Clegg v Farage April 2nd 2014

April 3, 2014

Instant and unedited thoughts on the second TV debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage

Missed first two minutes …these were their opening statements. Oops.

I liked the BBC’s structure, well-selected audience and questions, with limited response time, distinguished chairman David Dimbleby.

Initial exchanges were rather unengaging for me. Although prepared statements, not strong links with reasoned argument.

The Farage comment about Putin seemed dangerously distracting ground for Clegg to get on to.

Clegg seems to be making it too personal.

Immigration. Farage rather vague. ‘Didn’t recognize’ a leaflet from his party which Clegg waved..

Disappointing low-level debate too close to Any Questions format.

Clegg clear loser for impact on audience including me.

On reflection

At first, I thought the BBC had come up with a sensible format that would produce a watchable programme that would interest and enlighten. On reflection it achieved that to some degree. The disappointment was that the event was too revealing of Nick Clegg as a leader in unconvincing mode. His passion seemed channelled too much towards belittling his opponent. His prepared barbs were embarrassing. His focus for attack poorly judged.

I felt that Mr Farage had far more self-belief. It was the self-belief of the charismatic individual. His style was the style of the demagogue. One instructive difference. When an elderly member of the audience asked Farage a question which might have been supplied by a UKIP speech writer, Ferage turned his attention completely to her. She was made to feel the most important person in the world for an instant. Mr Clegg lacks that sort of display of personal warmth. Or at least, he did last night.

‘Exit polls’ within minutes of the debate confirm my view that Farage had been far more successful than Clegg.

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.


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

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.

Party Conference Time and Some Leadership Theorizing

September 23, 2009

Vince Cable

The Party Conference season in the UK is a rich source of insights into political leadership influence processes. Leaders we deserve examines similarities to processes of communication required in Business School projects

The similarities occurred to me as the project season [September 2009] followed closely after a period in which less-publicised presentations were taking place on Perspectives of Leadership, by MBA students at Manchester Business School.

One feature in common is the technical challenge of gaining acceptance of key ideas through a formal presentation.

Influencing: the immediate and distal audiences

In the Business School presentations, and in the party political speeches, speakers had to deal with more than one audience. In the political conferences, the audiences may be divided into those in the conference hall, and those for whom the conference was being transmitted immediately, and subsequently through news bulletins and various other channels.

For the MBA students, the audiences could still be divided into immediate and distal ones, but the more important challenge was dealing with the different audiences within the immediate presentation room.

The boundary management challenge

In technical terms the need to deal with two audiences requires management of ambiguities in boundary management. This is a technical term which boils down to a project leader having to be aware of several different but inter-related interests to whom communication is addressed.

The communication challenge is to deal with multiple audiences. This is another commonality between the student projects and the political speeches.

In the MBA projects, the student groups present to an audience including a business client who has provided a brief to the project, and a faculty member who has the responsibility of evaluating the project for its technical merits and assigning a grade which goes towards the MBA marks for each team member. The presentation has to satisfy those two different systems: the world of the business organisation and the world of University degrees.

Note that this is a bit more complicated than a consultancy project, although there are similarities. One trick of management consultants is to ‘borrow the client’s watch to tell him the time’. While this may still work to some extent for the client who wants reassurance rather than enlightenment, it is not going to impress the Business School Professors critiquing the presentation.

Why not rely on the opinion of the client for allocating marks to the student groups? Because of a phenomenon which goes under various names boiling down to in-group solidarity. The client often acts in concert with the group as if they were put on trial by those outside and hostile critics from the Business faculty. I am tempted to suggest there are aspects in the group dynamics of the famous Stockholm syndrome which explains how hostage-takers and hostages come together against a perceived common enemy.

Meanwhile, in the Conference Hall …

Political speeches in the Conference Hall also require rather subtle crafting if they are to be received outside as well as inside the party.

The complexities of this proces have added to the influence of communication advisors who also travel under the more opprobrious label of spin doctors.

