Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Rebels without a Commander

Tom Harris is the latest Labour MP to ask for Gordon Brown to go, along with Jane Kennedy, Frank Field, James Purnell, Caroline Flint, Stephen Byers, Charles Clarke, Siobhan McDonagh, Sally Keeble and Fiona McTaggart. There seem to be plenty of rebels, but many are acting alone.
Where is the leadership?

I'm reminded of a scene in Gladiator, where Russell Crowe (a former Roman army general, who is now a slave gladiator) gets the slaves to work together as a team. They're chained and on foot, faced by soldiers on chariots, but by locking shields and working together, they win. The one or two who try to go it alone are cut to pieces (literally).

Gordon Brown seems to have faced down the possibility of a leadership challenge precisely because of lack of leadership from his opponents. Various MP's have spoken out or stood down, all hoping that their actions would precipitate a leadership election. But without leadership and strategy, these have just been a series of damaging, but isolated, incidents. Hopi Sen says a bit more about this.

Maybe it's a tacit respect for Brown that none of them will openly stand against him. Maybe it's a lack of nerve among his potential rivals. If anyone outside the current cabinet goes on to stand in a future leadership contest, they need to be asked "why didn't you stand in June 2009?" If courage fails them now, then what other tests will they balk at?

The other quality on display is loyalty: from the Damascene convert Peter Mandelson through to Alan Johnson, senior figures have made a point of rallying round Brown and speaking up in his defence. She's not my favourite politician, but Harriet Harman has led from the front in this, putting herself through 2 election nights in the TV studios to defend Brown and his record.

Loyalty is vital to success as a leader. If you can't take people with you, and have those who will take a bullet for you, then you won't last very long under pressure. It's significant that in the Bible, several leaders who go it alone fall away (e.g. Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah), whilst others learn to build a team (Moses, Elisha, Paul) and are able to see things through to the end. It takes time to invest in others, and to win their loyalty and trust, but once that's been done "a cord of three strands is not easily broken" (Ecclesiastes)

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