Joshua Wong demonstrates leadership qualities in Hong Kong’s political struggles

August 5, 2015

Umbrella MovementThis week [August 2nd, 2015] Western media reported further rumbles of protest from Hong Kong against the proposed electoral system being introduced from mainland China. Hong Kong’s student activist Joshua Wong examines the impact of The Umbrella Movement, and shows characteristics associated with other political revolutionaries

Last year [September-December 2014] a series of protests broke out against proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. The fundamental objection was to what was seen as Government control over acceptance of candidates for Hong Kong elections. Earlier student activist groups coalesced into a wider group which became known as The Umbrella Movement. The protests against a governing power is reminiscent of those in Singapore as it negotiated its liberation from Malaysia fifty years ago.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


UKIP leadership drama: Coriolanus meets The Thick of Things

May 16, 2015

The week’s leadership struggles in UKIP have echoes of a Shakespearean drama combined with and a modern political satire Nest of vipers

A week ago [8th May,2015] I noted that twenty four hours is a long time in politics. The high-velocity drama has continued throughout the first week of the new Conservative government.

Among the various stories is the remarkable series of events surrounding Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). These could be summed up a defeated leader honouring his pre-election pledge to resign, and then reversing his decision, within another twenty four hours. Internal warfare erupts among his colleagues.

Background

Farage led UKIP to a very successful electoral result in terms of four million votes and unsuccessful in seats, won. Douglas Carstairs, the Conservative defector remains as sole elected UKIP Member of Parliament.

Farage himself, having failed to win the seat at South Thanet, confirms his earlier intention of resigning as leader of UKIP if he were to lose the South Thanet contest.

Dark Humour from The Thick of Things

As the drame unfolded, I felt I was witnessing a rerun of an episode of The Thick of Things. One deposed Farage aide, Raheem Kassam on Radio Five Live’s breakfast show (14th May 2014] gave a passable imitation of Peter Capelli as the scary Malcolm Tucker.

Then I found further connections with Coriolanus, one of the less-celebrated of Shakespeare’s dramas.

Farage and Coriolanus

In leadership style, the chummy Farage could hardly be further removed from that of the tragic Shakespearean figure of Coriolanus. Yet
the tale of triumph and ultimate failure depicts political unrest, with dangers to the ruling elite from the discontented plebeian masses of ancient Rome.

Although dismissive of the common people, Coriolanus wins their approval, but he is eventually killed by plotters against his dictatorial ambitions.

There is often dark humour to be found in Shakespearean tragedies. The unfolding UKIP drama has its darker moments, part Shakespearean, part The Thick of Things.

The resignation of Farage is accompanied by the entry on stage of assorted figures attempting to justify their efforts and conflicts. Farage is vilified as ‘snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive’ by one former ally Patrick O’Flinn

Farage’s advisors proceed to accuse each other of having mislead their leader, in the execution of campaign policy, and in particular over the headline-grabbing but divisive attacks on immigrants.

The noble Carswell resists

In one sub-plot, attempts are made to involve the residual UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell, in setting up a large staff at Westminster with money made available as a consequence of the 4 million votes obtained by the party. But the noble Carswell considers the money inappropriate for a one-MP party and rejects it, remaining aloof and beyond the fray.

Nigel is urged to return

As the plots and counter-plots develop, Farage is urged to remain. After a secret conclave, Nigel reluctantly accepts he must take back the leadership by overwhelming demands from his followers. Assorted plotters and counter-plotters with different views resign from the party.

Auditions for a new drama

Auditions are now taking place for the modern-dress version of Julius Caesar, with roles to be filled for Caesar, (offered the crown but who only reluctantly accepts it) Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and Calpurnia (soothsayer anticipating her husband Caesar’s sudden and bloody removal from power).

Casting possibilities: Nigel, Dave, George, Nick, Ed., Nicola, Boris, Natalee …

Later

The drama continues with more attempts to dislodge Nigel Farage.


Nicola Sturgeon named as the most dangerous woman in Britain

April 21, 2015

The leader of the Scottish National Party (SDP) has become the most targeted politician in the General Election Campaign. She must be doing something rightNest of vipers

The Guardian captured the awakening mood in the mainline UK political parties to the danger coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP:

According to Boris Johnson she’s King Herod. She’s Lady Macbeth. She’s Attila the Hun.

