Breakings ranks - Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts

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Breakings ranks

Breaking Ranks: re-published, on 10 May 2019, from my old blog

I have just come across, in my archives, a blog post I wrote in May 2009 entitled 'Breaking Ranks' and I was startled to read how it foreshadows much of what is going on today in Westminster. You will have to take my word for it that what follows is exactly as I wrote it ten years ago today. . . . . .

The ‘real’ political commentators all seem to be talking today, 03 May 2009, about ministers ‘breaking ranks’. An interesting expression, that. In the military, breaking ranks, or breaking step, is what marching bodies of troops are ordered to do when approaching a bridge they have to cross. The idea is to break up the steady rhythm of marching feet that might interfere with the natural harmonic resonance of the bridge thereby causing it to collapse. Does that describe what is happening to our present government? Have the marching feet of government started to break ranks as they head for an important bridge that must be crossed?

It’s been a bad week for Gordon Brown. Even he would agree on that but John Prescott, campaigning in West Yorkshire yesterday, apparently does not. JP was campaigning, not for a General Election but for the upcoming EU elections. He is always a pleasure to watch and listen to but trying to get people out to vote for Europe is even more difficult than getting them out for local elections.

The always smiling and cheerful Hazel Blears this morning seems to be unsure whether or not she was breaking ranks by criticising her own government in her speech about the ‘lamentable’ failures of the Government. I didn’t hear Miss Blears use the word but all the radio and TV commentators I’ve heard this morning have been pronouncing that word with the stress on the first syllable whereas I’m sure it used to be pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, ‘men’.

I always try to see the best in people. One of my Station Commanders in the past saw fit to criticise me for that. ‘You spend too much time protecting your subordinates instead of getting on with what I want you to do’, he told me to my face. (To this day I think he was wrong, but that’s water under the bridge, as they say.) Look at it from Gordon Brown’s point of view. For years he’s been seeking the ‘top job’. Now he’s got it, albeit without winning an election, one part of him must be wishing he hadn’t. We hear that he is prone to fly into fits of temper – if correct that’s probably due to frustration rather than anything else but do we want a leader who, for any reason, has fits of rage?

How can you do a top job without the loyal and unequivocal support of your subordinates? How can you be certain your subordinates really are loyal to you even when, in public, they assure you that they are? You can’t sack them all, even if you are lucky enough to have plenty of high-quality people to replace them, and I don’t believe GB is that lucky. So how do you decide who should be sacked? Sack one, perhaps: “dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres“. The problem is, which admiral do you sack? The time inevitably comes when you need a new man at the top.

What with one thing and another, it appears that we are now in for up to a year of lame duck and extremely expensive government, something we usually talk about in the final months of a US President’s tenure.

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