Labour’s wannabe cheerleaders fail to convince in listless Newsnight hustings

May 30, 2007

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The candidates for deputy leader of the labour party do themselves no favours with disappointing performances in a below-par antiquated and amateurish Newsnight production. Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn do their career prospects least damage. Jeremy Paxton as King Lear is irritated and irritating. A night to forget.

BBC’s Newnight proudly trailed its coup of arranging the first televised debate of the Deputy leadership contest. All six candidates accepted an invitation to appear. The format, set, performances were all pretty dreadful.

Perhaps it was always naïve of me to expect anything enlightening from this kind of speed dating, although some viewers with a taste for black comedy may have found something in the show.

The candidates were each given two minutes for an uninterrupted pitch. This ended with all six standing uncomfortably behind a set of cheap-looking lecterns arranged in a shallow arc. In the next act, Jeremy Paxton asked a series of futile questions. This was followed by the trick or treat game ‘You’ve got to answer YES or NO’ or you will be shown up as the buffoon we all know you really are’. This is usually great fun, because everyone knows that the questions can’t be answered Yes or No. So mostly, the contestants cheated and offered qualified Yes or No replies. At one stage someone answered with a firm Yes, which seemed a surprisingly adequate response.

Tiring of the lack of gratification from this extended play, Jeremy made a remarkable triple-lutz kind of technical move, announcing that he was going to ask each of them in turn a philosophical question. Through some kind act of personal psychological protection I can recall neither question nor the replies it generated. By this time Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman were draped miserably over their flimsy barriers, and Hazel Blears had almost disappeared behind hers.

Overall impact

It would have been an astonishing performance for any candidate to have risen above the nightmarish situation they found themselves in. In a briefer extract from an earlier event, Hazel Blears had seemed to be the most impressive, speaking with warmth and intelligence. These qualities were not so much on view tonight. Jon Cruddas made a reasonable case for a role in which he would gee-up the morale of party activists. Peter Hain was far too weighed down with gravitas. Harriet unconvincing.

Hilary Benn was able, from time to time, to rise above the questioning with intelligent (but not too clever) replies. I thought both he and Alan Johnson offered the promise of something authentic if they were to be elected. Johnson will eventually be able to avoid mentioning postal deliveries. Benn is well on the way to escaping from being son of a loveable but strange dad.

If only

It would have been wonderful if any candidate had found a way of stopping the performance through some act of creative destruction. That would have shown something special. Would it really have been damaging to a political career? But it was not to be. Newsnight’s curiously banal format trundled on. And, yes, maybe I should have just switched off earlier. No wonder leading politicians are reluctant to accept invitations to appear. Newsnight is likely to be a mostly Gordon-free zone over the coming months.


Social Networking and The Manchester Method

May 29, 2007

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The Manchester Method is offered as a case example of an educational innovation which can be analysed within a complex social network

Which sounds very grand and scholarly. I had been offered a ten-minute slot to discuss The Manchester Method at a workshop for educational experts.

Ten minutes is a rather brief time for a public presentation. I consoled myself with the thought that this was five time longer than was granted to the candidates for the Labour Party deputy leader debacle last night.

I futher consoled myself with the thought that one of my points was an example of a realistic leadership challenge in which MBA students were trained to make a one-minute elevator pitch.

So, assisted with such psychological Dutch courage I stepped up to the plate, and attempted to summarize over thirty years of work known as The Manchester Method which has been carried out by a community of practice extending out from my academic homebase of The Manchester Business School, within The University of Manchester, England.

The gentle art of knitting

It is a well-known fact that academics are prohibited from publishing the same idea in more than one scholarly journal. It is less well-known that academics are skilled at the art of knitting a variety of patterns, thus conveying the appearance of producing new product after new product, with minimum change of procedures.

I was thus able to draw on the basic principles of The Manchester Method, outlined in an earlier post.

