Catch-up Part Two: The campaign to become Prime Minister

August 3, 2016

David Cameron ListeningIn Part One I looked at the developing stories from June 23rd 2016, the date of the European Referendum in the UK. To deal with the next part of the story, I have to go back to February, to the start of the months of national campaigning. 

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“I didn’t see that coming” The glorious unpredictability of sport, leadership and life

December 1, 2015

Not a ReviewNot a week goes by without me stumbling over the unpredictability of leadership in business, sport, politics, and more seriously over environment challenges and global conflicts

Being alive brings with it the survival skill of reacting to the unexpected. Fear of the unknown is part of the evolutionary arrangements. Learning from the immediate is another.

My blogging tries to help me, and I hope readers,  to connect up the microcosmic with broader sets of ideas, sometimes known as theories. This weekend there were several moments in which my reaction was “I didn’t see that coming”.

Tyson Fury

Tyson Fury’s win over Vladimir Klitschko was one such story. It involved two excessively large boxers in a sometimes hilarious spectacle of drumming up business for their world championship match. The challenger, Tyson Fury, had a range of attention-grabbing stunts. He heaped on the obligatory abuse belittling his opponent. At one press conference he appeared dressed as Batman and gave a pantomime performance of apprehending The Joker. He burst into tuneless song, dedicating it to his pregnant wife, and once, to his impassive opponent.

His underdog back story of the Gipsy King was already in place, ticking many boxes some with similarities to those of bad boy Mike Tyson after whom he was named.

Boxing, that noble art, risks going down a path of gratuitous violence with increasing suspicions of its integrity of decisions, and welfare of its participants. I watch from to time to time with a mix of admiration and suspicion at the apotheosis of athleticism at the service of big business.

The long-established but aging champion was still widely expected to win, although Fury had his cautiously optimistic supporters among pundits. In the fight, Fury delivered the strategy he had boasted of in the pre-fight nonsense and was the shock winner. I for one was fooled, and perhaps so was Klitschko.

As one report put it

Britain’s Tyson Fury pulled off one of the great boxing upsets as he outpointed Wladimir Klitschko to become heavyweight champion of the world. It was a dour and often messy fight but Fury, courtesy of his superior boxing skills, fully deserved to be awarded a unanimous decision.

Ukrainian Klitschko, whose nine-year reign as champion was brought to an end, simply could not work the challenger out and did not do enough to win.

George Osborne

The chancellor stood up to present his autumn financial statement before a House expecting some humiliating climb down over his plans to scrap financial benefits. Osborne sat down to conservative cheers having found a way of turning a defeat into apparent victory.

He was no longing scrapping financial benefits as announced, he was scrapping his plans. A bemused Robert Peston for the BBC described the ‘conjuring trick’.

So how has George Osborne pulled off the magical trick of maintaining spending on the police, imposing smaller than anticipated departmental spending cuts in general, and performing an expensive u-turn on tax-credit reductions, while remaining seemingly on course to turn this year’s £74bn deficit into a £10bn surplus in 2020.

Well, it is because the government’s forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has increased its prognosis of how much the Treasury will raise from existing taxes (not new ones) and reduced what it thinks the chancellor will shell out in interest on its massive debts.

Or to put it another way, George Osborne is today £23bn better off than he thought in July, and without doing anything at all.

Time to go back to the alleged remark by Napoleon about lucky generals.

Robert and Grace Mugabe

Nothing will surprise me about Mr Mugabe anymore. Or so I thought. Then I read of the expectations of his wife that thanks to a little help from orthopaedic aids, she expects him to rule Zimambwe until he reaches his hundredth birthday. After that  Grace Mgabe is willing to assume the presidency. Grace has already astounded her observers at the speed her PhD was granted from the University of Zimbabwe, following her less successful efforts as a correspondence course student at the University of London.

Lucky Robert. Poor Zimbabwe.

 

 


George Osborne and Joe Root strengthen their cases as future national leaders

July 12, 2015

This week two leaders and their possible successors were tested. Alistair Cook opened the batting for England in Cardiff, and David Cameron started for the Government at Westminster

Here are my notes made at the time, [8th July 2015] which have been slightly edited for clarity purposes.

