Observations on prime ministers
Lord Healey's suggestion, in a TV interview a few days ago, that Tony Blair should step down because "if you stay in the same job too long . . . you tend to get too fixed in your manner of dealing with problems" gently echoes Harold Macmillan. He said that "all prime ministers go mad after five or six years".
But wouldn't Gordon Brown - Healey's favoured successor - also develop the "too fixed" attitude, otherwise known as the bunker mentality, after a few years in power? Even in America, where the president is revered as a kind of political pope, they have a two-term limit. The real problem is not Blair - nor such predecessors as Margaret Thatcher who were also accused of becoming "too fixed" in office - but the office of prime minister.
For a better answer, turn to the drab bureaucracy of the EU. What, you may ask, can those gravy-train surfing, red-tape fluttering Eurocrats possibly teach us? But lay down your hackles. There is one thing our democracy would benefit from: the mechanism of a revolving prime ministership.
A revolving presidency works in Europe, in principle and practice. It ensures an equitable distribution of power. What better testament can there be to its efficacy than the Eurocrats' plans to disassemble it, in favour of an individual president they can capture and dominate?
If each minister in the British cabinet held the premiership for three- or four-month stints, each would remain uncorrupted as power passed from person to person. Our leaders get addicted to power, the opium of the elite. A revolving premiership would give them a toke, but dispense with the cravings, the dependency and finally the cold turkey they now suffer.
Clare Short's turn might have been a bit rough. But it could have rekindled popular interest in politics. A collective premiership would diffuse among many the madness of power, rather than concentrating it in a single, all-too-human person.