These were then knitted to meet the request of the workshop organizers to ‘do something about social networking’

Manchester Method as Social Networking


What’s Blair up to? Elementary my dear Watson

May 29, 2007

paget_holmes.pngThe transition now has one recurrent theme. Why does Tony not step down? The transition from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown as Prime Minister is increasingly baffling. Is this a case for M Poirot, or for Sherlock Holmes?

The story takes on the form of a classic detective mystery. Tony has been undertaking a hectic schedule of events, mainly abroad. Shouldn’t the transistion include a gradual transfer of powers? What’s going on?

There may be a whole diary-load of reasons for his globe-trotting . As someone brought up on Agatha Christie, I’m attuned to her favorite themes. The mystery story appears to have many clues, but most of them are red herrings. The key lies in finding the unrevealed clue, and ignoring the rest.

Without cracking the code, we have to consider a range of possibilities: TB may be staying on ‘for his legacy’, ‘to influence the G8 leaders and actions’, ‘to fulfill a timetable for a grand goodbye (leaked memo)’, ‘as a nice advertising campaign and prelude for his next role, for the next role’.

Agatha teaches us that the answer may lie in considering some of these, but the heart of the matter may be elsewhere. If none of them make sense we have to make new sense. M Poirot or even Sherlock Holmes step forward. ‘We’ve got a little job that might interest you, Mr Holmes’

Further developments

Tuesday May 29th 2007. Tony Blair starts a one week tour of Africa in Libya. The meeting here will indicate renewal of links with Libya, and a symbolic start to a big business deal for BP.

Pehaps Lord Browne had been too distracted over the last few months to have been able to persuade Tony to go instead to Siberia, where the company’s future is looking rather less promising


Nurses pay won’t go away. Gordon Brown must have his say

May 28, 2007

_42810465_noreena203.jpgA recommended pay award for nurses in England was partly delayed by the Government. The Royal College of Nursing is to ballot its members for possible industrial action. Politicans back the call. A tricky and possibly important early challenge for Gordon Brown’s leadership. Is there anything he might learn from Nicholas Sarcozy’s first weeks in office?

How long is a leader’s honeymoon period? As long as a piece of string. Gordon Brown has over a month to go even before the nuptuals are celebrated. Already there are malcontents likely to be at the wedding ceremony.

Gordon Brown as Prime Minister will be not be given as much time to find his feet as was David Cameron on his appointment of leader of the Conservative party and wannabe Premier. Brown’s honeymoon will be briefer, if only because he has been in the public eye as a political heavyweight for a more that a decade (and a decade as we all know is a very long time in politics).

In this respect he has something common with Nicholas Sarcozy, the newly elected French president. Sarco had a tricky little test within days of coming to office. As he was preparing to assume the trappings of power he had a little time to consider the rumbling discontent of workers at Airbus.

Now Airbus in the French psyche is not quite the cultural icon as is The National Health Service in the British. Not quite. But combine the threat the French jobs with the traditional willigness for action direct and you are looking at a challenge that had to be dealt with at risk of a bad first impression as a leader. So we might conclude that Gordon has this also in common with the French leader.

The joys of opposition

The circumstances provide one of the joys of opposition. The opportunity to espouse a popular cause. Already there is further support from activists who have enlisted Professional Footballers to the cause.

Gordon Brown in opposition would have been in there with his political opponents (which, as they say, can be found in, as well as outside, his own Party).

According to The BBC

Nearly 200 MPs, including the leaders of both main opposition parties, have backed calls for nurses to get a full 2.5% pay increase this year. Nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been offered a 1.5% rise followed by another 1% in November .. [The MPs also include] several leading Labour figures – the deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas, former health secretary Frank Dobson and former ministers Kate Hoey and Stephen Byers

What might Gordon do?

There is a juicy dilemma of leadership here. Gordon as social reformer would like to find a way of supporting the Nurses. As politican he would also like to win some points for being nice to such a cherished group of workers. As Chancellor, he has already faced the tough financial and political consequences of granting a modest-looking pay award in full and on time. As would-be leader his famous concern for prudence is likely to be gnawing away as he nail-bites his way to a decision.

