What Quico should learn from David Cameron

"Evelyng is the candidate in Maracaibo, and that's final"
“Evelyng is the candidate in Maracaibo, and that’s final”

I’ve been mulling Quico’s unusual screed from the other day, in which he harshly criticized Henrique Capriles and wondered out loud how long he was going to last as leader of the opposition.

The reason it seemed so unusual for me is that Quico is someone well versed in the art of parliamentary politics. I mean, he even lives in one!

As it happens, Henrique Capriles is the leader of the opposition in a similar way as David Cameron is the leader of the British Conservative Party. As such, Capriles has to juggle many interest groups, and keep his coalition intact. There are the fire-breathers and the appeasers, the dinosaurs and the students, and everyone in between.

So far, Capriles has done a masterful job of keeping this coalition together. The MUD is still the MUD, and unity inside the opposition is strong. Sure, sometimes he makes mistakes, and other times he steps on people’s toes, but all in all, the fact that we have united mayoral candidates with few dissenters is beyond surprising.

Leaders of coalitions have their good days, and their not-so-good days – just ask Cameron. Today, his own Parliament rejected his plea for authorization of military action against Syria.

If there is one thing observers of parliamentary democracy know, it’s that leadership positions can be called into question, poked and taunted, but you don’t remove leaders at a whim because that simply undermines the whole idea of coalition building. David Cameron will not lose his job over this.

Quico should know it takes a political earthquake to bring leaders down, something Margaret Thatcher or Gordon Brown know all too well. Sometimes it’s a lost election. Other times it’s a serious political mistake. And other times it’s simply the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Capriles is nowhere near this level of danger. After the April election, most in the MUD view him as a stronger leader, not as a weaker one. Yes, there are grumblings. No, they are not serious. Capriles will live to see many more days at the helm of the MUD, as surely as Cameron will go back to Downing Street tomorrow.

There may come a time when calls for a change of leadership from backbenchers such as us will carry some weight. Right now is not that time.

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  1. That’s an interesting observation. It seems to me that Quico was being deliberately provocative, and it launched an interesting discussion, which continues, but you’ve highlighted one of the great merits of a parliamentary democracy in that the system encourages compromise.

    Capriles is not the leader of the opposition, in the parliamentary sense, so I guess the answer might be you are comparing apples and oranges. On the other hand, Capriles is the leader of a democracy movement. There is no constitutional status or term for that title, but there is precedent. And in being a leader of a movement that has interests across the political spectrum, from disaffected marxists to grannies in Altamira, you’ve got to do some gymnastics to keep the whole thing together. And the leader of such a movement is in a sense always going to be judged by his last performance, fairly or unfairly.

        • A considerate proportion of Britain’s population thinks he is an unprincipled bloke. Lucky for the Tories Labour is in such completely disarray now.

          On the foreign policy side Cameron seems to be a mere pawn of BAE and other military commercial interests (and no, I don’t talk about Syria, just follow the news for the past couple of years).

  2. Do you mean a couple of guys from his own party?
    In parliamentary democracies there are rebels within any party at controversial (and this is more than controversial) issues. There was nothing special about Cameron’s action, this is usual procedure in these democracies.


    It is comparing apples with pineapples. There is freedom to vote according to your own conscience (actually, it was supposed to be like that in Venezuela, the Talanquera law is anti-constitutional)

    Capriles is not usually grilled as in a parliamentary democracy. No one is grilled in Venezuela in such a way. There is basically no experience of real debates, parliamentary or otherwise, in Venezuela and very little, for that matter, in Latin America. There seems to be no desire to promote that.

    Capriles does not have a shadow cabinet. Everyone seems to be speaking very vaguely about nothing: more education, less money for foreign dictatorship are nice slogans but more concrete stuff is needed.

    Capriles needs to let some people become specialists on something and be the ones insisting particularly on certain issues, but he does not have the power or the will to do that
    (I don’t know how it has been arranged).

    It’s a little bit like a Caimanera where everyone seems to recognise Capriles as main cayman but there is no consequence to that leadership.

    He can’t do everything on his own and I don’t see him delegating appropriately.

    • If you check the MUD’s site, every week there are policy statements by policy experts on the different “program areas” of the MUD. They meet regularly.

      And the MUD+(the late)Comando Bolívar produced a policy outline for both elections.

      It’s a sort of collective shadow cabinet.

  3. On February 12, 2012 we didn’t go to the polls to choose leaders. We voted to elect candidates. Leaders aren’t chosen by definition.

