Toby James speaking at the British Leaders Launch

British Leaders Book Series launched at the House of Commons

Toby James speaking at the British Leaders Launch

Toby James speaking at the British Leaders Launch

Last week we launched a book series on British party leaders at the House of Commons, published with Biteback.

John Bercow kindly hosted the event in his State Office.  The three books, of which I co-edit two, all focus on the issue of how to assess party leaders.  Jim Buller and I provide a chapter in each that makes the case for the statecraft approach, a framework that we have been working on for some time.  Charles Clarke assesses the electoral success of each leader, before leading biographers assess each leader in turn.  In the final chapters, we interview seven of the past living leaders.

Extracts from the Tony Blair and Nick Clegg interviews were published in the Independent.

British Labour Leaders, Charles Clarke and Toby James (eds)

British Conservative Leaders, Charles Clarke, Toby S. James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds)


Five tests for Jeremy Corbyn

corbynJeremy Corbyn was emphatically elected as the next leader of the Labour Party at the weekend.  In a blog in the Huffington Post last week, I suggest that he, as with any Labour Leader, faces five key tests:

‘Selecting a replacement for Ed Miliband has turned into an existential moment for the Labour Party, and become one of the most important crossroads in modern British politics. After Blairite candidates lined up to claim that the party needed to listen to ‘aspiration’ in the immediate aftermath of the general election result, the contest has taken twists and turns via the withdrawal of leading candidates because of the ‘pressure and scrutiny’ that came with being a candidate, Corbynmania and voter registration ‘purges’. Legal challenges and perhaps even MP defections may follow…..’

Read the rest here.

A new trilogy of books on British political leaders out in September

British Labour Leaders, Charles Clarke and Toby James (eds)

British Labour Leaders, Charles Clarke and Toby James (eds)

This summer will be busy for politics in the UK as both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats are elected new leaders of their parties.

It is therefore perfect timing for a trilogy of books on British political leaders.  I’ve co-edited two of these on British Labour Leaders (with Charles Clarke) and British Conservative Leaders (with Charles Clarke, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond).  A third, on British Liberal Leaders has been edited by colleagues at the Liberal History Group.

All books begin by considering how we can assess political leaders and the challenges that we face in doing so.  Jim Buller and I then set out a statecraft framework (or an adapted version of anyway) as one way forward.  Charles Clarke then gives a statistical overview of each leader’s fortunes at general elections.  In Part II of each book there are chapters assessing each leader, written by leading biographers of their subject.  In Part III we have exclusive interviews with some of the leaders themselves (Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock, William Hague, Michael Howard, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg) on how they think we should assess leaders and their reflections on their own time in office.

The books are now available for pre-order.

The contents/contributors to the books that I’ve co-edited are:

British Labour Leaders


1          Introduction: the British Labour Party in search of complete leadership – Toby S. James

2          Statecraft: a framework for assessing Labour Party leaders – Toby S. James and Jim Buller

3          Measuring the success or failure of Labour leaders: the general election test – Charles Clarke



4          Keir Hardie – Kenneth O. Morgan

5          George Nicoll Barnes and William Adamson – William W. J. Knox

6          John Robert Clynes – Phil Woolas

7          Ramsay MacDonald – David Howell

8          Arthur Henderson – Chris Wrigley

9          George Lansbury – John Shepherd

10        Clement Attlee – Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds

11        Hugh Gaitskell – Brian Brivati

12        Harold Wilson – Thomas Hennessey

13        James Callaghan – Peter Kellner

14        Michael Foot – Kenneth O. Morgan

15        Neil Kinnock – Martin Westlake

16        John Smith – Mark Stuart

17        Tony Blair – John Rentoul

18        Gordon Brown – Steve Richards

19        Ed Miliband – Tim Bale



20        Neil Kinnock on leadership, the Labour Party and statecraft theory – Neil Kinnock, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

21        Tony Blair on leadership, New Labour and statecraft theory – Tony Blair, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

British Conservative Leaders, Charles Clarke, Toby S. James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds)

British Conservative Leaders, Charles Clarke, Toby S. James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds)

British Conservative Leaders


1          Introduction – Tim Bale, Patrick Diamond and Alan Wager

2          Statecraft: a framework for assessing Conservative Party leaders – Toby S. James and Jim Buller

3          Measuring the success or failure of Conservative leaders: the general election test – Charles Clarke



4          Sir Robert Peel – Richard A. Gaunt

5          Lord Derby – Angus Hawkins

6          Benjamin Disraeli – Robert Saunders

7          Lord Salisbury – T. G. Otte

8          Arthur Balfour – Nigel Keohane

9          Andrew Bonar Law – Andrew Taylor

10        Austen Chamberlain – David Dutton

11        Stanley Baldwin – Anne Perkins

12        Neville Chamberlain – Stuart Ball

13        Winston Churchill – John Charmley

14        Anthony Eden – David Dutton

15        Harold Macmillan – D. R. Thorpe

16        Alec Douglas-Home – Andrew Holt

17        Edward Heath – Mark Garnett

18        Margaret Thatcher – John Campbell

19        John Major – Anthony Seldon and Mark Davies

20        William Hague – Jo-Anne Nadler

21        Iain Duncan Smith – Timothy Heppell

22        Michael Howard – Tim Bale

23        David Cameron – Matthew d’Ancona



24        William Hague on leadership, the Conservative Party and statecraft theory – William Hague, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

