A Question of Politics

by Zbiggy 7th September 2015

Given that the dust has begun to settle following the General Election and with the Labour leadership contest in full swing, I just wanted to give some personal thoughts on the future political landscape.

Firstly, let’s get this out of the way; I’m not one of your so-called “shy Conservative voters”. I’m unashamedly one of “Thatcher’s children” who together with my first-generation immigrant Polish parents instilled in me a belief that if you work hard and are courageous, anything and everything is possible in life.

OK, based on the above and before you make any judgements regarding my political affiliations and therefore expect a right-wing rant, my other political hero is Che Guevara. Put simply, I love people who are willing to fight and/or die for their convictions when they are based on trying to do, in their eyes, the right thing for the majority of the people.

So without further ado, here is hopefully an intelligent, generally non-partisan perspective on what the next five years could mean both for the country but first for the current political parties in regard to the election results.

“From Small Acorns” – The Lib Dems

Despite the fact that the loss of so many MPs seems, according to the press and so-called political pundits, to be the beginning of the end for the Lib Dems, I actually believe it could be the start of re-establishing the party as a future, major political force.

Let’s be honest, how many other political parties, and especially leaders, would risk doing business with the enemy (in the eyes of most of their supporters) in the national interest.

I was therefore personally delighted that Nick Clegg kept his seat and I truly believe deservedly so. Based on the above comments, he will no doubt be treated better by future political historians than his party was by the electorate.

So what went wrong and most importantly why do I feel it could actually be the making rather than the breaking of this political party?

I truly believe that this, if calmly and properly reviewed by the powers that be, signals the beginning of the end of negative campaigning. The key lesson, and to put this into an everyday context, is you can’t spend five years in a decent, successful relationship and then tell everyone your partner was basically a bitch and you hated them, and expect to be appreciated.

To add some additional proof to this: it was incredible to see the number of students who actually voted in the previous election on the basis of the Lib Dems’ university fees promise. OK, it didn’t happen but it just goes to show the power of “Hope and Promise” politics.

Lastly, and this is also based on my views detailed later about the Labour Party, I believe this election could be the best thing that ever happened to the Lib Dems.

As an interested observer of politics, for me the Lib Dems have always seemed to be a miss-mash of ideology, without a clear and coherent core message of what they truly stand for.

The savaging at the polls plus the messages that seem to be emanating from the party appear to be a positive sign of going back to traditional Whig/Liberal values.

Before I expand on these comments, I want to give you some background preamble. Yes, I do have a habit of occasionally going off on a tangent about my personal experiences, but hopefully it’s worth it in the end!

During my corporate career, I was fortunate enough to be given responsibility for a truly global, iconic brand. What I soon realised was that my predecessors, in understandably wanting to regain past glories, had ended up throwing the baby out with the bath water while trying to make the brand something it wasn’t.

I soon came to realise that the core DNA of the brand was what had made it successful, and all that was needed to achieve this again was to understand and accept this DNA and build on it to make it relevant for the current times.

With regard to the Liberals/Whigs, this DNA is best shown in 1846 with the abolition of the Corn Laws, which united a disparate group of radicals, the working class and business leaders.

So maybe, just maybe, if the party that had leaders and MPs such as Peel, Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, actually went back to its original DNA, updated and modernised for the present day, in my humble opinion might surprise us all and become a major political force again.

Labour “Pains” – The End of the Line?

OK, so before I give my perspective on Labour, it’s important to introduce those not aware of one of the few business models I completely trust, namely the lifecycle model.

I not only love the simplicity of this but I can also guarantee that based on significant experience I have yet to find a flaw in it, be it based on products, brands, companies, ideologies or empires.

Put simply, everything goes through all of these phases and the only way to avoid the decline period is to positively reinvent and therefore start the cycle again.

For me, and despite a slight rebirth via “New” Labour, unless the party radically repositions itself, I truly believe this election will spell the beginning of the end much like the 1924 election did to the then Liberal Party.

Again, this goes back to the fundamental DNA of what made the Labour Party successful in the first place, namely providing at the time a much-needed voice for the working class.

The difficulty for Labour is that the times have significantly changed, and what was a solid and significant core vote and focus has become in effect not only its Achilles heel, but, and yep just a personal perspective, likely to split the party in two.

The Catch-22 is that for the party to continue to be truly relevant, successful and also loyal to its core DNA, it actually needs the majority of voters to be either relatively unsuccessful or reliant on “Big” government.

Sorry to be so blunt but, let’s face it, if you do well in life, gain a decent standard of living and desire a better future for your kids, where would you ideally want to live and who would you then vote for?

If you’re in doubt about the above question, I suggest you have a quick look at all the fancy voting maps the broadsheets developed at the election for help with the answer.

So the flip side to the above is to push once again New Labour. Sorry to bang on about the DNA thing but it’s one of the most pragmatic and important things I learnt in both business and life. Namely, while you can maybe pretend for a while to be something you’re not, eventually you’ll be found out.

So even in the unlikely event that Labour elect a New Labour leader, I truly believe it will not be long before the “Old” and “New” fault lines reappear and cause a split akin but more damaging than the SDP days. This could signal the end of the Labour Party as a major political force perhaps forever.

Just in case you think this is some form of scaremongering by a current Conservative supporter – here’s some hopefully logical “fuel for thought”.

In our first publication we had an exceptional interview with Daniel Burrus, a world-renowned futurologist. In it he talked about “Hard” and “Soft” trends.

  • A “Hard” trend is something that will, without question, happen and therefore you can plan for it and respond to it.
  • A “Soft” trend is something that happens completely unexpectedly and therefore can’t be planned for.

His very sensible advice: focus on the hard trends and don’t worry about the soft trends as there is not much you can actually do about them from a strategic perspective.

So from a “Hard” trend perspective, I believe the future looks very bleak for a working class, core vote-based party.

The rise of globalisation and technology has and will continue to erode jobs and future opportunities for the relatively unskilled mass worker force. Based on these trends, we will continue to see a rise in a service- or artisan-focused, agile, high-skilled, creative workforce.

In addition, due to the above trends, I fully expect the trend of small, upstart businesses, definitely not as usual companies, to continue to lead the way in growth and jobs at the expense of traditional big business.

The simple fact for me is that all the above no longer need or want a trade union to purportedly represent their interests.

Lastly, the traditional socialist model of all being equal has almost reached the end of its lifecycle. The information age, plus the continued failure of any of the so-called socialist countries to provide a sustainable and positive blueprint for the future, marks the beginning of the end for this theoretical experiment.

For companies to survive and thrive in this day and age, the balance of power has truly shifted. Workers need enlightened bosses, more than these enlightened bosses need a traditional UK worker.

So in summary, unless something truly remarkable happens, a DNA based on an outdated philosophy and most importantly a rapidly shrinking core target audience, the future looks bleak for the Labour Party.

A Party that “Means Business”? – The Conservatives.

OK, so this is the point where you would expect me, based on previous comments, to spout lyrically about how amazing the Conservative Party is.

Don’t get me wrong, as a family man and new business owner I was delighted and relieved that the Conservatives won a majority.

However, let’s face the facts, fairer boundary changes would have helped. Based on running against the two most incompetent Labour leaders since Michael Foot, to achieve firstly a hung parliament and then a tiny majority shows that work still truly needs to be done.

No doubt Mr Crosby will head back to Australia with both an enhanced reputation and a far superior bank balance, but as a lifelong Manchester United supporter I have been schooled on the ethos that it is not just winning but also the way you win that matters.

To be fair, the one area where I believe the election strategy was exceptional was in Scotland. It would have been relatively easy to scupper the SNP’s reputation by pointing out that their independence platform was based on oil revenues that subsequently tanked. To not only leave that fact alone but to include them in the televised debate – genius! The result: total Labour Party decimation in Scotland.

As one of my favourite phrases says:

“The best generals never go to war”

Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Anyway, back to what the election result could mean for the Conservative Party. For me the party is at a very important crossroads, namely get it right and it could govern for decades, get it wrong and we have a serious of hung parliaments, minority governments or coalitions for a long period of time.

Unlike the Labour Party, the Conservative DNA is one that supports business and higher earners, so its core vote seems pretty much guaranteed for years to come.

However, to ensure future landslide victories it needs to show it is the party of aspiration and inspiration for everybody and anybody that wants to better themselves.

Also, and in parallel, it needs to finally rid itself of what I call “the up-your-own-arse, rules-are-rules”, completely insulated from “real life”, “private golf club”, “do you know how important I am”, “committee member” reputation. (OK, a bit of a rant but hopefully you get my point!)

One of the reasons I hold Margaret Thatcher in such high esteem was that she not only broke through this “private, privileged, men-only members club” glass ceiling, but throughout her career continued to treat them with, when needed, the disdain they deserved.

Unlike Margaret Thatcher, I truly believe that David Cameron has not only a more compassionate natural DNA, but as importantly has the confidence and the team around him to potentially do something spectacular to this great nation of ours.

However, to gain his place in the pantheon of exceptional prime ministers, he needs to be not just a bit but exceptionally radical in his policies.

The western world is and has been in decline for a considerable period of time. For anyone who doubts this, I suggest you read The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P Huntington. This is, in my opinion, one of the most exceptional and prophetic books I have ever had the good fortune to read.

The author has now sadly passed away but just as a flavour, originally written in 1992 and then reissued at the start of the century, he forecast the break-up of Ukraine and the rise of nationalism based on sectarian and religious grounds. Believe me, well worth a read.

Based on my business experience, as a country, and this also applies to the western world in general, we are at the most dangerous phase in our life cycle.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of people in the UK and in the western world generally have a pretty decent standard of life. It’s what I deem the “ok” syndrome. This for me is THE warning sign for any country or business.

Why? Because “ok” means stagnation, namely no real requirement to change and/or no real hunger, support or desire to do things differently.

This “ok” syndrome normally means the support and infrastructure network is geared up to being as is, and not developing, driving and therefore truly supporting the requirements to be better or even exceptional.

I have never run or have any intention to run a country, so I’m going to focus on something I do have some knowledge about, namely running a business, to explain the future stages of an “ok” mentality.

Sorry for the language used but coming from the “north” we see it as a useful verb… It all starts with people being in a comfort zone, namely, “I have a decent job and a decent life, let’s just not fuck anything up by doing anything different or risky.”

The first stage is normally denial: this new competitor/situation is just a short-term thing, it will never catch on. (Kodak and digital, Blackberry and the iPhone immediately spring to mind.)

The next stage is panic and a knee-jerk, short-term focus that normally goes completely against the DNA and long-term strategy that made the company successful in the first place. (For example, Tesco and its “financial” policy, plus major airlines’ responses so far to budget carriers.)

Ok, almost there. The next bit is what I call the “brain and cash drain”. The best people because they are smart have left, plus the short termism policy and core business decline has meant all those hard earned cash reserves have gone.

The last stage is either death or possibly rebirth if lucky via a new management team. (Think Steve Jobs at Apple part 2, Lou Gerstner at IBM.)

Yep, another Ronnie Corbett in his armchair digression!

While not specifically targeted against the UK, I truly believe Europe as an entity has begun to enter phase 3 in relation to the above. It needs to be shown the way and accept that only via radical yet intelligent change can our current western way of life be maintained and actually enhanced.

For me and yes I know, I know, I’m beginning to bore you all shitless with the lifecycle model, the UK is not only well ahead of the curve, but probably the only country in Europe to show the way ahead.

Despite or maybe because of its size, a group of disparate and warring nations joined together to form a united kingdom, because of this union and a restless curiosity to explore the world we became an economic and military superpower.

The simple blueprint behind this was a clear coming together of government, education and business.

Today, we’re already experiencing the next industrial revolution due to technological advance, globalisation and the information age.

The key question I would pose for the Conservative Party is, while they have the leader and team to do something spectacular again, do they have the vision and the balls to actually make it happen? Over to you, Dave!

The Other Key Parties: a protest movement or here for good or bad?

SNP – A Road to Independence, or Proven Incompetence?

Anybody who has had the good fortune to visit Scotland or know the Scots will not only have had a great time and lots of fun, but also realised the Scots’ pride in their country of birth.

Hats off to both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond for being masters in the short term, in the art of politics. Namely, to ensure you are credibly one of “your own” and then tell them what the majority want to hear.

Especially after the independence vote, who would you prefer to represent your interests in a country proud of its heritage? A feisty couple that gave Scotland a chance to decide its own future or a posh geek from London who, while supposedly representing the Labour movement, was basically a liability if he even visited Scotland?

So what of the future for Scotland and the SNP?

Given the political skills of its core team, I seriously doubt the party will become a minor player in Scottish politics in the short term. However, another of my favourite phrases is, “Be careful what you wish for, just in case it might happen”.

As stated above, given the core “hard” trends, it’s quite clear that any country which relies on the working class who do a job, rather than supporting the people who create jobs and therefore add real wealth to the economy will be pretty much short lived.

Given this, when I get to my perspectives in regard to key factors that will have a major potential impact on the UK over the course of the next five years, I have not included the break-up of the Union.

The rationale for this is quite simple. If senior Tory party members’ comments in the press are to be believed, it is almost a confirmed strategy to give Scotland all the powers it needs apart from anything in the UK national interest.

This for me is a win-win strategy for the current government.

If the SNP actually makes a success of things given full control while remaining in the Union, the likelihood of the Scots voting for independence is highly unlikely.

If things go awry as most socialist approaches do once the real income and job generators have left, not only will this further cement Scotland staying in the UK, but also might, just might, based on whether the Northern Powerhouse Model is successful, result in the Conservatives potentially becoming a competitive party in Scotland.

UKIP – a Brief Flame or a Raging Fire?

For me, the potential role of UKIP in the future of British politics is far more difficult to answer. The size of the public vote across the nation, but with only one elected MP, shows a level of connection with people that should not be underestimated. However, it means a party with little or no influence in the current parliament.

Also, let’s face it, and I’m highly unlikely to support or vote for this party, but the fact that their prospective MPs actually said what they were thinking, no matter how stupid or inflammatory, was such a refreshing change, and on occasions quite amusing, as an antidote to the positive sound-bite, stage-managed messages of the main parties.

In addition, and I believe this is key learning for all the other parties, a large percentage of voters are more interested in populist desires and wants rather than ideological dogma.

As an example and ok many, many moons ago, Sean Ryder, the lead singer of the Happy Mondays and a Salford lad (very much a Labour stronghold) stated he would vote Conservative because they promised 24-hour TV.

Ok, whether he did or didn’t vote for them I have no idea, but sometimes it’s the tangible, small, real life factors or changes for certain people that can make a big difference in who they vote for.

Clearly, the promise to hold an EU referendum by the Conservative Party was once again a very clever strategy to take the wind, so to speak, out of the UKIP sails, but even so they still achieved a pretty impressive level of support.

So as to the future: for me, it’s very much dependent on them broadening the message way above and beyond just a main anti-EU ticket. While this remains their main message, the likelihood is once the referendum has been put to the people of the UK, they could lose all relevance and momentum.

However, with a revised, real, populist agenda and a stronger team rather than a reliance on an attention-grabbing figurehead, they may be able to prove that what started as a protest vote could potentially resonate with some of the more disillusioned or fed up “being talked down to” electorate.

So What of the Future?

So the political future of all the parties, a bit like the election, is one of unknowns. Without question, we have entered a new chapter of politics. How this all pans out is down to the strategic decisions taken over the next five years by all the parties. My gut feeling: we may all be surprised at what finally pans out, and it’s unlikely to be the traditional two-horse race of yesteryear.

So despite “expert forecasts” we have a small Conservative majority. The next key question is what does this mean for the future?

I will focus on the three key issues, some obvious, others may be less so, that will define in my opinion not only the next five years but also potentially the UK’s success and global influence for years to come.

Small is the New Big!

Perhaps not the most obvious, but for me the following is the most important hard trend that will have a major impact on the future, not only of this country but the world in general.

As mentioned previously, we’ve entered a new industrial revolution. The speed of technological advances, globalisation, plus the information age means that previous approaches to business and government are rapidly becoming obsolete.

To put this into a pragmatic and hopefully enlightening context, let’s take the example of our company and our publication, bullitthd.com.

Quite simply, what we have done would have been completely impossible 20 years ago, and incredibly difficult and costly when I wrote the first positioning paper for the publication even some seven years ago.

Because of the internet and technological advances, we’ve been able to launch a publication that can be accessed globally with a very small team scattered around the UK and the world.

And yes, while large companies will continue to exist it will be smaller, more nimble ones that will be the real growth and ideas generator in the future.

The consultancy company, What If!, likened it to being a speedboat not a supertanker. Given the exceptional speed of change taking place, the “command and control” approach of large entities will quite simply not be able to adjust fast enough to truly exploit this.

Based on this and with “small” government having always been in the Conservative DNA, we will see more and more traditional “big government” responsibility given to the regions.

While all the focus has been on devolution to the various countries that make up the UK, the more exciting and truly groundbreaking developments will be the transfer of powers to regions in England.

The Manchester Model will for me be the blueprint for the future of the UK, with more and more powers and budgets transferred from Westminster and given to people locally.

As any sensible businessman knows, especially given the increasing complexity of this world, it’s the people at the coal face who normally have not only the best understanding of what needs to be done, but also the motivation and clear need to make it happen.

Also, once these powers have been given away it would be very, very difficult for any future government to get them back.

I truly believe this election will finally see the end of big government and, most importantly, will sound the death knell to the belief that central control can solve all our ills and run our lives.

The European Union – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This is the most difficult to assess in regard to a positive outcome. Personally, I believe we should stay in but this is based on a belief that to vote Yes change must happen.

Let’s face it, the original Common Market was and still is dominated by a couple of countries determined to ensure that ultimately any and all major decisions are in their countries’ best interests.

However, this Franco/German hegemony is now starting to unravel.

France, due to its socialist leanings and therefore the massive reliance on the state for employment, is suddenly seeing the harsh realities of an over-protected workforce being exposed to real global competition. So unless they have a Margaret Thatcher moment, their economic and therefore political influence will continue to diminish.

Germany, while also very much protectionist (if in doubt, check out how many German companies have been taken over by international companies; believe me it won’t take you long), are far more pragmatic when it comes to the economic realities of the European Union.

As the economic powerhouse of the union and because of its focus on very high quality, high end products, Germany is far more likely, if only for selfish reasons, to support a less centrally controlled UK and more free market-driven approach.

If you doubt this, I suggest you investigate what cars the Greeks bought during the initial positive euro bubble and are now trying to offload. (Hint: it wasn’t Renault, Citroen or Peugeot.)

So to my most risky forecast. I actually believe the UK will stay in Europe. Not only that, but over the coming years we will move away from the Franco/German domination of Europe.

In its place I believe an Anglo/German/Polish/Dutch and Nordic, Northern Europe axis will evolve, with a focus on economic and also military might.

Education – A Means to an End

Last but not least, quite possibly the most important change that will be implemented over the next five years will be a complete and radical overhaul of our education system.

Put simply, given the seismic changes going on in the world, it won’t be long before the private sector fully realises and therefore acts to change an antiquated system; from one that’s based on knowledge into one that makes kids think.

The current model in which children can leave school having memorised the names of all of Henry VIII’s wives and yet have no understanding of business or most importantly the ability to think creatively will cease.

The information age has meant knowledge is cheap and easy to obtain. It’ll be those kids educated to think differently, who can pull together various pieces of potentially obscure information into an amazing insight and create business ideas or products, who will be in demand.

The only way we can change that is by relying on those “that do”, not those that teach, to lead the way.