A tip from across the channel

The parallels with the Airbus case are strong enough to be worthy of consideration.
In an earlier post I suggested that:

There are times in politics, when as in chess, the leader has to find a waiting move. In chess, the idea is to move without disturbing the delicate balance in a complex and dynamic situation. You do best by effectively not disturbing the status quo. … So it was in Toulouse. Facing angry Unions, represtatives of the Company’s French leadership, and the wider international press, he signals two somewhat contradictory positions. Yes, he will ‘stand by’ and ‘do his duty’ to the interests of the French employees. But in the longer term, he does not rule out selling the Government’s stake in the company. I will return, he promises. In July. When he will be accompanied by his new friend Angela [Merkel]. If not masterful inactivity, we have seen an example of how to create a little wriggle room in a tricky situation.

Gordon, who would have made a good chess-player if he had not chosen other pursuits, has to find a waiting move. He will try not to upset the nurses. That would never do. He will try to appear not to have been forced to act by political opponents. That will never do, either.

And so we will not have long to wait to find out what happens next. The next game in the leadership match is starting, and Gordon Brown’s clock is ticking away.

Update

Later, May 28th 2007. Gordon brown’s website has a vote on issues of the week. Voters were opting for the NHS by a narrow margin (over international affairs).


Bank Holiday Quiz: Ten touching tales I never tackled

May 27, 2007

350px-thaivillageflood.jpgEvery day there are leadership stories full of triumphs and disasters. Here are ten recent ones set as a Bank Holiday quiz. Can you remember all ten recent headlines involving (1) Bertie Ahern, (2) Malcolm Glazer, (3) Steve McClaren &amp David Beckham, (4) Armani (5) Stuart Rose, (6) Tony Blair & George Bush, (7) Nicholas Sarcozy and an influential Doctor, (8) Freddy Shepherd, (9) Paul Wolfowitz, and (10) John Charman?

The weather is so bad over most of Europe that I’ve left you opportunity to pass the time on this as a Bank Holiday challenge. Meanwhile, I’m switching TV channels and watching the rain fall on two sporting events in England, a cricket test match in Headingley, Leeds, between England and The West Indies, and the golf at Wentworth.

Similar thoughts seem to have struck other bloggers such as an expat yank.

Here’s a quiz to pass the time away. If you know (really know) the ten tales, you are probably a Francophil Brit (yes, there are a few, honest) with anorak tendencies extending into sport, politics, and the world of business.

If you don’t know all ten, and it worries you, you are a wannabe anorak and a sad case.

Good luck

Hints for wannabe anoraks will be supplied in a future post …


Margaret Hodge: A good time to resign?

May 26, 2007

_42947981_hodge_bbc66.jpgResignation from public office is an extreme leadership decision. It can make or mar a career. But resigning is not necessarily a forced move. Margaret Hodge may find it an option worth considering.

Margaret Hodge has taken a high-profile position over immigration. So high-profile and dangerous that I am inclined to fall back on one of my favorite metaphors – chess as a source of leadership insights. Margaret is in a tricky position, so she weighs up the possibilities, and makes a dangerous move in an attempt to break free. In chess terms, it’s a forced move. Or no-brainer.

In chess, faced with a forced move, a player will sometimes stare at the board, wasting valuable time, looking for another playable move. This is mostly futile. It’s better to make the move and take the consequences, or resign and take the consequences of that.

There might be another move

Even in chess, there may be an overlooked possibility. Training books have examples of positions in which a player has resigned, failing to see an unexpected move. The forced moves believed to lead to certain defeat were not forced after all.

So let’s look at the salient features of the position Margaret Hodge finds herself in. The problems appear to be to do with social housing, the British term for state-provided housing, traditionally controlled by local councils, hence ‘council estates’. But council estates impact on national politics.

