Miles Kington: A failed succession equals long-lived success

The last thing you want is the person after you being better than you were
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The Independent Online

A: Good Lord, no. The end began a long time ago.

Q: When?

A: When he changed name.

Q: Changed name? I didn't know he had changed his name!

A: He didn't change it. The media changed it. They stopped calling him Tony and started calling him Blair. It is one of the signs that a leader is on the slide. When they started calling Mrs Thatcher "Thatcher" instead of Maggie, everyone knew she was for it.

Q: Right ... What are the other signs of a leader being on the slide?

A: Saying that it is better to be right and lose, than be wrong and win. Saying that the security of the country overrides everything. Saying that he has decided not to resign. Appointing a successor...

Q: Hold on! Thatcher never appointed a successor !

A: Did I say "appointing a successor"? I'm sorry, I meant "not appointing a successor". If you have been the leader for as long as Thatcher and Blair were, you cannot really believe that it will ever come to an end, so you don't bother a great deal with the succession. If you do, the last thing you want is the person after you being better than you. You will look much better in history if you select an inadequate successor.

Q: Hence Thatcher putting all her weight behind Major?

A: Exactly. And Hague after that, and Duncan-Smith after that. They got successively feebler, as if she was trying to ensure that nobody could overshadow her.

Q: What does she think about the two Davids ?

A: Lord bless you, sir, she doesn't know about the two Davids. These days she's living where the buses don't run no more.

Q: Is that a folksy expression for...?

A: Yes, it is.

Q: Has Blair considered appointing an inadequate successor?

A. Yes. Gordon Brown.

Q: But everyone says that Gordon Brown is a heavyweight, a leader in waiting, the heir apparent...

A: That's all 10 Downing Street spin. It's designed to build him up, so that he can come a cropper when he takes over. In reality, he has been a very hit-and-miss chancellor, as Blair knows.

Q: So what's the scenario?

A: Behind the scenes, Blair gets everything lined up for a life in retirement. World lecture tour. Book of memoirs contract. Ten years worth of freebe holidays, etc etc. Then, just when the economy is going down, or there's been a big terrorist bombing, or he's heard that London will never be ready for the Olympics on time, he hands over the ship to Gordon Brown. Gordon Brown addresses the nation triumphantly...

Q: And they love him ?

A: No. They don't understand a word he says. For years Brown has become harder to understand, thanks to his Scottish burr, his inability to open his mouth, his impenetrable jargon, his chewing while he is talking and so on. Blair himself has hardly understood a word he's said for years.

Q: But why would Blair hand over at a moment when things are going badly? That won't help his legacy, will it?

A: Lord bless you, sir, nobody ever hands over when things are going well. It's more than flesh and blood can stand. Does a batsman leave the crease when he's 85 not out? Does a young king abdicate? Does Elton John refuse to do an encore? Does Sven Goran...

Q: Yes, I get the point. And how will Gordon Brown make out?

A: Well, looking into my crystal ball, I see, far ahead, a headline saying: "Is this the beginning of the end for Brown?"

Q: Not "Gordon"?

A: No. "Brown."

Q: Oh. That's not good.

A: No. Very bad.

Q: Thank you very much.

A: Not at all. Thank YOU very much.

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