What makes a good PM?

"Listen, mate, the same deal I'd give
“Listen, mate, the same deal I’d give my own mother I’m gonna give you, djahmean?”

Dominic Lawson, he of the family where girls are bizarrely named after their fathers, is convinced that, whatever it takes, Mrs May doesn’t have it.

I couldn’t agree more – which only goes to show how the same conclusion can be reached by different paths.

Mr Lawson’s statement would be meaningless if he didn’t list the qualities that Mrs May so lamentably lacks. So here’s his complete answer to the question in the title, and I’m not omitting anything:

“He, or she, should relish the challenge of debate. They should delight in the market place of political ideas, preferably with strong views of their own.

“They should have immense powers of persuasion, or at least be highly articulate. They should be able to inspire people to follow them and to work with them. They should have the ability to charm – both privately and publicly.”

Oh dear, those personal pronouns are a veritable minefield now, aren’t they? Man no longer embraces woman grammatically, and he can find himself in deep trouble if he does so in any other sense unless first procuring a properly notarised release form.

The choice one faces is between incurring the wrath of editors (and, increasingly, the police) or opting for ugly, jarring usages, such as following “he or she” with “their”.

Mr Lawson chose the latter, even though I’m sure he knows how awful it sounds. But I do wonder if he’s aware that he has drawn a perfect set of qualifications for a mid-level telemarketing manager, a used car salesman or perhaps a PR executive.

It’s also interesting that he describes the place where political ideas are exchanged as a market place, which is exactly where a person blessed with those talents would nowadays excel. I mean, we aren’t in Athens circa 400 B.C. now; our agoras are different. It’s all about wheeling, dealing and shilling, isn’t it?

Mr Lawson ought to be commended for his meiotic realism if perhaps slightly rebuked for his low expectations. For the qualities he mentions wouldn’t make my list at all or, if they did, would find themselves close to the bottom.

Before a PM displays his (their, Mr Lawson?) ability to sell, persuade and lead, he ought to have a clear and correct idea of what ought to be sold and where others should be led.

Hence I’d start with intelligence, the ability to extricate the good choice out of the pile of bad ones. Then perhaps courage, the strength to defend the right choice even at a detriment to oneself. That’s closely related to patriotism, love of one’s country and selfless commitment to bono publico before one’s own bono. It’s also closely related to honesty and moral integrity. A solid (not necessarily outstanding) intellect would come in handy too, refined by working knowledge of political science, economics and history. Related to that is a deep understanding of the country’s constitution, an unwavering commitment to upholding it – and perhaps the knowledge where and how today’s government fits into the constitutional continuum.

You see, a long paragraph and none of the shilling, spinning, selling qualities so dear to Mr Lawson has so far got a mention. Perhaps they do merit a look in at this point, but I suspect a person endowed with the qualities I’ve listed would be able to hold his own anyway, even without special oratorical or debating talents.

I do realise that I’m reaching for a pie in the sky, rather than meekly accepting the meat and potatoes of modern politics. Yet if we look backwards, and not too far backwards, just a couple of centuries or so, we’d find that what today sounds like sheer idealism was then par for the course.

In those days, PMs boasting no intellectual, moral and educational qualifications for the job whatsoever were rather a rarity, not the norm. Today, we simply can’t get any other kind even as a theoretical possibility. Messrs Pitt, Wellington, Disraeli or Gladstone would have no chance of passing the vetting filters of today’s political machines.

Yet even today one hopes we could do a bit better than Mrs May, who doesn’t even pass muster as the canny spiv idealised by Mr Lawson. However, even such a modest hope will probably prove forlorn.

On second thoughts, I’m going to exonerate Mr Lawson of his reductive requirements for modern politicians. The fault lies not with Mr Lawson but with modern politics.

2 thoughts on “What makes a good PM?”

  1. Indeed.

    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, DL, FRS, RA – a (very expensive) high school drop out, overweight, bald, started his day with breakfast champagne and was three sheets to the wind by lunchtime (when the serious drinking started)…

    …He wouldn’t make the candidates list today!

    For me the most important quality in a political leader is knowing that, more often than not, inaction is preferred to action. I agree with the proposition that the reason our economy is doing so well at the moment, is that our executive and legislature are so paralysed by Brexit they haven’t the time to balls it up.

    Or as Ronald Reagan used to say to his officials (before knocking off at 4:00pm): “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

  2. “The height of statesMANship is to anticipate a problem before it manifests itself and take measures in advance.” Paraphrasing Enoch P.


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