A tale of two Margarets

Margaret Thatcher believed that selling off as much council housing stock as possible would be a good step in her social revolution. Her opponents point to that decision as a disaster in its longer-term consequences. According to the BBC

More than 1.5m homes have been sold off since the Conservative government introduced “right to buy” legislation in the 1980s.

The Treasury-sponsored Barker report said in 2004 that Britain needs to build 140,000 new homes a year – of which 23,000 should be social housing units – if housing supply is to meet demand. The Lib Dems say there are 1.6m families on waiting lists for social housing – compared to 1m in 1997.

There are more than 8,000 families on the waiting list in Margaret Hodge’s Barking constituency alone. There is concern Labour voters are turning to the BNP, which blames the shortages on immigration. Labour’s left blames the shortage on Tory “right to buy” policies and the government’s reluctance to build more council houses

It is hardly surprising if Margaret Hodge has drawn attention to the issue. As a Minister of State she has chosen to make broaden the debate.

Ken has his say

Ken Livingstone is well-aware of London’s housing problems. His high-profile actions as Mayor have not enabled him to influence local council housing decisions. His frustration is evident in his observations:

Margaret Hodge is wrong. Far from it being the case that immigrants are jumping the housing queue, the opposite is true, with immigrants naturally finding it very much harder to find their way round a system with which they are not familiar … Instead of making remarks which will be seen as scapegoating immigrants, senior politicians like Margaret Hodge should be working to solve the real housing shortage affecting all communities. [Her] suggestion that housing allocation should be based not on need but factors like length of residence would be catastrophic for community relations. In reality it would quite rightly be illegal to take immigration status into account in allocating housing.

The other move

Even in chess, there are good times to resign. A strong player has some social obligation to ‘go over the game’ afterwards showing where his defeated opponent went wrong. This encourages an early resignation. It’s part of the learning and maturing process for juniors, who tend to prolong the agony rather than capitulate.

So, I’m suggesting that resignation is anything but a no-brainer for Margaret Hodge. If she is right, she is under increasing threat of losing her parliamentary seat. Her own stated estimate is that 80% of white families in her constituency were tempted by the British National Party. At the recent local elections the BNP won 11 of the 13 seats it contested in Barking and Dagenham, making it the second party.

The unexpected move in the wider game would have been resignation from her ministerial duties, so that she could fight more directly for the interests of her constituents. Such actions have more credibility if the leader clearly is prepared to suffer personal damage for the wider cause.

Realistically such a move would have made more sense before she stood for the current election for deputy leadership of the Party. This is unlikely to happen. I offer it as a thought experiment of possibilities for leadership rather than as a prediction.


The Branson Murdoch match: Round Two

May 25, 2007

James Murdoch for Sky TV and Richard Branson of Virgin Media continue to slug it out. Both companies have a capacity to damage the other’s competitive position. As a complete victory for one side seems unlikely, the organizations will have to find ways of co-existing and collaborating, as well of competing.

The dispute

The wider battle was explored by Jeremy Warner for The Independent in February.

It can be traced to the formation in April 2006 of Virgin Media, from the ailing NTL cable company. The move was presented as one which would offer a bundle of services to users. It brought the new company into more direct competition with Sky. Competition in this emerging multi-media context is intricately mixed up with inter-dependence, as services are shared and traded. Sky promptly acquiring a minority stake in ITV. This was seen as a protective strike, as ITV was a take-over target for the newly formed Virgin Media.

It is this move which led to complaints against Sky, and to the decision this week by Secretary of State Alistair Darling to refer the issue to the Competition Commission.

Background

In the last few months the dispute became serious when Sky and Virgin Media failed to resolve a dispute over re-negotiated charges requested by Sky. Customers of Virgin Media were deprived of the disputed bundle of Sky programmes previously accessed through the former NTL cable service.

