Monday 24 April 2017

Who says weak leaders are such a bad thing?

One of  Theresa May and the Conservatives main charges against Jeremy Corbyn is that hes a "weak leader". May claims she needs a strong mandate to negotiate a good Brexit deal and she needs to do this from a position of strength. What is interesting is that no one seems to be challengig the basic premise that strong leaders are a good thing. I see no clear evidence to support this, certainly not in peacetime and in relation to complex, civilised negotiations. There is a stack of evidence to show that nations do better with weak leadership and government by consensus. This rather inconvenient fact is one of the most overlooked. There are dozens of examples and stacks of evidence that if you want your country to do well, you have weak leaders and political systems that involve bargaining and horse trading. Look at the USA. The founding fathers built so many checks and balances into place that it is virtually impossible for the president to do anything. Donald Trump is finding this out in rather short order. You can win the President Election, become the most powerful man on the planet, but you can't make the judge pass your travel ban, or make your congress pass your healthcare bill.  President Obama spent years getting the legislation through. Has this stopped the States becoming the richest and most powerful nation on the planet? Nope. The 20th Century was an American century. Over the course of the century, America faced down a whole host of all powerful leaders, Hitler, Hirohito, Stalin, Mao to name but a few.

The USA is not alone in benefitting from weak government. Who is the most powerful European leader? Surely Angela Merkel. She has lead a coalition government since 2005. Has the German economy floundered and have the German people suffered? Not as far as I can see. At the same time, we have Vladimir Putin in Russia. Here we have a strong man who has little effective opposition. Has this meant the Russian economy done well? No, it is in dire straights, propped up by Russia's massive natural resources. Have they done well in negotiaitions on difficult issues? No, Russia suffers sanctions.

In Belgium, there was a lengthy period where there was no government at all. Did the economy grind to a halt? Nope, in fact it went from strength to strength. As to the EU negotiations. If Theresa May thinks having a pliant parliament is an assett, she knows nothing about negotiations. If the EU think she has control of Parliament, they will be able to dictate terms. She'd be in a far stronger position if she could say "Well there is no point suggesting that because I'd never get it through Parliament". One of the oldest tricks in the book when negotiating is the "Fred says" tactic. This is based on the idea that if you are negotiationg you say "Well I'd love to sign up, but Fred would never agree to that". In this case Parliament is "Fred". Theresa May says no deal is better than a bad deal. This is a ridiculous thing to say. If I was negotiating, the first thing I'd say is that the only deal we will do is a good one and it is in everyones interests to do it. Theresa May seems to think that saying "If you don't give us what we want we'll walk away" is a good negotiating stance. It is not.  A good negotiating stance is one where you have the strength to know that no one would walk away from the table, because that would be insane. If Theresa May gets the 100 seat majority she wants, she will have no joker in the back pocket. She can't play the difficult Parliament card at all. If we don't have the cards to say "you'd be insane to walk away from the table" Then we should take a different tack.

Of course the election was nothing to do with Brexit. It was all to do with the Tories trying to grab a few more years, as Labour is perceived to be weak right now. May sems to think that a big majority silences the awkward squad. It does nothing of the sort. Tony Blair had massive majorities, but all it did was mean that there are more MP's who felt overlooked, more scope for personal rebellions, as MP's know that they can vote agaings their party, with no ramifications, it has nothing to lose and no discipline. If Blair had a 10 seat majority, he'd have had to tread carefully and would probably not have made the awful mistakes that trashed his legacy. But with the massive numbers, he need not worry about the awkward squad. Now, one of them, Jeremy Corbyn is the party leader. Blairs huge majority gave rise to the stresses and splits that created the state of Modern Labour.

I don't blame May for going for an election. She is a politician, her job is to do such things. She has had the albatross of not being elected around her neck. She needs authority and at the moment this is lacking. But what is required is a new manifesto, a new program of government and a set of coherant reasons for electing May. We've not had this and the evidence says that we need "Strong Leadership" is the mother of all red herrings.

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