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Donal Blaney: You cannot beat somebody with nobody

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

This week’s Law of the Public Policy Process focuses on a key fact that even the most skilled campaigner must recognize – you cannot beat somebody with nobody.

Gordon Brown is undoubtedly “somebody”. For all his faults, and this week’s Pre-Budget Report shows that he has many, he is undoubtedly a past master at arrogating power to himself and destroying anyone who dares to come into his path.

He has ruthlessly dispatched pretenders to his crown, chief amongst whom are numbered Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke and (ultimately after a decade of internecine warfare) Tony Blair himself. Machiavelli would be proud. It remains to be seen whether John Reid will fall by the wayside as well.

On the Conservative side of the Commons, Brown has also effortlessly dispatched people as diverse as Ken Clarke, Peter Lilley, Michael Portillo, Francis Maude and, to some degree, even George Osborne.

The same concept of a seemingly unbeatable “somebody” is Ken Livingstone. A series of candidates have thus far tried to defeat him (both for the Labour nomination and for the mayoralty itself) but nobody was sufficiently “somebody” to be able to defeat him thus far – worthy though many of those putative opponents may have been.

There is undoubtedly something that cannot readily be identified that marks out a “somebody” in politics or any other walk of life. All too often it is defined as charisma or that ubiquitous “X-Factor”. It doesn’t simply come from being in power. Many people who have “it” (and are consequently a hard-to-beat “somebody”) are not in power at the outset of their journey up the greasy pole.

Some initially have power by association (such as Hillary Clinton or Winston Churchill) whereas others marked themselves out for greatness early on despite not previously having been close to power (Margaret Thatcher prime among them).

The London mayoral elections are perhaps the most interesting and time-relevant illustration of this week’s Law. To beat the “somebody” that is Ken Livingstone, it is pointless for the Conservatives to run a “nobody”.

No matter how worthy any of the proposed candidates for the Tory nomination may be – and no matter how right their solutions to London’s myriad of problems are – if they do not have the electoral credibility, clout and personality to give their campaign a kick-start, there is little point in standing against Livingstone who (as well as having the advantage of incumbency) is a formidable campaigner with a personality and profile as large as his ego.

There is of course one potential Tory candidate who ticks all the necessary boxes.

He is respected by the media (who go so far as to give him a fair wind).

He has repositioned his Party brilliantly such that he is listened to by the electorate, particularly floating voters who have ignored the Tories for a decade.

His values accord both with Islington and Notting Hill, albeit that they may not resonate as well with Inverness or Nottingham.

He has personal wealth, has excited the interest of donors, is charismatic, embraces different cultures and ideologies, and has shown in the opinion polls that he has what it takes to deliver London for the Conservative Party.

That man is, of course, David Cameron.

He is sufficiently “somebody” that he would be able to beat Ken Livingstone and there are enough able lieutenants in Parliament who would be able to take forward and develop his agenda to take the Party forward to power nationally too.

Greater love hath no man than this – that he will lay down his wish to be Prime Minister for the greater good of Londoners and the Party that he leads.

What better way would there be of propelling the Tories to power in 2009/10 than for Cameron to win the mayoralty? One wonders whether a grassroots campaign can persuade him to do so…

Of course the likelihood of David Cameron standing for Mayor is about as likely as the Conservatives giving a cast iron pledge to cut personal rates of tax. But it does highlight the problem the Party faces in looking for a credible “somebody” to beat Red Ken. And with London’s infrastructure crumbling as fast as British society is decaying, London is crying out for an alternative – perhaps any alternative – to the current occupant of the mayoralty.

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