Reviewing Tony Blair

July 7, 2016

Tony Blair returns to centre stage. His conduct over the war in Iraq is coldly and unequivocally criticised by Sir John Chilcot as he summarised his long-awaited review earlier this week

Some years ago I carried out a careful review of Tony Blair’s autobiography A Journey:

 I am beginning to see how TB presents himself as having unshakeable self-belief. It’s through a process which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. One colleague of mine would say he might have ‘a touch of the coggers’.

Human beings generally can deny the existence of unpleasant evidence which challenges self-esteem. Their reflective processes are curtailed, and this state of denial is a psychic protection mechanism. The example which suggested this possibility is the account [p 88 on] of TB’s decision to send his children the a ‘good’ school rather than a neighbourhood school. These sorts of decisions are seen as presenting dilemmas for socialists in the public eye. During his account of this, Tony Blair suggests that opposition to these views by traditional labour supporters as coming from beliefs (which, he adds in parentheses, might be called prejudices).

The book seeks to present the subject in the light he wishes to be seen in. Don’t we all?  Here felt his remorseless insistence being seen as someone in complete control to be of paramount importance.

Writing on the Anniversary of the World Trade Fair bombing, I wondered whether he had the same feelings of dislocation and disorientation that were widely shared by others:

To a degree [chapter 12], but his account is clumsily written for someone with his instinct for the impact of his words. He does briefly convey his emotions, but in preamble, he sets the context with his visit at the time to a highly forgettable visit to a Trades Union Conference which is described with misplaced assumption that readers share the author’s enthusiasm for what Tony did next. [‘The great thing about Brighton is that it is warm…’, followed by a brief paragraph in which I counted 11 uses of the first person singular pronoun.]

How did he feel on first learning of the attack? ‘I felt eerily calm despite being naturally horrified…Within a short space of time I ordered my thoughts ….it was for a battle for and about ideas ….it came with total clarity, and stays still.. as clear now as it was then.’

The chapter quickly turned into a justification for war in Afghanistan as a moral and strategic imperative. His speeches at the time convey what now seems to be an unshakeable belief in the rightness of his judgement.  Later in the review I commented more on Tony Blair’s attitude to reality:

 

After a close reading of the book, I concluded that Tony Blair does not believe that he is a liar in the way many believe to be the case.  He has a intuitive way of reaching conclusions, and finds it easy to back-rationalise from them.  In this respect he is in denial over contrary beliefs.  Having decided that Bill Clinton is a particularly ‘good guy’, he justifies the Monica Lewinski affair in a remarkable bit of special pleading which amounts to his observation that Bill was deeply interested in and curious about people. That might be compared with Clinton’s own piece of denial to the effect that he “never had sex with that woman”.

One explanation is that Blair and Clinton have beliefs that are filtered through a special way of seeing the world which some would say is misguided at times. Some would detect evidence of narcissism, and which in Blair’s case verges on megalomania.

Bertrand Russell observed that megalomania is found in lunatics and among many of those who achieve greatness. Alexander the great is often cited in this respect. There may be actual achievements but the mental condition becomes delusional.

My conclusions after reading the book carefully were as follows:

[1] Tony Blair believes himself one of the leaders of the world’s progressives

[2] He “gets it” on big issues: World Peace, The Broken Society, The Economy, The Future of the Labour Party, Leadership, Islamic fundamentalism

[3] He is deluded in his view that his training as a barrister has gifted him a keen analytical way of analysing of complex events. His arguments often are loosely constructed to arrive at the conclusion he wants to advocate

[4] The boundless self-confidence conceals deeper insecurities and a need to be loved and seen as someone very special in the eyes of the world

[5] The book suggests that Tony Blair’s Messianic beliefs have not entirely gone away.

Meanwhile, as the book was published, the inquiry launched by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and headed by Sir John Chilcot, was into the second year of its deliberations. It was to be a further six years before it reached the public.


Independent Judgement. I will miss you greatly

February 15, 2016

Obituary for a dear friend

Indy Paris RotatedThere was an inevitability about the passing of the print version of The Independent. I will miss a quirky friend who made morning coffee the more enjoyable for several decades.

My not particularly guilty secret. I became addicted to the print version of the Independent for a bundle of reasons. Now I have a tough decision. What will take its place in my affections?

But that decision is for the future. Now is time to recall the best of friends, brilliant, contrarian, instinctively liberal.

The Indy was not always reliable. It could never be guaranteed to turn up as regularly as I could have liked. In the three Newsagents closest to me, one always ordered a reasonable supply. One gave up stocking the paper a few years ago, and the third resolutely refused to double its numbers of copies, meaning that at times I was thwarted by someone else with a minority taste in the news they preferred, and the way in which it was presented.

A cause a day

Then there was a period a few years ago when every day was time for a new cause waged against a national or global injustice, until I felt slightly desensitized in my enthusiasm for for the ‘Cause of the day’.

Looking back

The Indy was born as a reaction against the last big disruption to the print media.

In the UK. Rupert Murdoch was successfully breaking the hold of the old print Unions. A handful of journalists opposing the Murdoch dominance formed The Independent.

The project was always fighting the economics of a declining market recognized so shrewdly by Murdoch whose Empire had the financial muscle to run promotional campaigns that further weakened its competitors. The Independent would have gone under far earlier if it had not been bought in 2010 for nonfinancial reasons for £1 by Evgeny Lebedev who has bankrolled it since to the tune of £60m

Its innovations included messy changes to a tabloid size, and occasional excessive exuberance in design ideas that never quite lined up with user appeal.

Now creative destruction will hit a fair number of the staff, even some among a talented bunch of journalists.

Chess

One of the reasons I stuck with the full rather than the little Independent.

