2010:  Iraq

The book builds up to Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq conflict.  What can now be established that had not been established before? The twelve preceding chapters had established a pattern in the narrative which might be expected to be retained.  In general TB writes and speaks in absolutes.  It is hard to challenge the assumption that he believes in absolutes, in right and wrong answers, in good and evil.  He also writes ‘outwards’ from events in which he is presented as the dominant character.  And his reasoning tends to be surprising loose for someone who prides himself in the benefits of a legal training.

For many people, the fundamental questions are around the decisions of his Cabinet (presumed to be decisions taken primarily by himself) to commit Britain to the Iraq War.  Secondary issues are whether he had been excessively influenced by George Bush in taking these decisions.  To a degree, the pattern he outlines in earlier chapters may be a good starting point for understanding these two pivotal ones. 

Map Testing the Blair view of Iraq

My attempts to understand the Iraq story is based on the process I recommend to leadership students.  Analyse by first looking for a Platform of Understanding of any text (a book or even a situation).  The narrative here has a primary narrator.  Maybe we can find a shared belief starting from his perspective.  For example, he suggests that his involvement in the Iraq conflict led to such a deline in his popularity that many people disliked him, and some loathed him.  He further claimed that a hostile press contributed to the public’s mood against him.  He also claimed that public opinion was turned against him to accept evidence that he was dishonest in his treatment of issues (particularly over the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq).   

I find I can share this as an indication of Tony Blair’s map of the decline in his popularity.  We can test the map in various ways.  For example, we might note earlier in the book his observation that a leader may have to be less than honest with others.  That certainly a can be leadership dilemma. But he also notes that the war in Iraq divided public opinion.  The Press may have been tapping in to a public mood rather than creating one.

September 16th: Is Tony Blair a habitual liar?

After close reading of the book, I don’t think that Tony Blair believes that he is a liar in the way many believe to be the case.  He has a intuitive way of reaching conclusions, and finds it easy to back-rationalise from them.  In this respect he is in denial over contrary beliefs.  Having decided that Bill Clinton is a particularly ‘good guy’, he justifies the Monica Lewinski affair in a remarkable bit of special pleading which amounts to his observation that Bill was deeply interested in and curious about people.  That might be compared with Clinton’s own piece of denial to the effect that he “never had sex with that woman”.

One explanation is that Blair and Clinton have beliefs that are filtered through a special way of seeing the world which some would say is misguided at times.  Some would detect evidence of narcissism, and which in Blair’s case verges on megalomia.

September 17th: A note on megalomania

I leave clinical colleagues to arrive at more informed views of megalomania. I recall the psychoanalytical treatment of political leaders by by Leo Abse in this respect.  As a matter of fact, in checking for this note I was reminded that Dr Abse, a former Labour MP had written psychoanalytical texts both on Margaret Thatcher and on Tony Blair

The clinical diagnosis of megalomania refers to a form of mental illness characterized by the unreasonable conviction in the patient of his own greatness, goodness, power, or wealth. The non-clinical definitions seem to characterise someone who an obsession with doing extravagant or grand things. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/megalomania

Bertrand Russell observed that megalomania is found in lunatics and among many of those who achieve greatness.  Alexander the great is often cited in this respect.  There may be actual achievements but the mental condition becomes delusional.


From Jeff Schubert:
I seem to remember that Blair often said something like “people need to understand…” This always struck me as the words of someone who “knew” that he was right! Does this phrase get used in the book?

Think I see where you are coming from. Someone want to do a “people need to understand” count?
Relatedly, he does from time to time go on about other people don’t get it [“I couldn’t get Gordon to see it.” p569]

September 18th The London Tube Bombings

Blair cut short his attendance at the G8 summit in Scotland on news of the London Tube bombings. He entered the role of speaking to and for the nation “thinking how we should respond..this wasn’t about ‘emoting’or ‘empathising’ as people often stupidly and cynically say..it is about defining the feeling so the reactions can be shaped and the consequences managed. (p508)”

The quoted paragraph is worth careful study. Comments welcomed. He feels strongly when described as emoting or empathising. Don’t quite understand why, but TB sees these terms as perjorative, and indeed used by stupid and cynical people. Revealing is his implication that his speech acts at such a time do capture the public mood and shape future public beliefs. It is one view of a leader’s role. Maybe as Jeff Schubert suggests [above], TB wants us to understand, just as he wants the nation to understand.

