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Simon and Leo beware - not everyone who inherits a country ends up enjoying it

Ruling a country without having been elected can be an endeavour fraught with danger.


SO THE FINE Gael leadership election battle is well and truly on. And it’s a two-horse race.

For either Simon Coveney or Leo Varadkar the prize is of course the leadership of their party, but there’s the additional expectation of a second trophy – the Taoiseach’s seat.

Should that come to pass, either Coveney or Varadkar will become the leader of Ireland without having contested or won a general election as head of their party. This isn’t all that unheard of – Theresa May in Britain for instance owes her current role as Prime Minister to David Cameron committing Brexit-shaped hari kari.

But things don’t always work out brilliantly for those who inherit the leadership of a democratic country rather than winning it in an election. People like…

90211639_90211639 Brian Cowen Source:

Brian Cowen

If ever there was a cautionary tale in Irish politics, Cowen’s is surely it. Long the poster boy for Fianna Fáil politics under the hegemony of Bertie Ahern, Cowen held every senior Cabinet position imaginable until his ascension to the leadership of his party and his country in May 2008 following Ahern’s own travails at the hands of the Mahon Tribunal.

Four months later, the bottom fell out of the Irish economy and a blanket bank guarantee was introduced, at the behest of Cowen and late finance minister Brian Lenihan, to stave off economic oblivion for Ireland’s largest financial institutions, including the toxic Anglo Irish Bank.

Source: IrishPolitics/YouTube

All told €64 billion was ploughed into the Irish banks. The housing and job markets collapsed and Ireland dived into a shuddering recession that would see thousands emigrate, jobless figures explode, and the country surrender its sovereignty at the hands of the troika bailout. When Cowen finally called an election for February 2011, with an approval rating of just 8% he was seen as the ‘worst Taoiseach in the history of Ireland’, with a shambolic performance on Morning Ireland at a party think-in the previous September as his enduring legacy.

He resigned as party leader, aged just 51, prior to the election, meaning he never actually contested one as leader. Which is probably as well – Fianna Fáil went on to suffer the worst result in its history, losing a catastrophic 51 seats, including every Dáil position it held in Dublin bar one.

Gordon Brown visits Ulster Gordon Brown Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Gordon Brown

UK Labour leader Gordon Brown’s career ran seemingly in tandem with Cowen’s. Nominated as leader of a party via an uncontested internal election in a what-appeared-to-be unassailable position in 2007 following 10 years as Tony Blair’s Chancellor of the Exchequer in New Labour, the global credit crunch similarly put paid to Brown’s leadership.

Widely seen as something of a dour character in comparison to Blair’s cool Britannia persona, Brown was, much like Cowen, in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.

An initial bump in popularity as Prime Minister upon taking over the role in June 2007 was soon followed by the ever-decreasing returns inspired by the world recession. Following disastrous results in the 2009 local elections, Brown’s Labour lost 91 seats in the House of Commons in his first and only election as leader the following year, with the Conservatives’ David Cameron emerging as Prime Minister from a hung Parliament. Brown promptly resigned to be replaced by Ed Miliband.

Labour has never since returned to power, and currently stands as far afield from the Conservatives in opinion polls as it has done for over 30 years. Sometimes it’s better to remain the deputy.

United States President Gerald R. Ford testifies before the United States... Gerald Ford Source: DPA/PA Images

Gerald Ford

Everyman Ford took over the US presidency in August 1974 in the cataclysmic fallout from Richard Nixon’s resignation amid the Watergate scandal. Nixon had gone before he was pushed when it became clear that to stick around meant certain impeachment and removal from office.

Ford himself, the Republican minority leader in the House of Representatives, had only himself become vice president following the resignation of Spiro Agnew from that office in the wake of allegations of extortion, bribe-taking, and tax fraud in October 1973. Corruption in US politics is hardly a new concept it seems.

An unassuming politician, Ford’s brief tenure would be dominated by the legacy of his disgraced predecessor, with the new president’s pardoning of Nixon from criminal charges causing particular opprobrium. The Republicans were decimated in the post-Watergate mid-terms of 1974, just three months into Ford’s tenure.

Source: Saturday Night Live/YouTube

Despite this, and despite acquiring something of a reputation as a bumbling figure (Chevy Chase’s impression of Ford as a slapstick goon on the then brand-new Saturday Night Live was the original scathing presidential send-up), Ford wasn’t an especially loathed president, not least given he was the man who finally pulled America out of Vietnam.

Nevertheless, in losing narrowly to Democrat Jimmy Carter in the 1977 election, Ford became the only US president to never be elected to a higher office than that of Congressman. He also holds the unenviable record of being the non-assassinated president with the shortest ever leadership term. Still, at least he didn’t have to resign.

Politics - Republic of Ireland - Taoiseach - London - 1992 Albert Reynolds Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Albert Reynolds

Another tale of woe from Fianna Fáil. A generation prior to Cowen, the party had another power-hungry political lifer in the ascendancy. Longford TD Reynolds first began to make purposeful moves in Dáil Éireann in 1979, as one of the ‘gang of five’ which aligned itself with party leader Charles Haughey as he struggled with George Colley to become Taoiseach Jack Lynch’s successor.

