the Gauntlet

The ghost of Caesar

Analyzing the cost of political backstabbing

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A long time ago in a far away country, a Prime Minister struggled against rebel ministers in his party, who called for a leadership race. The rebels predicted heavy defeats for the party in the next general election due to the prime minister's unpopularity, while the renewed Conservative menace waited in the dark. Wait a minute, are we talking about Paul Martin, the former finance minister who forced Jean Chretien to step down in 2003? Surprisingly no, it is Gordon Brown, Labour party leader and current prime minister of the United Kingdom. In June 2007, he and other Labour conspirators forced the previous PM, Tony Blair, to step down and have a leadership race which Brown won. At the time, it was seen as natural. Blair was growing old and increasingly out of touch with the population over his relationship with the always-controversial American President George W. Bush and his support of the unpopular Iraq war. Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was responsible for Britain's increasing prosperity, came to the rescue.

However, since Blair's resignation, Brown has run into trouble of his own. He recriminalized marijuana, despite the backlash from scientists and voters. He was also attacked for abolishing a 10 personal income tax-- people of the lower class now have to pay more tax. He attempted to extend the time terrorists could be detained without trial and introduced the unpopular ID card database, despite much anger. He has been accused of inactivity while the world has experienced an economic crisis. Brown's foreign secretary, David Miliband, penned an opinion column about the future of the Labour Party in the Guardian without mentioning Brown. Both Labour Party loyals and the opposition have been muttering darkly about how Brown would take the party down in the general election, thanks to his poor policies. Brown went on the defensive this weekend at the Labour conference, saying he was the experienced leader who was prepared to deal with the poor economy and that it would be political suicide for the Labour Party to overthrow him.

Poor Brown, what happened to his popularity? David Cameron, the new Tory leader, has been dominating the news and there is talk of a new Conservative government taking more seats in the next general election.

Since taking over, Cameron has been working on modernizing the Conservative Party, making it more socially conscious and concerned about the Green movement. Back in the 1997 election, the Tories lost over 178 seats while Labour took Parliament when Tory leader John Major overthrew Margaret Thatcher. Since that time, the Tories have struggled with a series of unsuccessful and uncharismatic leaders until Cameron was elected. Critics attacked and accused him of ignoring tradition and Thatcher's successes in the '80s. Those critics have grown silent after the Tories won several seats in north England and London in byelections-- two areas that have been Labour strongholds.

Back in 2006, Stephen Harper modernized the Conservative Party and won a minority government against Martin. This is partly because when Martin's followers forced Chretien to resign, the Liberals split into factions. Without Chretien to impose order, it was every Liberal for him or herself. The effect has continued, with the Liberals losing seats in every byelection after 2006. Stephane Dion has been unable to unify the party like Blair in England or Chretien here. That pattern was also seen in the Progressive Conservative Party in 1992. The anger over the GST and NAFTA came to a head and new controversies such as the Airborne Regiment's killing in Somalia and nasty attack ads against Chretien's facial disability led the Tories to near political extinction.

One lesson that can be learnt from all this mess is that sometimes backstabbing and manipulation does not help win popularity and love from the population-- especially if you're uprooting a popular leader or seen as willing to do anything to gain power. Any unlucky leaders who conspire against their predecessors end up with the blame and anger from the former leader's problems falling on their own shoulders. If you find yourself in the shoes of Martin or Brown, run as fast as you can to keep your reputation intact. Run.