Monday, January 20, 2014

Power, Principles and Execution

Sometimes we hear the facile argument that principles are nothing without power. It is the justification for most political expediency and it leads directly to political transvestism and the hollow morality of Tony Blair. Yet there is another aspect of politics which is less obvious- that is less obvious to politicians. There is the question of- once having achieved power- how principles might be put into action. Famously, Blair himself suggested that he was just about competent at the political process by the time that he was leaving office. There are just so many obstacles, not least the obstruction of civil servants and other entrenched interests. The execution of government policy is the yardstick of success, yet few politicians at the outset of their time in office are prepared to handle the problems that come with power. 

The fact is that the current generation of political leaders are even less prepared than their predecessors. The likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, with essentially no career outside politics, also have no management experience outside politics, which means no management experience. This is not a small problem, because without genuine executive experience they- like Blair- have to learn on the job, and the result is often a total balls-up. It is an interesting contrast to see Ministers who do have managerial experience, like Ed Davey, or Vince Cable, and those who do not. The fact is that- in the face of entrenched Tory opposition- Ed Davey as Energy and Climate Change Secretary and Vince Cable as Business Secretary have enacted large parts of the Lib Dem agenda, and they can do this because they understand the issues and complexities that are involved in execution. By contrast, the Lord President of the Council has absolutely failed to enact any of the Lib Dem agenda of radical political reform- and although the idea of radically changing British politics is rightly popular in the country few even know that this is such a central part of our agenda. Our leader has principles- often well expressed- he has nominal power, but he has not been able to execute.

Some would say that he faced more difficulties and more hostility than Ed Davey or Vince Cable, and perhaps that is true. However, the Rennard fiasco simply reminds me once more of the lack of managerial experience. Sexual harassment is, alas, still an issue in the workplace and the question of what is and is not appropriate can often be a fine line. Nevertheless there are long established principles which must be followed when complaints are made- as we now know, the party had not kept up with best practice and allowed an unfortunate situation to grow ever more bitter. That is a major failure of leadership in itself. 

Alex Carlile and Chris Davies have behaved in a frankly "extremely unhelpful" way because they do not accept fact that the Webster report, far from vindicating Chris, as they seem to believe, suggests that even if inadvertently, Chris Rennard had a pattern of behaviour that made some women uncomfortable. An apology and an agreement to put the affair behind all concerned is all it takes. The fact that Davies and Carlile maintain a legalistic and truculent support for an unreasonable position is not acceptable.  As leader, Nick Clegg must ensure that on the one hand the Webster Report is fully complied with and on the other that this is the end of the whole unfortunate affair. 

It is infuriating that basic measures to cope with a very common workplace problem have not been  put into place. It is even more infuriating that the leadership, having had months of notice has made such a balls up of this. It is not far short of disgraceful that Davies and Carlile can apply legalese petrol onto the flames. Most of all though it reflects very badly indeed on Nick that things should have got to his stage. Susan Gaszczak told Nick to "man up". I can only echo this- the party is still very frail after the shocks of the past few years, and unless we can get a grip, we will lose our way completely. 

Principles must not be compromised- and that includes respect for women. 

Power can not be retained unless we reiterate what we stand for and to speak up for the real reform our country needs- "stability" is not what we need at all- we need radical change which must be explained and sold to the British people.

In the end, however, power means nothing unless we can deliver- and that is the essence of leadership.

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