It is tempting to portray the dispute as a battle between Richard Branson of Virgin Media and James Murdoch of Sky. We can predict Murdoch junior’s actions to some degree. He is unlikely to present himself as anything but the son of superdad Rupert. So tough and mean is likely to be the order of the day. Branson will continue to find ways of representing himself as a benign socially-caring figure.

Meanwhile, the dispute is a bit of a no-brainer. There’s evidence that the combatants have blundered into a messy situation which can turn out badly for all concerned. Corporate attention may be distracted from issues of running creative media organizations to political and legal efforts.

What happens next?

The least violent outcome is a period of increasing lack of progress, followed by some resolution, togther with a bit of cosmetic face-work for the weary warriors. There may even be some creative initiative accompanying restoration of Sky channels for Virgin Media subscribers.

More catastrophic solutions might include a regime change. But recent military history reminds us of the dangers of such a policy. Time-scale for significant developments? Weeks would be possible but unlikely. Months would be unfortunate, and not beyond the bounds of probability. But cash haemorrhaging is a condition which brings even the strongest of egos into line.


Harriet works on her social identity

May 24, 2007

harriet-harman.jpgIn the soporific contest for Deputy leader, Harriet Harman finds a neat way of locating her social identity. In contrast, Hilary Benn struggles with his. However, Benn appears to be a more likely winner.

The battle for Deputy leader to Gordon Brown’s Premiership has been something of a low-key affair. BBC does its best to to pimp it up. We take a social identity perspective on the contest.

John Prescott, Tony Blair’s deputy, is leaving office. In the run-up to the election of JP’s replacement, the BBC’s Nick Assinger points to bookmaker Coral’s misreading of the gender of one of the candidates

“All the money today has been for Hilary Benn to win the Deputy Leader job and we have been forced to slash her odds dramatically”, said Coral’s representative.

Her odds? Not for the first time, Hilary is presumed to be a female name. We can only speculate on any career damaging consequences of such gender rendering.

Assinger also picks up on Harriet Harman’s efforts to define herself. This is actually an interesting issue which indicates how Social Identity approach has much to offer in leadership research.

She told a campaign hustings that Gordon Brown was Radio 4 while she was Radio 2. Make what you will of that – but perhaps it’s John Humphrys to Jonathan Ross. Fit the names to the stations: Alan Johnson, working class boy made good; Peter Hain, smooth former anti-apartheid activist; Hazel Blears, pint-sized cheerleader; John Cruddas, former Blair aide turned voice of the people and Hilary Benn, “modern” son of New Labour’s bete noire.

Social identity tips for wannabe leaders

It is important for a wannabe leader such as Harriet to work at her social identity. The concept has to achieve consensus regarding its elegant appropriateness. Novelty, interest, and (trickier) authenticity are valuable ingredients. Symbolism and metaphors are well-tested rhetorical and creative devices.

Harriet seems to me to have hit on a promising approach for communicating the image that she would like to convey during her campaign. Her suggestion neatly differentiates and defines her, not only against the other candidates but also against the all-conquering Gordon Brown.

[Note for non-listeners to The Beeb: Radio 2 is a pop channel; Radio 4 is seriously elitist].

Straw polls

The contest has not been widely reported in the British news media. I have only seen one broadcast, catching a snippet from a public debate involving all six candidates. Hazel Blears came across as the only one with that little bit extra in presentation style. The other five all seemed less able (or willing) to present themselves in an engaging fashion. I suspect that her style will not be universally admired.

On reflection, the impact of Blears’ presentation, was again, like Harman’s impressive in presenting her social identity, differenting herself for her commitment to the cause and her struggle to overcome diasadvantages in early life.

What the bookies say

Most commentators had been predicting that Alan Johnson remains a front-runner in the contest. He has already succeeded in presenting his own rise from disadvantaged circumstances as an asset, and important part of his social identity. Blear’s story came across as fresh partly because it was less well-known (at least to the majority of viewers learning more about some of the candidates).

The bookmakers offer aother perspective.

