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  • Ian Ritchie : Business AM

Did the caped crusader help to put Blair in power?

Look at our very own dynamic duo - is this an example of life imitating comic art?

IN JANUARY 1993, two ambitious Labour politicians, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, were looking grimly across the House of Commons at John Major’s newly elected administration, despairing about whether Britain would ever again have a Labour government.

They decided between themselves to visit Washington DC to see at first hand how Bill Clinton had managed so successfully to get himself elected. The trip was made without the authority of their party leader, John Smith, who was reported to be furious when he found out.

Messrs Brown and Blair had shared an office in the Houses of Parliament for several years, and they decided that maybe they could learn from the success of the Democratic Party. Mr Brown had always been an enthusiastic student of the US economy, its structures and its politics, and Mr Blair wanted to meet face to face the party managers and advisers who had successfully marketed a positive, upbeat, message to the American people from an opposition point of view.

But, looking at what has happened since; one wonders whether it was just political knowledge that they picked up on that seminal trip to Washington DC. For one of the defining styles of the Blair-Brown government since May 1997 has been the management style that they have adopted - a style that is typically American in structure.

Whereas in the UK, most enterprises are led by a managing director with all the other directors (finance, marketing etc) reporting to the MD, in the US it is quite usual for businesses to split the senior responsibilities between a chief executive officer (CEO) and a chief operating officer (COO). The CEO defines the vision, communicates the goals, does all the networking with other CEOs and acts as the charismatic leader, setting the tone and inspiring the others to follow. Meanwhile the COO makes sure that the functions of the operation are running well, that the staff are appropriately skilled and well managed, resources are sufficient and are efficiently deployed and the organisation’s financial and operational health remains good.

While the CEO sets the strategy, on a day-to-day level the COO calls the shots.

It seems clear from these descriptions that, since 1997, Mr Blair has really been serving as the CEO of UK plc and Mr Brown has been its COO.

It is actually quite a sensible management structure and one which I have seen successfully deployed in a number of businesses in the UK . It allows a clearer divide between leadership and operations, and can result in a highly effective “creative tension” between the two.

Of course it is also a recipe for friction, and often there is frustration, particularly from the COO about the way the CEO decides to tackle some key issues, or over his choice of emphasis in the way things are presented.

But, hey, it’s August, it’s the 'silly season', and a story from Los Angeles has got me wondering afresh about the nature of the relationship between Messrs Blair and Brown. News has arrived from Hollywood that Warner Brothers is to make a film: Batman Vs Superman, which will be directed by Wolfgang (Perfect Storm) Petersen. The details turn out to be equally intriguing for students of politics as they are for movie buffs.

In a script by Andrew Kevin Walker, the two superheroes, although allies, find that they come to mighty blows over differing philosophies. Petersen told the trade paper Variety: “It is a clash of the titans; they play off of each other so perfectly. [Superman] is clear, bright, all that is noble and good, and Batman represents the dark, obsessive and vengeful side. They are two sides of the same coin and that is material for great drama”.

Holy smoke! We certainly don’t have to look too far into this plot to see on which real-life personalities these characters will be modelled. Both have exactly the same goal - 'Good should defeat evil' - but they have quite different styles in delivering it. One is high profile, upfront, charismatic and emotional, while the other is reflective, intense, compulsive and committed.

Surely, there can be little real doubt - this film will be a thinly veiled allegory of our very own 'superheroes' of Downing Street. So maybe it wasn’t political biographies that Messrs Blair and Brown were consuming in Washington DC in 1993.

Do you think they might have been reading DC Comics?

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