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Stephen White

Just about a year ago, as voting in the UK General Election came to an end, an exit poll predicted that the Conservative Party would win a 10 seat majority. This was so out of whack with the estimates made by all the opinion poll experts that Paddy Ashdown, a well-known and well respected Liberal Democrat politician promised on TV that if the exit poll prediction was right he would literally eat his hat. The prediction turned out to be correct.

At the same time the same exit poll predicted that the Scottish National Party would win all 58 seats in Scotland. Again, this was very contrary to the opinion polls. Alastair Campbell, who for many years was Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Press Secretary, promised that he would eat his kilt if that prediction was correct. It was (near enough – the SNP won 56 seats). 

Of course they didn’t. Instead they appeared shortly after the election on a BBC current affairs programme and were presented with cakes respectively in the shape of a hat and a kilt. I’m not sure they even ate those.

Just about a year ago Leicester City Football Club were bottom of the Premier League. Nobody gave any them any chance whatsoever of becoming champions of the League within a year, but as everyone knows they did. The Leicester footballer Gary Lineker, who is now the anchor on the TV football programme Match of the Day, predicted that it was so unlikely that Leicester City could pull off this feat that he promised to present an edition of the programme wearing only his underclothes if they did. We wait to see.

Just about a year ago, when 15 Republican candidates threw their hats into the ring as Presidential hopefuls, American journalists pronounced Donald Trump the joke candidate and predicted that he didn’t stand a chance. I’m sure that some promised to eat their hat, or perform some other unlikely penance if his bid was successful. Yesterday, after Ted Cruz suspended his campaign, Donald Trump effectively became the Republican nominee. We wait to see.

Just about a year ago the then leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband made it clear that if the Party did badly in the General Election he would stand down. They did, and he did. In the subsequent election for a new leader left-winger Jeremy Corbyn was the surprise winner, winning with a huge mandate, mainly from hundreds of thousands of newly subscribing party members, many of who are from the hard-left. In recent weeks it has become clear that some of these new members, and some of the old hands as well, hold anti-Semitic views, creating a crisis in the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn at first denied that there was a crisis but as the scale of revulsion grew he had to become more vocal in his denunciation of anti-Semitism and those who were guilty of it, including some of his longest standing fellow-travellers. The media predict that the bad publicity generated by this debacle will cost the Labour Party as many as 150 seats in local elections being held today. I watched Jeremy Corbyn predict on TV yesterday that there will be no loss of seats – definitely.

Unfortunately, no mention of a hat.

Is there a negotiator’s lesson?  I think there is. Predictions are opinions, a view about what will happen in the future. Even when they are based on lots of research and historical evidence they are still only opinions. They often fail to come true. So if your negotiating stance is based on a prediction (how prices might move, how supply or demand might change and so on), be careful not to big-up your certainty by promising to do something daft if your prediction fails to materialise. Or your loose words might choke you.

Stephen White

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