It’s tough doing business in China … and in America

May 29, 2010

Western business has developed a mindset that it’s tough doing business in China. This year, international firms are reaching a similar view over doing business in America

In the gossip of business airport lounges around the world, it has been a regular refrain that doing business with China is worthwhile but tough. This tallies with the received wisdom in textbooks on international business. Cultural differences and subsequent misunderstandings are often mentioned.

Maybe it’s time to look also at how doing business with America is also fraught with the difficulties of cultural differences for international organizations. When ‘normal relationships’ are disrupted, the rules of the game are found to be different from what was assumed to be the case by the organizations at the centre of the dispute..

The Toyota Case

Toyota has been remarkably successful in its growth into a global superstar. Then a well-reported crisis occurred which in shorthand was labelled as a safety issue. Toyota took steps internationally and was criticised for lack of speed of response. The criticism was particularly harsh in the United States. A legislator made a highly-charged statement about the dangers of buying any Toyota car. An earlier Leaders We Deserve post noted

Toyota is experiencing one of those crises which can rock a company to its core. Shares plummeted, as the company prepared to recall eight million vehicles globally because of problems with accelerator pedals on seven models. At a Congressional hearing on Wednesday, [Feb 3rd 2010] US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood alarmed both investors and consumers with the advice, which he later retracted, that owners of a recalled Toyota should “stop driving it”.

This week, [May 2010] lawyers in the States are reported as bidding for the lucrative business of suing Toyata through the courts. It’s tough doing business in America.

The BP case

BP Oil Spill has become one of the most damaging ecological events in recent memory, as well as a personal tragedy to many individuals including the casualties of the initial burst. The case differs from that of Toyota. However, it has some parallels in the confrontational public stance taken by the US Government. Mark Mardell BBC’s North America editor commented as BP claims success in efforts to stem to oil leak:

Remember President Obama saying he was going to pursue BP “aggressively”? Remember him talking of the “ridiculous spectacle” of the companies involved in the spill making excuses [to Congressional hearings]? The aggression hasn’t lessened, as BP tentatively proclaims the success of its plan to suck up the oil and gas spilling out of the ruptured pipeline into a storage ship. First the secretaries for the interior, Ken Salazar, and homeland security, Janet Napolitano, sent a stern letter demanding to know if BP really meant what it said when it promised to pay all the costs. Now another barbed statement has followed.

“This technique is not a solution to the problem, and it is not yet clear how successful it may be. We are closely monitoring BP’s test with the hope that it will contain some of the oil, but at the same time, federal scientists are continuing to provide oversight and expertise to BP as they move forward with other strategies to contain the spill and stop the flow of oil. We will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead, the spill is cleaned up, and the communities and natural resources of the Gulf Coast are restored and made whole.”

Mardell has taken the view that President Obama was aware of criticisms levelled at the previous administration of its tardiness and insensitivity to the human suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His current public stance has a calculating ring to it. There is talk of retrospective legislation to recoup all damages consequent on the spill.

How tough is that?

Such talk from the Chinese government would produce the ‘difficult to do business in China’ reaction. Maybe Global Business leaders are starting to whisper about the ‘difficulties of doing business with the Americans’.

Acknowledgements

Image from Congressman Zach’s webpage, showing the Congessman in robust form at a hearing with Chinese officials [June 2009] to examine discrepancies in the trade relationship between China and the U.S.A.