    After all he’s been through, he’s clearly become the standard-bearer of the opposition, but to call him a leader, the indisputable one, is unrealistic to say the least. Don’t you realize his current irrelevance? There’s no denying Capriles has shown improvement as a presidential candidate than we ever thought him to have, but not enough to break Chavismo apart when the right time came.

    I like the guy but you need to understand there are no real leaders in Venezuela for the time being. The Venezuelan leadership crisis is far from over. Even Chávez belonged to that group. Few can get he actually bought his leadership with oil money.

    • Gabriel,

      I always felt repulsed, utterly repulsed by Chávez, since I heard him in 1992. Still, he had leadership among his people. This is not something you or I decide. Yeah, we are going to Goldwinize ourselves here but Adolf Hitler also had leadership.

      There is a book I would like to give to Capriles, but more importantly: to the hundred most promising oppo politicians in Venezuela:
      I wonder how many would read such a book…how many of them have ever read any book they didn’t need for secondary school or university (I don’t count Coelho stuff as books)

      Of course, in a country so deeply into cargo cult, it takes more than a TEAM of people with rhetorical skills to change things. The personal purse of more people have to be emptier for things to happen.

      • Of course it is not a matter of whether Capriles is a leader of not( and he is a leader), it is a matter of what kind of leader he is, and also a matter of the attitudes others have towards him, which actually forms part of the leadership itself.

        *Leaders do not lead alone.They lead together with their followers.* It is all one Gestalt.

        The basic problem I see with this particular Gestalt, is that not enough people feel free to exercise a critical eye, even respectfully.This, I find scary because it reminds me that the opposition is not a real democracy where the freedom of individual opinions flow , and where a large body of people turn a truly discerning eye towards the leader.

        One thing is to unite in order to consolidate power ( recognizing that the ” one” is made of up of a diversity of people) and the other is to make efforts to stifle that diversity in order to create the ” one”. I think the first is more flexible and powerful than the latter.

        I have been rather disappointed since the idea started to float that God’s time was perfect, though I recognize that for the time being,the way it is , is all we got.

  4. The way a parliament works is so different than how the MUD works that makes you argument a little weak. Capriles is not only the leader because he has leadership qualities. He was also legitimized as a leader by direct elections (something David Cameron did not get). Also, none of the stake holders in the MUD were elected, nor they have terms (but parliament members do).

    The way you have described Capriles situation within the MUD, just isn’t real. Yes, he has been a good politician keeping stuff together. In this sense Chavez was even more brilliant than David Cameron. Also, no one is saying that he should no longer be the leader starting today, but until when he will be the leader? When the lack of results will start affecting him? The lack of strategy? Long term thinking? How about willing to do the exact same things that we criticize as being harmful to the nation?

    As Kepler said, such an earthquake will not come unless we grilled him. Grilling is good for a candidate. But it has to be good grilling, not about his sexual orientation or if he came from a wealthy family or what not. But we must ask him what is his plan, and how will he execute it and challenge that plan to make sure is good. He must get grilled by giving away free goodies and when he practices the cheapest clientelism.

    • If you truly grill a responsible candidate before he has won an election he probably will come out with ideas which are to our liking but which can be the kiss of death if revealed to an uninformed and ignorant public or to enemies which will use misinformation and manipulation to distort those ideas or their implications , also many ideas will not be in complete form because they have to be developed later depending on the circumstances of the moment .
      At this time he has to be “all things to all men” if he is to have a chance to win future elections against an entreched and unscrupolous adversary .
      The great conundrum of democracies is that they impose on candidates a certain need for disingeniousness because total transparency or an unfortunate slip in the way of explaining things can lead to total electoral defeat .
      He can come up with something a bit vague and broadly persusive , but to go into any kind of detail spells risks which a reasonable public man will want to avoid.!!
      By happenstance I may have some idirect inkling to what his in pectore program might look like , and its not bad .

  5. You are helping the Chavista’s by giving them openings to explore against Capriles. Unless you have somebody in the wings, who is willing to put their life on the line everyday, who can assume a leadership role immediately, and who is as capable as Capriles, then use your common sense. Venezuela is facing the ultimate takeoever, from which your country can never recover from, in your lifetime.

    Of course Capriles is not perfect, but neither are any of us.

    • Stuart I agree with you mostly, however I think that Capriles has made some mistakes that have largely been embraced by the general oppo public as a form of ‘ higher knowledge’ coming from a perfect Master, and to the extent that others have a right to opine on strategy,adding their 2 cents to the body of knowledge, the opposition could grow stronger, in my opinion.

      There is criticism that is constructive, and then there is criticism that destructs.

      But I have seen a lot of blind belief and blind belief is dangerous.

      You are correct in saying that nobody is perfect,which is why a blind belief is so off.

