Steve Richards writing in The Independent states that there are ‘iron laws that apply if a party wants to dislodge a leader’. While I would prefer the term working principles, the three ‘laws’ he propounds make a great deal of sense.
He argues that for a successful coup:
1 There has to be at least one popular alternative candidate
2 the risks are considerably lower than those for retaining the incumbent leader
3 The coup must not generate bloody internal battles.
Richards illustrates his laws in action in the lack of a coup against Ed Miliband even although his electoral liabilities became accepted a year or so before this year’s General Election. He argues that any coup would have been perceived by the would-be plotters as violating all three iron laws.
In 1997, Conservative discontent with William Hague as leader did not result in a coup ‘because the alternative would have worse’ as was the case for Labour when Gordon Brown’s leadership efforts 2007 were painfully inadequate.
Ironing out the laws
My more academic side does tend to be aroused by claims of law-like principles. Even outside the natural sciences, such claims are required to defend themselves against tests of credibility, ambiguities, inconsistencies and assorted possible weaknesses.
As stated, the three statements suggest conditions necessary and sufficient for a leadership coup to be considered favourably. My reading is that statements 1 and 3 are contributing factors to be considered in assessing risk of success in statement 2. If so, Richards is offering a risk analytic approach to political coups. Assess the risks of action versus the risks of inaction. The ‘ law’ amounts to the effectiveness of rational analysis in producing ‘good’ (effective) decision outcomes.
I would suggest that the first ‘law’ is stronger if it stated that there has to be one and only one popular alternative candidate. More than one candidate is likely to add risks and generate bloody internal battles.
It is dangerous to extrapolate beyond the context of any hypothesis. However, I can’t help reflecting on the processes that contributed to the dislodging of Sepp Blatter recently from his long reign as President of FIFA. And even further extrapolation might bring us to considering how a long-standing leader, let’s say Rupert Murdoch, may be persuaded to relinquish power and depart gracefully into retirement.