The chess column shows tireless interest in the game by Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman. Maybe the e-paper will give him a nice new platform for his daily offering.

Obituaries

Its obituaries by Meic Stephens gave me a link with my school days. Thanks to Meic I was not even the best poet in the village. Don’t know if he will get a chance to write an obituary or a poem in memory of the print Indy.

Not just a Viewspaper…

Viewpaper accusations by Tony Blair were taken on board unashamedly, as the Independent ironically admitted the importance of opinion pieces. Mr Tony was uncomfortable about the paper’s uncompromising stance over Iraq, and several other of his policy decisions.

Great journalism

I’m among the readers who dote on Mark Steel’s brand of satirical commentaries., Robert Fisk’s foreign affairs polemics, and Rupert Cornwall’s effortless demonstrations of his deep insights into politics to match those of his step brother David, aka John le Carre.

What next?

Do I seek out a new morning partner to gaze at over my coffee? These are early days after a heart wrenching loss.

 

 


Leadership succession: Tony Blair, Terry Leahy, Alex Ferguson, Lord Browne … and Steve Ballmer

October 7, 2013

Leaders hailed as the greatest by direct comparison with their contemporaries often leave a legacy that is tough for a successor to deal with

This point was examined recently by journalist Chris Blackhurst [October 3rd 2013] in The Independent. He chose four towering figures from recent years, from politics, business, and sport.

He takes as his thesis that succeeding an influential leader is tough. His point is that the departure may be made with more concern by the leader for legacy than for the organisation’s longer term well-being.

The trigger

The article was triggered by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United football club which was followed by a poor start to the season for the new manager David Moyes. Moyes was very much Ferguson’s chosen successor, one of clearest examples available of a leader’s critical decision over succession.

At Old Trafford, David Moyes has succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson, only to find that last season’s Premiership champions are in poor shape, that the Manchester United squad requires urgent strengthening. As worrying for United’s fans and owners is that Moyes appears to have been put in charge of a team in torpor. They’re no longer playing with the same drive and hunger that so characterised the Ferguson reign.

Blackhurst makes the general point succinctly:

Beware the chieftain who has been in office for a lengthy period; who is used to getting their way, who only needs to snap their fingers and it will be done; who refuses to countenance stepping down, to the extent that no successor is properly groomed; and when they do finally decide to go, it is too late. Quitting while ahead – it’s the best management attribute of all.

He illustrates with the examples of Tony Blair, Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco, and Lord Browne of BP. He touched briefly on Margaret Thatcher, and might have added Steve Jobs of Apple, and [another very recent example] Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. A closer examination suggests that the situations and the leaders are too varied to provide a nice clean theoretical idea. Was internal selection possible or desirable? Did the leader leave without being forced out? Was the evidence of declining personal abilities to do the job?

Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, announced his retirement a few years earlier and the market value of Manchester United plummeted. The evidence is that he retracted and spent the next few years considering how his eventual retirement might be planned more successfully. He did not ‘refuse to countenance stepping down’, although Margaret Thatcher’s political demise was closer to the description offered by Blackhurst.

Tony Blair was successful in winning three elections for Labour, which he had reshaped as New Labour. His legacy is haunted by his military policy in Iraq. Blair tried but was unable to arrange a successor he wanted. Gordon Brown is seen as contributing to Labour’s defeat at his first election. Sir Alex a close confident of Tony Blair seems to have learned from his friend the art of personal retirement planning with an impressive and rapid entry into the lucrative celebrity circuit.

Terry Leahy at Tesco appears to have selected Philip Clarke or agreed with the decision. Mr Clarke found that the company was in near free fall.

Lord Browne, whom Blackhurst suggested stayed to long at BP, left after personal problems. His chosen successor Tony Hayward was engulfed by the greatest disaster to befall the company.

Steve Jobs left Apple for health grounds, but had some say in the appointment of his successor.

Lady Thatcher had no say in the matter, although her departure opened the way to Tony Blair’s successive election victories.

The dilemma of succession

Succession remains a dilemma for a leader, and for those considered candidates as a successor. The issue has been around for nearly as long as stories have been written about leaders. We should at least be aware of the possibility of the ‘hero to zero’ process, as an earlier and over-generous evaluation of a leader is rewritten.

An example of this can be found in an article in Business Week in 2006 hailing the succession planning in Microsoft when Steve Ballmer replaced Bill Gates. Mr Ballmer’s departure this month [Oct 2013] was told in a different way.


The Leveson enquiry: a storm in a media teacup?

May 15, 2012

In the UK, there could be a gigantic political scandal unfolding involving the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rupert Murdoch, and a considerable number of their colleagues and close personal friends

On the other hand…

On the other hand, much of what is being reported may amount to a gigantic storm in a media teacup, amounting to little more than evidence of powerful people behaving with illusions of omniscience.

The tantalising question is whether we are witnessing an important series of events in political history in the UK in the early decades of the 21st century. Or not.

Timeline

Leaders we deserve reported on the breaking news stories emerging from the Leveson enquiry [in an earlier post April 23rd – May 10th, 2012].

May 28th Tony Blair’s testimony

Tony Blair’s involvement with the media was explored chronologically. He gave his expected well-prepared presentation. The self- image which ran through his book [reviewed among other places in Leaders we deserve] hardly appeaared to have changed.

His emphasis on power and power-relationships came through as he portrayed his own belefs that as prime Minister he sought to “manage not take on” the media. He drew parallels with [Labour] Union power. Of interest, he considered the owener of media to be less important than their appropriate managemment.