Bush and Blair

So much has been written on the Bush Blair relationship What new might be suggested? The book offers what TB chooses to present. We find his belief about what is important. This seems to be that Blair trusted Bush unconditionally. (Why is a more complex matter). TB acknowledges that most people find it strange when he rates George Bush as someone of utter integrity and higher than most other political leaders we has met. Why? I have a suspicion that the answer lies in the nature of trust (defined as a vulnerability to accept positive intentions of another). Blair, who someone talks of the lonliness of ther leader still needs someone in whom he can trust. For a special person like himself, it has to be another special person who has attained high office. It’s a fascinating thought to consider how encounters between two such powerful and intuitive persons might turn out. But don’t expect rational explanations. It occured to me that little has been written about encounters between two such personalities. Blair had a charismatic effect on many people; Bush has the more commonly accepted charisma associated with great power and wealth. For Blair it was an deep emotional experience described in terms of an adolescent crush.

A milder version of this intutive admiration for a powerful and contraversial individual is the case of Sylvio Berlusconi (p 552). In each case, the enthusiasm of his descriptions is accompanied by what amounts to a statement which can be read (at least by me) to the effect that most ordinary people might be able to appreciate the special insights by a special person into special persons.

September 20th Toughing it out

Tony Blair’s style switches from chatty to formal, from persuasive to descriptive.  In this chapter I finally got it (to use a Blairism).  He’s writing in the first person heroic in one of Jeffery Archer’s novels.  “I was trying to wear [psychological] armour which the arrows simply bounced off, and to achive a kind of wightlessness that allowed me, somehow , to float above the demonic rabble tearing at my limbs (p573)… I had complete clarity about what it was I had to do. I really did feel absolutely at the height of my ability and at the top of my game…[although my popularity was at its lowest] there was a residual respect for and attachment to strong and decisive leadership” [Comments welcomed].  

A summing Up 

The extended review touches on aspects of TB’s behaviours which are less than admirable. A little more might have been said on substantial changes for which he can claim credit. There is little doubt that his leadership did make a difference to a labour party which had seemed unelectable until the late 1990s. His energy and ideas brought into being the New Labour movement as well as reforms he would himself claim as progressive (one of his favourite terms often applied to himself). Historians among others will find something of interest in the book.

I found it tough going. One of the saddest notions is his division of people into those with open and closed minds. Sad because it is not difficult to put Tony Blair in the category he dispairs of. He was, when in power noted for great senstivity to mood, and a capacity to capture it. This skill is here revealed as not unconnected with insensitivity to the impact his written words may have on large swathes of readers. (Or maybe I’m being guilty of the same intuitive sense of being right in unclear circumstances). With taht caveat on how convictions may trump analysis, here are my conclusions:

[1] Tony Blair believes himself one of the leaders of the world’s progressives

[2] He “gets it” on big issues: World Peace, The Broken Society, The Economy, The Future of the Labour Party, Leadership, Islamic fundamentalism

[3] He is deluded in his view that his training as a barrister has gifted him a keen analytical way of analysing of complex events. His aguments often are loosely constructed to arrive at the conclusion he wants to advocate

[4] The boundless self-confidence conceals deeper insecurities and a need to be loved and seen as someone very special in the eyes of the world

[5] The book may have been written with the belief that Tony Blair’s Messianic aspirations have not entirely gone away.

How Discounters Succeed in Tough Times: The Poundlands Case

September 1, 2010

Discount retail stores thrive in tough times.  Poundlands seems to be a good example. The firm is planning to create 2000 jobs and open 50 new stores to augment its 250 existing ones, many being installed in former Woolworths premises.

According to the BBC

Discount retailer Poundland posted annual operating profits [August 17th 2010] up 81% to £21.5m, on turnover up 28.7% to £509.8m. Jim McCarthy, chief executive, called the results “impressive” and promised further profits growth and expansion. He said: “With the economic uncertainty continuing, we are seeing many more first time shoppers joining our… customer base and with this trend set to continue, I remain confident of our prospects for the current financial year.”  Poundland employs more than 7,500 staff, and created about 2,000 full- and part-time jobs during the financial year ending in March 2010.

The firm, based at Willenhall, West Midlands, opened 56 outlets during the last financial year, many of which are based at former Woolworths stores.   The chain, owned by the private equity company Warburg Pincus, is gradually increasing the average size of its stores, and also stocking more branded items and food.

An interesting point is the way in which a smaller more dynamic firm is able to react in potentially difficult times. Woolworths, which might have been able to follow a similar strategy failed to survive the credit crisis, and became an opportunity seized by Poundland.