Has Labour lost the will to fight?

Has the Labour Party just lost its will to fight?

As well as landing punches on itself, it seems to allow the opposition to dance around it, striking at will, while making no attempt to hit back.

Last night’s Question Time was symptomatic. Nadine Dorries claimed that Gordon Brown is totally responsible for the current economic crisis and that Britain is “in the worst position of any country, almost, in the world.”

This is complete rubbish. Anyone with a basic grasp of the facts could have shot Ms Dorries down in flames. Recent figures from the IMF, the OECD and the EU show that Britain’s debt position is no worse than that of France, Germany, Italy, Japan or the USA. Likewise, the predicted contraction in our economy is no worse than that of comparable economies.

Yet Labour’s Iain Grey just mumbled on about how Gordon is still the right man for the job. Instead of tearing into Ms Dorries, who, as other bloggers have noted, has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good story, he droned on as if he was reading from a script.

This happens time and time again. The Tories are landing punch after punch on the economic issues. Labour should be able to put up a good defence against the charge that the government has screwed the economy but it is not doing so. Rather than organising a concerted fightback against the opposition’s attacks, the government seems to be flinching in the face of criticism and reacting in ways that just dig it even deeper into a hole.

Yesterday’s scenes, where a government minister was bullied outside the House of Commons by a celebrity, shows just how little fight the Labour Party has left. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Gurkhas’ situation, governments should not make policy on the hoof, in front of TV cameras, while being harangued, albeit very politely, by a popular actress.

I have seen this sort of thing happen to leadership teams in business. Somehow, the fight just goes out of them and they end up clutching at whatever straws they can, often coming up with silly gimmicks from the latest management text book to try to rally the troops and restore their authority.

Part of the problem is that, during the good times, many leaders convince themselves that the times are good because of their leadership skills. But it’s easy to lead when the balance sheet looks healthy and the order books are full. When things start to go wrong, suddenly people find they are not as good at leading as they thought they were.

The most effective leaders are those who find their own style of leadership. A friend of mine, recently promoted onto an executive team, went on a leadership course at a business school recently. They spent much of the first week on self-awareness. The reason for this is that you have to know yourself before you know what type of leader you can be.

We can’t all be Jack Welch, Richard Branson or Alan Sugar. We can’t all be Maggie Thatcher, Winston Churchill or Lloyd George.  Sure, you can learn from them but, to be really effective, you have to find your own way of being a leader.

This is where Gordon Brown goes wrong. He is a highly intelligent and academic Scottish Presbyterian. We expect someone of his character and background to be serious, a little dour and not given to frivolous humour. Whoever told him to smile more and go on YouTube should be fired. Gordon Brown needs to stop trying to be Tony Blair, or anyone else, and lead in his own way with his own convictions. People respect that in a leader.

Without that leadership, is it any wonder thet the troops have lost the will to fight? They still have plenty of ammunition which they could throw at the Tories if they had the stomach for the fight. The Conservatives have yet to put forward any convincing policies and on many issues they too are on soft ground. Yet few Labour politicians are even testing them.

In truth, outside the world of fiction, very few teams that are in such disarray can turn their performance around quickly enough to win. That applies in war, sport, business and politics. Unless the Labour Party recovers its stomach for a fight and Gordon Brown stops trying to be someone he isn’t and starts leading again, the government will be sunk.

We are probably less than a year away from a general election. Historians will almost certainly judge 2010 as the election Labour threw away because it had simply lost the will to govern.

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