A brief moment of dramaas a protester burst into the room (ca 11.30 am) hurling “War criminal” accusation at T.B., before being hustled away

May 24th

Another week of compelling winesses. Yesterday Jeremy Paxman whose evidence suggested malpractice from the Mirror group. Today, Adam Smith whose evidence adds to the pressure on Culture and Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt as his special advisor in the ‘quasi-judicial role played by Hunt in the BSkyB case.

May 18th

Six children killed in a house fire. Is the case one for the Leveson enquiry? The deaths of six children in Derbyshire may be as relevant to the Leveson enquiry as that of the hacking of the voice mail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler.

The father of the children, Mick Philpott, acquired notoriety in a media campaign five years ago as “a benefits scrounger” who was reported as asking for a larger house to accommodate his extended family and more of his seventeen children.

May 15th 2012

Breaking news: Rebekah Brooks is charged for offenses relating to phone-hacking. The issue is said to be one ‘hanging over the government’ until the next election.

Lord Levinson announces intention to ‘say something significant on recent events’ at 2pm local time.

Levinson statement [2pm May 15th 2012]

Lord L had prepared an extended statement. He indicated yesterday [and earlier] that his remit was to explore evidence of Government/Press relations. In his statement, he reviewed various events which indicated the focus of his concern. These reprised his need to operate in a strictly neutral fashion, when there were political issues being considered by Parliament.

In this respect, he quoted extensively from Hansard [the official political record] on questions relating to the enquiry, and specifically the issue of making information requested from it available to Parliament, including a ruling from speaker John Berkow.

His statement also focused on the ‘leaking’ of information to News International. The statement implied that he would have to consider excluding from the enquiry any areas which he considered risked its independence and fairness.

It appears that there are ‘hard to resolve’ issues [dilemmas] here. The politicians are using the information leaked as part of a campaign attacking Jeremy Hunt through his disgraced special advisor Adam Smith. Lord Leveson is concerned about the fairness of the enquiry being placed at risk by politicised debate in Parliament.

May 15th 2012

Levison’s statement of May 15th in seen by The Telegraph as ‘defending the enquiry’

New York Times outlines prosecution of Rebekah Brooks as the most recent and easiest of charges of concealing evidence. More charges may follow which will embroil prominent politicians.

May 14th 2012

The Guardian newspaper was described last week by former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, as a leading member of the ‘anti-Sky coalition’. The newspaper continues its reporting with an article drawing attention to the Chancellor’s involvement with Sky International executives at the time of the Government’s investigations of the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News International.

To be continued

This post will be updated regularly until further notice.


Schubert compares Gadhafi with patterns of tyrannical leadership

March 4, 2011

Jeff Schubert, a frequent commentator for Leaders We Deserve, assesses Gadhafi based on his own extensive studies of tyrannical leaders

Understanding “Dictators” like Gadhafi [Posted 4 March 2011]

Commenting on events in Libya, Jason Pack (St.Antony’s College, Oxford), who has had significant experience in Libya, recently wrote:

As policy makers the world over speculate about what Gadhafi will do next, they should look to the leader’s upbringing, psychology and ideology for clues. To get the true measure of the man and his motivations, one must see past the rambling demagoguery and YouTube parodies. After his bloodless coup d’etate in 1969, Gadhafi struck Westerners who met him as charismatic, confident and idealistic.” Despite his brutality, Gadhafi, sees himself as a “philosopher-king” and is angry and bitter that his “utopian vision” has not been realized. “He is prone to paranoid conspiracy theories about how outside actors have ruined his precious vision because they cannot afford to see his utopia succeed. Assured of his own righteousness, Gadhafi will fight to the bitter end with whatever trusted advisers and praetorian guards will stick by his side.

I do not know whether or not Pack’s assessments are correct, but I like his approach to the issue. Rather than simply saying that Gadhafi is a “bad mad man”, he has recognized that Gadhafi – like all self-made dictators who have survived in power for a long time (in this case 40 years) – has an idealistic side which attracts supporters.

When the writer Emil Ludwig asked Stalin why “everybody” in his country feared him, Stalin rejoined: “Do you really believe a man could maintain his position of power for fourteen years merely by intimidation? Only by making people afraid?”

Of course not!

Stalin – like Hitler and Mao – had ideals. The Yugoslavian politician, Milovan Djilas, who had close dealings with Stalin and his lieutenants from 1944, noted that in Stalin, “certain great and final ideals lay hidden – his ideals, which he could approach by moulding and twisting the reality and the living men who comprised it”.

In my view Pack is being “realistic”. Such realism could also be applied to such people as Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro. But there is another side to this. Just as many in the West fall into the trap seeing only bad in such dictators, they also fail to see that these “idealistic” traits can drive leaders of their own countries to cruelty – and such leaders can attract many supporters. Psychologically, I think that Tony Blair is the sort of personality who – if had been born in Libya about the same time as Gadhafi – could easily have become a Gadhafi. And, many who have supported Blair over the years would even have been Gadhafi-type supporters. Their sense of “idealism” and their “own righteousness” blinds them to their own cruelty in supporting suppressive regimes and countries.

Gustave M Gilbert, in “The Psychology of Dictatorship: based on an examination of the leaders of Nazi Germany”, wrote about the ability of “decent” people to compartmentalize their thinking so that they can combine idealism with cruelty.

As a general principle …. the normal social process of group identification and hostility-reaction brings about a selective constriction of empathy, which, in addition to the semi-conscious suppression of insight, enables normal people to condone or participate in the most sadistic social aggression without feeling it or realising it.”

Many Germans and many Americans (in the case of their treatment of blacks) when confronted with these inconsistencies in their professed behavior as decent citizens, recognise the inconsistency intellectually, but still find it difficult to modify their behavior. Insight is not sufficient to overcome the deeply-rooted social conditioning of feelings.

