General Election 2015: If party leaders were CEOs

Two Daves and their cuts, Farage's potty-mouthed doppelganger O'Leary and Sturgeon's very own Stelios.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 25 May 2015

1. David Cameron

Riding a husky-driven sledge in the Arctic, cycling to work (with his papers in a car behind him) and of course the infamous ‘hug-a-hoody’ speech, the super-smooth Cameron was notorious in his early days as Tory party leader for publicity stunts promoting his green, nice-guy credentials.

Another leader fond of a good photo opportunity is Richard Branson, who has done everything from dressing in drag to failing to sail a hot air balloon around the world. For now, though, Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson seems to have taken up her boss’ Bransonian mantle – this election cycle she has developed a penchant for playing the bagpipes badly, driving a tank and looking positively ecstatic to be cradling an enormous fish.

Meanwhile, Cameron also bears a suspicious resemblance to a fellow Dave – Tesco’s ‘drastic’ new boss Dave Lewis. Both inherited a creaking organisation with skeletons in the closet and share an enthusiasm for cuts. It remains to be seen whether Lewis will have more success rehabilitating a toxic brand than his political doppelganger.

2. Nicola Sturgeon

From being the relatively unknown SNP deputy to sweeping all before her in the Scottish polls and the public’s hearts both north and south of the border, Nicola Sturgeon’s political transformation has been both assured and largely unexpected.

Another female leader that has both confounded critics and rattled rivals is EasyJet’s Carolyn McCall, who was dismissed as a ‘media luvvie’ when she moved from the Guardian Media Group to pilot the budget airline. Five years later the company is in the FTSE 100 and has forced fellow cheap ‘n’ cheerful Ryanair to follow it in ending the austerity of unallocated seating and paying if you forget to print out your boarding pass.

We’ll have to wait until next week to see whether Sturgeon, who isn’t even running for a spot in Westminster, will able to force the same distaste for cost cutting on a Labour government. Alex Salmond will be leading the charge in parliament down south, but will Sturgeon’s former boss turn out to be a thorn in her side a la Stelios?

3. Nigel Farage

Both have made a name for themselves spouting controversy they claim everyone else is just too scared to admit they agree with: Nigel Farage and Michael O’Leary.

The UKIP leader’s bloke-down-the-pub diatribes are reserved for the EU (President Herman van Rompuy has ‘the charisma of a damp rag’), immigrants (who have left Britain ‘unrecognisable’) and working women (City mothers who take time off are ‘worth less’ to their employers than those who don’t, apparently). Meanwhile, the Ryanair chief exec, who is presumably in favour of the EU and immigrants insofar as they provide more passengers, directs his sweary outbursts at passengers (‘stupid’), his industry (‘full of bullshitters, liars and drunks’) and himself (‘unemployable’).

Credit: Ryanair

But the budget airline boss had a tango-flavoured Damascene moment after a brace of profit warnings in 2013. ‘If I’d known being nicer to customers was going to work so well, I’d have done it ages ago,’ he admitted recently. Pigs may fly before Farage has a similar epiphany about immigration.

4. Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband and Paul Polman are both on a mission to reshape capitalism - although they’re selling it to rather different audiences. The Labour leader is after votes. The Unilever chief exec, meanwhile, has to convince ever-sceptical shareholders that making the consumer goods giant sustainable is good for long-term growth.

Neither man exactly sets a stage on fire either – although Polman, who started training as a priest before discovering the joys of soap and Marmite, hasn’t been known to forget entire sections of a speech. No word on his kitchens or skills with a bacon sarnie either.

5. Natalie Bennett

They share a colour scheme and are both up-and-coming outsiders in markets ripe for disruption: the Green Party and renewable energy supplier Ecotricity. The former, led by Natalie Bennett, has some pretty out there left-of-centre policies, including axeing road building, replacing GDP with ‘Adjusted National Product’ to take environmental degradation and unpaid work into account and banning everything from battery chicken farming to the import of exotic pets.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince also has some unusual ideas, in this case about how to run a football club. Unlike Bennett, he can actually implement them. Cotswold-based Conference team Forest Green Rovers is a meat-free zone for both players and fans, the pitch is organic and the black and white shirts were changed to, you guessed it, green. They diverge, though, when it comes to expensive divorces: the Aussie politician lives with her partner in London, while Vince's ex-wife has just been granted the right to claim cash off him 20 years after they split up.

6. Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg burst into the national consciousness in the 2010 General Election campaign as a hugely popular fresh new face (‘I agree with Nick,’ anyone?). But the former EU staffer was lacklustre in power as he u-turned over tuition fees and then failed to get electoral reform past a sceptical public. Now the Lib Dems are set to lose more than half of their 57 seats and are staring down the barrel of defeat next week.

Also battling to maintain market share after being hailed as a guy who would get things done when he took the job, Marks & Spencer’s Marc Bolland has repeatedly disappointed, with the all-important womenswear sales still not turned around.

Credit: Marks & Spencer

Clegg may be out of a job next week – or he may be negotiating to form another Coalition. Maybe it’s time for Bolland to start looking into joint ventures, although calls for his head have been remarkably absent.

7. Leanne Wood

You probably hadn’t heard of Leanne Wood before the seven-way party debate last month. You still may not have heard of her. But the Plaid Cymru leader is making waves in her own way as boss of what will be Wales’ third or fourth-largest party come next week and a welcome senior woman in politics.

You may not have known who Jill McDonald was either, before she was appointed boss of FTSE 250 bike and car parts shop Halfords in March. But as boss of McDonald’s in the UK and north west Europe, she arguably ran a bigger business than many of her plc counterparts. The FTSE 250 could definitely use more women – as could the upper echelons of politics.

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