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Paul T Horgan: Opposition leaders face humiliation by an empty chair


Ambition is universally accepted as the driving force for politicians. It has to be; no politician will admit to this.
However, there is another motivation that works in parallel. This is fear.

It was the fear of another electoral humiliation that drove Labour to accept the leadership of Tony Blair and his moderation of policy. He was the person best suited to absolutely guarantee electoral victory in 1997. With any other candidate, this would have been in doubt. Certainly without Blair, the 2001 general election might not have been a landslide as well.

Why didn’t Gordon Brown stand against Blair for party leader in 1994? It was fear. Politics is a tightrope profession that lacks a safety net. Brown’s success was always on the coat-tails of Blair’s appeal. Once Brown was out in the open following his coronation as Prime Minister, he led his party to a disaster from which it has yet to emerge.

There have been calls for Mrs May to participate in televised debates as was done in 2010. She has also been threatened with being ’empty chaired’. This means that the debates go ahead, but there is an empty chair for where Mrs May would have been had she agreed to take part. The leaders of the rival parties could make much political capital over Mrs May’s refusal to go head-to-head on live television.

However, this could backfire seriously for the other parties. They could be seen as ganging-up on Mrs May in an unseemly hate-fest. Alternatively, they could be regarded as over-energised juniors squabbling among themselves while the boss is away.

At the very start of this campaign, Mrs May appears to heading for an historic victory. If this happens, then it will mean that every other party leader will have to quit their job.

It will have been conclusively demonstrated that they are so talentless as to be unable even to defeat an empty chair in a live debate. Nicola Sturgeon is particularly at risk here, especially if the SNP lose seats at Westminster to the empty chair. Mrs May will be able to slap down Angus Robertson’s claim to speak for Scotland at every Prime Minister’s Questions for the next five years. She will be able to state she had beaten the SNP and the rest without actually having to turn up to do so.

Fear and ambition go hand in hand in politics. In the current electoral climate, it is Mrs May’s opponents who have more to fear over the empty chair. It may result in them being empty chaired themselves.

(Image: Garry Knight)

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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