Gustave was writing about the internal workings of societies, and specifically countries. But, in the sense that the people of the world are also a society, the same psychological processes apply. In my view, Blair and many others—despite all their idealism—have seen Arabs in the way described by Gilbert.


Mubarak watch

February 5, 2011

The events of political turmoil in Egypt in the first two weeks of February 2011 are followed and evaluated for lessons of leadership and the management of change

Saturday February 11th Mubarak is gone. For Egypt there will now be a lengthy period in which the speed of change slows. Mubarak watch concludes. For status reports see
The Los Angeles Times
Aljazera
The Guardian/Observer

Friday February 10th

Friday mid-afternoon. Mubarak’s resignation announced. Much more to follow.

Mr Suleiman said Mr Mubarak had handed power to the high command of the armed forces.
“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said.

Thursday evening, the world’s media turned to Tahrir Square. News was the Mubarak would speak to the nation to announce his resignation. Crowds expecting victory. Then dismay as Mubarak offers little. Confusion. Anger. “God help Israel now ” one commentator remarked. Fears for the next 24 hours.

Thursday February 9th

Intelligent discussion on BBC’s Newsnight. Historians plus activist spokesperson from Cairo. Lessons from history: revolutions result in emergence of ‘the strong leader’. Overnight, news of further initiatives, strikes in various parts of Egypt said to be ‘spontaneous’. Newsnight tested proposition that the protest could not bring down the Mubarak regime. Not easy to reduce to a logical proposition. Practically, Mubarak authority has been seriously and irrevocably damaged. He has lost unconditional support of his powerful ally the United States.

Wednesday February 8th Overnight view is broadly that there had been renewed efforts (if only in numbers) by the protestors in Cairo yesterday. Worth checking on the country-wide situation. A wikileaks view assembled by The New York Times mostly confirms what has been written about Mubarak’s negotiaons for US aid in return for his claimed ‘stong’ policies maintaining peace in the region. He viewed the removal of Saddam as a huge mistake which he believed made his own continued rule even more critical.
Tuesday February 8th In search of a leader? Aljazeera reports freeing of Google executive Wael Ghonim, whose facebook page has been considered to have triggered off the protests in Cairo.

Monday February 7th Overnight news indicates that the situation in Cairo has reached an impasse. The New York Times suggests it presents a dilemma for the Obama regime. Stock exchange opening has been postponed for 24 hours, as the government attempts to sell $2.5bn in short-term debt.

Sunday February 6th Muslim brotherhood in talks. Aljazeera suggests these to be ‘critical’ to next stage of events in Egypt. US sends mixed messages regarding the need for Mubarak to oversee a smooth transition of power. Brief opening of banks reminds us of the financial crisis running with the political one.

Saturday Feb 5th Yesterday’s ‘day of departure’ is now evaluated as no clear tipping point. Around 100,000 rather than a million people were reported around Tahrir Square. The possiblity of a longer struggle is now firming up.

One of the leaders of the protesters, George Ishaq of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, told the BBC they intend reduce their presence in Tahrir Square, holding big demonstrations on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Protesters will remain in Tahrir Square on all days of the week,” he said on Friday [4th Feb, 2011]. “But each Friday, there will be a demonstration like today.”

Friday Feb 4th This was the day announced in advance as the day when a million protesters would symbolically end the Mubarak regime. But the tone of reporting of a few days earlier has been somewhat muted. There is greater concern that there is more of a temporary condition of stalemate.

Another voice was raised in support of Mubarak, President Berlusconi of Italy, himself facing a struggle to survive politically. Like Tony Blair he considers the merits that stability of regime has brought to the wider Middle East.

Feb 3rd Situation is confused. Voice of America suggests that the Pro-Mubarak forces are gaining ground. The BBC however reports gains by the opposition demonstrators. What is clear that there have been fatalities acknowledged. Prime Minster Ahmed Shafiq broadcast an apology for the fighting, which has killed nine and wounded hundreds and promised an investigation. Tomorrow is the scheduled ‘day of a million protestors’.

Feb 2nd Reports a few days ago were talking of repid removal of the President from power. Now the tone is of more organized efforts to resist the revolutionary forces concentrated in Cairo. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC described events

Since I arrived a week ago I have seen no significant demonstrations for President Mubarak. But from the morning there were thousands of his supporters on Cairo’s streets, mobilised presumably by the ruling party, the NDP. The pro-Mubarak demonstrations were well organised, not spontaneous. Numbered buses unloaded supporters. Many placards looked as if they had been made by professional sign writers. Their opponents claim that they are paid to demonstrate. For an authoritarian leader like Hosni Mubarak, the sight of so many people in Tahrir Square calling for his removal must have been deeply humiliating. He will have wanted to reassert his authority over his capital city – and his supporters were given the job.


Tony Blair’s ten tips for conflict resolution

September 11, 2010
Tony Blair's signature.

Image via Wikipedia

 

The following ten principles to follow for conflict resolution are offered without further comment from Tony Blair’s recently published A Journey.

1 Find the core principles around which agreement and a framework can be built
2 Never loosen grip on the core principles
3 Don’t treat as small what is important to others (‘small things can be big things’)
4 Be creative
5 Conflict needs outside helpers
6 Conflict is a journey not an event
7 Disruptions are inevitable from those who see benefits in maintaining the conflict
8 Leaders matter but leadership can be tough and lonely
9 Success requires external conditions to favour peace
10 Never give up.


Blair blow by blow. A collaborative review

September 3, 2010
US President George W. Bush, UK Prime Minister...

Image via Wikipedia


When Tony Blair’s biographic account of his Premiership was published in September 2010, it attracted enormous sales and instant comments.  Leaders we deserve offers an extended collaborative review sharing observations about the leadership issues which it raises.

