ANDRE AGASSI, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, once said, "Being number two sucks!" The winner of eight grand slam tennis singles tournaments was obsessed with winning and hated settling for anything less than being number one. Politics is a bit like sport in that most politicians want the number one spot and harbour leadership ambitions.
But not all politicians are cut out for leadership and many of them are born to be deputy leaders, vice-presidents or number twos.
For some politicians, being number two shouldn't be dismissed, as it can be a role they are best cut out for. The rebirth of Michael Noonan's political career is a case in point.
Eight years ago the Limerick West TD was lampooned by the media and labelled 'baldy Noonan' when he was Fine Gael leader during the 2002 general election. But his appointment to Fine Gael's front bench has seen the rebooting of his political career. This lends credence to the argument that some politicians are better in senior roles that do not involve leadership.
According to Terry Prone, PR guru from the Communications Clinic, "Sometimes, people should stay in the number two position because leadership would waste their best talent. Joan Burton is a forensic surgeon in her area. Why would you waste that by putting her in a role that demands quite a different bunch of traits and skills?
"The danger for any of the Fianna Fáil aspirants, with the possible exception of Brian Lenihan, is not that any of them would be exposed as natural number twos, but that they've all been so long in the same trenches that developing a compelling new vision or style would be bloody difficult. Fianna Fáil would be best served by electing a short-serving good organiser who's nearing the end of their career, providing a buffer before the next long termer takes over."
Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology at Skidmore College in New York, told the Sunday Tribune, "When everything is going well, people generally prefer instrumentally effective and relationship-oriented leaders over charismatic types. However, in times of psychological upheaval, people are more likely to embrace charismatic leaders and disavow the more mundane types.
"So a deputy leader can be very effective in the political background but lack the charismatic qualities necessary to engage and inspire particularly in troubled times. For example, we did studies prior to the 2004 presidential election in the US showing that people in a psychologically benign state reported they intended to vote for John Kerry by a 4:1 margin, but after a subtle reminder of death, they reported intending to vote for George Bush by almost 3:1."
So as Noonan enjoys a political comeback after his disastrous leadership experience, the Sunday Tribune looks at the other politicians who were better suited to be number twos.
The controversy about outgoing Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's personal finances dominated the first fortnight of the 2007 general election campaign. And as Fianna Fáil slipped in opinion polls, it looked increasingly unlikely that it was going to win three general elections in a row.
Then it happened. Brian Cowen grabbed his party's election campaign by the scruff of the neck and turned it around. He won a number of robust economic debates and Fianna Fáil dramatically snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Cowen's performances in that campaign saw his star rise within the party, so much so that Ahern announced him as his chosen successor. Such was the popularity of Ahern's number two that nobody else contested the Fianna Fáil leadership when Ahern resigned. Expectations were high when Cowen took charge and there was an overwhelming sense of optimism about him in the early days.
But this optimism soon turned to derision. Not long after he took over, the economic bubble burst and his reign as Taoiseach has been heavily criticised ever since. In fairness to Cowen, any political leader would have difficulty guiding the country through the worst economic crisis in the history of state, but question marks constantly surround his abilities as a leader and cogent arguments can be made that he would be a much better deputy.
During last June's Fine Gael leadership challenge, a number of Richard Bruton's supporters trotted out the line: 'If the governor of the Central Bank needed to ring the Taoiseach in the middle of the night and ask him to make a crucial decision about the Irish banking system, who would you rather have on the other end of the line – Enda Kenny or Richard Bruton?'
The inference was that the country would be safer with the Oxford-educated Bruton at the wheel. But a few days later, after it emerged the Fine Gael deputy leader's attempted heave against Kenny was poorly planned and his media performances were far from convincing, the answer to the question was Enda Kenny. Kenny showed himself to be decisive and authoritative during the week of the heave, Bruton a ditherer who would agonise for too long over decisions.
A few days after the failed heave, the Sunday Tribune got Nikki Owen, Britain's leading charisma expert to analyse video footage of Bruton and she astutely pointed out: "Whilst he is prepared – and I suspect he thoroughly prepares for everything – I imagine he might lack flexibility and struggle if confronted by a question he was not expecting. He might frustrate his peers because of his level of attention to detail and perfecting the plan before taking decisive action. In my view he would make a great deputy, but I wonder if he has the gravitas and charisma to operate as a particularly strong party leader at this point in time."