According to Sporting Life [May 24th 2007]

Hilary Benn has regained favouritism for the race to become the next deputy leader of the Labour Party.

Bookmakers William Hill have cut his odds from 5/2 to 2/1, making him joint favourite with Alan Johnson, who is also a 2/1 chance.

“After drifting out in the betting immediately prior to the announcement of the six contenders for the contest, Hilary Benn is back in favour with political punters and after a string of three figure bets we have cut his odds to make him joint favourite with Alan Johnson,” said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Hazel Blears is the 3/1 third favourite while Jon Cruddas is available at 7/1, Harriet Harman 8/1 and Peter Hain the 16/1 outsider

Somehow I can’t see any candidate gaining much ground through a charismatic performance between now and voting time. The voting is a three-way split between MPs (including Euro MPs), Party members, and affiliated Unions. The result will be announced on June 21st, 2007.


The Manchester Method as an educational innovation

May 22, 2007

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Thought leader Etienne Wenger has been exploring the importance of communities of practice for at least a decade. His visit to Manchester offered an opportunity for exploring The Manchester Method, a business school approach to developing teaching and learning, as an example of an educational innovation within a community of practice

There is a rhetoric that people are an organization’s most important resource. Yet we seldom understand this truism in terms of the communities through which individuals develop and share the capacity to create and use knowledge.

Even when people work for large organizations, they learn through their participation in networked clusters of people with whom they interact on a regular basis. These “communities of practice” are mostly informal and distinct from organizational units. This term has been growing in significance for over a decade, and is widely attributed to the energetic efforts around the world of Etienne Wenger.

At Manchester Business School, we have been developing an approach to developing business leaders under the rather cryptic title of The Manchester Method.

The presentation above was prepared for a workshop on communities of practice, at The University of Manchester, May 30th 2007.

The over-arching innovation involves the embedding in the Business School curriculum of experience-based learning methods within complex real-life projects. It shares an enquiry-based pedagogic approach which can be found in various related initiatives. For example, The University’s Medical School has pioneered the use of problem-based methods as a significant aspect within its curriculum.

What is The Manchester Method?

The very term suggests that The Manchester Method is a codified set of procedures that have emerged in a specific location and period of time within a process of Business Education. Definition is ‘simply’ a matter of sketching out the nature of the procedures and context. Such a definition is worth attempting, provided we recognise that it will be open to amendment, as precedures change through experience and practice.

Over the years, those of us considered to have been applying The Manchester Method have arrived at various definitions, which may be seen as partial, and open to re-interpretation. This fits nicely with a reputable approach to understanding the nature of knowledge, but does not meet approval of many practical professionals. For the latter, I tend to indicate various definitions to be found in reports of the Method, while warning that definitions are more valuable when taken within specified contexts.

Most attempts at a definition imply a learning process of a kind which permits participants to engage directly with experiences which facilitate informed links being made between the experience, and relevant theoretical concepts.

Antecedents

The antecedents to the Manchester Method were documented in something called The Manchester Experiment characterized as:

a highly practical, learning by doing approach to management education, undertaken in a democratic, non-departmental organisation which was only loosely coordinated from the top [which] symbolizes the continuous process of innovation which has typified the approach to course design at Manchester Business School

From experiment to method

Over time, the utopian ideal of a non-departmental, status-lite organization was to wither away. However, the course content of the MBA preserved some of the historical practices, particularly the emphasis on project-based learning.

Early in a course, projects are well-bounded. They are ‘realistic’ rather than slices of ‘real-life’. Later in the course, projects become more complex, with more ambiguities and connections with real-world issues, sponsors, and budgets. Working within such a context, faculty become willing and able to tackle challenges which had substantial contextual differences from their professional areas. I have little doubt that immersion in such a culture encourages a ‘can-do’ attitude to innovation and change.

It is important to stress that we are not advocating a complete rejection of traditional modes of business education. Rather, we see the merits of a symbiotic relationships between classroom and boardroom experiences. Conventional cases are as valid as the benefits of ‘living cases’ (as one advocate memorably described the projects).