September 1st Tony Blair’s A Journey is launched with global publicity.  Instant comments appear regarding the 700-page book, some even trying to sound as if the book had been read …

Susan brings home a copy for me.  First glimpse inside. Seems to be written in a chatty style.  Is he chatting to me?  That’s rather a creepy notion.

September 2nd Book breaks publishing records in UK for non-fiction (in the old sense of the word non-fiction).  Early observation:  brief mention of his father early on was interesting … ‘ [Dad] was secretary of the Glasgow Young Communists; then to war as a private, ending as acting major and Tory ..became an academic, a practicing barrister and then an active Conservative’ [p7]. The narrative hastens on to young Tony celebrating the election victory that was to make him Prime Minister and where ‘I saw my dad.. realising that all his hopes could be fulfilled in me.’ [p11]

A lot in a single paragraph.  The p7 material is factual. So it’s a good platform to build upon. It has the feel of the profile of a driven high-achiever who might become an entrepreneur or maybe a business leader.   The p 11 material is highly interpretational.  At very least it is worth another few lines of reflection of the conservative father and one time communist whose dreams were going to be fulfilled by his son (who will go on to help create a radical ‘new’ labour political perspective.)

September 4th Destiny and mythology

We don’t have to believe this story.  We only have to it examine it for the narrative that the author would have us believe. That is step one of a process which metaphorically is studying a map.   If we stick to the metaphor, this particular book tells from its very title its intention to tell of a journey.  Which suggests that we are in the realm of myth-making.

It has been suggested that there is one archetypal myth of a journey, retold since ancient times in cultures around the world. We will re-travel to story of the hero leader departing on a quest or mission, overcoming dangers, and returning having fulfilled what may be seen as a pre-destined role.  The journey may or may not bring contentment.

Blair addresses his journey directly early in the book.  He tells of becoming aware of his destiny, moments of revelation.  The impact of his first visit to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament was one such revelatory episode.  There were several critical incidents each of which ‘told’ him that he had no other course than to claim his rightful place as leader.  The destiny was explained as requiring him to seize the moment.  As in, for example, Shakespeare’s treatment…?

September 5th Dublin, Demonisation, and Respect

The book is creating its own story, as its author continues a promotional tour.  In a Dublin book-signing there is evidence of demonization in a large anti-Blair demonstration continuing the anti-war anti-Blair protests.  However, as The Guardian points out, there were also supporters of Blair who had retained a positive view of his contribution to the extended peace process in Northern Ireland.

September 7th

‘A touch of the coggers’

I am beginning to see how TB presents himself as having unshakeable self-belief. It’s through a process which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. One colleague of mine would say he might have ‘a touch of the coggers’.

Human beings generally can deny the existence of unpleasant evidence which challenges self-esteem. Their reflective processes are curtailed, and this state of denial is a psychic protection mechanism. The example which suggested this possibility is the account [p 88 on] of TB’s decision to send his children the a ‘good’ school rather than a neighbourhood school. These sorts of decisions are seen as presenting dilemmas for some parents. Not Mr Blair. However, the decision of Harriet Harman to send one of her children to a grammar school was ‘shocking’, although TB considered it morally justifiable if politically dangerous. During the account of this episode Tony Blair suggests that opposition to these views by traditional labour supporters as coming from beliefs (which, he adds in parentheses, might be called prejudices).

When I ask managers about their actions and rationale, sometimes their reasoning makes sense. Other times, I am left wondering whether there are less than rational forces contributing to the case being made. In other words, there might be ‘a touch of the coggers’ about it. An isolated incident is not much evidence. There’s a long way to go in the book for testing the idea.

Reader’s Comment:

“In my view, Blair is a Hitler-type nutter. Give him a decade of unfettered power and he would have been very dangerous (His personal ideas/beliefs are more important than reality). He claims that Brown is an analyst without the ability to relate to people but the evidence is that he, Blair, is the exact opposite. “

September 8th: Clause 4 and the Power of the myth

The textbook Dilemmas of Leadership has a chapter about symbolism and why myths are important in leadership. Reading another chunk of TB’s book supported the view that he reached decisions through the lens of a symbolic leader, which is another way of saying that he has a style which involved symbolic thinking and acting. The style is prominent, even when it is contained within some narrative which is closer to the rational treatment of someone with legal training. (Unanswered question yet: how might private conversations between Tony and Cherie go? Will we get any hints later in the book? Or will this remain strictly off-limits).

His willingness to take on Clause 4 is outlined in a highly symbolic fashion. Clause four is labour party short-hand for its historic commitment to public ownership. The identification of it as a target for change is an act of creative leadership (creative destruction for the traditional labour party activist). TB describes it is an icon that has to be smashed (although he is also aware of the need to approach the symbolic act with the greatest caution and heightened awareness of the consequences. His public announcement at the party conference and was crafted as the importance of re-examining the hallowed mythology of old labour in the interests of the emerging New Labour movement he was bringing to power. The myth-makers of Hollywood recognise the grand myth, the battle of the forces of light and darkness (For Tony Blair read Indiana Jones, or Superman).

September 9th The People’s Princess

The death of Princess Diana has become regarded as a defining moment in British popular culture. The widespread public displays of grief were seen as untraditional. Tony Blair’s interventions were considered significant in several ways. It was reported that he recognized a mood of hostility towards the treatment of Diana by Royal family prior to and immediately after her death. TB suggested more public gestures of mourning particularly by the queen. In the book, he recounts his sensitivity to taking a high-profile role and risking being seen as presumptuous (Lèse majesté?). Here as elsewhere he is convincing in his insights to the symbolic impact of leader’s speech, including that of his coining of the phrase The People’s Princess.

