‘Heir Apparent Prime Ministers in Westminster Democracies: Promise and Performance’ by Ludger Helms

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See this new article by Ludger Helms on ‘inheriting’ office

Abstract

While the grand narratives of political leaders and leadership in parliamentary democracies tend to centre on victorious campaigners, prime ministers ‘inheriting’ the office from their predecessor between two parliamentary elections are a widespread occurrence in constitutional practice. Focusing on four Westminster democracies (Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), this article inquires how such heirs apparent have fared in terms of prime ministerial performance. Although in light of their experience, expertise and public recognition, heir apparent prime ministers can be, and have been, considered to be particularly well placed to succeed, when eventually securing the most powerful political office, most of them have actually been conspicuous under-performers. The single most important and strongly counter-intuitive finding of an empirical investigation of different prime ministers is that extensive experience in government, both in terms of duration and diversity of ministerial offices held, seems to correlate more with failed rather than particularly successful premierships.

See the article here .

Full reference: Helms, L. (2018). Heir Apparent Prime Ministers in Westminster Democracies: Promise and Performance. Government and Opposition, 1-23.

Brexit for our time? What Neville Chamberlain and Theresa May have in common

One MP said of Boris Johnson’s recent resignation speech: “we needed Winston Churchill. Instead, he gave us a modern-day version of Neville Chamberlain”. But could this complaint fit Theresa May better?

In her two short years in office, the historical comparisons chart May’s rise and fall. Her premiership began with comparisons to Margaret Thatcher, encapsulated in the Daily Mail’s ‘Steel of the New Iron Lady’ cartoon. After June 2017 commentators turned to the troubled premierships of John Major, Gordon Brown and James Callaghan. But what if historians are looking in the wrong place? Does the Neville Chamberlain tag tells us more about May than Johnson?

Chamberlain’s name is, of course, synonymous with failure and weakness. He was a champion of appeasement who embarked in 1937 on a “special and personal mission to come to friendly terms with the dictators of Italy and Germany”. The threats of the 1930s were, of course, far graver than May’s, and he is one of the few prime ministers whose difficulties make Brexit look simple. He faced war with two fascist dictators (with the USSR lurking behind).

Though it’s a comparison no prime minister would want to hear, at first glance certain May-Chamberlain parallels are intriguing. Both leaders had a business background, experience in local government and served as Conservative party chairs. Both were ‘takeover’ leaders, following on from Stanley Baldwin and David Cameron, who were themselves rather too relaxed and stumbled when they put their ‘party before their country’.

The two leaders made their name as domestic politicians who styled themselves as radical reformers. Chamberlain was a highly successful and innovative Secretary of State for Health (twice), helping lay the foundations of Labour’s later Welfare State. May was the second longest serving Home Secretary since the 1940s, pushing domestic violence reform (while dog whistling over immigrants). Critics felt both had too little or narrow experience of foreign affairs. Churchill described Chamberlain as ‘a Birmingham town councillor who looks at our national affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe’ while Attlee spoke of his ear being permanently tuned to ‘Midland Regional’. May too was seen as having limited interaction with the EU as Home Secretary, from which she drew all the wrong lessons, with her eyes permanently fixed on the UK side of a Border agency desk.

Once in Downing Street, Chamberlain and May went from huge success to deep failure. The two leaders sought to navigating huge, complex issues involving Britain’s status as European and global power, its influence and future relations. Both lost a powerful Foreign Secretary and rival to resignation (though Boris should note it took Anthony Eden 17 years to get to Downing Street) and had to appoint, eventually, sworn enemies to their Cabinet (Churchill and Gove).

May gambled away her authority on a general election in June 2017 when her slogans of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘strong and stable leadership’ gave way to ‘weak and wobbly’. Chamberlain gambled his on a series of meetings with Hitler. After his visit Munich, he was cheered into the night from Downing Street by happy crowds until he opened the window and famously, fatally, declared ‘Peace for our time’. Their popularity may have been rather exaggerated: Chamberlain went to great lengths to manipulate the presswhile Murdoch has “astounding access to Downing Street”.

Their personalities too seem similar. Both were diligent and hard-working with a “narrow sharp edged efficiency”. They were also aloof, secretive, and obstinate and given to narrow thinking, with an unwillingness to back down: happy, in Churchill’s phrase, ‘to strive continually in the teeth of facts’. Their lack of charisma was hidden behind symbolic props, in Chamberlain’s case an umbrella (see this great article) and in May’s her kitten heels.

