A Lesson in Leadership and Change
Gordon Brown has had a turbulent first year as British Prime Minister. His take over from Tony Blair, his handling of a number of events, and the reactions from the press and the British public read as a powerful statement of how different leadership styles can collide - in politics and elsewhere.
When Gordon Brown took over leadership of the Labour party and the post of Prime Minister after Tony Blair, he was initially well received. His style was very different from Blair’s, but having filled the post as Chancellor of the Exchequer well for the previous ten years, he seemed a hard-working and serious leader. As the Financial Times wrote in an overview article about Gordon Brown’s first year in office: “After years of the flashy Mr. Blair, the public warmed to the workaholic, seemingly spin-free Scot” (1).
An early crisis
The warm welcome lasted until autumn. Whilst some economic developments were outside Mr. Brown's control, such as the global credit crisis and rising oil and food prices, there was also a number of cases that were deemed ill-handled by the public and the press. One example was when Mr. Brown allowed speculation of a fast election to build up as long as Labour's poll results were positive, only to shoot it down within a few days as the opinion polls dipped. Mr. Brown then quickly dismissed that the decision had anything to do with the polls, thereby offending the intelligence of the British voters. Another disastrous case came shortly after, when Mr. Brown, having dropped one rate of income tax so it would affect households with low income, then subsequently announced the decision to get rid of the lowest tax band. This decision would leave 5.3 million low-income households worse off, and these were the people Labour was meant to represent.
Mr. Brown's move from 11 Downing Street to 10 Downing Street prompted the need for a complete change in leadership
Mr. Brown was also criticised by an increasingly hostile press for getting caught up in day-to-day political decision-making and micro-management. All of a sudden, Mr. Blair’s ‘flashy’ style seemed to embody everything Gordon Brown was lacking – a strong political vision focused on a few key areas.
An article in TIME Magazine from April 2008 commented that being a details man was “not a bad attribute in a Finance Minister” but “a weakness in a national leader whose job it is to discern and articulate the bigger picture” (2).
Labour is now lower in the opinion polls than it has been for more than 25 years and suffered greatly in the local elections in May 2008. According to a YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph on 26 June 2008, 61% of voters think that Mr. Brown is a liability to Labour, compared to 21% when he came to power.
And lastly, the leader of the UK conservative party, David Cameron, challenged Mr. Brown to call a general election ahead of schedule after Labour also suffered landslide defeat in the local elections in Scotland on 24 July 2008.