Strategic Competitiveness in the 21st Century

May 28, 2010

Review of Ireland and Hitt’s Classic Article:

Ireland, R.D., and Hitt, M.A., (2005) ‘Achieving and maintaining strategic competitiveness in the 21st century: The role of strategic leadership’, Academy of Management Executive, 19,4, 65-77 (Reprinted from AME 1999, 13,1)

Strategic Leadership has become an important element within the field of leadership studies. An article written in the 1990s represents a perspective of two experts in the field and has been widely cited. The authors had previously completed a study of performance studies of high-growth entrepreneurial firms, and drew on their findings of ‘the new competitive landscape’

Defining Strategic Leadership

According to Ireland and Hitt

Strategic leadership is defined as a person’s ability to anticipate, envision, maintain flexibility, think strategically, and work with others to initiate changes that will create a viable future for the organization

The Lone Ranger Leader

The broad thrust of the article is that changing environmental conditions in the late decades of the 19th century were met with a shift in behaviours of organizations and organizational leadership. Furthermore, the authors argue that ‘being able to exercise strategic leadership in a competitively superior manner facilitates the firm’s efforts to earn superior returns on its investments’

In ‘the new competitive landscape ..in the 21st century, the ability to build, share and leverage knowledge will replace the ownership and/or leverage of assets as a primary source of competitive advantage’ (64). As a consequence a shift was occurring away from The Lone Ranger or as Senge termed it The Corporate Hercules concept of the Great Leader to The Great Group.

From The Great Leader to The Great Group

The concept of the great group was introduced by Warren Bennis in his text Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Ireland and Hitt drawing on Bennis and Charles Handy argue that

“[Great groups] usually feature managers with significant profit and loss responsibilities, internal networkers… Top managers …have shifted the locus of responsibility to form adaptive solutions from themselves to the organization’s full citizenry.”

The authors write of corporations becoming learning communities, a view shared by learning theorists such as Etienne Wenger and organisational experts such as Charles Handy.

Towards 21st Century Strategic Leadership

The paper describes six components of the emerging strategic leadership approach:

Strategic Vision: Establishing a creative vision through a Top Management Team (a special kind of Great Group). Some role-model leaders quoted are rather reluctant to depart from the older view that “the only person who can do that is the CEO”.

Developing Core Competences: Particularly important is privately owned knowledge. Viable firms are increasingly dependent of nurturing the knowledge base throufh encouragement of innovation enquiry.

Human Capital: This is a broader version of the assets within the firm’s ‘entire workforce or citizenry’ (70). The efforts of the TMT will be increasingly directed to nurturing and talents of all employees.

Sustaining Culture: Successful firms are associated with a culture which enhances positive reactions to challenges of change.

Ethical Practices: The importance of establishing ethical norms is noted (and some subsequent ethical pitfalls anticipated, prior to Enron and the 2008-9 Finanacial Crisis).

Balanced Controls: The older idea of top-down control through objective financial demands is replaced by a more complex balance of strategic and financial controls. The new conditions call for strategic ‘information based exchanges ..with emphasis on actions rather than outcomes [which] encourage lower-level managers to make decisions that incorporate moderate and acceptable levels of risk.’

The Leadership Model Evaluated

Ireland and Hitt provide a valuable integrative analysis of views of the successful 21st century organisation embedded in its fast-changing, turbulent and global environment. It is no surprise that some of the leaders cited for their practices are no longer considered role models. That in a curious way supports as much as weakens the broader conceptualisation provided in the article.

A close reading suggests that the model is more an ideal to be explored and tested than a strongly evidence-based description of emerging practices. When leaders offer quotes about ethics, or participative, team-based strategic leadership, the management scientist in me warns of the difference between espoused theories and theories in use (as Argyris puts it).

Readers may also want to go a little further than the authors in considering that the implication of the ‘pure’ Great Groups model would be to challenge the older idea of the CEO as primary agent for setting corporate direction. Nevertheless, the article provides a powerful summary of a conceptualisation of ‘what might be’, a roadmap for strategic leadership into the future.

Update

During the Ukraine crisis attention was drawn to this post for insights into Putin’s leadership style. Is he acting out The Lone Ranger in its ‘great hero to the great group’ splendor?