Pioneering influences

The conceptual grounding of the method can be appreciated from its pioneering influences. Significant contributions came from Stafford Beer, through his work on modelling the viability of organizationational systems; from Reg Revans (action learning sets); John Morris (joint development activities); and Enid Mumford (Tavistock psychodynamics within socio-technical systems modelling).

Impact

Assessing the validity of an educational approach is a complicated business. Evidence tends to be contested. Our internal surveys of student satisfaction offer some indications that the approach has considerable appeal.

Advocates (myself included) could be found guilty of action research in which the action lacked research and the research lacked action. However, there has been a heartening increase in efforts to embed the work in theoretical frames, while retaining its action orientation.

Middle-range constructs of interest are emerging, such as the team factors associated with creative leadership.

One team factor particularly relevant to a workshop on communities of practice is that of Network Activation. The process was identified within a Manchester Method study by Susan Moger. It has already attracted attention of researchers far beyond Manchester in further work in The United States, Germany, Malta, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan.


Sarcozy finds some wriggle-room at Airbus

May 20, 2007

Early into his honeymoon period, President Sarcozy finds himself in action at the fermenting Airbus organization. Contrary to his reputation and inclinations, he finds a waiting move, buys himself some time, and preserves some of his limited options.

Airbus was always likely to be an indicator of M. Sarcozy’s presidential style. Politicians may be accused of not listening, but they do listen to the evidence provided by popularity polls, especially those connected with the votes they may be winning or losing in democratic elections.

During his own leadership campaign, his call was for a strengthening of the leadership of the company through attracting new investors to its board. This came through more clearly than his views on the difficulties facing the company, such as immediate production difficulties and the longer-term strategic and governance issues which have been the preoccupations of its chief, Louis Gallois. The plan to address these problems has led to Union unrest not only in France, but elsewhere in Europe where the plans also threaten jobs.

In an earlier post, I suggested that for all Sarco’s intentions, it is hard to see him being in a position to make a difference to Airbus, in the short-term. A gesture of masterful inaction is likely to be his best outcome at the moment.

Kissing Angela Merkel

Sarco has had to balance his new international role with his inclinations to preserve what he sees as a cherished French asset. So he has already made warm overtures to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hamburg’s Airbus manufacturing plant is, like Toulouse in France, facing major job-cuts. The International Herald Tribune acknowledges this as a necessity, commenting from the Toulouse:

As Louis Gallois, the French chief executive of Airbus, noted wryly in a session with reporters here , “He is kissing Angela Merkel every time they meet, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

For Gallois, a seasoned executive with ties to the Socialist Party, the election of Sarkozy injects another volatile element into what is already one of the hardest repair jobs in European industry.

The article further points out that Sarkozy has been sending out mixed messages during his campaign, leaving it unclear whether

… he is, at heart, a free-market reformer or an economic nationalist determined to prop up France’s industrial patrimony. Given his track record and the imperatives of French politics, several experts said, he is likely to be a bit of both. Sarkozy, they predicted, will give Airbus leeway to proceed with cost-cutting, while at the same time moving to strengthen France’s influence over the enterprise.

Sarco finds a waiting move

There are times in politics, when as in chess, the leader has to find a waiting move. In chess, the idea is to move without disturbing the delicate balance in a complex and dynamic situation. You do best by effectively not disturbing the status quo.

So it was in Toulouse. Facing angry Unions, represtatives of the Company’s French leadership, and the wider international press, he signals two somewhat contradictory positions. Yes, he will ‘stand by’ and ‘do his duty’ to the interests of the French employees. But in the longer term, he does not rule out selling the Government’s stake in the company.

I will return

I will return, he promises. In July. When he will be accompanied by his new friend Angela.

If not masterful inactivity, we have seen an example of how to create a little wriggle room in a tricky situation.