day this blog is published the population of the UK vote in
elections for their next government. Opinion polls put the two main
parties neck and neck, with neither commanding a strong enough
following to win an outright majority. So the result is likely to
be a minority government which will have to form a coalition or
make deals with the handful of minor parties in order to be able to
govern. Even if there is an outright majority for one party the
margin will be so small that alliances will need to be forged for
effective government to survive.
Do we have a cadre of politicians who can rise to the challenge
of creating these deals through effective and inspired negotiating?
Based on the debacle when they tried to do the same thing in 2010
the answer is likely to be ‘No’. Most self-confessed negotiating
experts in business talk a better game than they play, and
politicians are no different. Look at the sparkling performances in
negotiations between the EU and Greece, between the P5+1 and Iran,
between the Quartet, Israel and the Palestinians, between Indonesia
and Australia. (For those readers who don’t recognise irony, this
is irony.) The list is shamefully long.
So, with suitable humility and an expectation that it will all
be ignored, I offer some advice to the politicians who find
themselves over the next few weeks trying to do what we mere
mortals do every day of our working lives – turning situational
problems into workable solutions using simple and effective
- Wait a few days before you start. If you are already
meeting other parties within 48 hours of the end of polling you are
being premature. Let the dust settle, the final result be known and
analysed, and give yourself some time for preparation. The country
will not descend into anarchy for the want of a weekend, nor will
the global bankers drive the currency into oblivion during that
- Get over yourselves. The people have spoken, and if
nothing else their common message is that they do not like nor
trust any of you. If you approach the negotiations with an
objective of getting your own way on behalf of the 30% or so who
voted for you then you have failed to see the bigger picture.
Voters are telling you to stop being prima donnas and start to be
effective managers of the country, dogma or no dogma.
- Enough with the Red Lines and Tablets of Stone
already. All they do is box you into a negotiating corner,
which isn’t helpful at all. Voters have as much belief in
their long-term validity as they have in you, which based on the
result of the election is not very much. We all know there will
have to be compromise; what you need to be able to do is look for
nuances in the way that issues which are important to you are
treated so that you can allow them to be included in the negotiated
settlement. And if your counterparty continues to bang on about a
policy you simply can’t live with, insist that either they change
their team, or you change your prospective partners.
- Don’t grandstand. The public want to be kept informed of
progress, not dazzled by bombast or harangued by derogatory
comments about everyone else. The real constituency who needs to be
convinced is your fellow Members of the House of Commons – elected
by the millions to represent them in just this type of situation.
So save your consultations and explanations for them, and involve
- Don’t believe the rumours. In 2010 one of the two main
parties was suckered into making concessions to the Lib Dems on
proportional voting because they believed rumours that the other
main party had already offered it. Negotiators sometimes misspeak,
politicians frequently misspeak, so I expect that negotiating
politicians do little else but misspeak.
- Be Constructive. An indecisive election result does not
mean that the electorate are dithering wastrels. It means they
don’t like all of any of the manifestos, or that they are so
divided in their views that any mandate you think you have to
impose your manifesto will not represent a sensible form of
democracy. Which means that you have to construct something new out
of the ashes – a set of implementable ideas which have broad
appeal, a realistic degree of achievability, and the creativity
which comes from an analysis of the problems to be dealt with, not
the power which is wielded.