Saad Hariri: Like Father, Like Son

May 22, 2010

Amer Chehade

February 14, 2005 was unlike any other Valentine’s Day, witnessing the killing of Rafiq Hariri, twice Prime Minister of Lebanon, and also a business tycoon with global political and economical ties

After his father’s assassination, Saad Hariri,was chosen by the family to be his heir, heading his political movement and hence, becoming a key player in the Lebanese political arena while maintaining his business leadership responsibilities within the family interests such as Oger

Despite his limited experience in politics, Saad Hariri, was able to gain and maintain acceptance and respect from national and international co-players. Today [May 2010] he remains Prime Minister of Lebanon with a parliamentary majority.

He continues to manage and influence family business on a part-time basis while occupying the Prime Minister’s post having to keep up with political changes and challenges, even among allies, while tailoring trust in his dealings with rival leaders.

A tough start

Saad Hariri’s political start, though backed by the heavy inheritance of his father, confronted the obstacles of the creation of UN special tribunal set up after his father’s assassination, and political upheavals that marked the period of the 2006 Israeli war and the internal security conflict of May7, 2007. Saad Hariri has passed through these several minefields successfully and now is facing further military and economic challenges.

He has promised to fight corruption, applying Paris III conference aid prerequisites. His cabinet (National unity government) is thinking of raising the State’s income (more taxes/VAT) thus earning further criticisms on economic and political grounds. In some ways he faces a re-run of challenges faced by his father.

Leadership in the genes?

It might be argued that Saad supports the theory of leadership arising from genetic factors (‘born to lead’). It is correct that he is a billionaire ($4.1B), son of a billionaire, a Lebanese leader whose wealth is managed abroad and whose background enabled his political career to flourish quickly.

Saad Hariri is showing, day by day, that, if some of his father’s traits are not inherited genetically, some others are cloned and raised identically. This is evidence that his followers were anxious for a continuance of the leadership style of Rafic Hariri and his political skills at network building with others, even his adversaries. Saad is following the steps of his father by normalizing relations and meeting with rival leaders, always talking peacefully for the good of the country, and the “common interests of the nation”. The son may disagree with many other politicians but like his father has never been caught insulting or gossiping about them. This is evident also in his speeches.

History repeating itself?

Saad Hariri, a few months in the post as PM, and five years as head of Future political movement, is catching up the trails of his father, a proof of and a prerequisite of political resilience against counterparts. Saad Hariri cannot but continue the trail of his father yet has to face his father’s challenges. The pattern of “history repeats itself” and the resemblance of the Son’s trail to his Father’s, make anyone guess that the Son can best reach his Father’s level, as Lebanon faces a simple yet complex formula: The saying is that Lebanon is not allowed to die, yet Lebanon is not allowed to live. This conclusion (and saying) has made me, like many others, seek a better future abroad. It has produced a Diaspora, which included Rafic and Saad Hariri. However, both returned to Lebanon to serve their people and country, I hope I will have my chance some day.

The riskiest dilemma is that Saad Hariri, the Son, to strengthen leadership, his has no choice but to follow the trail of his Father so that he perfectly reflects the saying “like father, like son”. Nevertheless, I hope that he contradicts his father’s trail by at least one of his steps, his very last step…that of February 14, 2005.

Acknowledgements

This post was developed from an assignment set within the Manchester Business School Worldwide MBA Program. The views expressed are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of other parties including MBSW, and Leaders We Deserve.


A History of Charisma: Book Review

May 15, 2010

A History of Charisma, by John Potts, Palgrave MacMillan, 2009 ISBN 9780 230 55153 4

If you like detective stories, you will enjoy A History of Charisma by Australian media scholar John Potts. It may not have been for that genre, but I found myself reading it as a well-constructed and highly intelligent ‘who done it’. It takes a skilful author to make such a page-turner based on a ‘history of a word’. Potts has succeeded by writing in a lucid and intelligent style, sticking to a brief account of less than 300 pages, with a strong historical story line.

He fingers Saint Paul, one of the founders of the Christian church as the person who gave the word enormous significance. “The term ‘charisma’ emerged in the early Christian church of the first century .. was eclipsed as a religious concept by the end of the third century…lay submerged for many centuries with intermittent appearances .. [and] was reinvented in Max Weber’s sociology in the early twentieth century”

What is Charisma?

