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'I Welcome Their Hatred' - Leaders Who Keep It Real

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Typical hypocrisy? The death of Bob Crow has provoked a flood of tributes from all sorts of people who only days ago were denouncing him, criticising almost every aspect of his being. Why the winter sun holiday, the council house, the six figure salary, the megaphone speaking style? Crow was a "dinosaur", a menace to the travelling public. He "held Londoners to ransom" with the threat of strike action on the tube.

But now, dead at only 52, the truth can apparently be told. Usually prefaced with "while I rarely agreed with him" or words to that effect, the praise has gushed out. He was a fighter, people say, principled, a tough opponent who worked for his members. While he could be noisy in public he was warm and courteous in private. He was a down-to-earth football fan who liked a nice meal and a chat. And he had a good sense of humour.

There is in fact no contradiction between the hostility Crow faced in his too-short life and the generosity of the tributes on his death. The criticism was based on (at times) grudging respect, and the recognition that he was unwavering in his support for RMT members, and could not be bought. He was taken seriously, however much abuse and criticism was aimed at him. Indeed, the intensity of the name-calling betrayed the fear that maybe Crow was being successful and winning at least some of the arguments.

When he was running for re-election in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt told a crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York that he was being opposed by all kinds of powerful figures, in the worlds of business and finance, who wanted to see the New Deal fail. "They are unanimous in their hate for me," FDR explained, "and I welcome their hatred." The President would not be put off by mere abuse.

Leadership sometime means making enemies. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. Mrs Thatcher - for all her faults - understood that too. On her death former opponents were forced to concede that, while her policies may have been (in their view) disastrous, she had pursued them with vigour, and conviction.

There is much talk today that so-called "unspun" political figures - Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage - are the only ones to win significant personal popularity. But the apparent spontaneity and geniality of these two politicians is in fact carefully considered, and rehearsed. It is only skin deep. What Bob Crow displayed was that other, elusive quality of authenticity. What you saw was what you got. The reaction to David Cameron's tweeted photo of his phone call with President Obama last week - deep and intensely felt ridicule - shows the danger of straining too hard for "authentic" effect. Being yourself turns out to be pretty good advice for leaders and public figures. Be yourself and you will waste less energy adopting poses and trying to second guess what public opinion might be.

But the other lesson of Bob Crow's successful leadership of the RMT is that you have to be prepared, on occasion, to upset some people, and "welcome their hatred", to fight the battles that have to be fought. And if people are calling you names it may well be a sign that, deep down, they know you are on to something.

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