What makes a successful prime minister?

What makes a successful prime minister?

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of lunching with the former British treasurer, Norman Lamont.  During the meal, he revealed that the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was his former speechwriter. Naturally, we asked what Lamont thought of Cameron. His reply was interesting. He said: “A British reporter recently asked me the same question on TV.  I told him that David was very bright, very articulate and very keen to become prime minister.  On the other hand, even though we worked together for some time, I still do not know what David’s convictions are, and I don’t think he knows either.” 

Lamont then went to say that shortly after speaking to the reporter, he met Cameron himself, who told Lamont his answer was spot-on and admitted he was not sure what his convictions were.

This got me thinking about Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. I have blogged about the emotional intelligence of Gillard and Abbott previously.  Both are intelligent and articulate. Both have that necessary component of all leaders, the desire to win (which in this case is becoming the prime minister) and spend much time putting down their opponent.  And in case anyone thinks this only occurs in Australia, may I suggest they watch the latter two US presidential debates.

However, Lamont raised an interesting idea: whether a prime minister (or any leader) can be deemed to be successful unless she or he has convictions. I have just finished reading journalist David Marr’s recent essay The Making of Tony Abbott. Marr is bemused by Abbott – he tries to understand what makes him tick but fails.

His essay focuses on Abbott’s nurture but spends little time on his nature.  He spends an inordinate amount of time on Abbott’s time at university. However what you do get from reading the essay is that Abbott is a conviction politician. You may not agree with some of his values: Catholicism, monarchy, anti-abortion, etc, but what you have to admire is his willingness to both debate and stand up for his values.

Many people doubt that Abbott has what it takes to be prime minister but even Marr concedes that Abbott was an excellent health minister – one of the major portfolios in the federal government.  Even more interesting is that Marr defines one half of Abbott as “Values Abbott” in contrast to the other half, which he deems “Politics Abbott”.

The question arises: what are Gillard’s convictions?  She has said she would like to be known as the “education” Prime Minister and has stated she wants to see Australia ranked in the world’s top-five school systems by 2025. The reality of the government’s reply to the Gonski Report is that it will not be until 2020 that any serious money starts flowing. That’s eight years and three federal elections away. So for all the fanfare, it is unlikely the plan will ever be ever be implemented. 

My children have long left school but one current parent has told me that the actual result of the $16.2 billion spent in the ‘Building the Education Revolution’ program was that where there were once playgrounds there are now school halls that remain empty for most of year.  The money should have been spent on new toilets but no federal Labor MP wanted to be seen opening a toilet block so that expenditure was expressly forbidden.  However, to Gillard’s credit, she did get the MySchool website up and running.

I must confess that when I think about it, I really do not know what Gillard stands for other than it is always Abbott’s fault.  Am I the only one who now finds it bizarre that she defended former speaker of the house, Peter Slipper, who clearly sent misogynist texts, by attacking Abbott for being a misogynist?  

Can this be because Gillard actually suffers the same flaw as Cameron in that she lacks convictions?


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