After an extensive study of popular and scholarly texts, Potts arrives at the view that the meaning of the word charisma has changed considerably from that of its original theological context. We learn that the roots of charisma can be traced to early Jewish and Graeco-Roman cultures and the ideas of gifts (we are familiar with the semantically-related term charity). Paul, educated in Greek was aware of the concept of divine grace which had found its ways into Greek translations of Hebrew texts.

Paul gets a good idea

Or, as Potts writes, “Paul Invents Charisma.” Driven on by what Paul believed to be with a divinely-ordained mission, he set about establishing his own vision for a religion that would survive and replace prevailing alternatives. He needed what in modern secular terms might be called a clear manifesto. He chooses to do this through a relabeling of older ideas under the new(ish) term which we now receive phonetically from the Greek as charisma.

Rise and Fall of Paul’s Charismatic Theology

Paul’s manifesto was enormously successful at first, giving momentum to the growth and establishment of the institution of the early Christian church. Over time, however, there was a shift which saw “the rise of bishops, the demise of prophets … and transition from the rather free-wheeling Christian community of Paul’s time to the structured ministry of the second-century.” Charisma was to move to the margins of Church dogma, often becoming weakened by association with various contrarian views often castigated as heresies.

Thus Spoke Weber

Which is where the term might have languished, if it had not been for the impact of the sociological writings of the great sociologist Max Weber. What might have remained a brilliant but obscure scholarly work in the original German in the 1920s, was translated into and by the 1960s had become part of a popular (if misunderstood) discourse of bureaucracy and social change, including the role of leaders in traditional and modern societies. Such was Weber’s influence that it was assumed to carry with it the original conceptualisation of charisma, as an attribute of a special kind of revolutionary leader. For Potts, Weber misinterpreted the earlier Christian concept, replacing the notion of a spiritual gift bestowed on a community, to that of “a specific form of domination, an individual endowment used by remarkable leaders to command authority over their followers.”

And so to modern times

A charismatic renewal has occurred since the 1960s as a religious movement. Evangelical Christians have rediscovered modes of worship finding strong appeal in The USA, but also internationally (South Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church has been claimed to be the largest Christian community). Potts observed that the religious and secular outpourings with charismatic overtones occurred at roughly the same time and paralleled the emergence of ‘youth culture.. rock stars commanding delirious audiences.’

Charisma, Celebrity and Iceberg Sandwitches

Fame can be traced to acts of stage-managed achievements. Alexander the Great hit on the basic principle by taking along artists, painters, even his own historian-cum- publicist (Callisthenes) on his journeys of conquest. It was Carlyle who spotted in the 19th century how the marketplace for fame could produce heroes who were no more than celebrities with puffed-up reputations. The stage-management persists but now in a form thoroughly mediated by ‘consumer capitalism and a media technology adept at the reproduction of images, sounds and text.’). He points to the expanding scope of the notion of charisma to include places (Berlin); lakes (Lake Como); plays (Pinter’s The Homecoming);and my favourite, a sandwich (iceberg lettuce with dressings which ‘add charisma to its crunch’ ).

Teach-yourself Charisma

Potts is particularly critical of the self-help, unleash-your-charisma literature. He points to the inherent contradictions within the examples he selects. One one hand they remind us that that charisma is special, but on the other promise that (almost) anyone can be special, and rather quickly if their advice is followed. Do I hear an echo of Paul’s warnings about false prophets ? I felt a moment of nausea to learn that a so-called ‘master of charisma’ had been ‘brought into the House of Lords in 1999 to “inject some charisma” into the peers’ speeches, to make them a “little more Clintonesque”.’