George Colley was a Fianna Fáil TD for 22 years and during that period he held five different ministries at the cabinet table, as well as serving as Tánaiste from 1977 to 1981. Yet despite holding the senior cabinet positions such as the finance portfolio, Colley was never able to make the leap from being an able number two to become leader of Fianna Fáil.
In 1966 following Sean Lemass's resignation as Taoiseach, Colley declared his interest in the leadership along with Jack Lynch and the Fianna Fáil leadership went to a vote for the first time in the party's history. Colley lost out to Lynch by 59 votes to 19.
Thirteen years later, after Jack Lynch surprisingly resigned as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader in 1969, Colley made a second leadership bid. It looked as if Colley's time had come and he thought he had a great chance of winning the battle, but he never courted the party rank and file in the same way as Charlie Haughey did. He was defeated by Haughey by 44 votes to 38. During the 1980s there were several moves against Haughey, but Colley was twice bitten, third time shy. He did not make any further leadership challenges.
One of the few TDs to hold the distinction of being appointed a cabinet minister on his first day in the Dáil in June 1981, Alan Dukes was one of the most promising young politicians of his generation. Starting off his Dáil career in the agriculture portfolio, he also held the finance and justice portfolios before he took over as leader of Fine Gael in 1987. A lot was expected of Dukes as the new leader after he took over from Garret FitzGerald, but it quickly became apparent that he was ill-suited to the role. He was seen as a remote and aloof figure. While he showed genuine leadership with his Tallaght Strategy initiative that was motivated by the belief it was for the greater good of the country, the move was not as well received within party ranks. He was party leader for just three years until 1990 and he certainly falls into the category of a politician who was better suited to the finance portfolio in a number two role.
Gordon Brown is a most pertinent example of a politician who was a better number two than a leader. After New Labour won the 1997 general election in Britain, the new prime minister Tony Blair appointed Brown as his chancellor of the exchequer. Brown remained in the position for over a decade, making him one of the longest-serving chancellors.
He presided over a period of economic prosperity in Britain in the role and after Blair announced in September 2006 that he would step down within a year, Brown was his obvious successor. Brown became prime minister in June 2007 but his tenure as leader was marred by consistently low performances in opinion polls. Just a year into his tenure, his leadership was openly challenged by MPs such as Jacqui Smith. In January 2010, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt wrote to Labour MPs calling for a secret ballot on Brown's leadership. He did hang on as leader until the general election in May but resigned immediately afterwards when Labour failed to hold power. He was certainly a better number two.
Al Gore is generally perceived to have been a good vice-president to US president Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001. With hindsight of seeing the aftermath of the George W Bush era, Clinton led a competent administration with Gore by his side. Gore is also an example of a politician whose strengths were best harnessed in the role of vice-president.
In 1988 he campaigned for the Democratic Party nomination for presidency. As he was just 39 years old at the time he was dubbed "the youngest serious presidential candidate since John F Kennedy". He thought that he would win enough support in the southern US states to stake a claim on the nomination but he ended up finishing third out of the seven Democratic candidates – Joe Biden, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon and Michael Dukakis, who eventually won the nomination. In 2000, Gore and his running mate Joe Lieberman fought a presidential campaign against George W Bush. After a number of head-to-head TV debates with Bush, Gore was criticised for being "too aggressive" and his leadership credentials were questioned. He eventually lost in controversial circumstances surrounding the Florida count and recount.
He later earned global kudos for his environmentalism, starring in the award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. But his best political achievements will forever be associated with his vice-presidency in the Clinton administration.
"Every prime minister needs a Willie," announced Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Her observation about her deputy prime minister, Willie Whitelaw, has become an immortal phrase in political folklore, especially as the double entendre was completely unintentional on the behalf of Thatcher.
Thatcher made him her number two as he had previously contested the Tory leadership in 1975 and been soundly beaten. Having lost so heavily he was never going to contest it again and he became a most loyal deputy leader. When Thatcher took office in 10 Downing Street in 1979, he filled the role of the senior colleague without any personal ambitions who could guard against any plots from jealous rivals.
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