Mountaineers V Astronauts

The political world is highly competitive. Hundreds of ambitious people are struggling to reach the top but at each stage many will fall by the wayside and only one person can stand on the summit.

Strategies depend on the skills and temperament of candidates but they can all be broadly classified as Mountaineers or Astronauts.


Political mountaineers always plan their next step with great care. They are aware that one slip can lead to a long fall.

They need to work in teams and really benefit from sponsors further up the cliff face who can lower ropes to help them. If you are a Mountaineer it helps to be well connected.

A successful mountaineer will need to apply dedication and hard work because this is a strategy that takes time and planning to reach fruition. Patience and an attention to detail are essential.

Mountaineers tend to be successful in the public sector or big corporates where they can develop networks and a reputation for team working.

They tend to be good at following rules and they value an objective, evidence based approach to policy making. Mountaineers are usually politically loyal.

The mountaineer’s most valuable asset is their network.

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson is an obvious political mountaineer as are Theresa May, Gordon Brown and John Major.


Political astronauts like to make their advances all in one go. Theirs is a risky ‘all in’ strategy that requires careful preparation and meticulous planning to ensure a safe lift off and arrival at the intended location.

Astronauts tend to be outsiders – there’s not much help from higher up for them. But you can’t launch a successful mission on your own. They need a good team on the ground who will do all the necessary back up work. The best astronauts will recognise and value this support.

Political Astronauts are uncomfortable in corporate structures. Often they will have been successful entrepreneurs or they may come from journalistic or legal backgrounds where teamwork is less important than individual flair.

A disregard for rules and accepted norms means that they are viewed with suspicion by the climbers on the cliff face but they can inspire uncritical adulation amongst their own supporters. When making policy, they take greater account of emotions than evidence. Attention to detail can be a problem.

Astronauts are often political rebels.

The astronaut’s most important asset is their platform.

Current political astronauts include Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson as well as Nigel Farage who built a Eurosceptic movement from small beginnings.


Since 2015 the political climate has been changing.

Almost thirty years of managerial politics which started with the arrival of John Major in 1990 and continued through Blair and Cameron, is coming to an end. It’s a period that delivered prosperity and success for the UK but also saw the transfer of political power away from elected representatives to institutions like the EU, the courts and various quangos made up of experts.

It was a good time for political mountaineers and a lot of people built successful careers on networks and careful planning.

The down side of this culture is that people feel disempowered and disenchanted when they can’t control the change that affects their lives. Politicians are usually much more comfortable with change in society and workplaces than their constituents.

In 2015 the first signs of discontent started to show when Labour members rejected centreist candidates in favour of Corbyn’s leadership. This was followed by a revolution on the right with the vote to Leave the EU in 2016 and the unexpected arrival of US President Donald Trump.

Across Europe and the wider world we can see signs of discontent with the current political model which is out of step with the rise of new powers like China and India and their changing relationships with neighbours and trading partners.

The advance of new technology is also getting faster. The creation of new business models like Uber and the global reach of the internet is leaving legislative processes struggling to manage and regulate the risks.

This is now a good time for political astronauts to launch new ideas and create new movements to support them. Many will explode on the launch pad or land on the wrong planet but some will arrive at their destination successfully.

It’s time to Go Big or Go Home.


Budding astronauts and mountaineers need different strengths but both strategies require some common elements:

A website – essential in the modern political world for raising your profile and engaging supporters.

A set of goals – if you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there.

A political brand – if you don’t know what you are about, how can you let other people know?

I will be delivering coaching on branding and goal setting for ambitious politicians in 2020, as well as speaking about the evolving political culture and its consequences for policy development. Please do contact me to book an exciting session.

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