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The Northern Powerhouse: A Stroll down Oxford Road

March 20, 2015

Oxford Road SICK festivalYesterday, I took the opportunity to breathe in the culture of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, by taking a stroll down Manchester’s Oxford Road

A few hours earlier, driving in to the city centre, I had listened to George being quizzed on his party political broadcast, sorry, I meant his budget speech, the previous day [Wednesday March 17th, 2015].

There has been quite enough coverage of that elsewhere.

My interest had then been further aroused by a caller to BBC’s Radio Five Live who said he was self-employed, and that he believed the government when they said they were creating a Northern Powerhouse. You can feel it in the air everywhere in Manchester, he added.

Really? I thought it was a good time to check on the theory of a spring-time culture which you can ‘feel in the air’ as proposed by Sumantra Ghoshal (1948-2004)

Oxford Road

My route took me through the University campus to Oxford Road just west of the University Hospital. I was heading for the newwly re-opened Whitworth Art Gallery. [Image by Alan Williams]

Whitworth Art Gallery

Lunch-time pedestrians were enjoying one of the city’s four seasons which can all arrive on the same day. Yesterday it was Spring. It was also the time of an artistic festival that had gone in for an eye-catching title SICK. This announced itself with the rather phallic structure shown above.

It also happened to be student rag week. Oxford Road was lined with stalls were erected for money-raising and for all the other motives of the student societies and activists. My image was a glimpse of the Students’ HQ

That Powerhouse Culture

If power translates into culture I could detect signs of a new vibrancy. I had to tread carefully to avoid the installation artworks, [and that was before I reached the Art Gallery]. Once there, the super-modernist surround of the sensational revamp seemed to merge nicely with the Victorian buildings off Oxford Road. My photograph was taken, facing left from the Whitworth’s entrance steps.

View from steps of The Whitworth

So, is the re-birth of The Whitworth part of powerhouse culture emerging in the North West of England, with thriving Manchester at its heart? Maybe. If so, it was summed up in a snatch of conversation overheard as two students hurried past. The accent of one was was more Brixton than Bolton:

” I’s a’ a me’aphor, inni?’ I heard her say.

Today, the eclipse

Yesterday Oxford Road, today the eclipse. Which, I suppose is also important culturally as another metaphor.


George Osborne killed my nanny

March 20, 2014

Nanny StateThe Chancellor dealt a mortal blow to the nanny state in his budget. Or did he?

In the UK, there are two evil monsters in the popular bestiary, the nanny state, and the crazed demon known as political correctness. In his budget yesterday [March 19th, 2014] George Osborne appeared to have struck hard at the nanny state monster and her grip over the pensions of hard-saving workers.

At a stroke he handed control of pension funds back to their rightful owners. And with awareness of confusions caused by that sudden liberation, the grateful pensioners will be able to receive advice from ‘independent advisors’.

Irresponsible pensioners?

Might some liberated pensioners go on a spending spree, and then end as a burden on the state? Not at all, Danny Alexander assured us, and he should know as a coalition partner of Mr Osborne. Savers are responsible people not feckless losers about to splurge their liberated cash.

Getting away from nanny

Anyway, he implied, there may be a few old reprobates who head off to Ibiza and limp home penniless (or Euroless). That is a small price to pay for shocking the country out of the domineering control of the nanny state.

And we all lived happily ever after

Or did we? Mythical monsters are not as easy to kill off as natural species like tigers or rhinos. The nanny state may retreat, wounded but not destroyed. There may be stories coming up about unscrupulous advisers charging for dodgy financial advice over dodgy financial products. I know that’s hard to believe.

The cynical BBC analyst Nick Robinson went so far as to suggest that the pension changes were targeted ‘with laser precision’ at older voters who might be tempted away from the conservatives by the seductive offers from Nigel Farage and his Ukipian vision.

Next stop political correctness gone mad

As George Osborne rests from his labours, the country awaits a champion to liberate us from the dominance of that other monster, political correctness gone mad. I am thinking of starting the anti political correctness party [APCP]. If willing, Boris Johnson would become its leader, or maybe post-Ukip, Nigel Farage.