It was over pieces of paper that the two leaders came unstuck. Chamberlain’s famous Munich Agreement, a piece of paper hastily signed by himself and Hitler, was supposed to secure European peace (see Chamberlain’s Cabinet report and the agreement here and his notes of his first meeting with Hitler here). May’s first document was her article 50 letter, sent at the cost of £985.50 according to this FOI response, which was, it now seems, despatched too early. Her December 2017 ‘backstop’ agreement, requiring a late-night flight that Chamberlain pioneered, was the second, which seems to have fallen apart in months. All eyes are now on what the third piece of paper, a UK-EU agreement, might say.

The verdict of history has been passed on Chamberlain, partly because Churchill wrote it. It now awaits May. She can only hope that she won’t have to repeat Chamberlain’s remarkable admission of failure in September 1939: ‘Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins’.

Originally on the Political Quarterly blog here

Is Donald Trump A Fascist?

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We know Donald Trump is a racist. He passes the pretty simple test for being a racist: does he do and say racist things? The answer is yes, regularly and repeatedly.

After the revelations of camps and forced separation, there’s now a bigger question that’s been lurking for too long: is Donald Trump a fascist? Phrases like ‘alt-right’ or ‘white nationalism’ are fashionable ways of avoiding the big f-word.

In one sense, George Orwell was right long ago in 1944 when he said the word fascism is “almost entirely meaningless”, especially as people still “recklessly fling the word… in every direction”. It’s hard to pin down exactly what a fascist is. There are common threads, a fascist family resemblance if you like, such as a glorification and love of violence. However, fascism was different in form, from Spain where it was a kind reactionary oppression to Germany where it was ultimately about racism and genocide. A further problem, as many scholars point out, is that it was easier to work out what fascism was against than what it was for. Even a rough list of what it was against is enlightening when we think about Trump: equality, diversity, democracy.

There are very obvious ways in which Trump isn’t a fascist. He has no armed squads, youth movements or a one-party state. He is surrounded, hemmed in, with democratic institutions. I don’t know if, in the darkest and deepest recesses of his imagination, he wants parades and uniforms and marching squads. Perhaps. Probably.

Even without the parades, I’d argue Trump does have a fascist state of mind and, at the very least, borrows their way of seeing the world and mode of working. Joe Biden said as much a few day ago. Trump has already done what fascists did, just as Salvini is busily doing in Italy (in the fascist office of choice, the interior ministry). He has poisoned the well of public discourse, pushing away the boundaries of decency and spewing hate. He called Mexicans rapists and publicly mocked a disabled reporter. He went on, while in the office of Abraham Lincoln and FDR, to praise Nazis. Remember? Time and again he has struck the classic famous leadership pose of a man with a ‘grievance against the universe’ and styled himself as ‘the martyr, the victim… the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds’.

In office, again like Salvini, he is trying to undermine democratic norms daily, as if melting democracy from the inside out. He seeks to undermine the very essence of democracy at the push of a tweet: yesterday it’s judges, today it’s the rule of law, and tomorrow it’s the voting system.

What the past week has shown is that his policies too now resemble fascism. He has created a series of camps, yes that word again, camps, perhaps the word that defined the 20th Century. He separated out vulnerable groups and targeted them, testing the waters of extreme policy semi-secretly, to see how the public react. For all the myth of imposition, Fascist regimes too carefully calibrated and re-calibrated policy, while covering them in a smoke screen of denial, partial back down and obfuscation. See how Trump’s defenders argued the nuances of Nazism or what constitutes a ‘cage’ for a toddler?

This is not to say Trump is a full-on fascist dictator, much as he may want to be. He remains constrained, so far. Much of his success has been because others, notably the Republicans and parts of the media, have allowed him, excused him and appeased him. Rather than a new Hitler he perhaps resembles some of the incompetent leaders in Weimar Germany before him, happily eroding democratic defences before letting in (actually inviting in) the Nazis. Most of all, he looks like his idol Mussolini, heading a ramshackle ‘propaganda regime’ long on rhetoric but short on concrete achievements. Before we make ‘hail Mussolini’ jokes, bear in mind , according to Bosworth, that Mussolini was responsible for a million deaths, the dropping of poison gas and the kick starting of a vicious civil war from Italy has not fully recovered.

For those who doubt, perhaps we can turn the question around. Let’s apply the LBJ test and see if Trump can deny it. How often has Trump proved himself not to be fascist and a supporter of democracy? I don’t mean his own imbecilic boasting, but democracy in general? How often has he championed freedom of speech (for everyone)? Or praised an opponent? Or publicly favoured minority rights? Never. Trump’s inclination may not be the full-throated marching fascism of the past but, as Umberto Eco pointed out, it can change forms. So we should assume the worst and point out the worst. Never normalise, never accept. Primo Levi’s warning echoes back to us “it happened, so it can happen again”

Originally on the Huffington Post blog here

New Paper ‘Merkel III: From Committed Pragmatist to ‘Conviction Leader’?’

