Adonis considers that people do not believe in ideas; they believe in people who believe in ideas. Ideas on their own are impersonal. To become effective they must be promoted by an individual who has charisma, confidence, empathy, and glamour. He should reflect the spirit of the age and try to use events to enable him to lead.
An interesting and curious list of leaders
In his latest book, “It’s the Leader, Stupid” – Changemakers in Modern Politics, Adonis discusses an interesting and curious list of leaders. These include Gladstone vs Marx, Bevin vs Stalin, Biden, Modi, Blair, Farage, Jenkins, Lloyd George with Asquith and Grey, Foot vs Heseltine, Mitterand, Thatcher, Scholz, van der Leyen and Johnson. Curiously he omits Jack Kennedy, de Gaulle, Gorbachev and Mandela.
The most interesting discussion is Bevin vs Stalin, which is also the longest. This is an extract from his book “Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill.” In it Adonis rightly praises the courage demonstrated by Bevin as he stood up (initially almost alone) to Stalin’s bullying in 1945-1949.
But Bevin’s deep suspicions of Stalin’s Russia originated in his knowledge of the dictatorial methods used by Communist trade unionists in Bevin’s trade union before the war. Bevin saved Western Germany from Stalin’s embrace, contained Russia and inspired the creation of NATO. He showed leadership of the highest quality.
Roy Jenkins, hero
Roy Jenkins was a hero for the young Adonis. He was impressed by Jenkins’ clear knowledge of what he wanted to achieve (reform of the laws on abortion and homosexuality) and his passion to achieve these.
We can’t forget WMD and Iraq
Adonis’ article on Tony Blair shows his admiration for so much of what Blair did. Blair won three General Elections. He espoused a kind of Christian socialism. He advanced peace in Northern Ireland and he introduced significant constitutional changes to the UK in devolving powers from Westminster.
His backing of American policy in Iraq after the September 2002 terrorist attacks in America undermined his reputation and damaged his standing in Europe.
Nigel Farage’s leadership qualities
Adonis discusses Nigel Farage in some detail, because he achieved something which no one else has done. He influenced dramatically the direction and policies of a leading British party without being a member of Parliament.
But his membership of the European Parliament (which he despised) enabled him to gain publicity, particularly on immigration, and to become the arbiter of Conservative politics. He became a professional, elitist demagogue and founded UKIP.
Two very different Michaels
Adonis admires the inspiring oratory of Michael Foot and Michael Heseltine. The former is admired for his pugnacious defence of Parliament as well as for his speaking skills. Adonis considers Heseltine as great an orator as Foot was and commands attention for what he did in building democratic institutions. He was an inspiration to Adonis, who was trying to create Education Academies and, later, HS2.
And so to Johnson, B.
Adonis says that Johnson’s capacity to win should never be underestimated. He thinks that Johnson is not involved in a conventional political project but in a personal project for supremacy and celebrity. He is not a servant of ideas and causes.
Adonis recounts how his last one-to-one meeting with Johnson in February 2016 to discuss Crossrail soon turned into an agonised discussion of political options. Johnson told Adonis that he was “b*gg*r*d” if he knew which side to take on the approaching Referendum. This reinforces the veracity of other similar accounts of the absence of serious belief in his final decision.
…and then there was light
Andrew Adonis has performed a most helpful task in illuminating the many aspects of politicians’ thoughts and ambitions. He has assembled about 20 articles and essays he has written in recent years to create a stimulating book, discussing modern politics and leadership. Most of the articles were published in Prospect magazine.
Both academic and politician
Adonis was a Fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, which specialises in political research and analysis. He was a Cabinet Minister under Blair and Brown and is now a member of the House of Lords. He writes in a clear and persuasive style, though on occasions lapses into very long sentences which delay the reader.
All readers must wish him well in, almost single-handedly, holding the Government’s Brexit policy to account in the Lords. He is now the very active Chairman of the European Movement.
“It’s the Leader, Stupid” – Changemakers in Modern Politics
by Lord Andrew Adonis; 298 pages
Nigel Beevor is Secretary of the East Kent European Movement