Credit for nanny state image

Image is from the venitism blogspot


Who spoke out this week against heartlessness and why was the speech reviled?

December 2, 2013

Answer: It was Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, whose other remarks in the same speech were the focus of its negative reporting

I could have begun this post by stating: “Boris Johnson spoke out about social injustice and heartlessness this week [Nov 2013]. His words in this vein were reported as follows:”

“I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling bank notes under the noses of the homeless,” he said.

”And I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed – valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress – as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years.”

The outcry

The speech was mainly however an attempt to re-invent competitive capitalism. The article offered another perspective on Boris’s political philosophy, captured in the speech, and which led to a flurry of critical comments:

Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low IQ and that greed is good.

Mr Johnson, who many believe wants to succeed David Cameron as prime minister and Conservative Party leader, has created an image that is both bumbling and endearing, based on bluster, wit and fundamental competence.

He has survived missteps, including various affairs and a love child, that would have sunk ordinary politicians, but he is a fiercely intelligent debater and funnier than most comedians.

But his comments on Wednesday night in the Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies have created an uglier fuss, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accusing Johnson of discussing humankind “as if we are a sort of breed of dogs”.

Boris and a clue to charismatic leadership

Boris Johnson is regularly described as charismatic. He illustrates the survival of a leadership style that refuses to die away to confirm the arrival of a post-charismatic era. He conveys, as the article suggests a bumbling style, but he conveys also intelligence and charm. Brand Boris is consistently inconsistent.

He defies the assumption held knowingly or not by almost every other politician, that to look foolish is career damaging. This is an almost impossible act to sustain (not looking foolish). The majority of mainstream politicians struggle with the dilemma of appearing authentic, as their mask of omniscience slips.

Will Boris achieve his political ambitions?

Not if the fate of his beloved classical tragic heroes is pertinent. Boris’s destiny is to replay the fate of those who would defy the gods.

In the meanwhile he appears to demonstrate the possibility that ‘we the people’ deserve the leaders to whom we give our unconditional admiration and good will. The leaders we deserve.

Later:

The Chancellor, George Osborne ‘distances himself’ from Boris’s remarks, [Andrew Marr show, Dec 1st 2013]


“Render unto Thatcher the balls that are Thatcher’s,” I thought

September 30, 2013

George Osborne makes his much-trailed speech to the Conservative annual conference. Outside, the journalists were playing the game “which Prime Minister has the most balls?”

The Chancellor starts with goodish joke about entrepreneur and TV personality Karen Brady, who had introduced him. After the warm-up there is golden moment for a powerful follow-up. He missed it with a badly delivered pitch on the Government’s economic record, which was a bald set of statistics.

A grown-up party and HWPs

The First mention of debt was not the debt we own to the central banks, but indebtedness to efforts of hard-working people [HWPs]. A second mention to HWPs followed a little later, and a with a curious emphasis: “We are a grown-up party for grown-up people.”

Then a joke about Vince Cable which seemed to puzzle the audience. He also turned Miliband’s slogan [Britain can do better than that] against him. Then another joke about brother David Miliband [Cain and the less able]. He was certainly not making any effort to soften his image. The audience remained cool.

Fixing the roof

More on last government’s policy of not fixing the roof. Promised not to be fooled into believing in abolishing boom and bust, [an attack on last Labour Premier Gordon Brown who said he did when he was Chancellor, and has been reminded of it ever since.] The Chancellor promised to have stable surpluses to use to fix the economic roof when the storm breaks. Does this mean accepting a Laissez-faire fiscal policy?

Hard working people again, six minutes later. Building up to something bad about to happen to the nasty, lazy not hard-working people.

“I want to freeze fuel duty.” [Me? I want to visit Confused.com. Miliband’s energy price freeze bad, George’s fuel duty, good?]

Oh this is even trickier. He needs to diss his coalition partners if only in a tit-for-tat way. Audience remains a bit Confused.Com.

