Monday, January 07, 2008

It's about service, not "enjoyment"

Nick Robinson today returned to blogging after a lengthy Christmas break to pose the burning political question of the moment, namely is Gordon Brown enjoying the job?

Leaving aside the question of why the BBC political editor chose to focus on this aspect of the Prime Minister's Today Programme interview this morning rather than discuss the actual content, I would have thought the answer was pretty obvious. Because for the great majority of people engaged in it, politics is about public service, not enjoyment.

If you are the kind of person who "enjoys" power, you are almost certainly the wrong kind of person to be exercising it. If on the other hand you look on leadership as a responsibility, as Gordon does, then you might one day make a half-decent manager, or chief executive, or even Prime Minister.

What surprises me about Nick's comments, and for that matter the whole line of questioning from Jim Naughtie in the first place, is that examples of the kind of self-sacrificial public service I am talking about abound in voluntary organisations, charities and public sector bodies the length and breadth of the land.

Did my wife "enjoy" being chairperson of our local National Childbirth Trust branch last year? Not especially, but she did it because she believes in the NCT's work and wanted to see awareness of it growing in our community. And there are various unpaid jobs I've done, in the NUJ, in the Lobby, in my local church, which have brought me little but hassle but which similarly needed to be done.

By following this politics-as-enjoyment agenda, Robinson and others are not only failing to understand what it is that makes Gordon tick, but failing to understand the motivation for much of what makes for civil society in this country.

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Anonymous said...

Interesting look at this idea, though I would tend to disagree with you.

Having done advocacy work in student politics in the past I can certainly relate to the sentiments of the statements made by the Prime Minister. I agree with you that someone that says they enjoy the job through and through is probably wrong for the job, or lying...but you have to enjoy something of your job if you've gone so far out of your way to try and get it.

I could never say that I enjoyed my days as a student representative, but I did enjoy parts of it. I enjoyed the feeling of progress, I enjoyed the feeling of overcoming a problem, and I enjoyed the wrangling that came with it.

The nitty gritty of the job, the slog that really isn't all that different to most other jobs no doubt, means you can't exactly say you love the job...but perhaps the better way to describe it is taking pride in and from the job at hand, certainly enough to mean you're happy to go in each day and brace yourself again.

The Daily Pundit said...

I agree, it was a waste of a post by Nick. They should steer away from the gossipy, peurile stuff, it does them no favours. They are supposed to be professionals after all.

Saying that, he's made up for it with his post on Stephen Carter.

Anonymous said...

I usually admire your writing Paul but this is complete cobblers.

If you are doing an important job then of course it should be enjoyable, and helping others is more satisfying - and hence enjoyable - than just working for yourself.

If people feel stressed at work it is because of unresolved conflicts or because they don't get on with or trust their colleagues.

Therefore I think it's profoundly worrying that Gordon isn't enjoying himself and I wonder why the hell he fought for the job in the first place.

Tony Blair has a great sense of humour and although he must have had many sleepless nights as PM he certainly enjoyed the job - he couldn’t be dragged away from it. I think the same would be true of Alan Johnson or David Miliband or various other strong characters who might step in, should Gordon fall underneath a bus.

Many of us who serve as school governors, charity trustees etc enjoy the work very much and if we felt like martyrs or miseryguts we wouldn’t be serving society very well at all.

Paul Linford said...

Anonymous 15.01

A pity you don't say who you are as you are obviously a regular reader, but a good post nevertheless.

I am not actually conceding the point that Brown is not enjoying the job. I am merely arguing that (a) it was a fatuous question by Naughtie, and (b) the reason Brown didn't want to answer it was probably because he too thought it was fatuous, on the grounds that whether or not he is enjoying the job is irrelevant. I actually think he probably is enjoying it, but the point is that it matters not to him whether he is or whether he isn't, so long as he is getting on with it.

Neither do I think you can draw straight analogies with most mainstream jobs, certainly in the private sector. I did "enjoy" being a Lobby Correspondent as it happened, because it was something I'd always wanted to do and, up until the very day I left, I never failed to get a buzz out of the fact that I was actually working in that fucking beautiful building. But when you do a job more out of a sense of vocation, that's different, I think.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but as a labour candidate I am a bit reluctant to reveal my identity when I'm criticising the leadership! I've just sent you a facebook friend request so you will no doubt work it out...

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Paul also. For me, it's a question of history. The Prime Ministers who haven't enjoyed the job usually haven't been all that good at it, particularly John Major. There are parallels between Major and Brown, what with the petulance, thin skin, lack of charisma, and a widespread feeling that they were natural no 2s who didn't cut it as no 1. It's also often forgotten that Anthony Eden was in considerable trouble as PM even before Suez, what with by-election losses and colleagues (even ones so generally equable as the then Lord Home) sick of his fussing and interfering in their departments.

And I'm sure the Blairites find Brown's lack of enjoyment hilarious (although in a mordant way), given Brown's asking their man when he was going to eff off and give it to him. The allusions to Shakespearean tragedy aren't all that misplaced, when Brown seems to be enjoying the crown (and sensing the hollowness of power) as much as Macbeth. Or, given the botched election that never was, maybe he'd echo Othello in bemoaning the loss of his reputation.

Paul Linford said...


If we're going to talk history (rather more pertinent than Shakespeare methinks) then can I ask you how you think Clement Attlee, our most successful peacetime Prime Minister of the last 100 years, might have reacted if some 1940s journalistic clot had asked him whether he was "enjoying" the job? Disdain would not be a strong enough word for it.

Anonymous said...

If you think Shakespeare is irrelevant to modern politics, then just watch Ian McKellen's adaptation of Richard III (96, still available on DVD). The scene where he feigns reluctance to acquire the crown chimes nicely with numerous examples of ambitious politicians going through the pretence of having been 'urged' by colleagues or reluctantly drafted.

Anyway, Attlee may not have let on that he was 'enjoying' the job (being taciturn and gruff) but he didn't moan about it as Major did, nor did his hand shake with anger when the Leader of the Opposition (Churchill) needled him. Whereas Brown reacts like a bear poked with a stick in PMQs (as Major did with Blair), Attlee dismissed Churchill's 'socialism would require a Gestapo' comments (far more provocative than anything Cameron has said about Brown) with a terse reference to the words being Churchill's, but the words being Beaverbrook's. And he got the better of Churchill in debate at least once.

If Brown's refusal to say he was enjoying the job has made headlines, it's not just tittle tattle, it's because the refusal just sums up a feeling that the crown he spent thirteen years itching to acquire feels rather hollow. He's seen one man he regarded as a lightweight (Blair) go, only to be needled by another (Cameron).

And all the stories about his rudeness to (and bullying of) the staff at No 10 are strongly reminiscent of Anthony Eden's throwing inkwells around.

Paul Linford said...

Shakespeare? Great poet, crap historian.

You mentioned Macbeth earlier. Anyone watching that play would be forgiven for thinking that after murdering Duncan, Macbeth was King of Scotland for at best a couple of months before being overthrown in favour of Malcolm. In fact he reigned for 17 mostly peaceful years before being succeeded by his stepson, the wonderfully-named Lulach the Fatuous who was Lady Macbeth's child by a previous marriage. It was only after poor Lulach's fatuity drove the Scottish barons beyond endurance that Malcolm was restored to thr throne.

Anonymous said...

Fair point re. Macbeth. According to what I've heard, Macbeth was a fairly benevolent ruler.