      • Capriles has made mistakes, that is for sure. And he will make many more in the future. I am so happy for that because if he didn’t make mistakes it would mean that he was sitting on his ass, in complete safety. But Capriles is at ground zero.

        Of course, Capriles is not alone in devising and implementing the strategy to save Venezuela. But, unless they make some obscene, rediculous, or stupid action, Capriles must be supported wholeheartedly. He is the only legitimate leader the Venezuelan opposition has, in this most dire (of dire) periods. As I stated previously, divisions in the opposition opens up salients for Mr. Maduro to exploit.

        So then, why would someone who loves Venezuela, as you do firepigette, not be willing to suck it up and make lightly of these mistakes. Once Venezuela is free again then Capriles or anybody should and will be open game. But if Venezuela is not to be free again, in our lifetime, then these Capriles’s mistakes, which maybe could be presently repaired, would serve what purpose?

  6. In Quico’s article we had a small discussion about the limitations of Capriles’ leadership, that is, how do we decide whether he should keep on being leader. In my opinion, he should be leader for as long as he’s the best person to do so. OK, I get that doesn’t sound too great, but firstly, you have all of the arguments about hard work, unity, etc that have been developed but secondly, it offers a feeling of trust and certainty. Emiliana covered this right after Chávez’s death, that Venezuela was just in a state of unpredictable anxiety. Chavistas lost their greatest asset, Chávez, and the idea that his leadership and love would make things right in the end, even if they were bad right now. The opposition needs to be very clear that as a whole (and with Capriles as leader) they’re gonna go through with this until the end, otherwise people simply won’t trust.

  7. The earthquake metaphor is apt. These things move tectonically, underground, undetected, for years before they reach critical mass and all hell breaks loose. It took Maggie Thatcher a decade of patiently pissing off different constituencies in her own party before the poll tax rebosó el vaso and she got unceremoniously dumped.

    The breaking point comes at different times for different people. For me, handing out PRIVATE CONSUMPTION GOODS to followers USING STATE FUNDS is the breaking point. I’m more than aware that I’m a bit of an idiosyncrat for drawing the lint there, I understand we’re nowhere near a tipping point. But I respectfully reserve the right to call bullshit on evident corruption of this kind. The sooner y’all join up the better.

  8. (Incidentally – though oddly this may count as OT – I also don’t understand at all how David Cameron gets to keep his job after losing a vote like that…a mi la constitucion inglesa me la enseñaron distinto…)

    • The English Constitution, unwritten for the most part, now allows governments to lose votes which are not “confidence” votes. In cases of doubt, the government lets it be known that it will treat a specific resolution as essential or non-essential.

      Of course, a Parliamentary majority could alter the resolution to include a preamble reversing the government’s view on essentiality. Then, a loss would defeat the government.

      Especially since the rise of a three party system, the older rule, in which a single lost vote meant resignation, has been modified to allow for more stability in office, and more freedom for smaller parties to dissent.

    • 1855 last time UK PM defeated on war & peace in Parliament. Lord Aberdeen lost vote on Crimean War. Also led coalition. Resigned day later!

  9. I ve read a lot of history biography and sometimes have even had a ring side seat to the spectacle of good people trying to do good things in a muddled and uncertain environment and have discovered :
    1.- that even basically good people have blind spots , flaws, frailties in some dimension of their personality or judgment or have to sacrifice their personal preference if they are to achieve what they want to achieve .
    2.- that judgment and decision making are full of ambivalent and ambigous situations no one can scape from so that people sometimes do what cant be cleanly categorized as good or bad but as equivocal despite the good intent that guides them.
    3.- that everybody , but everybody makes mistakes , incurrs in ocassional error , that no one has a 1000 batting average . In fact that making mistakes is just part of doing anything and that we must learn some tolerance for peoples mistakes and for our own mistakes when they inevitably happen . 4.- That leadership is not about just leading but about coaxing, nudging , seducing people to do things they may not do spontaneously or on their own initiative .

    • … and many other things! But, it only takes one of them to be the “tragic flaw” which reveals itself on “hindsight”.

      • Even the wisest and the brightest are never free from the possibility of mistakes or flaws nor free from those blows of chance and happenstance that can ruin the best laid plans , the most intelligent efforts at the turn of a dime . Most people underrate the influence of chance in success or failure , think that it all comes down to being right and rational in what you do , but if your read history , specially millitary history you realize that all you can do is give yourself better odds at success but that ultimately there is an element of chance that can appear out of nowhere and completely turn the fate of any endevour !! It is said that wars are not won by whoever makes no mistakes but by he who makes the least mistakes !! It is here where the Chavista leadership gives the opposition its greatest advantages !!


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