He sketches briefly his feelings towards Princess Di.  Elsewhere, he provides several brief pen pictures in emotional terms. Even the eventual antipathy between himself and Gordon Brown is referred to as a kind of love gone wrong. Other similar declarations of love can be found, mostly of a Christian kind of brotherly rather an erotic kind. Here, describing his feelings towards the glamorous princess, he notes Diana as someone he ‘liked’. [Comments?]

To be continued …

September 11th: Anniversary of the World Trade Fair bombing

How did TB describe the events of 9.11? Did he have the same feelings of dislocation and disorientation that appears to have been widely shared by others? To a degree [chapter 12], but his account is clumsily written for someone with his instinct for the impact of his words. He does briefly convey his emotions, but in preamble, he sets the context with his visit at the time to a highly forgettable visit to a Trades Union Conference which is described with misplaced assumption that readers share the author’s enthusiasm for what Tony did next. [‘The great thing about Brighton is that it is warm…’, followed by a brief paragraph in which I counted 11 uses of the first person singular pronoun.]

How did he feel on first learning of the attack? ‘I felt eerily calm despite being naturally horrified…Within a short space of time I ordered my thoughts..it was for a battle for and about ideas..it came with total clarity, and stays still.. as clear now as it was then.’

The chapter quickly becomes a justification for war in Afghanistan as a moral and strategic imperative. His speeches at the time have impressive clarity, and convey what now seems to be an unshakeable belief in the rightness of his judgement.

September 13th Blair’s leadership style

By chapter 10, Tony Blair’s preferred leadership style is clear. For his closest aides, the principle is a preference for control, with the alternative of delegation of clearly-set responsibilities. It is close to the fundamental principles of scientific management, and still retains significance as the simplest means of crisis management. It has a great deal of face-validity. I have heard such principles offers as precious ideas from captains of industry (armchair Generalship?). Tony Blair has undoubtedly heard and been encouraged in his beliefs by his wide range of industrial contacts, and maybe a few old-style military acquaintances. He notes ‘at crisis time forget delegation forget delegation, that’s the moment you are there for (p294)’. Unfortunately for AB, and perhaps many others around the world, it is a hopelessly inadequate set of beliefs for developing trust and motivation among staff and colleagues under many circumstances. ‘What they teach’ about leadership at Sandhurst as well as Harvard is delegation not of tasks but of responsibilities to act, and with the bonus of trust in the relationship with the leader. Mr Blair does not seem to have taken on board such views openly shared by military figures such as John Adair on action centred leadership, or more directly accessible the views of Admiral Lord Mike Boyce who became chief of his Defence Staff. These more nuanced approaches suggest that delegation and development prior to a crisis means that more people are willing and able to take effective undirected actions.

September 15th 2010:  Iraq

The book builds up to Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq conflict.  What can now be established that had not been established before? The twelve preceding chapters had established a pattern in the narrative which might be expected to be retained.  In general TB writes and speaks in absolutes.  It is hard to challenge the assumption that he believes in absolutes, in right and wrong answers, in good and evil.  He also writes ‘outwards’ from events in which he is presented as the dominant character.  And his reasoning tends to be surprising loose for someone who prides himself in the benefits of a legal training.

For many people, the fundamental questions are around the decisions of his Cabinet (presumed to be decisions taken primarily by himself) to commit Britain to the Iraq War.  Secondary issues are whether he had been excessively influenced by George Bush in taking these decisions.  To a degree, the pattern he outlines in earlier chapters may be a good starting point for understanding these two pivotal ones. 

Map Testing the Blair view of Iraq

My attempts to understand the Iraq story is based on the process I recommend to leadership students.  Analyse by first looking for a Platform of Understanding of any text (a book or even a situation).  The narrative here has a primary narrator.  Maybe we can find a shared belief starting from his perspective.  For example, he suggests that his involvement in the Iraq conflict led to such a deline in his popularity that many people disliked him, and some loathed him.  He further claimed that a hostile press contributed to the public’s mood against him.  He also claimed that public opinion was turned against him to accept evidence that he was dishonest in his treatment of issues (particularly over the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq).   

I find I can share this as an indication of Tony Blair’s map of the decline in his popularity.  We can test the map in various ways.  For example, we might note earlier in the book his observation that a leader may have to be less than honest with others.  That certainly a can be leadership dilemma. But he also notes that the war in Iraq divided public opinion.  The Press may have been tapping in to a public mood rather than creating one.

September 16th: Is Tony Blair a habitual liar?

After close reading of the book, I don’t think that Tony Blair believes that he is a liar in the way many believe to be the case.  He has a intuitive way of reaching conclusions, and finds it easy to back-rationalise from them.  In this respect he is in denial over contrary beliefs.  Having decided that Bill Clinton is a particularly ‘good guy’, he justifies the Monica Lewinski affair in a remarkable bit of special pleading which amounts to his observation that Bill was deeply interested in and curious about people.  That might be compared with Clinton’s own piece of denial to the effect that he “never had sex with that woman”.

One explanation is that Blair and Clinton have beliefs that are filtered through a special way of seeing the world which some would say is misguided at times.  Some would detect evidence of narcissism, and which in Blair’s case verges on megalomia.

September 17th: A note on megalomania

I leave clinical colleagues to arrive at more informed views of megalomania. I recall the psychoanalytical treatment of political leaders by by Leo Abse in this respect.  As a matter of fact, in checking for this note I was reminded that Dr Abse, a former Labour MP had written psychoanalytical texts both on Margaret Thatcher and on Tony Blair

The clinical diagnosis of megalomania refers to a form of mental illness characterized by the unreasonable conviction in the patient of his own greatness, goodness, power, or wealth. The non-clinical definitions seem to characterise someone who an obsession with doing extravagant or grand things. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/megalomania

Bertrand Russell observed that megalomania is found in lunatics and among many of those who achieve greatness.  Alexander the great is often cited in this respect.  There may be actual achievements but the mental condition becomes delusional.

