Please, no more strained Lawrence Wong analogies and cheesy tributes before he even becomes PM

Incoming Prime Minister is a talented, decent man who doesn’t need the countless self-serving platitudes on social media

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (right) was announced as heir apparent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2022.
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (right) was announced as heir apparent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2022. (FILE PHOTO: Betty Chua/MCI)

STOP passing the baton in your Lawrence Wong posts. On behalf of a weary nation, let us make no more references to passing batons and marathons and sprints when it comes to Wong succeeding Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister on 15 May. They are Singapore’s political leaders, not the Jamaican 4x100m relay team.

But that doesn’t matter, does it? Reality never gets in the way of a strained analogy. Just ask the usual suspects on LinkedIn. A rare change in Singapore’s political leadership is the gift that keeps on giving us one stomach-churning post after another.

You see, the impending transition is not unlike a track and field event. There is a baton, a handover and a next lap, because the journey continues, but the handover must be smooth, because the baton is fragile. It’s a little red baton, with a knobbly bit on the end called Pulau Ubin. This baton has no natural resources. This baton must feed itself by 2030. With a gentle squeeze, this baton will play a whimsical version of Dick Lee’s Home.

And, more importantly, if you’re having problems passing your baton, feel free to get in touch. Because it’s not about the baton at all, but another opportunity to flog some executive product in that uniquely Singaporean way.

Honestly, the tenuous connections between Singapore’s political succession plans and a commentator’s personal services have been nothing short of spectacular. Because forming the next Cabinet is like forming the Avengers, according to one or two overeager online contributors, which presumably turns Wong into Nick Fury. Look, I know Singapore’s next Prime Minister plays decent guitar, but he’s hardly Samuel L. Jackson.

Strained analogies and amateur analysis

But Wong will put together a leadership team. Have you ever put together a leadership team? If you haven’t, feel free to send an email to this address and… you’ve been reeled in again! The sleight of hand is remarkable and there appears to be no limit to the strained analogies. Wong is about to upgrade his skills. Are you doing the same? Drop us a note. Are you ready to run the next lap? Sign up for this executive course. Do you look like Lawrence Wong? Feel free to share your likeness on TikTok. (This has actually happened.)

We can’t all look like Lawrence Wong, of course, but we can know him. The poor man has never been more known as media agencies everywhere are duty-bound to produce headlines like “everything you need to know about our next Prime Minister” and “what we know about Singapore’s fourth prime minister”. Having poured through these investigative pieces, I made two spectacular discoveries.

Wong likes dogs and guitars.

There is nothing wrong with either of these revelations. On the contrary, never trust a man who doesn’t like dogs and guitars. It’s just that these headlines might have oversold themselves in terms of granular detail. And it’s not entirely clear what we’re supposed to do with this information either, particularly the media’s borderline obsession with the guitar playing. The viral clip of Wong playing an impressive cover of Johnny B. Goode doesn’t make it clear how this will help with the polycrisis, unless world leaders gather to stage a production of Back to the Future.

Of course, the Johnny B.Goode and Taylor Swift covers are perhaps more indicative of an empathetic 4G leader intent on connecting with all generations, which is fine. It’s the amateur analysis around the guitar-playing that titillates. Wong’s strumming may well represent a cultured, compassionate leader. But then again, Ozzy Osbourne once messed around on a guitar and he bit the head off a bat.

Who really knows?

One can only hope that a national crisis replicates that classic scene at the end of an episode of The Office, where there is panic everywhere, phones are trilling across the Istana, the White House is on hold and someone leans over and whispers, “Prime Minister Wong, go and get the guitar.”

Gushy tributes even before he starts his race

Yes, yes, it’s a joke, a little levity to dilute the rather excessive (and often self-serving) platitudes, accolades and hilarious attempts at amateur psychology for a private individual who is clearly qualified for a job that he hasn’t even started yet (an analysis based entirely on a one-hour TV panel that I took part in, alongside Wong. You see, I can do it, too.)

There’s even a LinkedIn post that eulogises Wong in the form of a cheerleading chant, taking the initials of the beleaguered man’s name to extol his virtues. L is for lovely. A is for amazing and so forth, turning a leadership transition into that Friends episode, where Rachel wears her old cheerleading costume to win over Joshua with a J-O-S-H-U-A chant. It didn’t work out well for Rachel either.

Maybe it’s a by-product of a political system and society that are still coming to grips with a two-party model, a new style of inclusive political leadership and the incongruous footage of a prime minister-to-be playing the blues (though I did once hear Goh Chok Tong sing some impressive karaoke at Marine Parade’s old community club.)

But the gushy tributes for Wong reflect more on us than him, perhaps encouraging outsiders to still see Singapore through a parodic lens of excessive deference as we lavish gushing praise on a prime minister who isn’t even prime minister yet, by applying so many positive assumptions that cannot be proven yet.

Why not hold back, just a little, until the man settles in? Wong’s track record is impeccable, his handling of the pandemic exemplary and his devotion to public service authentic and sincere. He's already earned a nation's trust and patience. He doesn't need the relentless pandering. To borrow that exasperating analogy once more, the baton hasn’t been passed yet and we’re already giving a standing ovation for the winner. Let him run the race first.

In the meantime, stop using our next prime minister for narcissistic likes and clicks or to shamelessly boost personal brands. Write your own pathway. And if you need help with that writing, then feel free to contact me, anytime, day or night.

Stop using our next prime minister for narcissistic likes and clicks or to shamelessly boost personal brands. Write your own pathway.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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