The communication process has been codified into marketing elements or sound bites. As the public becomes more aware of what’s going on, sound bites alone are not enough for the message to be accepted.

On the first days of the Liberal Democrat conference, [September 22nd 2009] the tensions were evident. The party has had the freedom to fight in the relative obscurity of conference, without being too concerned at damaging electoral prospects. Now however, with the possibility of exerting influence in the next parliament within less than a year, the game has changed.

Party leaders can not be seen to be openly disagreeing on issues. Party activists can not speak out against ideas they believe to be smuggled in with inadequate debate. Even the near-saint like figure of Vince Cable was criticised for indicating a softening of policy away from a commitment to immediate abolition of Student top-up fees.

Watch out for…

As the Conference season progresses, watch and learn. Understand the planning that goes before a good presentation. See the way in which remarks on stage are subsequently worked over in news interviews. Ask yourself how you might have done better. You may be the less inclined to see political leaders as blundering foolishly and more as mere morals struggling to manage demanding and different audiences.

Which makes their challenges more difficult than those facing their celebrity interviewers.

Things leaders say: Nick Clegg and Mental Health Costs

February 8, 2008


Leaders build arguments often with creative use of statistics. Take Nick Clegg’s statement today, that the costs of mis-managing Mental Health amount to a 19% cut in the basic rate of income tax

Nick Clegg has made a good start as leader of the Liberal Democrats. He continues to present an articulate and attractive persona, and has generally advanced the kind of third way policies in the tradiiton of Liberal (Democratic) thought.

The rhetorical trick of the false analogy

But he found himself tempted into using the rhetorical trick of the false analogy today, in announcing his party’s views on the problems of Mental Health Care in the United Kingdom.

He is right to suggest that Mental Health Care receives inadequate attention compared to other elements within the NHS. But how to make this point in a more striking fashion?

Answer: Find a startlingly big figure to ‘prove’ how much money is being wasted. Find a simple way of visualising the problem, by showing how much could be done with the money saved.

How often have we heard other attacks on a Government’s profligacy backed up with killer phrase such as ‘and that could provide three extra three hospitals’ or ‘that’s the equivalent to another eighteen hundred police on the beat, instead of doing paperwork’?

Let’s see how Nick developed his argument

I caught the interview on Radio Five Live [Friday 8th January 2008]. Nick Clegg interviewed by Nicky Campbell.

Mr Clegg built a convincing case that much needed to be done to ameliorate the suffering of patients in need of Mental Health treatment. But what about the costs of care?

The costs of care, he argued, would be more than compensated, because the current system is not just bad for the sufferers, but but in terms of costs of long-term after care.

His justification went as follows: First he provided an estimate of the inefficiencies, as being seventy-seven million pounds [sterling].

That’s a lot of money. It’s hard to visualize.

Then the dodgy analogy

Seventy-seven billion reprents nineteen percent off the basic rate of income tax.

There you go. A casebook example. Take a political cause. Speak of it with compassion and commitment. But wrap it up with the vocabulary of scientifically estabished facts, using precise sounding fingures, and helpful simplifications.

It’s £77 billion, not ‘a considerable chunk of money’. It represents nineteen percent in the basic rate of interest paid by tax payers. This is not just far too precise a figure, but the dodgy analogy at the same time.

Politicians are used to arguing like this. I can’t say how many really believe that macro-economic changes work so that one type of economic entity can be switched to another kind in its entirety.

Leaders we deserve

Nicky Campbell let it pass, even though he is trying hard to flip from playful family pet into the Rotweiler style of interviewer from time to time. Sadly, I suspect that even our best-in-class BBC Rotweilers are better at snarling, than in helping keep down the dodgy metaphors smuggled into their back yards with their political prey.

Voters may feel we deserve better than this from our politicians. I do, although I don’t want to back up the claim with dodgy statistics.

If you agree, and have the opportunity, join my little rant against the political use of dodgy analogies. Send text messages or emails to the programme which hosted the interview. Blog about it. Even send this post to an offending politician.

Let’s get the leaders we deserve.