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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
The ABC of power
"Alphabetism" may boost Bush, Berlusconi and Blair
A, B and C stand for success in politics while X, Y and Z are for oblivion, suggests a new survey into the phenomenon of "alphabetism".

G7 leaders
Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and George Bush are prime examples of the unusually high number of people with surnames in the first half of the alphabet who have reached the political peak.

The names of six of the seven G7 leaders, the world's three top central bankers and the five richest men all start with letters between 'A' and 'K', a survey for the Economist magazine has highlighted.

Family names in politics - whether it be Bush, Churchill or Kennedy - have often proved enduring but the new evidence gives them added importance.

U-turns have blighted many political careers but u-names may be an even more dangerous threat if the theory is right.

Letter of the law-maker

As many as 26 of George W Bush's predecessors as American president had surnames in the alphabet's first half, compared with 16 in the second half.

Boris Yeltsin, former president of Russia
'Y' did not stand in Yeltsin's way

With efforts under way to tackle other kinds of prejudice, the discrimination of "alphabetism" remains untouched.

Taxi firms are known to fare better if they start with 'A' as customers find them first in the phonebook and the new analysis suggests the principle used for a cab journey could be same for the path to power.

Conservative leadership challengers Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith may be thankful they are just one letter apart at the top of the alphabetical pile.

The Economist's Pam Woodhall says some people with names further down the alphabet may be held back, although others clearly do break the discrimination trap.

"It could be coincidence but from the view of somebody who has a surname beginning with 'w', I remember experiences at school that suggest there may be discrimination," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Back of the class

Ms Woodhall said people with surnames starting with letters low in the alphabet often sat at the back of class in school, meaning they often were not asked to participate.

"With some people, it might mean poorer qualifications in exams and, more important, you get less confident in speaking in public, which I think is why politicians get higher if they are in the first half of the alphabet."

George W Bush
The Bush name is made even more important
Ms Woodhall acknowledged company directors were one big exception to the phenomenon, with nine of the ten heads of the world's biggest firms having names in the second half of the alphabet.

"One possibility is that to run a company you really need to battle against the odds," she added.

Labour MP Tony Wright said he too was a victim of the serious problem of "alphabetism".

The phrase 'alphabetical order' ought to send a chill through everybody

Tony Wright MP
He listed Asquith, Attlee, Baldwin, Callaghan and Churchill as among 12 of the 20 British prime ministers in the last century with surnames beginning with the first five letters of the alphabet.

That compared with only three whose surnames started with letters in the alphabets final 13.

"Even one of those doesn't count because he was Salisbury and his real name was Cecil," said Dr Wright.

Alphabetical discrimination

The phrase "alphabetical order" should send a chill through everyone in the country, argued the MP.

"It sounds fair, it sounds random, what it means is systematic discrimination against those at the bottom of the alphabet."

The only solution was to stop alphabetical order "in its tracks", added Dr Wright.

Whether his words are heeded might be depend on whether the suggestion is filed under 'A' for action or 'W' for wastebin.

Pam Woodhall, of The Economist
and Dr Tony Wright, MP for Cannock Chase
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