Leadership Theory

The recent increase in interest among management theorists is touched on. Work by Conger and Kanungo is seen as confirming Weber’s model of charisma. Their attributional approach (we get the leaders we approve of) also warns against delusional choices and consequent business disasters. Potts also makes an interesting point in suggesting that the transformational model of leadership of Bernard Bass helps understand Weber’s proposals for the ‘routinisation’ of charisma.

Charisma and Political Leadership

Charisma is widely applied in examining political figures. Potts briefly examines recent towering figures from (Jack) Kennedy to Fidel Castro, Benazir Butto, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair (unprepossessing, but with mesmeric pale eyes), and Barack Obama. Among the mostly uncritical enthusiasm for the future President, he notes one article, following Durkheim’s ‘projection of a collectivity’ warning of the dangers of ‘the politics of charisma.’

The Elusiveness of Charisma

In a crisp final chapter, Potts returns to the historical trajectory of the notion of charisma. He starts by offering the narrative of a radical break between ancient and modern treatments. The spiritual meaning introduced by Paul was utterly reconstructed by the secular version of Weber. Or was it? Although the term may have been ‘stripped of its religious meaning, it nevertheless conveys a meaning of “giftedness”, shrouded in mystery…This idea has travelled 2000 years preserving its core meaning: that is, an extraordinary gift.”.

Reviewer’s last words

This was a page-turner. A mystery wrapped up as a work of historical scholarship. I learned that charisma is a term which can be applied to our political leaders and to an iceberg lettuce sandwich. Worth reading by anyone who wants to make any contribution to a discussion on charisma (with or without mayonnaise).


Coalitions and Charismatic Leaders

May 12, 2010

David Cameron and Nick Clegg reduced the complexities of a General Election campaign to a beauty contest between two charismatic leaders. Did they neutralize one another’s impact on the electorate? Does the country now have the coalition it deserves?

Nearly a week after voting ended in deadlock, Prime Minister Brown announced his resignation [10th May 2010]. David Cameron was able to establish a coalition, the first in seven decades, between his conservative party and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. BBC’s Nick Robinson called it the election which nobody won.

Twenty hours ago David Cameron returned home wondering perhaps whether his dream was over, whether, at the last, Gordon Brown would outmanoeuvre him again. Yet it is he who has now brought into being the partnership between two political parties which New Labour talked about but never delivered, he who has agreed to fixed-term parliaments and a referendum on voting reform, he who has made a man whose policies he attacked again and again in the prime ministerial debates his deputy prime minister and put four of his allies in the cabinet. It is an arrangement which will either collapse under the pressure of competing tensions between and within the two parties or it will shape politics for a generation to come. David Cameron took office on a cold dark night issuing a warning about hard and difficult decisions to come. He did so in a manner, however, that suggested he is determined to shape events and not to be shaped by them.

Limits of Charisma

The pivotal episode of the campaign is widely reported as being the three televised debates between the party leaders. It is also now widely held that Gordon Brown performed as was expected, capable in content but dire in delivery. Cameron was not as clear a winner as was anticipated. In the first debate Nick Clegg grabbed the headlines for outshining Cameron and Brown. Cameron, better prepared, also performed better (or at least not so badly) in the subsequent debates. Polls suggested a big swing to the Liberal Democrats.

The simple narrative goes like this. A new charismatic leader appeared and overcame the older charismatic leader. Weber described it as qualities which result in an individual as being considered ‘of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them, the individual concerned is treated as a “leader”.’ (quote from Bryman’s Charisma and Leadership).

The simple narrative would then result in the leader being swept to power. He wasn’t. The lead in the poll faded. It might be concluded that a simple charisma-based explanation does not work.

The Hung Parliament

The outcome was what Nick Robinson called the election which nobody won. So the next act of a drama unfolded. Here it became clear that the calculations were not particularly difficult, but getting a satisfactory resolution was. In the old political numbers game, the Conservatives fell short of the votes needed to run a government without relying on support of the other parties. This could be achieved if a coalition with the Liberal Democrats came about. The departing Government had done so badly, that even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, support from other parties would be needed.