Comment

From Jeff Schubert:
I seem to remember that Blair often said something like “people need to understand…” This always struck me as the words of someone who “knew” that he was right! Does this phrase get used in the book?

Think I see where you are coming from. Someone want to do a “people need to understand” count?
Relatedly, he does from time to time go on about other people don’t get it [“I couldn’t get Gordon to see it.” p569]

September 18th The London Tube Bombings

Blair cut short his attendance at the G8 summit in Scotland on news of the London Tube bombings. He entered the role of speaking to and for the nation “thinking how we should respond..this wasn’t about ‘emoting’or ‘empathising’ as people often stupidly and cynically say..it is about defining the feeling so the reactions can be shaped and the consequences managed. (p508)”

The quoted paragraph is worth careful study. Comments welcomed. He feels strongly when described as emoting or empathising. Don’t quite understand why, but TB sees these terms as perjorative, and indeed used by stupid and cynical people. Revealing is his implication that his speech acts at such a time do capture the public mood and shape future public beliefs. It is one view of a leader’s role. Maybe as Jeff Schubert suggests [above], TB wants us to understand, just as he wants the nation to understand.

Bush and Blair

So much has been written on the Bush Blair relationship What new might be suggested? The book offers what TB chooses to present. We find his belief about what is important. This seems to be that Blair trusted Bush unconditionally. (Why is a more complex matter). TB acknowledges that most people find it strange when he rates George Bush as someone of utter integrity and higher than most other political leaders we has met. Why? I have a suspicion that the answer lies in the nature of trust (defined as a vulnerability to accept positive intentions of another). Blair, who someone talks of the lonliness of ther leader still needs someone in whom he can trust. For a special person like himself, it has to be another special person who has attained high office. It’s a fascinating thought to consider how encounters between two such powerful and intuitive persons might turn out. But don’t expect rational explanations. It occured to me that little has been written about encounters between two such personalities. Blair had a charismatic effect on many people; Bush has the more commonly accepted charisma associated with great power and wealth. For Blair it was an deep emotional experience described in terms of an adolescent crush.

A milder version of this intutive admiration for a powerful and contraversial individual is the case of Sylvio Berlusconi (p 552). In each case, the enthusiasm of his descriptions is accompanied by what amounts to a statement which can be read (at least by me) to the effect that most ordinary people might be able to appreciate the special insights by a special person into special persons.

September 20th Toughing it out

Tony Blair’s style switches from chatty to formal, from persuasive to descriptive.  In this chapter I finally got it (to use a Blairism).  He’s writing in the first person heroic in one of Jeffery Archer’s novels.  “I was trying to wear [psychological] armour which the arrows simply bounced off, and to achive a kind of wightlessness that allowed me, somehow , to float above the demonic rabble tearing at my limbs (p573)… I had complete clarity about what it was I had to do. I really did feel absolutely at the height of my ability and at the top of my game…[although my popularity was at its lowest] there was a residual respect for and attachment to strong and decisive leadership” [Comments welcomed].  

A summing Up 

The extended review touches on aspects of TB’s behaviours which are less than admirable. A little more might have been said on substantial changes for which he can claim credit. There is little doubt that his leadership did make a difference to a labour party which had seemed unelectable until the late 1990s. His energy and ideas brought into being the New Labour movement as well as reforms he would himself claim as progressive (one of his favourite terms often applied to himself). Historians among others will find something of interest in the book.

I found it tough going. One of the saddest notions is his division of people into those with open and closed minds. Sad because it is not difficult to put Tony Blair in the category he dispairs of. He was, when in power noted for great senstivity to mood, and a capacity to capture it. This skill is here revealed as not unconnected with insensitivity to the impact his written words may have on large swathes of readers. (Or maybe I’m being guilty of the same intuitive sense of being right in unclear circumstances). With taht caveat on how convictions may trump analysis, here are my conclusions:

[1] Tony Blair believes himself one of the leaders of the world’s progressives

[2] He “gets it” on big issues: World Peace, The Broken Society, The Economy, The Future of the Labour Party, Leadership, Islamic fundamentalism

[3] He is deluded in his view that his training as a barrister has gifted him a keen analytical way of analysing of complex events. His aguments often are loosely constructed to arrive at the conclusion he wants to advocate

[4] The boundless self-confidence conceals deeper insecurities and a need to be loved and seen as someone very special in the eyes of the world

[5] The book may have been written with the belief that Tony Blair’s Messianic aspirations have not entirely gone away.


Waterboarding and Leadership

February 9, 2010

The labelling of a recent case of parental abuse as waterboarding offers insights into processes of narrative-building

A recent case of parental abuse has been labelled as a waterboarding incident. The narrative developed after abnormal behaviour of a US soldier observed in public was followed-up by the local police. They discovered an incident at his home where the parent was reported to have disciplined his four year old daughter by holding her head under water.

It seems to me a clear example of how a story builds up and is captured as a narrative label. The move vivid the label, the more likely it becomes the way that the story is tagged in the mind of readers, and electronically in web-based versions which speed their way around the internet.

The reports are typified by one from the BBC

A US soldier has been charged with assault after allegedly waterboarding his four-year-old daughter, police in the state of Washington have said.

