Some favourite political losers

6 July 1997

Everyone in the world has his favourite politician. A winner has many fathers and a loser is an orphan.

At home, everyone's political darling is Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim is a close second, and it does seem that under the present political climate, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak is third. All three are happily married with children of both sexes.

Of the four Prime Ministers we have had, only Tun Razak did not have daughters. He produced five good boys. No matter, he adopted a girl from Kedah.

Today I want to talk about losers. I have been a winner as well as a loser. I always seem to get what I don't exactly want and losing what I want. As they say, beggars cannot be choosers. In life one must do as best one may.

I have a favourite Malaysian loser. As he is sensitive, I am not revealing his name. A good man, but he is not a good politician because he is always saying the right thing at the wrong time, laughing and singing at the wrong places.

However, I have two favourite losers overseas, neither of whom I have personally met. John Major, who at a relatively young age of 54, just two months out of 10 Downing Street, is already in oblivion.

Major has become a forgotten man in Conservative and British politics. Politics is a cruel profession and politicians as a rule have short memory. Tory MPs forgot that it was Major who helped ensure that the Conservative Party and they had an unexpected five more years in office in 1992.

According to Riddle on Politics (Times 17 June) Major had stepped into the lonely limbo of the former party leader still in middle age, and is the youngest former Prime Minister to return to the backbenchers for more than a century.

Most British Prime Ministers leave 10 Downing Street in their 60s or 70s, moving immediately or within a few years to the House of Lords, becoming avuncular or, occasionally, bitter elder statesman such as Sir Edward Heath who has been a brooding presence in the House of Commons for more than 23 years, so far, since ceasing to be Prime Minister at the age 57.

Riddle says: "The exceptions are not all happy. Rosebery left Downing Street when he was 48 and lived for a further 34 years, partly in waspish conflict with former colleagues.

Balfour was 57 when he ceased being Prime Minister, battling on for a further six years as party leader, and living for a further 24 years, half of which were spent in high office.

Lloyd George lived for a further 22 years after being forced out of office, and for at least the first ten of these, he was seen as a potentially disruptive force.

"Of recent examples, Harold Wilson was the same age as Major when Labour lost the 1970 election, but unexpectedly returned to office three and a half years later before retiring on his 60th birthday. Having spent nine arduous years as Labour leader, Neil Kinnock stepped down at the age of 50, then began another career as a European Commissioner.

"Mr. Major will no doubt suffer a period of obscurity."

"New Leaders need to establish a distance from their predecessors, especially ones who have just lost an election. Mr. Major is, of all people, sensitive to this need. He will take a low profile for the time being, defending his successor if necessary against party critics who plagued him."

Major tried his best, but apparently it was not good enough. After 18 years of Conservative Party, the British voters rightly felt it was time to give the reformed or New Labour Party under Tony Blair a chance. Major is my favourite loser because he is such a blithe optimist.

I may disagree with many of his policies and may be unhappy about his neglect of our country (unlike Margaret Thatcher), nevertheless, I like to believe he is a decent, honest and no sex-please-we-are-British-type.