In the News

Questions about Boris Johnson's leadership (and Peppa Pig) - includes video

Mike McCartney

23rd November 2021

An editorial in today's Evening Standard was quite stinging about the PM

A presidential style of leadership is a double-edged sword. The case of Boris Johnson

Michael Foley developed the theory of spatial leadership (based on his study of how US Presidents attempt to overcome the limited formal powers they have domestically) in order to explain how UK premiers have adapted and adopted techniques used by American presidents in order to overcome the constitutional limitations on their power. These tactics, with reference to the most recent PM who best fitted this model, are: (i) outsider: Blair presented himself as separate from Labour; (ii) Blair focused heavily on media usage, and communication tools as part of a permanent campaign; (iii) individual dominance: using force of personality to intervene in departmental affairs, e.g. Blair’s personal involvement in health, schools, Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown also focused on trying to project his personal narrative beyond Westminster in attempts to massage his media image. He cultivated “soft news” networks such as women’s magazines, his hair style was altered, and the decision to bring his wife on stage at party conference was highly choreographed. Newsmilking was also evident with David Cameron. It is no accident that his wife, sometimes referred in the tabloid press as “Sam Cam”, was frequently in the public eye.

Foley’s theory of presidentialism and “leadership stretch” can be a double-edged sword, and lead to a decline in power. Blair’s conscious attempt to create a singular focus on his personal leadership beyond the normal framework of institutional governance left him exposed when things went wrong. After the Iraq invasion, many sought to hold him personally accountable, and his position became in essence untenable. And after the banking crisis of 2008, no amount of spin could eradicate the public perception that Gordon Brown’s misjudgement and reputation as a ditherer contributed to the economic downturn.

Which brings us to Boris Johnson. Like many premiers throughout the world, their leadership will undoubtedly be remembered as pre and post covid. Some, however, are considered to have performed better than others. The UK Prime Minister is generally regarded to have performed poorly. This marks a sharp contrast in fortunes and illustrates how the power of the PM varies within, and not just between, premierships. Prior to the pandemic, Boris Johnson had scored a stunning election victory, having run a campaign where the entire media focus was on him. And who can forget the queues of newly elected Conservative MPs lining up to take selfies with the Prime Minister in the House of Commons? Such was his individual popularity. Now, however, with a majority of the public believing the government have done a bad job in dealing with the pandemic, it appears that Johnson’s leadership abilities are being questioned.

The editorial in today's paper said:

"Anyone can have a bad day at the office or fluff a line in a speech. But yesterday’s performance in front of the CBI and the social care rebellion have prompted some to suggest that the Prime Minister is losing his grip.

It’s a moment of danger for Boris Johnson, both within the party and among the electorate. But much more importantly, this is a moment of danger for the country.

Covid cases continue to surge, just as the NHS faces another challenging winter, while the economic recovery remains fragile. Inflation is eating away at real earnings and families are facing financial pain as food and fuel prices rocket.

After weeks of sleaze allegations, which alienated red wall and traditional Tories alike, yesterday’s social care bill further strained relations with the 2019 intake of MPs. Johnson now faces another bruising battle after the bill faces scrutiny in the Lords.

The country needs a Prime Minister who is on top of his brief to lead us through this exceptionally difficult period. It’s time for Johnson to up his game."


And if you haven't seen the Peppa Pig speech, see below...

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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