Reading further, I learned that the Police, had cited Sgt Joshua Tabor, a helicopter repairer who served in Iraq from 2007-08, had

…dunked the girl’s head in a sink full of water for not reciting the alphabet. Yelm police chief Todd Stancil said Sgt Tabor was arrested on 31 January. “From what I understand it is very similar to waterboarding,” Mr Stancil said of the alleged offence, according to the AFP news agency.

From what I understand of waterboarding, the analogy is rather stretched.

Water-boarding involves a prisoner being stretched on his back or hung upside down, having a cloth pushed into his mouth and/or plastic film placed over his face and having water poured onto his face. He gags almost immediately.

The Telegraph headline shouted US soldier gives four-year-old daughter ‘waterboarding’ over alphabet. The tell-tale inverted commas around the term waterboarding hints at an awareness that the story is not entirely free from metaphor.

I am not belittling the abuse that a child appears to have had inflicted on her. There may be a connection between Joshua Tabor’s actions, and experiences he had serving in Iraq, where the stories of waterboarding emerged. But there is also in this sad case some implications for leadership studies. Is it easier for waterboarding to become culturally acceptable under extreme conditions of military threat if there is a connection with more widely-expressed and primitive behaviours of bullying and abuse? Are leaders able to exploit these conditions, as in the well-known Milgram experiments?

Leaders we deserve?

I was struck recently by the popularity of the view expressed recently that Tony Blair and George Bush were criminals who should be arrested for their war crimes, including incidents of water-boarding over whose perpetrators they had ultimate responsibility. The argument has enough elasticity to blame the political leaders for the panic and abuse of one little girl in a town in Washington DC, years after the war ended.

When we put leaders on trial who are accused of responsibility for acts of mass murder and torture, are we also holding to them to account for monstrous acts, and for forcing others to comply with their wishes? Did they struggle with one of the ultimate dilemmas of leadership involving the rights of one set of individuals against the safety of another set? Are we also demonstrating the complicated collusion which plays out between the leaders we elect and the leaders we deserve?


Tony Blair, the Chilcot Enquiry and the Dilemmas of Charismatic Leadership

January 30, 2010

When former Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived to give evidence to the Chilcot enquiry [January 29th 2010] he was greeted by a crowd of several hundred protesters. The placards read “Bliar” and the chants were “Tony Blair: War Criminal”

The Chilcot Enquiry was established to enquire what lessons could be learned from the invasion of Iraq. Tony Blair, as Prime Minister at the time, was always assumed to be the key witness. He arrived early, by a back entrance, to avoid confrontation with demonstators.

Tony Blair is regarded as a modern example of a charismatic leader. The plotting and his eventual overthrow have echoes of the fate of another Charismatic figure, Margaret Thatcher, two decades earlier.

WE use the term to refer to today’s leaders in all walks of life. It was origianlly brilliantly analysed by Weber, as a pre-modern form of leadership through which radical shifts in institutions are achieved. eber consdiered that charisma was less effective than a more rational mode of leadership in modern industrial societies. He examined the persuasive powers of a leader, and the assumptions of followerss of special, supernatural or magical gifts which provide the leader with legitimacy. The influence process appeals to ethical and emotional needs, rather than self-interested and rational considerations.

In the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership, there is a chapter on The Magic of Charisma. It outlines an all- too-often ignored ‘dark side’ of charisma, in its early and more modern form (‘new charisma’) of transformational leadership. ‘New charisma … is associated with follower empowerment. Such a view has to explain the processes of leaders who show little concern for empowerment… [and] poses particular problems to the new leadership position of moral rectitude and ethical values.’

The Magic of The Charismatic Leader

The build-up to Mr Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot enquiry suggested that commentators still were in thrall to the magic of the charismatic personality. The presumption in the media was that Mr Blair would be able to weave his spell, and would escape relatively unscathed, however deeply the matter was explored.

The calculus of risk

The early questioning probed how Government strategy had arrived at a decision to enter into a war with Iraq. Tony Blair made it clear that there was one critical event which changed strategy, and why. This was the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th, (the so-called 9/11 attack). Mr Blair told the enquiry that at that time, the prevailing strategy of containment of the Iraq regime was already becoming weaker, but 9/11 changed the ‘calculus of risk’ of persisting with the strategy. Put another way, the calculus of risk may be interpreted as attempts to deal with dilemmas of leadership. Conditions are ambiguous, requiring trade-offs, maybe compromises. For example, the need to act swiftly against a perceived and serious threat will be hindered by concerns for reaching consensus among allies. Gaining support is weighed against belief in one’s own position. Considerations of the legality of desired actions may be considered to be preventing thos actions and risking moral obligations.

One vivid example of the leadership dilemmas given by Tony Blair was the problem of obtaining better information from key witnesses (regarding claims of Saddam’s secret weapons of mass destructions). Obtaining the information was highly likely to put the witnesses and their families in mortal danger.

Seeing the big picture

At one point in the proceedings, Tony Blair indicated that he had a consistent way of seeing ‘one big problem’ of The Middle East, The Israeli-Palestine conflict, and Saddam’s regime. Such holding fast to the big picture’ is useful, perhaps necessary, for a visionary (charismatic?) leader to be able to dismiss reasoned objections to aspects of the grand plan.

He concluded six hours of questioning in similar vein, appealing to the public to take the long view, and focus on what might have been achieved in 2020 rather than the details of how the war was prosecuted. He believed his actions were taken in good faith in the interests of a just war.

Outside the hall, the protesters continued their demonstration.

Lessons to be learned

The enquiry is seeking to establish what lessons could be learned from the invasion of Iraq. It is a question which can be modified for students of leadership. What lessons can be learned about the leadership style of Tony Blair and prevailing notions of charismatic leadership? Why had the anger of the protesters been heaped on the head of one man? Are there lessons for leaders in business in other walks of life?