The situation called for some form of resolution through political means (for all its weaknesses, the political system is robust enough to exclude a non-democratic seizing of power by military or monarchist forces). The process involves negotiations, horse-trading, and various bits of political skulduggery, all conducted ‘in the greater interests of the people’. Charismatic leaders leave much of this to trusted lieutenants to reduce the problems of being seen as human beings who might otherwise be accused of duplicity, deviousness, or worse.

What would you have done?

A nice leadership development suggestion. It’s worth playing out as a ‘hypotheticals’ exercise. One team plays Gordon Brown and advisors; another David Cameron et al; a third Nick Clegg and cohorts. Other teams or individuals representing the Media. Make it as realistic as you like. Decide who should approach whom, and in what sequence.

From the evidence of the manifestos and the debates, the Liberal Democrats are closer to Labour in the immediate treatment of the economic crisis; The parties are broadly supported by a ‘progressive’ grouping of the electorate which is essentially anti-Conservative. On the other hand, the ‘numbers’ game suggest that Cameron needs Clegg to form a Government, so a Conservative/Liberal Democratic arrangement is more likely, if each side can find acceptable concessions.

We know now that in the world we live in, Clegg announced he would speak first with Cameron. Brown offered Clegg a cherished goal on electoral reform, and even offered his own future resignation to help the process. Delegates shuffled backwards and forwards with concessions. We also know that Clegg had secret talks with Brown. We also know that the outcome was formation of a coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Might there be other possibilities revealed in the hypotheticals game?

Charisma or Calculation?

Have we seen in this case example the limits of charisma? The eventual numbers of Liberal Democrat MPs were fewer than those in the last Government. Would they have fared any worse if Mr Clegg had not been appointed, and the respected but less-obviously charismatic figure of Vince Cable had found himself in charge of the party during the electoral debates? [I recognise this is still in ‘hypotheticals’ mode, and perhaps of primary value only as an exercise in testing assumptions].

In any event, the outcome encourages us to look into concepts such as distributed leadership, and maybe back to the old sociological war-horse Weber and his notions of charisma emerging in modern institutions ‘in times of great public excitement’.

Acknowledgement

Image, via wikipedia, is of The Coalition Ministry of 1854 as painted by Sir John Gilbert (1855). The Coalition of ‘Whigs and Peelites’ collapsed ahead of an equiry into incompetence in the conduct of the Crimea war.


Ducks Water and Markets

May 10, 2010

We are told by the experts that financial markets don’t like uncertainties. This is about as useful and accurate as saying ducks don’t like water

Week follows week of international turmoil in financial markets. News unfolds rapidly. At the time of writing [10th May 2010] the EC announces a ginormous financial scheme hoping to avoid a domino effect induced by the collapse of the Greek economy. In the UK, we await the opening of the trading markets today, fearful of the impact of the yet-to-be-resolved outcome of last Thursday’s General Election.

This is a time which brings out the worse in commentators. The specific circumstances are avoided, as the experts are invited to explain what is happening. Waking up to such converations this morning, I heard the famous refrain: “Financial Markets don’t like uncertainties” Someone got up very early to share this with me.

Trouble is, the statement is a cop-out. You can translate it as: “Don’t ask me to say something useful about what’s going on. There’s too much of this uncertainty stuff around.” Maybe a few years ago it would have been a surprising thing for a pundit to explain that “markets don’t like uncertainties” to non-financial audiences. Now I expect my taxi-driver to explain what’s going on in such terms.

To trade or not to trade

And it’s not even as plonkingly right a concept as it appears. The one thing which would terrify financial traders would be absence of any uncertainty, that is to say the arrival of perfect information conditions on Earth. Trading relies on uncertainties to permit the exercise of judgement. ‘To trade or not to trade, that is the question’ and then secondary considerations: ‘to sell or not to sell’ and so on.

