Uneasy Lies the Head Whih Wears a Crown


By M Hickes

THERE’S something of the Shakespearian tragedy with regards to the fall of Prime Ministers.

Mrs Thatcher knew of the brutality of the exit from office – as did her predecessor James Callaghan; in his case, no sooner were the votes counted and the battle lost than the removal van was in Downing Street gathering the political detritus.

It must come as a shock to the system; one moment you are feting world leaders in the corridors of power, and admiring your predecessors on the staircase; the next facing a life more ordinary.

Richard II knew of it of course; sensing his downfall, Shakespeare had him sat on the beach, wistfully talking to his comrades on the death of kings, presaging his fate at the hands of Bolingbroke.

But at the moment of handing over his crown, a little like Gollum with the ring in Lord of the Rings, letting go of such brings forth all the emotions, like a baby being torn from a dummy.

But as even David Cameron remarked this weekend, the loss of office and the vacuum of responsibility associated with such, is felt as soon as the weight is lifted.

One can imagine it is somewhat akin to the feeling Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin must have had after the return from the moon; how does one top that?

Power held for some time, initially perhaps intoxicating and a little overbearing, might in time become, paradoxically, as comfortable as a favourite pair of shoes, or even like a pair of ruby slippers; so perfect a fit that their/its effect goes unnoticed sometimes on the wearer or the incumbent anointed.

Mrs T was in power for so long that one wonders if the office might ever have seemed to her somehow prosaic. One suspects not – the burden of office shows on all PMs as press pics show – and on their final exists from the stage, many must have thought ‘If only I had done that’.

For Blair, the albatross will be forever Iraq; for Thatcher the Poll Tax and the Miners’ Strike; for Callaghan the Winter of Discontent; for Mrs May Brexit.

Major was haunted by Europe, Wilson by pacts and plots and intrigue and Chamberlain by Hitler.

One might wonder therefore why so many contenders might be seen to be entering the political vacuum of the leadership contest with gusto when, in all likelihood, if elevated, they will leave No 10 as marked men and women; branded with the iron of some political misfortune forever.

Perhaps if nothing else, the verve for high office illustrates just how beguiling power can be.

Who can resist the temptation when everything MIGHT just turn our all right in the end – with that elusive prize of lasting remembrance as Britain’s most successful politician just within grasp.

But too often, in over striving for such, things have a tendency to fall apart.

As Indiana Jones’s dad (Sean Connery) says to Indy (Harrison Ford) when the Holy Grail is perched on a ledge, tantalisingly within fingertip reach when teetering on the edge of a chasm, “Let it go, Indy.”

Unfortunately, in the world of ego and power, a higher octane world than Formula One motor racing, those who dare to take their foot off the political throttle, are lost forevermore in the pit lane of also rans.

Harry Bolingbroke, if history is to be believed, as Henry IV, would forever rue his overthrow of Richard II. 

And like Richard, for those who have worn the crown, to step down from the high tower to give way to a ‘usurper’ must grate with every atom of their political being; and the first step down must always seem the longest.