Ministers at War

18 Jul

You may recall when Obama was standing for US President. It became very chic amongst the pop political classes to talk of the ” Team of Rivals”. It was going to be the guidebook for his Presidency. Look the book is around 900 pages so in summary ( as it’s quite hard to read in bed ) it’s about Lincoln trying to keep his rivals in the tent. Now it became something of a buzz phrase. I was slightly worried then that ” Ministers at War” was billed as being a UK version.

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Scanner’s book however doesn’t pretend to be quad-guide book, though in some ways it is. Churchill was dealt a fairly tricky hand, Prime Minister without the full consent of his party, taking over from a disastrous Prime Minister and policy that he was partly implicated in, faced with numerous rivals for the post( or at least people who thought they could do it better than he could ).Add to this the ongoing total war and you have a fairly challenging in-tray. It’s never clear that any of his rivals really could have rolled him, Stafford Cripps for all his self-belief would have struggled to contain a Tory parliament, Beaverbrook was a Lord,and Atlee,Beverage and Morrison all had agendas but were unlikely to have challenged him, let alone succeed.

It isn’t then that Churchill was trying to manage his rivals, rather he was trying to placate the rather swollen egos within his Cabinet, and beyond. He did this with varied success. Some were dispatched, others given enough rope and some left to gain momentum. By 1945 many of his rivals found themselves on the winning side.

What is remarkable is that Churchill had to energize the internal politics of the Cabinet at a time of total war. Allegiance was not straight-forward. In politics it never is.

This book does provide something of a guide to the ego massaging successful leaders need to do, and that at times they also need to wield the axe..even if it may be a little blunted. It was a coalition united by a common purpose that he just about managed to keep on the road until 1945. Schneer notes that Churchill’s path to No 10 was not straightforward and could easily have gone against him. I don’t though agree that in falling away in 1945 we ended up with a unified,progressive government ….the 1945 Labour Government was Atlees own team of rivals with even bigger egos and jockeying for position, though that s a minor criticism of this wonderfully readable book.

 

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