John Walsh: When leaders suffer a Lear moment

Share
Related Topics

As Laurent Gbagbo hid in his Abidjan bunker yesterday, waiting for the end, did he think it was all worth it? Thirteen hundred people dead, 130,000 Ivorians fled to Liberia, a million more displaced, blood-crazed gangs roaming the streets – and all because of a man who couldn't leave the power chair when his time was up.

When the general election last November revealed that Mr Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, had won with 54.1 per cent of the vote, Mr Gbagbo made his Constitutional Council rule that some votes in the northern regions were null and void (which is like the loser in a UK election saying that votes cast in Durham don't count) and therefore he'd won. But was it worth all the killings and fleeings and gangster mayhem to remain in power for those four months? Could his continuing access to Ivory Coast dollars, limousines, cigars and the breakfast buffet at the presidential palace justify all the trouble it caused?

It's quite a syndrome, the head of state who doesn't accept that he's outvoted, surplus to requirements, no longer wanted. Mr Mubarak sat it out in Cairo for a while, promising "reforms" (that uniquely hollow word) but finally giving in. Colonel Gaddafi ignored the popular view that he should consider his position, and hired African mercenaries (or "troops loyal to..." in that much-employed phrase that cries out for the word "inexplicably" to be inserted between "troops" and "loyal") to shoot protesters. Robert Mugabe delayed the results of the 2008 presidential election in Zimbabwe for five weeks because he couldn't believe that he might lose; and when they showed that he'd come second, instead of going quietly he employed the unusual electoral strategy known as Operation CIBD (meaning Coercion, Intimidation, Beating, Displacement). Even now that the army is running the country, he's still there, hanging on to a threadbare presidency.

We could call it the Sun King syndrome – the belief that "L'État, c'est moi." "I am the nation, its heart and soul," runs this line of thinking, "and if I go, the country will be terminally damaged. Therefore, I must not go, for the good of all." But Louis XIV didn't actually say that. On his deathbed he said, "Je m'en vais, mais l'État demeurera toujours", or "I'm going, but the state will always remain" – a proposition with which Messrs Gbagbo, Gaddafi and Mugabe wouldn't agree at all.

Should we call it WG Grace syndrome? Grace retired from first-class cricket at 60 because he was too old and too bulky to run. But he still played minor-league matches and enjoyed drawing the crowds. In one match, he was clean-bowled, middle stump, early in his innings but refused to go. "They've come to see me bat, not you bowl," Grace told the man who had got him out. I suspect Mr Gbagbo may be labouring under the same impression, that whatever the election or the constitution might say, his people want to see him in power rather than some loser who acquired some "votes".

Or is it King Lear syndrome? Unlike his modern-day avatars, Lear actually wanted to retire, and leave his kingdom to his two loving daughters. But he thought he would somehow still be king, still be treated with deference and loyalty. Instead, his daughters treated him like dirt and threw his entourage of soldiers out of the house, whereupon Lear went mad. He could hand over the government of his kingdom, but not the aura and trappings of royalty that brought him respect. Was it simply the fear of being a nobody – a "poor, bare, forked animal" on a blasted heath – that kept Mr Gbagbo clamped to his throne, even as the helicopter gunships were moving in?

Carrying roof tiles up a ladder: that's an internship

Nick Clegg, keen to ban the practice of unpaid "internships" in his party offices, condemns the "tacit conspiracy" of well-connected parents getting their children intern jobs in top companies and starting them off on the career ladder with an unfair advantage. If only such corruption had been around in my day. My father, a local GP in Battersea, south London, secured my first internship for me at 18 with one of his patients, an enormous, 18-stone Irish handyman called Pat Dempsey. With him I built a wooden fence outside a local library, painted a transformer, creosoted a shed roof and cleared out the flats of recently deceased Battersea old folk. I think I was paid a fiver a day.

Our relationship reached a critical point when I was helping Pat carry roof tiles up a ladder. At the top of the ladder, he froze. "I cannot move," he said, his voice shaking. "Gets to me sometimes. Run down the off-licence, willya, and get me a half-bottla Jameson."

It was true. A tiler by trade, Mr Dempsey suffered from chronic and crippling acrophobia, which could be alleviated only by whisky. I dashed to the off-licence, bought the stuff, dashed back and climbed up behind him. Only when he had drunk enough did he summon sufficient courage to descend. But I'd decided I had had enough interning. So my early, parentally sanctioned, privileged step on the career ladder was exactly that: it was on a ladder.

Maybe Lefebvre should stick to Victor Hugo Boss?

Asked at a book fair last week to name his favourite book, Frédéric Lefebvre, one of President Sarkozy's young ministers, confidently replied: "Without doubt, Zadig et Voltaire. It is a lesson about life, and I dip into it often." Possibly he was thinking of Voltaire's famous work Zadig, or The Book of Life. Or maybe he just really likes expensive European clothing shops. But one should not be too hard on the philistine M. Lefebvre. Anyone could make a similar blunder. Why, I myself have always had a soft spot for The Primark of Miss Jean Brodie, Room at the Topshop, and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens & Jones.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?