Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lost competence

Politics is a funny game, a party can ride high in the polls, seemingly can do no wrong and the opposition cant get a look in; then slowly there is a shift in thinking and the whole situation reverses. In the early days of the Blair government the questions of sleeze surrounding the Bernie Hamilton loan, Mandelson receiving money firstly from Geoffrey Robinson Postmaster General, then being received back into government, then being implicated in a cash for papers for the Hindustanis scandal were all serious. Through all of this Teflon Tony kept smiling and appearing as a 'regular kind of guy'. Off course his image became tarnished but his successor never stood a chance.

Brown seems to have had the shortest honeymoon possible, he first considered and reconsidered an election, dealt with a financial crisis badly, at least in terms of communication, then one of his departments loses precious data and now another scandal about party funding on the back of cash for honours. Competence was Brown's one and maybe only key selling point and it seems to be unravelling. Perhaps, fundamentally, his key problem is that he is not the right man for the job?

I say that not because he is talentless, unintelligent or any other negatives that mark someone out for not being a leader; quite the contrary he has many of the qualities. The problem is that Brown struggles to convey them; for example he can appear uncomfortable on camera answering difficult questions, this gives the impression of him hiding something even when he isn't. Also he is not a charismatic figure who laughs off problems that gives the impression he is getting on with the job and doing it well, or that he is able to face down crises. In the midst of a storm of problems he appears all at sea.

The problem with this is that the impression of competence and ability to cope is probably more important than actually coping. There are many people around government to physically deal with crises but it is the leader that is seen as the cue for public perception. While it is unclear whether voters prefer David Cameron as a person or a leader, and may step back from electing him whenever the contest is called, Brown seems on a downhill slope and if he cannot convey credibility - charisma, authority, understanding - the damage to his image could be irreparable.

No comments: