Note: This blog was written before the UK General Election of 6 May 2010.
In his first speech after it became clear that the UK had a hung parliament, David Cameron used the phrase "collaborative government". Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg have both spoken about the need to act in the national interest. Last September, the FCO published Lucian Hudson's report "The Enabling State: Collaborating for Success" to much acclaim from leaders across the private, public and non-profit sectors. Collaboration is not a substitute for hard choices. His report urges realism in understanding the scope and limits of collaboration, yet provides a blue-print for effective collaboration if certain steps are taken.
Our experience includes brokering and building successful coalitions of interest during times of uncertainty and change. We work on challenges which involve creating the right conditions for business and political leadership, and using our skills in strategy, policy, and implementation.
BLOG (written before election date, published 4 May 2010)
This message has been found in a milk bottle at Number 10. The author is a departing policy adviser. It has been deciphered by Lucian J. Hudson, Partner and Managing Director, Cornerstone Global Associates.
Dear Incoming Prime Minister,
If it is you, Gordon, welcome back; if it is David or Nick, good luck. If it’s Lord Mandelson, it was only a matter of time!
The UK general election campaign has necessarily focused on the question: Who should lead Britain? But the more important question has been avoided: How should the UK be led?
What this election will produce is a verdict on the mood of the electorate, rather than real engagement with the practical consequences of the winning party's policies. The emotional reaction of the winning party leader will be a mixture of relief, elation and apprehension. If the apprehension is real, it will be a welcome sign of humility and a desire to seek the help of others. Number 10 will foster the illusion that you are all powerful, and that there is a single coherent solution. In practice, if you fall for this, you will be left frustrated and bewildered, and you will chase your own tail until the next election, or leadership crisis.
You have the power to reinvent statecraft for the next century whether you are Blue, Red or Yellow. I cannot imagine that there has been a single week since the summer honeymoon of 2007 that Gordon Brown and his team have felt went exactly as planned. My advice to you is to accept your symbolic castration from day one: government has to be done differently now, and the command-and-control approach to power is severely limited if not totally counter-productive. Restore Cabinet government. Give up on the need to try to manage the next day’s headlines. Journalists will seek stories whoever their proprietors are. You should develop your own story.
This is a call for collaborative leadership, and for a Prime Minister who is candid and courageous enough to realise the scope and limits of his mandate, and inspire all of the UK to back a common endeavour to restore the UK to health. Whatever the colour of the next government, Britain will need to be governed differently if it is to take advantage of any economic recovery and avoid further recession. To get Britain moving again will involve not just managing the reduction of public spending, but political, business and civic leadership at all levels, in all parts of the country: particularly clarity where there is recovery- going back to where we were- and where there is need for reform – changing what we have always done.
Motivation will not be enough- people will need to feel inspired that whatever the result of the election, they have a real stake in the next five years.
The challenges are fourfold:
- Restore growth and maintain competitiveness
- Build a low carbon economy
- Invest in a strong national infrastructure
- Work with partners in the 4 nations, local government, business and Third sector to protect the vulnerable, creating not just sustainable but caring communities
The challenges cannot be overcome in one term of office, but over twenty to thirty years.
Key to this is the capacity that the UK has and can do more to tap. As important as what is done with Britain's tangible resources is what is done with its intangible resources: people, skills and their potential. Devolving power to local communities is great rhetoric, but will amount to little if the complex dynamics between central and local government and other public bodies are not addressed. Nature and change abhor a vacuum: any transition needs to be properly thought through, supported and implemented with clear objectives and basic processes everybody will understand. Or power will just stay with those who have always had it.
From Friday this week, any Prime Minister will need to be told not just the procedures for launching the nuclear deterrent, but understand how to appeal to a coalition of interests that go well beyond the winning party.
You can be a Prime Minister who rewards his own troops and sees the other as the enemy, including the civil service and others in public administration, or a Prime Minister who seizes the historic opportunity to take forward a Britain fit for the 21st century.
Whatever the differences that the general election surfaced, you will soon realise that on so many vital issues, national security, the environment or long-term care for the elderly, your government could be a national government in all but name. The big unspoken truth is any government elected this week will be social democratic, accepting that capitalism finds ways to survive its own contradictions, and that modern democratic governments mitigate its side-effects at worst and evolve it into something more civilised at best. This is not to minimise or trivialise ideological differences. Real differences need to be brought out, but selectively. If done wisely and imaginatively, the primary task of your government will be to identify where there is common ground and harness support from inside and outside government to make scarcer resources more productive, while managing public expectations of what can be reasonably achieved.
The gaping holes that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) identified in the spending plans of all the main parties actually represent an opportunity to drop the illusion that any one party has a single coherent answer to the economic challenges that the UK faces. The reason that the parties have not been forthcoming enough with the electorate is that all of British society, including the media and the electorate, has preferred not to be challenged with this inexorable certainty: there is no magic formula that can cut down on debt and bring about historically high levels of economic growth, while not challenging the British population that they do not need to change their behaviours or their ambitions as a nation. Everything has to change, including how we go about making our lives safe, fair, sustainable and prosperous. Opening a public debate on implementation priorities will be a sign of strength, rather than weakness.
David Cameron’s Big Society has the green shoots of an idea that can be made more tangible, especially if it is about harnessing the ideas of volunteers. But we need a central and local government culture that respects and seeks out independent perspectives, rather than sees voluntary organizations as adjuncts to central planning. We have bureaucratised every level of society so that the spirit behind the machine is kept out. If we want our machines of government or business to work, we need to free up human judgment and discretion- and this means backing people who take calculated risks based on values and embracing learning, not punishment, when things go wrong. Back ministers who try to do the right thing, rather just reward ministers who do things right.
The constitutional question – how Britain copes with a minority single party government, a majority government elected by a minority of the population, or a coalition- is less interesting than how the existing or a new Prime Minister chooses to lead the country. Westminster and Whitehall have enough pragmatists to make any outcome work. What usually is missing is the need to behave strategically and start on day one with the fundamental insight that British society requires innovation and collaboration on an unprecedented scale to get moving again, be internationally competitive and influential, and preserve its values. Mix any programme where party policy differences are important with initiatives where we have no alternative but to pull together to survive and thrive. And get your ministers out and about rather than make them captive of Westminster and Whitehall.
Lucian J. Hudson, Partner and MD at Cornerstone Global Associates, provides high-end strategy and management consultancy drawing on the expertise of six senior consultants and thirty associates, some highly-acclaimed and considered world authorities in their respective fields. He is the author of the report: "The Enabling State: Collaborating for Success", published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 2009.
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