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See this new paper by Ludger Helms, Femke van Esch, and Beverly Crawford,
Merkel III: From Committed Pragmatist to ‘Conviction Leader’?
in: GERMAN POLITICS, published online ahead of print on 3 May 2018.

Abstract

For most of her political career Angela Merkel has been perceived as a pragmatic  political leader, avoiding tough and divisive decisions wherever possible, and joining decision-making coalitions on contested issues when they emerged. To some extent, this remarkable ability appears to explain her extended hold on the German chancellorship. In the midst of her third term, however, her behaviour changed suddenly and unexpectedly, or so it seemed. When in July 2015 the euro crisis flared up again due to the standoff between Greece and its EU partners on the second bail-out, Merkel let her European convictions prevail and backed another support package against the wishes of many in her party. Moreover, when Germany was hit by a wave of refugees only a few months later, Merkel became the torch-bearer of a ‘culture of welcome’ and defended her ‘open-door’ policies with a measure of conviction that few observers would have considered possible. This paper looks at Merkel’s leadership performance during her third term through the lens of the concept of ‘conviction leadership’, and inquires if, or to what extent, Merkel can be meaningfully considered a ‘conviction leader’.

 

The free access-link to the article is here at
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644008.2018.1462340

[image By European People’s Party (Angela Merkel) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

 

Shaping Perceptions of Sarah Palin’s Charisma

 

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A great paper by Lindsay Eberhardt and Jennifer Merolla on charisma, both masculine and feminine here

Abstract

In many previous studies, gender roles have been shown to play a significant part in voters’ opinions about candidates. Researchers have shown that women, on the whole, have been viewed as less capable of managing certain leadership roles (Eagly and Karau, 2002; Eagly and Carli, 2007). While research has explored bias against women seeking political office generally, this question took on new significance during the 2008 presidential election. While the literature suggests that women in business settings may not suffer from gender biases in terms of charisma, it does not say much about how different presentations of the same candidate may influence perceptions of a candidate’s charisma. We were interested in exploring how highlighting different attributes of Sarah Palin influenced perceptions of her charisma among voters. We conducted an on-line experiment with a random sample of registered voters in LA County during the 2008 presidential election. Participants were assigned to a control group or a treatment group which read a short paragraph describing Palin as a mother, a social conservative, an executive, or as attacking Barack Obama. We expect that certain descriptions, such as being a strong executive, will heighten perceptions of her charisma, while others, such as being a mother, will diminish them. These effects, however, will be moderated by partisanship and gender.

Eberhardt, Lindsay and Merolla, Jennifer L., Shaping Perceptions of Sarah Palin’s Charisma (March 30, 2010). Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1581159

From City Hall to Downing Street: what would Boris as Mayor tell us about Boris as PM?

As speculation mounts again about Theresa May’s longevity at Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s star has risen once again. But what would PM Boris be like? Ben Worthy and Mark Bennister read the runes from his time as London’s Mayor.

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Having spent time in local government can be a bonus to a leader: Prime Ministers as diverse as Clement Attlee and Theresa May have done a stint at local level. We look at how Boris Johnson’s time as Mayor of London suggests what he would be like in Number 10.

Expect eye-catching media events and charisma…

Johnson rose to prominence through the media and was the archetypal ‘everyday’ celebrity politician. As Mayor he was an expert at either creating his own media events (such as joining a drugs raid in 2011) or taking advantage of any that came his way (such as the infamous Olympics zip-wire incident). While no great orator, his jokes and off-colour comments helped shape his image as a jester. His biographer Andrew Gimson speaks of how his political vision was, at best, a brand of ‘Merry England conservatism’, giving him pragmatism and flexibility as Mayor. Though his style was an ‘affront to serious people’s idea of how politics should be conducted’, like other leaders you could name, his ‘genuine bogusness’ held wide appeal, and brazen shamelessness, rather than being an impediment, was the key to his success.

His interventions as Foreign Secretary, a job that requires far more care, vision and diplomacy, have proved to be as disastrous as his Mayoral activities were successful. People have looked to Johnson, as a lead Brexiter in a great office of state, to see how Brexit will shape up, making it a little trickier not to have a vision. We could expect a series of terrible, Trump-esque scenes under Prime Minister Johnson. Johnson adores popularity and heartily dislikes being disliked – not a good set of desires for an office that (almost) inevitably results in disappointment.