“We will not abandon the long-term unemployed.” That was the much trailed item. “We will have ways to help them”. Seemed pretty tough help. Actually he hurried on with less elaboration than i expected, to making a case for High Speed Trains and for Frackimg. He ended with a paean on to Margaret Thatcher’s life and death. We are heirs to her optimism, a Government with a plan for a grown-up country.

My first thoughts are that this was a surprisingly unconvincing effort from a man noted for his political astuteness, and met by a less than enthusiastic reception by tan audience usually not difficult to please. Outside the hall, the not-so-grown-up journalists were asking people to chose where to put their blue balls. The container showed Thatcher as having far more balls that Cameron.

Play the Game, Mr Cameron

On leaving the hall, Mr Cameron was asked to play the game of which Prime Minister has the most balls, but he moved past in a very grown-up way.

Render unto Thatcher

“Render unto Thatcher the balls that are Thatcher’s” I thought


George Osborne. My role in his political rescue

February 23, 2011

Just as Spike Milligan played a part in Hitler’s downfall, I can claim my modest role in the rescue of George Osborne from political oblivion

Not alone of course. Gentle George may never know that I was among millions of loyal citizens whose collective efforts in January 2011 rescued the Chancellor’s political career.

.
Your country needs you

You could say I failed to heed the first calls to service. As Christmas approached I was beguiled by the gentle and soothing reminders by the lovely Moira Stewart that my country needed me. Or at least it needed my contribution, however small, to buttress its finances.

I was under the comfortable impression that before January the 1st I should find an hour or so to complete my tax return on line. Maybe while waiting for Her Royal Highness to speak to her subjects on Christmas Day.

George was too busy fighting the Generals

In hindsight I was too soothed when what I needed was a sharper call to arms. Perhaps George himself in Kitchener pose, pointing down sternly at slackers from posters on every street corner. Your country needs your taxes. But George had been fighting on the city front, urging the Generals of the banking world to do their bit. For whatever reason, the little people constituting the big society had to show their loyalty without further leadership from the top.

So sometime in the week before the deadline of of January I settled down to feed into the Government’s database the relatively straightforward account of my earnings. I know it was during that week, because the website Moira had directed me to was quite curt. “Too late” it snarled. “You will now incur a £100 penalty because it takes over a week for your return to be processed”. Hmm.

More electronic hurdles

Somewhat shocked by the news, I pressed ahead. Only to discover there were several more electronic hurdles to jump over. For reasons I can’t remember the password I had used was no longer valid. I learned how I could be sent this vital information but that is a State secret about which I will remain silent and which took a week to reach me. Then, when the system accepted my password it needed a new User ID which again could only be communicated through similar Top secret channels.

Meanwhile January turned into February. The face of the world was changes as revolutions gripped the Middle East. And I had still failed to send my contribution to help my country in its darkest hour of financial need.

The electronic doors open

But then after several weeks of regular battles to be let in, the mighty electronic doors at the Government Gateway opened up to me. I was in. A hundred or so clicks later and I had committed myself to swelling the country’s fighting funds by at least as much as a Premiership footballer does in the time it takes to play a game.

Even the Guardian, no friend of General Osborne, admitted a great victory had been won:

Government finances show biggest surplus since 2008. Bumper income tax receipts bring a January surplus of £3.7bn and could put coalition on track to meet borrowing targets

And I could feel pride in the role I had played in rescuing my country and Mr Osborne from ruin.


George Osborne and the Dilemmas of Leadership

October 22, 2008
George Osborne

George Osborne

George Osborne hits the headlines accused of illegal soliciting of funds at a dinner party. The case illustrates the dilemmas of leadership, and the specific challenge of balancing public and private activities

George Osborne stands accused of illegal soliciting of funds Public interest is the greater because the story involves figures of great wealth and or political influence.

For me, the interest also lies in the general issue of the dilemmas of leadership, and the specific challenge of balancing public and private activities. It’s a case example which wannabe leaders would do well to reflect on. It’s the sort of thing that crops up in examination papers on leadership.

The context

According to the Telegraph [Oct 22nd 2008]

The son of Lord Rothschild, who usually shuns publicity, wrote to [The Times] yesterday to claim that George Osborne’s visit to the yacht owned by Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire .. was to “solicit a donation” for the Conservatives

The article sketches out the breaking story, claiming that Rothchild had been spooked by the possibility of his links with Deripaska becoming the subject of an investigation.