Piers Morgan in the Mail is more circumspect. For him, Sturgeon is merely “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. This, says Sturgeon, is “possibly one of the nicest things the Mail has ever said about me”.

The newspapers that carried these gentlemanly hysterics, agree that Sturgeon is a kidnapper, warning the UK on their pages that she is holding the country “to ransom”. The Times eschews such hyperbole, suggesting only that she is only going to hold the UK’s defence to ransom.

Gosh. Even if the SNP takes every seat in Scotland – and that’s not beyond the bounds of possibility – it will still only have one in every 13 Commons votes. If Westminster really is this vulnerable, then, really, it’s brought its troubles on itself.

The Evidence from the Manifesto launch

Your editor settled down to review the launch of the SNP manifesto [20th April 2015]. As there would be many reports of the manifesto, I decided to concentrate on the style of the new political star of the Election Campaign. What follows is my unexpurgated notes, (minor corrections for clarity only).

Style.  

Strong, clear, uncluttered content.  Unusually easy to understand.   Compared with other high profile figures in the GE, least evasive. Not shackled by the need to stay on message.

Dilemmas

Like all public speakers, had to speak both to supporters, and a wider constituency at the same time.   How to please the former yet deal with different possibly conflicting views of the important ‘distal’ audience?

Not either or, but both and

As I have argued elsewhere, effective dealing with dilemmas is often a matter of seeing through a block imposed by either or thinking.  Sturgeon demonstrated to process frequently, both in her prepared address, and in the subsequent Q & A.

The launch of the manifesto is taking place before an audience of her supporters, plus a regiment of journalists.  The supporters are there to provide the evidence of their own unconditional commitment to leader and what she had to say about the manifesto.  The journalists want good ‘exclusive’ copy, revealing something suited to their own ends about the leader and her party.

As indicated above, the SNP has been increasingly been presented by opponents including most of the press, as a fifth column, intent on winning seats to gain power in Westminster by propping up a minority Labour government and dishing the Tories. This in turn is intended to achieve another Referendum for Scottish Independence, and to a break-up of the United Kingdom.

It would have been a popular move to say to the faithful, ‘you bet your last bawbee  I’m goin’ta stuff it to ’em.’ (‘Hell, yes’ as Ed Miliband put it).  She also needed to reassure those who were paying attention to Boris and The voters that her opponents wanted to scare off enough to turn away from the SNP needed to hear quite the opposite message.  ‘We won’t cause any trouble and only vote on Scottish matters.

There are various ways of dealing with the dilemma.  Nicola Sturgeon neatly put emphasis on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and unto the Scotland their entitlement.  The effect was to suggest a win-win process helping Scotland and the entire UK towards a socially acceptable and prosperous future.

 More Yes Anding

A second example of Yes And framing came at the start of the Q & A.

Sturgeon introduced the session by saying in effect: These journalists have their job to do. (Pause, as if to calm an easy-to-arouse border terrier sniffing out an intruder). They should not be badly mauled if you don’t like the questions…  Then a neat punch-line.  Of course, feel free to applaud my answers as loudly as you like. (They did).

The Q&A went well.  The press vipers were pretty much defanged.

Beyond the style

I refocused on the substance behind a pretty impressive presentation style.  Overall, it seemed to occupy the policy space Labour would like to have found itself in, but had chosen to retreat from.

 Her answers for the most part remained clear and convincing. Her dealing with the costing of her fiscal measures was perhaps less sure-footed.

Her emphasis on opposing and even ending austerity was obviously hugely popular for her supporters.

For all the clear victory in this battle, leaving the enemy in some disarray, the war is far from over.


A Tale of Seven Leaders: The General Election Debate April 2nd 2015

April 2, 2015

uktv-leader-debate-running-order

The first and most comprehensive of the televised debates gave seven leaders a chance to influence the impact of their parties ahead of the General Election in May.

I planned to follow the two hours of hustings, [20.00-22.00 BST] noting my immediate reactions to the leaders’ performances.

My Front-end loading

Front-end loading or pre-project planning is a term found in project management to anticipate and be prepared for dealing with the inevitable unforeseen events later. My Front-end loading was to structure my observations around the seven candidates, using the locations on the podium.

