Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, January 19, 2015

Case study about political leadership

Juliette Zener who teaches in Belmont, MA, pointed out this case study about the importance of party leaders in elections.

The study was done by Archie Brown, an emeritus professor of politics, University of Oxford, and the author, most recently, of The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age.

Can you evaluate his contentions using another case study?

Do party leaders really win elections?
The idea that party leaders are decisively important in the winning or losing of general elections is implicit in much political journalism and it is a belief that some political leaders themselves - Tony Blair, in particular - have been eager to propagate.

It is very rarely true.

It is only in an extremely close-run race that the personality of the leader and the gulf between that leader's standing and the popularity of his or her principal opponent can make the difference between victory and defeat.

It is not even particularly uncommon for the political party of the less popular leader of the two main parties to be the one that wins the election.

Thus, for example, although journalists still write of "Margaret Thatcher's rout of James Callaghan", the Labour leader was some 20 points ahead of Mrs Thatcher on the eve of the Conservative victory in the 1979 election.

It was not Thatcher who defeated Callaghan but the Conservative Party that defeated Labour…

Since all the available evidence suggests that the May 2015 election is likely to be a cliff-hanger, with a distinct possibility that once again no one party will have an overall majority, does this mean that journalists' excessive focus on the top leader might for once be justified? Probably not…

The two main political parties would be well advised to give ample interview time to other front-benchers rather than over-expose David Cameron and Ed Miliband in what, thanks to the fixed election date, is going to be a very long campaign by British standards - four whole months…

The rise of UKIP, however, is not because it has a leader of exceptional ability - he has the gift of the gab but we don't know, and may never know, if he would make a good minister…

The rise of the SNP over the past two decades has often been attributed to the exceptional ability of its leader, Alex Salmond.

There is no denying his political talent, but yet again this is a case of a particular leader being used to explain too much.

Following the seamless transition to the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon - also, indeed, a formidable politician - support for the party has simply continued to grow.

The SNP have said that in no circumstances will they prop up a Conservative government, but - at a price - they might uphold a Labour administration.

That has very far-reaching implications.

If it led to the predictable English backlash, this would be grist for the mill of the separatist party, but bad news in the longer term for Labour - and for the continuing existence of the British state within its present boundaries.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed. Use the search box to look for country names or concept labels attached to each entry.

A valuable explanation of the AP course to supplement your textbook.
What You Need to Know SIXTH edition.

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