It’s an extraordinary allegation by [Nat Rothchild] , who was Osborne’s host in Corfu and has been his chum since they were members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford. He [Rothchild] has also been involved in fundraising for the Tories under David Cameron, and has made a great part of his estimated £1.3 billion fortune through his association with Deripaska.

A few more complications

The story is already pretty complicated. But there is more. Yesterday, Mr Osborne made a hastily convened statement to the press outside Westminster. In it he denied all wrong-doing. But the press, led by tenacious Nick Robinson at his Clark Kent best, probed on. Nick was on the scent of something.

The story behind the story was hinted at. There had been several meetings during the summer which had been hosted by Nathaniel Rothchild. Among whose guests were Peter Mandelson, and as we know George Osborne. (Rupert Murdoch was also present, and may have played a peripheral role in the drama, as I will suggest below).

The sub-plot involved what Peter Mandelson said in private about the Prime Minister. At the time Mandy was widely assumed to be far removed from Gordon Brown politically, and with a reputation for private indiscretions. At some point, Mandelson was indiscrete in private. Osborne was subsequently indiscrete in public, leaking the rather unsurprising news that Mandy had dripped poison about The Prime Minister into the ears of anyone interested in listening.

Not much of a story. But a few months, and a financial crisis later, Gordon, now redefined as a politician of world stature, brings Mandelson back into Government, ennobling him in the process. Osborne’s story had become hot news.

Mandelson’s revenge?

The story within the story is now explained as the youthful Rothschild, miffed and anxious over intrusions into his business relationship with Deripaska, beginning to see George Osborne and his indiscetions as the cause of his troubles. Max attacks in The Times, perhaps encouraged by Mandelson. (I assume that was implied in the parting shot from Nick Robinson, who asked Osborne if he regretted ‘crossing Peter Mandelson’).

Dilemmas of leadership

So there we are. A nasty little muddle. A rising star of the political right cast as a foolish young man. What can we make of the story from a leadership point of view.

Political blogger Tim Montgomerie suggested in a radio interview that the story was an attempt by political opponents to nobble George Osborne. Montgomerie pointed out the importance of Osborne’s strategic nous to the party. Actually, as a political attack, it would have been just as effective if George was far less significant, on the principle that picking off a weak enemy undermines the stronger ones).

Whether orchestrated or not, the problem clearly gets back to the management of private and public personas. It makes sense for a public figure to have private conversations with those who might be helpful to the public cause. And the rich and powerful are high on the list. But how to ‘keep your wits when all about you are losing theirs .. walk with crowds and keep your virtue .. talk with kings nor lose the common touch’?

The dilemma is between competing values and trade-offs. There is no free lunch even if invited by a billionaire. But you still have a choice of how you pay. And the more powerful expect some reward. What better than offering a personal revelation about another powerful (and absent) figure? Which was why I noted that Rupert Murdoch might have been present, adding to the temptation of those so inclined to drip a bit of poison. But the rules of the game are those of Omerta. The confidentiality of the diner table is not so much sacrosanct as tradable but with great care. George Osborne traded unwisely.

There is another way …

Most political and business satire presents the utterly amoral nature of those scrambling for survival and supremacy in a Darwinian struggle. In contrast, the dynamics of power I have described are largely ignored in the popular inspirational books about the transformational leader.

It seems to me that there is another way of dealing with the dilemmas of leadership. It involves treating leadership as an unfinished challenge. We can study and reflect on experiences such as these. What would we have done? What might have been a better way to have acted? It is a way available to those who believe that leadership can be developed – regardless of accidents of birth and upbringing.


The case of Steve McClaren and the rigged jury

November 23, 2007

mcclaren-exits.jpgJudge me after twelve games. That was the plea when Steve McClaren took over as England manager. He was always struggling. When the England football team lost that twelfth game, the jury met to see that justice was done …

Or, in less metaphoric terms, the England Football team failed to reach the European Championships. This was failure on a scale last witnessed over a decade ago.