Luck of the draw

The attempt towards fair treatment of all, resulted in a complex sequence of ‘who goes first’, as shown in the ITV chart above. The main thing to remember is the location of the speakers

For each candidate, I intend to note my expectations, and to comment on anything unexpected, particularly if it relates to leadership style. I also drew on media analyses for my template.

The Candidates [in left to right podium order]

Natalie Bennett (Green Party) will occupy the far left podium, with Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Ed Miliband (Labour), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Nicola Sturgeon (Scottish National Party) and finally David Cameron (Conservatives)

Natalie Bennett
Leader of The Green Party

Expectations

Outsider from Australia. Recent v poor TV interview. Can only go in one direction, up. Greens are running behind in polls, well overtaken by UKIP. Will need to find some more assertiveness of style.

Nick Clegg

Leader of Lib Dems, deputy PM in coalition

Expectations

‘Winner’ of debate last time, dreadful change in fortunes since. Has never recovered politically from decline due to breaking promise on tuition fees entering coalition. Will plug the need for Lib Dems to preserve centre ground in next Parliament. Unpopular policy on Europe for electorate.

Nigel Farage

Leader of UKIP

Expectations

The most charismatic and populist of the speakers. Pub-chum style is a strength and possible weakness. Convincing narrative to followers about UKIP as genuine alternative to a failed system, esp on immigration, and Europe. Expected to have good audience impact.

His attacks on govt. economic policy not so salient for his supporters ashes immigration and Anti-EU views

Ed Miliband [EM]

Leader of the Labour Party

Expectations

Will try to reset electorate’s perception of him as weak and rather weird. Tends to do folksy-sincerity, unconvincing according to polls. Emphasis on more human-faced economic probity than Govt. policies and behaviours.

Leanne Wood

Leader of Plaid Cymru [‘Party of Wales’]

A surprise inclusion following negotiations over composition of panel. Main objective is to gain some more credibility for Plaid Cymru in Wales. Modest style may conceal firm resolve?

Nicola Sturgeon

Leader SNP, First Minister, Scotland

Presents as calm and confident. May impress electorate as a fresh and authoritative figure. SNP likely to be powerful force in next Parliament, expected to destroy Labour in Scotland in the Election. Needs only to secure gains of SNP in Scotland.

David Cameron [DC]

Prime Minister, The Conservative party

Expectations

Statesmen like. Message: competence or chaos. Don’t get hooked on immigration or on Europe in ways that might help Nigel Farage. Confirm electorate’s view of him as nice or less nasty than other prominent conservatives. Will deal easily with Posh Boy suggestions.

Leadership team challenge

Leadership students may find it instructive to consider what sort of team might be made of the seven candidates? [The coalition from hell?] Who might emerge as a leader and perhaps Prime Minister. How might subsequent bids for power work out?

Opening statements

Natalie Bennett

austerity not inevitable.  We start with hope.

Nigel Farage

all six support immigration .  Immigration is bad.

Nick Clegg

lib Dems have resilience to complete job started

Nicola Sturgeon

Message to all. Friendship working across UK.  Against austerity and nuclear subs

David Cameron

our plan is working Economy is fastest growing.  Stick with us.

Leanne Wood

Support Plaid Cymru

Ed Miliband

Support Labour, save the health service

Questions 1-4

The one minute format doesn’t quite work. Machine-gun like answers, impossible to evaluate.  Multiple and confusing challenging of one another’s statements.

no obvious winner as yet.  Leane Wood gains applause for objecting to Nigel Farage remark about immigrants and HIV.

This 45 min into debate

Second half of debate

Question on immigration.  Bit of hopping around.  Avoid scapegoating but tighten up. Some clear water.  The greens present themselves as universal  idealists .  Plaid Cymru as  socialist idealists.

Getting a bit boring. Do they have a comfort break? I need one. Back to hear round of applause for David Cameron for labour MPs who used zero hour contracts for employees,

Final  Statements

Nicola Sturgeon

SNP alternative includes abolishing nuclear weapons.

Nick Clegg

Vote for LIB Dems for stability and fairness.

