Being political

What kind of political animal are you?
In management circles a theory exists that other things being equal, two important qualities for achieving success within an organization are political sophistication and integrity. It is how these gifts are used that determine how a person will act, and how effective they will be.

Four animals have been assigned to represent combinations of the qualities – owl, fox, sheep and donkey. The owl is the most blessed animal. He possesses both integrity and political sophistication. The fox relies purely on his sophistication – ethics are not an issue. The sheep is ethical but entirely unsophisticated. The poor donkey is lowest of the low, possessing neither of the prime qualities.

Of course possessing both qualities is no guarantee of success. Too great a sense of ethics has often proved the downfall of the ambitious. The trick is to assemble a team that can provide the correct combination of talents for any given situation. Assuming that an owl is number one, the selected foxes, sheep, donkeys and other owls must combine to meet any forthcoming challenge.

If an owl commands a fox, the fox can do the dirty work while the owl looks at the broader ethical picture. Sheep can be left to get on with the routine work while the donkeys make the tea.

Owlish Blair leads Labour menagerie
To use politics, and the British cabinet as an example, prime minister Tony Blair must be seen as the owl. His ‘vision’ and the New Labour ‘project’ show his sense of ethics. The fact that he has moulded most of the Labour party into his own image, achieved a massive majority in the House of Commons and still enjoys unprecedented mid-term approval ratings – despite more than a few local difficulties – is ample testament to his political sophistication.

Blair’s right hand man, a figure seen almost unanimously by commentators as his number two, is his press secretary and political enforcer Alastair Campbell. He is the fox. Campbell is immensely cunning and his loyalty to his master’s ‘project’ is justification enough for him to employ all sorts of means to reach Blair’s anticipated ends. Shouting, bullying, economy with the truth, charm and the ability to trade are all weapons in Campbell’s mammoth armoury.

The sheep in the Cabinet’s menagerie is Gordon Brown. He is the most respected chancellor of the exchequer in a generation. His mastery of his massive brief is unquestioned and he is noted for his political bravery. In terms of running the economy he is seen to be both sophisticated and ethical.

But apply the model to his personal career and the sophistication disappears. How did he let himself get stitched up by Tony Blair? In the midst of the grief surrounding the death of former Labour leader John Smith in 1994, he agreed to stand aside in the battle for succession and let Blair stroll into the leadership.

No one would argue that Brown is not ambitious. He desperately wants to be prime minister. But because of his lack of political sophistication, he missed his chance. Also because of this, Blair can continue his premiership quite happily even while his chief rival holds one of the most important jobs in Government. If Brown ever gets to lead the Labour party, it will be at least ten years after the opportunity first arose.

Pinning the tail on the Labour donkey
Now we have to name the donkey. He enjoyed a distinguished career in opposition and came to the aid of John Smith on more than one occasion. But recently, during his increasing misfortune this man has come to resemble a belligerent Eeyore. He is the prime minister’s titular deputy – John Prescott. Prescott is a man who has tried to adopt New Labour philosophy with Old Labour style and has, unsurprisingly, failed.

After the leadership election, Blair was morally and constitutionally bound to make Prescott his deputy. But fortunately, a politically astute appointment seems to have been forced upon him. Not only does Prescott serve as a sop to Old Labour; he is the perfect cabinet fall guy. The character every great leader needs to deflect the heat in times of crisis. The problem for Prescott is that he seems to perform this role too eagerly.

And so the farmyard combinations continue down the rungs of government, working with varying degrees of success and achieving varying levels of approval. From the owl and the fox at the top down to the paddock full of donkeys representing the unquestioning lobby fodder that is the rump of the governing party’s back benchers, for the time being, the New Labour menagerie seems to be working relatively well. But this will not last.

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