13 years later, Reynolds was one of many TDs that had begun to chafe under their mercurial leader’s tenure. In January 1992 Haughey was finally ousted from power under the cloud of a phone-tapping scandal, courtesy of his former Minister for Defence Sean Doherty. Reynolds easily won the ensuing leadership contest. He created something of a storm by sacking eight members of the existing cabinet, which was deemed to be over-laden with Haughey loyalists.

Reynolds held onto power in the November 1992 general election despite seeing his party lose nine seats. Two years later he was gone, falling victim to a scandal involving his nomination of Attorney General Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court, after it subsequently emerged that Whelehan had botched the extradition of notorious paedophile Fr Brendan Smyth to Northern Ireland. With coalition partners Labour unwilling to stay in government with Fianna Fáil, Reynolds resigned to prevent another election, and John Bruton’s Fine Gael assumed power via the Rainbow Coalition.

World War Two - Winston Churchill - Walthamstow Stadium, London Winston Churchill Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Winston Churchill

Churchill’s modern reputation as a garrulous war-time leader with inspiring speeches seeping out of ever pore belies the fact he wasn’t much good at winning elections.

First elected to Parliament in 1900 at the age of just 25, he spent the next 40 years as a permanent fixture in the House of Commons, mostly as a Conservative, including a five-year spell as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

When it became clear that Conservative Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had the confidence of pretty much no-one in the face of Hitler’s startling advance across Europe in early 1940, Chamberlain resigned. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was chosen as an unelected successor, for being someone whom all three mainstream parties (Conservatives, Labour, and Liberals) could rally behind.

Fostering the positive, can-do attitude of the Blitz, Churchill lead Britain through the darkest days of World War II and eventual victory for the Allies in May 1945.

Two months later, his party was utterly routed at the polls in a general election that saw the Conservatives lose a staggering 197 of their 386 seats. The problem seems to mostly have been that while Churchill was well-loved, his old-school party was not, with the country wary of a post-war culture of unemployment for the returning armed forces. Labour seemed the safer option, and Churchill was told to unceremoniously sling his hook. That’s gratitude for you.

But for all these woebegone chaps, some people did make a decent fist of being landed in at the deep end and charged with the running of their country, people like…

POLITICS John Major Source: EMPICS Sport

John Major

In taking over from a figure as polarising as Margaret Thatcher as leader of the UK Conservative Party in November 1990, John Major found himself leading his country into a two-year recession.

Fortunately for the new leader (generally seen as a pleasant, if wholly uninspiring man), Labour’s renaissance was still seven years away. More importantly, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp was still fully behind the Tories (if not Major himself, who was considered to be at best ineffective).

Source: Kris Griffiths/YouTube

The Conservatives won a surprising victory in the 1992 election, nailing down what was then the largest popular vote seen in Britain to that date. Major remained in power for a further five years, with the majority of that time exemplified by his struggle against the ‘sleaze’ culture that typified his party.

Then 1997 and Tony Blair arrived, the Conservatives were hammered, Major resigned and that was pretty much that until it emerged in 2002 that, all the while he had been fostering a ‘back to basics’ anti-sleaze campaign, the supposedly bland Prime Minister had been having an affair with his Cabinet colleague Edwina Currie.

Practice what you preach and all that.

DIED ON THIS DAY - 26/12/1972 - Harry S Truman Harry Truman Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Harry Truman

Democratic senator Truman had been vice president to legendary wartime leader Franklin Roosevelt for just 82 days  in early 1944 when the president, whose health had been failing for some time, died suddenly.

In ascending to the presidency, Truman became the man who brought the war in the Pacific to an end after approving the usage of two atomic bombs against Imperial Japan, a decision the merits of which are still debated.

Known for his catchphrase ‘the buck stops here’, Truman (who had only been a senator since 1934) went on to win two elections while fostering an anti-Communist spirit in the US that gave birth to the Cold War.

And he didn’t tweet even once.

37_Lyndon_Johnson_3x4 Lyndon Johnson Source: PA

Lyndon Johnson

Texan and all-round man’s man Lyndon Johnson served as John F Kennedy’s Democratic vice president from 1961 until November 1963 when he was dropped in at the deep end by Kennedy’s untimely demise in Dallas.

Despite indecision on Johnson’s part regarding his ability to win the 1964 election, he ended up doing so easily, with the single highest popular vote ever secured in an American presidential ballot. His tenure would end up being defined by the escalation in the war in Vietnam, with a policy of heavy bombing leaving no end to the war in sight by the time he exited the Oval Office in 1969.

In turning down the chance to run again for a second term, a huge surprise at the time, Johnson’s public perception and approval bounced almost overnight. In reality, his failing health probably had a lot to do with it. He died of a massive heart attack in 1973 aged just 64.

Read: ‘If she ran, we’d hit her with that every day’: Fitzgerald’s leadership bid ends before it started

Read: It’s on: Ministers begin to declare allegiances as Fine Gael campaign starts

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