The jury (sorry, The FA board), called an emergency meeting for 8.30 the following morning, and gathered to report their verdict (sorry, decisions). A news conference was convened and by 10 am, chairman Professor Thompson chair of the FA, and Sir David Richards of the Premier league took the main roles.

They announced that the board has terminated the contracts of Coach Steve McClaren, and deputy coach Terry Venables. Brian Barwick (CEO) is to carry out a root-and-branch study, and report his findings back to the board together with a recommendation to the board for a new appointment. The recruitment process will take as long as it takes.

One minor saving factor for all concerned. There are no competitive internationals for a while, so it is implied that the decision can wait while before the next major campaign.

Journalists quizzed Brian Barwick. Wasn’t he just a weeny-bit responsible for hiring Mr McClaren in the first place?

Intervention from chair. Brian is CEO, but we as a board take shared responsibility for what has happened.

The accused speaks

Later, the lugubrious ex-manager had his say .

“It is a sad day to have been relieved of my duties but I understand the decision of the FA … It’s a huge disappointment for the nation and fans. But I will learn from my failure,”

His failure to qualify for Euro 2008 cost him his job, said FA chief executive Brian Barwick.

“I spoke to Steve this morning – we get on very well with him. I’ve had many grown-up conversations and had another one with him this morning – and I can only wish him well. But in the end, not qualifying for Euro 2008 comes up short” McClaren’s reign was the shortest tenure of any England coach.

Fantasy football in Westminster and beyond

This has been a good week in the UK for stories about bad leadership, in politics, business, and sport. There does seem to be a few patterns common to all. I’m not sure to what degree they capture a cultural rather than a universal theme.

The scuffles in the House of Commons are seeped in ancient rituals, with occasional efforts to find imaginative ways of yah-booing that stay within the letter of the law, if not in the spirit of Bagehot. George Osborne seems to thrive on vituperation. With every battle as shadow Chancellor he grows ever younger, a variation on the Dorian Grey image, and with genetic traces of Norman Tebbitt.

In Business cum politics, this week we have noted, among others, the inevitable demise of the Northern Rockers, pretty much root and branch.

But the real fantasy football this week was played out the FA HQ at Soho Square. I can’t get that image of a bizarre trial scene out of my mind.

The nightmare

Picture the packed court room. The accused stands grim-faced and slightly slumped in the dock. The judge arrives, and then the jury trails in with the verdict.

But wait a minute. This is no ordinary jury. Isn’t that Brian Barwick, and Thompson chair of the FA, and Sir David Richards? And surely that’s one or two former England managers with them, standing next to Alan Green, BBC’s current voice of the fans? And the others seem to be journalists. The foreman is Paul Hayward of The Daily Mail.

The verdict of this jury has been unanimous. The defendent is found guilty as charged. Defendant seems unmoved, as if expecting the verdict. But then (this is a bad dream, isn’t it) the foreman stuns the court into silence.

This is a rigged jury

This is no ordinary jury, he cries. It’s a rigged trial. McClaren is a fall guy for the toytown Napoleons at the FA. They even got themselves on to the jury. They are the real culprits. I have already made a deposition that proves it.

“The blazers, who paid Sven Goran Eriksson £25million to reach three quarter-finals and then arrogantly assumed Luiz Felipe Scolari would accept the England job just as he was about to lead Portugal to a World Cup, remain untouchable, unindicted, beyond the reach of the anger that washed over McClaren and his players.

Why call Sir Dave and the chairman of the FA to account when you can blame Scott Carson? Why should anyone at Soho Square resign when you can boot out Terry Venables, who was hired as a human shield to protect McClaren from the press and then marginalised throughout the campaign?

The more urgent need is to consider not 45 minutes but 40 years of failure and here we trudge back to the realisation that the crudeness and physicality of the game in these islands is not conducive to international success.”

Uproar in court. Cries of shame. Resign. To the tower.

I wake up from the nightmare. Check the newspapers. No, it’s not entirely fantasy football. England did lose to Croatia. And as someone said, hinting at the manager’s golden goodbye: Football? It’s a game of two and half million pounds.