How can we assess national political leaders? For example, how successful was Tony Blair? He won several consecutive general elections for the Labour Party, was credited with helping build peace in Northern Ireland and oversaw a period of continued growth in the British economy. For some, however, his leadership failed to combat social inequality in Britain and was marred by the decision to go to war in Iraq.
A Statecraft Approach
I am currently developing a methodology for assessing political leaders with Jim Buller. We make the case for using evaluating leaders in terms of whether they are successful winning and maintain office (or coming close). I explain the method in the video here:
In short, we suggest that can assess them in terms of whether win elections and move their party towards office. To to this, they need to succeed the following:
- developing a winning electoral strategy
- developing a sense of governing competence
- party management
- political argument hegemony (winning the ‘battle of ideas’)
- bending the rules of the game (managing constitution to increase their chances of successful statecraft)
Of course, for some leaders this will be easier than others. The governing context in which leaders find themselves is therefore important.
We have applied the approach to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
How to Assess Leaders in their Structural Context
We argue in an article in Parliamentary Affairs (below) that it is necessary assess political leaders in context. Some leaders may have to govern during challenging times, such as during a recession, where a government might have to make tough choices about spending or taxation. We therefore argue that structural context must be taken into consideration and provide an approach for theorising what we might mean by structural context.
British Labour and Conservative Party Leaders
I am the co-editor of volumes on British Labour Leaders and British Conservative Leaders (and contribute a framework in British Liberal Leaders) which assess each of the leaders from the birth of the parties .
- (2016) ‘Neo-Statecraft Theory, Historical Institutionalism and Institutional Change’, Government and Opposition, 51(1) 84-110.
- (eds) (2015) British Labour Leaders, Biteback: London, with Charles Clarke.
- (eds) (2015) British Conservative Leaders, Biteback: London, with Charles Clarke, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond.
- (2015) ‘Introduction: the British Labour Party in Search of the Complete Leader’, in Charles Clarke and Toby S. James (eds) British Labour Leaders, Biteback: London.
- (2015) ‘Statecraft: a framework for assessing Labour leaders’, in Charles Clarke and Toby S. James (eds) British Labour Leaders, Biteback: London, with Jim Buller.
- (2015) ‘Statecraft: a framework for assessing Conservative Party leaders’, in Charles Clarke, Toby S.James, Tim Bale and Patrick Diamond (eds), British Conservative Leaders, Biteback: London, with Jim Buller.
- (2015) ‘Integrating Structural Context into the Assessment of Political Leadership: Realism, Gordon Brown and the Great Financial Crisis’, Parliamentary Affairs, 68(1), 77-96, with Jim Buller.
- (2015) ‘Towards Power: a framework for assessing Liberal leaders?’, in Duncan Brack et al. (eds) British Liberal Leaders, London, Biteback, with Jim Buller.
- (2012) ‘Statecraft and the Assessment of National Political Leaders: the Case of New Labour and Tony Blair’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations (with Jim Buller), 14(4), 534-555.
- (2012) Elite Statecraft and Election Administration: Bending the Rules of the Game, Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.