Gordon Brown’s free lesson to executives in 2008 – know what you are good at

Friday, May 2nd, 2008 - economics, sunday thoughts


The 2008 UK Local Election results are only part way in, but its clear that the Labour party has suffered a severe drubbing at the poll station. The question now has to be – why?

After nearly 12years of Labour government, there was bound to be a bit of voter apathy, and feeling the need for a change – there always is. But to come third behind the Liberal Democrats is astounding – something went badly wrong.

Of the key points, the 10p tax issue has been complained about by all Labour councillors who have lost their seats. In fact, reading the local press, it would be a fair conclusion that Labour central office wrote a press-release briefing on it, so similar are the words being used by now redundant Labour councillors. But they didn’t – it’s the words coming from the councillors, having knocked on so many doors, and heard the same words from the voters nationally.

Secondly, the economy is hurting – and so are the voters. Fuel and energy costs, and the need to remortgage to a higher fixed rate, if it can be secured.

But the key to both issues is that the originator of these decisions, and the creator of these crisises is one man: Gordon Brown. But can he have really failed that quickly?

Simply, yes – and its in the third issue being concluded by the academic election analysers and commentators. What the statistics are showing is that the Conservative voting suburbs, who Tony Blair so effectively communicated to and held, are returning enmass to their Tory homeland. Personally I am sure that further detailed and focus group analysis will be written in the media in the next month that, along with a series of economic and policy issues, they returned due to Brown looking wooden and more Michael Foot than Blair like in political application – all the right words, just not communicated or executed well enough.

So where next? When the details start to emerge of the why, those in Westminster sat in now vunerable to the Tory’s Labour seats will want change – and the question will be: can Brown deliver that change? I think its a fair conclusion that’s a no in the minds of the voters. Brown will argue that when the economy turns round, all will be OK; but it won’t be. The UK economists are suggesting a sticky 2008 and flat 2009; and by 2009 I am pretty sure Barrack Obama will be sitting in the White House looking more Kennedy/Blair like than high thinking but wooden acting Brown. Plus the Conservatives will have gained further on their 22point momentum, and momentum/perception in politics is as key as strategy.

In conclusion, its now a question of how Gordon Brown leaves Number 10 in the next two years, not when. If the polls dip further in the summer, and the recession cuts deeper in September (and we have a wet summer), he could be gone by Christmas 2009 thank to his own backbenchers – if the economy turns up in October 2008, then he could run until Spring 2009’s local elections, on which results his further residence will wholly depended.

The question for business executives is – why did such a good hearted, high thinking man, get it so wrong: what could we learn? Simply – timing, communication, and work focus. Blair won the battle to lead Labour, making Brown his number2 – it was the best decision to get Labour elected, but not for Brown’s singular childhood ambition. Secondly, by the time he got to Number10, he should have learnt how to communicate effectively having stood in Blair’s shadow for so long – clearly, he didn’t, but I also think that in politics that’s a skill that can not be learnt: its natural gift, or not. Thirdly, much as though Brown works harder than Blair, according to those on the inside its one thing at a time, rather than Blair’s manic ability too do much (poorly) at once – Blair was reliant on a team to support a system to make him effective (as the team broke down, so did Blair’s capability); Brown looks wooden and slow by choosing the wrong things and taking too long about them.

The question therefore is – was Brown made for the job? It is often said that Franklin D Roosevelt would not have been elected, had it not been for the co-operation of the press in not letting the public know he was disabled: JFK often said FDR would not have been elected in the television era, as was shown in his own case when Nixon sweated in their TV debate. If Brown was competing against Ted Heath in the 1970’s, then he could have won – but politics has moved on, and having chosen the right man to get the party elected against an equally less adapt John Major and fatally wounded government, he should have recognised the shifted movement of the ground when Blair finally agreed to step aside.

Some times, and more often in these fast changing times – although you can see a strategy and a resultantly achievable goal, you also need to question in which team you play, and what role you are best adapted too. Visionary planner and great thinker doesn’t always communicate into Leader – and if does, it could be blindingly obvious the wrong answer, to which you will only be allowed to contemplate in retirement.

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