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I'm Not Telling

Alan Smith
© Borysevych.com / Shutterstock.com

It has been an interesting few weeks for Theresa May. A bit of a Chinese curse that, to always live in interesting times.

Firstly, she has had to deal with the new US president, where I find it hard to believe that Trump holds any attraction to her, no matter how opposite he is. Then there was the potential ban on Sir Mo Farah travelling to the US, averted by of all people, ex rival Boris Johnson. Not to mention the ongoing Brexit saga, which will play out for a couple more years at least. And then, there was of course, the Trident row, where she has had to cope with being asked a difficult series of questions about her involvement and understanding surrounding a rogue missile. 

Last summer HMS Vengeance (great name for a military submarine by the way), launched an unarmed missile just off the coast of Florida as part of a test that went spectacularly wrong. The missile veered off course and headed back to the US before it was remotely detonated, exploding safely and kept quietly as a missile exploding ever could by the relevant authorities.

So far so good. I can clearly see the point of trying to keep something like this under the radar for defence reasons, although I suspect that any nation state with a radar would have been acutely aware of the mistake. We don’t want to broadcast that Trident is perhaps not quite so accurate as we want our enemies to believe.

But the complication is that the misfire came a few weeks before a House of Commons vote on the renewal of Trident as a key part of the countries defence mechanism. Moreover, this misfire was kept from the House by omission. Jeremy Corbyn for one, was not pleased.

It kind of gets worse, if of course there is anything worse than a £17 million missile exploding by accident, other than someone being hurt.

On TV last weekend Theresa May was asked repeatedly about whether she had known about the incident prior to the vote, which she refused to answer. Using all the guile and aversion that a professional and experienced politician can bring to bear, her answer was: “Well that is a very good question, but of course the question you should be asking is…”, subsequently taking the interviewer down a completely different avenue.

Later Downing Street admitted that she had known about the problem, but had been asked by Washington (who supply the missiles) not to tell anyone about it.

Here’s the thing. If someone asks you a question and you decide not to answer it, even evade or dance around it, and then provide an answer to a completely different question that you do want to answer, you are sending information in any case.

May’s refusal to answer not only makes the asker think that she obviously does know more than she was letting on, but it also may paint her as a person who perhaps lacked strength in her decision in the first place. Or worse, was a sneak who you really should not trust.

We live in an age of information and we can quite often find ourselves wrong footed by a difficult question. Clearly having a strategy for dealing with that and the implications of so doing is an important part of any planning process.

What if? should form the part of any good preparation process, and how to deal with difficult questions is a huge part of that. What are you going to tell them, or not, and why?

It just may not go to your plan.

Alan Smith


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