25        Michael Howard on leadership, the Conservative Party and statecraft theory – Michael Howard, Toby S. James and Charles Clarke

Political Leaders are facing challenging times

conference imageI recently convened a Political Studies Association workshop on political leadership at the University of East Anglia.  Below, I reflect on some of the lessons learnt.

Political leaders are facing challenging times.

International financial austerity has had dramatic consequences for leaders around the world. Leaders have often had to campaign for (re)election and govern with significant public deficits, stagnant growth and public unrest. The rapid evolution of social media has affected the way in which leaders communicate to citizens, and how citizens communicate to each other about leaders. In many democracies electoral support and membership of the main political parties has been in long-term decline.

On 17th January UEA hosted the Annual Political Studies Association workshop to critically examine this topic.  The event brought together leading scholars disciplines as diverse as electoral studies, organisational psychology, elite theory, public administration, international relations and many more  to study this topic.

Professor Tim Bale was the keynote speaker. His address, published in the Guardian evaluated the performance of Ed Miliband as leader of the opposition and argued that despite some criticism Miliband had performed well as party leader.

The workshop the received papers which considered alternative frameworks for evaluating and thinking about political leadership.  These included papers on the concepts of statecraft, political capital and the personal characteristics that make for a good leader.  Among the papers, Jim Buller (University of York) and Toby James (UEA) outlined a framework for thinking about the nature of the context in which leaders find themselves.   Using this approach they suggested that Gordon Brown had initially performed very well in a very difficult context, but that his performance deteriorated very quickly after 2008.  Mark Bennister (Canterbury Christ Church University) and Ben Worthy (Birkbeck University) introduced a framework for examining the political capital that leaders have.  Jo Silvester (City University of London) demonstrated how studies from organisational psychology can help to identify the characteristics of good leaders and Alan Finlayson (University of East Anglia) explained why we should look at the rituals and performance (in a theatrical sense) of leaders in leadership contexts.


Some panels in the afternoon focused on political leaders in Britain with assessments of dispatch-box opponents Ed Miliband and David Cameron.  Among these, Andrew Gamble (University of Cambridge) argued that the Coalition government’s policies of austerity might not be good economics, but was a politically astute strategy for the government.  Paul Whiteley (University of Essex) argued that the performance of leaders was very closely tied to the economy under the Labour governments.  But since the Coalition came to power, the relationship between the economy and political support has changed, with neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats gaining from a fairly rapid growth in economic optimism which has taken place since early 2013.  Ivor Gabor (City University of London) noted how the Daily Mail had tried ‘attack’ Ed Miliband by painting him as ‘Red Ed’ and attack his father, but that this ‘attack’ had not been successful.  Miliband’s oratoral style was also examined by Andrew Crines (University of Leeds) and his strategy of moving the party to the left questioned by Thomas Quinn (University of Essex).

Other panels considered political leadership at the local, European and international level; or the challenges facing leaders in France, Greece and elsewhere.  In the management of foreign policy John Gaffney (Aston University) noted that the poor judgement of Hollande Presidency in dealing with Syria and the Chemical Weapons Crisis of August-October 2013 and Kleanthis Kyriakidis and Petros Siousiouras (University of the Aegean) argued that the leadership of the West had more generally failed to manage the opportunity and challenges of the Arab Spring. Austerity, demands for new forms representation and changing institutional structures have posed challenges for leaders in Greece (Marina Prentoulis – University of East Anglia), Britain and Germany (Ekaterina Kolpinskaya (University of Nottingham), (Nicholas Wright (UEA)).  Changed institutional landscapes also pose new opportunities and challenges for leaders at the local level claimed Alex Marsh (University of Bristol) and European level claimed Hussein Kassim (University of East Anglia).

Some of the challenges that leaders face are new, some are very old.  But overall the workshop was very successful at bringing together scholarship from a variety of academic sub-disciplines to bring new perspectives to the field of leadership.  Select items will be published in the near future.  Some papers from the workshop are available here:  If you want to know more about what was said, please see the Storify of tweets below.

Dr. Toby James is a Lecturer in British and Comparative Politics at the University of East Anglia.

This post was originally posted on the Eastminster blog