…but don’t expect detail

Johnson was the Mayor ‘long on charisma and short on detail’. The secret to his success in London was to delegate to a series of very able chiefs of staff and deputies. He has struggled in the FCO, an office requiring a very firm grasp of details and briefs, with the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic dispute with Iran revealing just how out of his depth he seemed. The key to any Boris premiership would be who is at his shoulder.

Expect quixotic populist projects (that may never arrive)

Johnson’s time as Mayor was filled with populist ideas for grand projects that either didn’t quite prove to be the success they hoped (such as the cable cars) or never came to pass (the ‘Boris Island’, his airport on the Thames). These projects served to gather headlines for Boris and, in the case of Boris Island, side step tricky questions about Heathrow as he searched for a safe seat. Yet London and the taxpayer is still paying the price for a series of expensive and incomplete vanity projects. The introduction of ‘Boris Bikes’ is, of course, a standout policy. It has not, however, been the social leveller he promised and use of the bikes is disproportionately an activity of affluent, white men. Anyone hoping that Prime Minister Johnson will mean a bridge over to France should prepare to be disappointed.

Expect him to take an ‘independent’ line

Perhaps the one area in which Johnson resembles Churchill is his almost perpetual disloyalty to the party line. Though Johnson is ostensibly a Conservative, he repeatedly used the office of Mayor to push against any ‘slavish’ interpretation of government or party policy. He fought robustly government housing policy, policing cutbacks and, most importantly, Conservative EU policy on a referendum.

Even as Foreign Secretary, it seems collective responsibility and non-interference in other ministers’ ‘patches’ doesn’t apply to him and he has formulated his own red lines and ideas on NHS funding. Creating such ‘distance’ from within Downing Street is difficult, as Theresa May has found out. It’s far harder to rebel and push against ‘the official line’ when you are in charge of it. And Boris has few friends and limited numbers of cheerleaders in the Conservative party. Remember how his so-called friend and once-planned running partner Michael Gove stabbed him in the front?

Expect victory?

Johnson’s greatest achievement was winning twice in a Labour city. Perhaps his key selling point was his ‘bridging’ popularity. Boris (like Ken Livingstone before him) had cross-party appeal. His style and charisma made him the Heineken politician, reaching voters no one else could. The past tense is important, as it’s no longer clear he’s still Heineken. In 2017 there were claims he was ‘toxic’, especially in Remain areas. London has clearly fallen out of love with him. Current polls record only a +6 point lead on whether he was a good or bad Mayor (compared with a +20 point lead for his old foe Ken). Even Tory voters are losing faith. Could Boris Johnson still heal the divided country? The numbers on the bus he rode say no, though the Foreign Secretary and his supporters may believe the old magic is still there.

In some senses, Mayor of London was Johnson’s perfect job. He had limited power but a wonderful platform. The fear is that we would get a Prime Minister Johnson full of quixotic projects, tilting at windmills and bringing the country down with him when he falls.

 

See the new article Worthy, B., Bennister, M., & Stafford, M. (2018). ‘Rebels leading London: the mayoralties of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson compared’. British Politics.

How Can We Measure Political Leadership?

Ben Worthy and Mark Bennister

Understanding and measuring political leadership is a complex business. Though we all have ideals of what a ‘good’ leader should be they are often complex, contradictory and more than a little partisan. Is it about their skills, their morality or just ‘getting things done’? And how can we know if they succeed or fail (and why?). From Machiavelli onwards we have wrestled with our idea of what a perfect leader should look like and what makes them succeed or fail.

One way to think about is their authority. Taking the idea of ‘political capital’ we can look at what sort of authority a leader is granted and how they choose to ‘spend’ their capital and how. We can think of political capital as a stock of ‘credit’ accumulated by and gifted to politicians, in this case leaders. Political capital is often used as a shorthand to describe if leaders are ‘up’ or ‘down’, how popular they are and how much ‘credit’ they have in the political sphere. Like with financial capital, commentators and politicians speak of it being ‘gained’ or, much more commonly, ‘lost’. Most importantly, it’s viewed as something finite-you only have so much and it quickly depreciates under pressure of the media, opposition or events. This presents us with alternative method of understanding why political leaders succeed or fail.