There is, however, an explanation of why financial folk talk about markets not liking uncertainties. What traders really like is ‘business as usual’ uncertainties within which trading permits big wins coupled with assorted ways of protecting the traders from being directly damaged by losses.

Technically, we should all get a bit more acquainted with the differences between risk management and uncertainties. The former operates with (relatively) trustworthy information. The nasty sort of uncertainties are those which are unanticipated in advance. Now if the financial experts would say a bit more about these concepts, their comments might be more valuable.

Image acknowledgement

Image from Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust


Leadership Lessons from the General Election

May 8, 2010

The General Election of May 2010 produces one of the most expected and feared results, no overall majority. What leadership lessons can be drawn from the campaign and the outcome?

If you are interested in something like the General Election, it’s worth trying to figure out what might happen. The process gives you a chance to check your assumptions. Scientists talk about hypothesizing. That may be a bit grand, but the principle is of putting your ideas into a testable form.

Let’s start with the most unexpected episode of the campaign. For me it was the claimed shift in voting intentions produced by the very first televised leadership debate. Several zillion tons of volcanic ash prevented me watching the programme, although I’ve caught snatches of it since. The event appears to have triggered a substantial electoral shift towards the Liberal democrats through the performance of Nick Clegg. The Government seemed to be facing near wipe-out in the election.

Then, as election day approached, polls reported that up to 40% of those questioned reorted that although they intended to votethey were ‘uncertain’ which way. By then, support for Clegg’s party drifted out to a position that was still higher than expected at the start of the campaign. Labour was still in for one hell of a whacking. Part of me ‘bought’ the idea of nearly half the electorate turning up on polling day still unsure where to put their cross on the ballot paper. Another part of me wondered if the uncertainty was a weakening of confidence in previous tribal certainties. (Incidentally, the 40% figure must have been good news for party activists urging weary troops into one more battle).

What would happen?

Coffee-shop punditry persuaded me towards the view (not really a hypothesis) that the Clegg swing was swinging back a bit in the last week of polling. Conservatives and Cameron to take power by a smidgeon, or maybe there would be a hung parliament. Clegg to be a very powerful player. The electorate would not defy all previous behaviours at the polls. Lesson: you can get carried way with the most recent data and forget history may still offer useful notions of what might happen.

The day after the election

If there had been a Clegg swing, it had come and gone. The Lib Dems had even been marginal losers in seats at Westminster when Parliament reconvenes. Those inexorable laws of large numbers were still in place. They showed that the bizarre one-eyed campaigns of newspaper magnates had not succeeded in talking up Cameron or talking down Brown to any obvious extent. The rise of the right-wing parties did not take place, and even with disenchanted Labour and Conservative votes arguably did worse than the Green party, whose sparkling candidate and party leader, Caroline Lucas won at Brighton. There were regional and local hotspots. Scotland remained a near Tory-free zone. Wales began to feel that a vote for labour was not something inherited along with father’s Union card.

What happens next?

Time for a bit more (not-quite) hypothesising. A few days in which there are opportunities for leaders to make a difference. Although the overall votes for the Liberal Democrats were down, Nick Clegg and his team find themselves much in demand as coalition partners. If they say no to David, then Gordon has publically offered them something that would keep the Government in power.

Clegg has to decide what might be worked out with the Conservatives, to balance off a still-twitchy electorate without missing a change for advancing a cherished cause such as electoral reform. Plaid Cymru had a less-nuanced idea and quickly offered support to the Conservatives for an additional chunk of financial support coming the Wales. David Cameron has to find an arrangement which the king-making Liberal democrats will at least go along with temporarily. My chess-playing instincts suggest this is a time to play some waiting moves, holding the position, and not pushing too hard. That’s one of the skills which become honed in the heat of battle. Less experienced players over-commit. But that’s what I would suggest as a good strategy. What will happen next? All three parties are presenting their most responsible, non-partisan side in their public utterances. The next actions will be wrapped up as being all in the national interest and will produce a new administration which has to confront economic realities with highly unpopular actions.