Thursday, April 17, 2008

Contrasts in Leadership - Blair & Brown - and a template for the United States

Gordon Brown may prove to be the most disappointing Prime Minister of Britain, ever. He came with great promise, remember. It was almost a year ago - only a year! He was the great relief from the tired, discredited leadership of Tony Blair. He was a 'conviction' politician. He represented a new new labour, one free of factionalism, yet committed to take the public service reform forward and build a new Britain. His government was to be based on realism, a less subservient approach to the irrational President of the United States. He was trusted for his competence in handling Britain's economic future - after all, he took credit, himself, for creating 'the longest continuous period of economic prosperity since the Industrial Revolution' as the Chancellor. He was almost the Hugh Grant in Love, Actually!, a highly lovable, if slightly messy Prime Minister [though married].

Alas, it never works like a movie, and how it all unfolded in a few months. First, he fudged at the suggestion of an early General Election to claim his mandate. He erred on the side of caution - remaining an appointed, rather than elected, Prime Minister.

Then, he fidgeted when a series of scandals came about. He backed inefficient and unimaginative colleagues. In times of crisis, he remained silent - behaving more like a monarch [possibly forgetting Britain already has its share of royalty] than an accountable public servant.

Then, he did not know what to do when a bank collapsed. It was almost as if he decided that remaining silent is the best way to make people believe that he knows the answer. The then Lib-Dem leader, Vince Cable, was right on the money when he said that Gordon Brown managed to transform himself 'from Stalin to Mr. Bean' in a few short weeks!

Finally, he was caught dumb and deaf when the much-vaunted 'the longest period of prosperity since industrial revolution' melted out. He said 'it is a priority' but did not present a plan. He pushed forward with his proposed abolition of lowest tax rate, significantly disadvantegous for people in low-paid work or part-time employment, at a time when food and fuel prices were rising fast. The only thing he did is to request the Bank of England to cut the base interest rate!

Gordon Brown, these days, is a dead man walking. Visibly thinned and greyed, he is fighting for his political survival, with newspapers rife with gossip about differences in the cabinet and a possible race to succeed him soon. He is in office for less than a year, and he is already looking worse than John Major in the dying days of his premiership. He isn't being replaced because labour MPs are unsure whether to replace a leader this soon. However, the public sentiments are fairly clear - they want out, even if at the cost of handing power over to a smooth and conviction-less David Cameron - and if things don't change miraculously in next two months, Gordon Brown will have a tough time surviving the labour annual conference this year.

This is key problem with Gordon Brown - under him, miracles don't happen. Remember, Tony Blair, who could turn a highly unfavourable audience with a single speech, or a TV interview. Who could stand firm on conviction even in the face of fiercest criticism. Ministers were sacked for incompetence or impropriety under Blair - even the most powerful of Ministers! Blair sounded and acted a conviction politician, even if those convictions were not widely shared. He came forward in times of crisis - he was visible and accountable - a leader.

Mr. Brown, for much of his part, look and sound too much of a convenience politician. He tries to say the right things, and half the times does not say anything as he does not know what is right. He puts faith on colleagues who are incompetent and insincere. He looks shaken and lost, and as I mentioned, recently requested Bank of England to drop interest rates, after granting them independence on interest rates [his most lauded achievement as Chancellor], in the face of spiralling inflation. Clearly, he acts more like Britain's Real Estate agent than a Prime Minister.

And, he presents a template for leadership for the Presidential hopefuls across the pond. Yes, indeed, I am talking about Mrs. Clinton, who claims experience and competence, has no new ideas and comes with as much baggage as Gordon Brown has. The term - Conviction Politician - is possibly a Gordon Brown invention, but Mrs. Clinton will soon claim that title too. If she manages to succeed the charmless and idealess George Bush, it will be left to a Hillary-Gordon combination to steer the world out of its most potent economic disaster in the coming months. Hopefully, the common sense of Democratic and Labour delegates will intervene sooner, and all of us will survive the crisis. Shall we say - May God help us all!

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