Politicians are acutely aware of their finite stock of authority. Having plenty of this ‘credit’ means a leader can lets of things done by spending or leveraging it- think Tony Blair in 1997 or Barack Obama in 2009 when their support, popularity and momentum temporarily made them politically unassailable. They believe they can pass laws, set agendas and dominate the ‘narrative’. Tony Blair, reflecting in his autobiography, spoke of how he was a capital ‘hoarder’, trying not to spend his authority in his early years as Prime Minister:

At first, in those early months and perhaps in much of that initial term of office, I had political capital that I tended to hoard. I was risking it but within strict limits and looking to recoup it as swiftly as possible… in domestic terms, I tried to reform with the grain of opinion not against it.

said Blair in his autobiography.

Understanding leadership capital

Academics have defined political capital in a variety of ways. It can be about trust, networks and ‘moral’ or ethical reputation. By incorporating many of these ideas, we are developing a notion of leadership capital as a measure of the extent to which political office-holders can effectively attain and wield authority.

We define leadership capital as an aggregate of three leadership components: skills, relations and reputation. We have worked this is into a Leadership Capital Index (LCI). The Index has 10 simple variables to enable leaders to be scored, using a mixed methods approach to capture both quantitative data and qualitative assessments. You can see our more detail index in our article or here.

The measure of a leader’s skills refers to the whole range of abilities a leader needs, from the communicative to the managerial and cognitive. We look at the power of a leader’s vision, their communication and their popularity. The difficulty for many leaders is that they have, of course, some of these but not all-both Cameron and Blair for example have been accused of having the communication skills and (relative) popularity but not the vision.

Leadership is also a relational activity. Leaders mobilise support through loyalty from their colleagues, their party and the public. Part of the challenge of leadership is to retain these ties for as long as possible or, at least, as one scholar put it, to disappoint followers at rate they can accept. But how they do this can depend on their leadership style (Fred Greenstein’s influential approach gave a psychological framework for assessing style in office). The most obvious and talked about way is through charisma-the Blair or Obama offer of what James Macgregor Burns famously termed ‘transformational’ leadership. But effective leadership can also be through  quiet, technocratic competence and delivery, more in the style of Angela Merkel. Leadership needs to suit the cultural norms of the country and the situation-see this discussion of Matteo Renzi.

Third, leadership is continually judged and ‘sold’ by reputation. Leaders create their own performance measurements – have they done what they promised? Each type of leadership claim sets up its own performance test. We look at whether a leader is trusted by the public, subject to challenge or not and to what extent they control party policy or their legislature (see this article by Michael Rush on the UK).

Looking across these three areas in combination allows us to understand how they influence each other in ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ cycles. Successful leaders communicate, achieve aims and strengthen relations and reputation. Failed leaders poorly communicate or never map out a vison, then often lose confidence, control and credit.

David Cameron’s EU strategy 2013-2016 provides a neat mini-example of capital loss, where he gambled his capital on a series of high stakes policies with diminishing returns. His failure to communicate his European vision, and tendency for a series of ‘Hail Mary Passes’ with a promised 2017 referendum and EU reform, eroded already ambivalent relations with parts of the Conservative party. This in turn has left him with less control over EU policy or parliament as party rebels exerted more and more influence. So attempts to regain the high ground on the EU debt or by making ever more promises on immigration weakened his capital (you can read a more detailed assessment of Cameron here). This lead directly to Cameron losing the referendum and resigning in June 2016.

Where next for leadership?

The idea of leadership capital offers one possible way of understanding how leaders succeed and fail. We hope our LCI can provide one way to measure and identify the ebbs and flows of the leadership trajectory over time. We also hope it can be used comparatively between different leaders and leadership across and within countries

However, while the framework provides a neat lens, we recognise that all leaders can be helped or hindered by structural advantages or disadvantages-from different levels of trust to powers of the office. Different political systems give leaders less or more control and greater or lesser power-most US Presidents would probably happily swap for the power of a UK Prime Minister or French President. The wider environment also offers opportunities or limitations-war, peace or crisis all shape a leader’s influence.

There is also the fascinating issue of comeback. If all leaders only have a limited ‘stock’ what of those who bounce back? Bill Clinton, Tony Blair (to an extent) or John Howard all managed to turn around their political fortunes and reinvigorate their leadership. Winston Churchill may be the prime example of leader who squandered skills, reputation and relations over and over until late in his life-his career up until 1939 was famously described as a study in failure.

Churchill himself spoke of how politicians ‘rise by toil and struggle’ and remain caught in a paradox whereby ‘they expect to fall: they hope to rise’. Perhaps leadership capital can help us to understand why and how this happens.

Mark Bennister, Ben Worthy, and Paul ‘t Hart are editors of the collection The Leadership Capital Index: A New Perspective on Political Leadership published by OUP. You can ead the introduction here and find out more on leadership capital on their blog. This post was originally on Democratic Audit.