Ed Miliband

Ill reward all people playing by fair rules

Leanne Wood

Austerity is a choice. Give vote for Plaid Cymru

Natalie Bennett

Vote for what you believe in, vote green

Nigel Farage

We believe in patriotism. Let’s do it

David Cameron

Let’s keep security.

Phew! Was it worth it. Yes, just about. And goodnight.

Initial reaction

Not a game changer. Don’t know what winning here means. Minor collateral damage.

On reflection

My view straight after the debate was that the selection of the seven candidates was the result a weak compromise to secure the presence of The Prime Minister.

On reflection, I still think there were different agendas which made the ‘who won’ debate even more futile than usual. However, the alleged million plus tweets suggests that the format engaged the web-based audience and maybe will influence chances of similar format becoming a favoured choice in the future.

But ‘they that were not there will think themselves accursed’ and work harder for a voice next time. These absent voices included the DUP of Northern Ireland, and George Galloway’s The Respect Party. Not clear about a format that might work with even more contributors.

The pointless of seeking a winner

I remain firm in believing that it is pointless reducing the performance to a league table of winningness. Maybe It would just about be possible to look for utter tanking. There wasn’t any person there in my view who failed obviously weakening electoral chances. After May 7th, careful and clever analysis may reveal what impact the debate may have made.


So, Is President Obama a weak leader?

October 26, 2014

President Obama has received continued criticism for being a weak leader. His military actions against IS in Iraq and Syria are now being used to demonstrate the contrary argument. I suggest that such assessments need to be made with great care

Popular and political judgements of a leader’s competence need to be tested carefully. Too often they are reactions to a single critical incident.

Critical incidents may not be all that critical

A news story often follows a ‘critical incident’. For example, the IS made headlines over brutal videoed execution of an American hostage. President Obama said at a Press Conference that there was no American strategy in place for dealing with the emerging Islamic State. The  remark  was widely taken to illustrate the President’s weakness as a leader.

Was it weak leadership to speak the truth?

A leader is expected to offer reassurance. Obama’s sound-bite was uncomfortable to hear. It could be used in Media Training as an example of a remark that might have been better expressed. An example of a weakly-expressed point. But was it weak leadership to speak the truth? Would it have been any better to say “We know exactly what to do, as you will learn very shortly” ?

Was it strong leadership to launch the air campaign against IS?

British politicians appear to be believe so. They debated the issue and voted overwhelmingly in favour of supplying air support in Iraq (where the new regime requested military support against IS) Here is where some careful testing of ideas is required. One view is that a strong leader is decisive and ‘sends signals of commitment and willingness to act’ unilaterally if necessary.

There seems a wide consensus that the initiative has little chance of a simple successful ending without ‘boots on the ground‘.

Yet there has been a remarkable level of regional and international support of at least a symbolic kind.

Strong leadership?

And the question of what is strong leadership remains a matter of perspective.  If strong is understood as having the power to bring about desired change, President Obama is in a relatively weak position for someone in the role generally perceived as that of the most powerful political leader in the world.


Potemkin villages and the politics of Formula 1 racing

October 11, 2014


Formula 1 heads for Sochi and the Russian Grand Prix, where a huge PR budget has been described as producing an example of a modern day Potemkin village

The Telegraph came up with the brilliant analogy of the Sochi site as a modern-day Potemkin village.

Potemkin village

Catherine the Great, accompanied by a gaggle of courtiers, made an unprecedented six-month trip to Novorossia – literally ‘New Russia’ – now the much disputed and fought-over territories of eastern Ukraine. As governor of the region, Grigory Potemkin, a favourite and lover of the empress, was tasked with impressing Russia’s allies along the journey.

The tale goes that Potemkin’s men would assemble mobile villages, dressing up as peasants, before moving the settlement down the Dnieper River overnight for inspection by Catherine the next day. The notion of a ‘Potemkin village’, a facade concocted to hide an undesirable reality, was born.

The Sochi Autodrom, more than 300 miles away on the shores of the Black Sea, has all the hallmarks of a modern-day Potemkin village.

Similar to a simulacrum?

I have been looking for a way of explaining a simulacrum for students of symbolic leadership. A simulacrum is a term for a representation of an original that never existed.

Maybe, in future I will offer Potemkin villages, and The Sochi Autodrome to my descriptions.