If you were a Martian leadership consultant reading about the politics of the curious island of Brexit Britain, here are just a few of the earthly facts that would come up on your alien console:
- We have had thirteen years of Conservative government.
- Austerity on steroids swung the Brexit vote by 12%.
- Brexit has failed to ‘take back control’ of immigration, now running at record levels compared with 2016.
- The planned mega funeral pyre of 4000 EU laws is now a smokeless fire pit.
- Brexit has contributed to the wages-price spiral with identifiable impacts on food prices and wages in some sectors.
- Brexit has consumed five Prime Ministers (and counting).
- Scotland has been denied democracy in a country once held up as a leader of democracy.
- There was a mass evacuation of No 10 after someone nudged the gates of Downing Street at 2 mph.
Does this sound like a science fiction novel? Read on.
There is now a sense of chaos, crisis and confusion in government as Martin Roche (not a Martian) explained in his article ‘Regimes are at their most dangerous in their death throes’. I don’t envy Rishi Sunak in his ambition to turn the cabinet of chaos, crisis and confusion round. Leadership of warring factions is extremely difficult. Sunak will know that four of his predecessors have paid the ultimate price for even trying. It will call on every aspect of his leadership skills to do it. Here I offer Mr Sunak some friendly advice.
The search for unity
In all normal enterprises, leaders focus on delivering services to their publics / customers and, in so doing, unite their enterprise internally through fulfilling their mission and delivering success externally. A focus on external affairs rather than what I call ‘internal combustion’ is often one of the more effective ways of achieving unity.
In short, nothing succeeds like success. However, when a toxic organisational culture prevails, I find that this is often insufficient, from my work as an Organisational Development (OD) consultant. The internecine conflict that became a chronic condition within the Conservative party means that the internal affairs of the party always scupper any attempts to focus on delivery and external results.
David Cameron, an appeaser, conceived of the Brexit referendum as a Tory party ‘team building’ exercise which would settle divisions. It did the exact opposite and Cameron might have been better advised to take the party on a series of white-water rafting team events. These would certainly have been less expensive and possibly more productive.
Theresa May attempted an even-handed approach to leading the party, appointing a ‘48 : 52 cabinet’, roughly balanced between Remainers and Brexiteers, whilst trying to keep some of the most extreme elements at arms’ length. She may have succeeded, but for the European Research Group (ERG), who devoured her, appointing Boris Johnson as their saviour.
It’s just a lurch to the right …
At this point, all question of balance ended, with Johnson appointing a cabinet of Brexiteers and expelling all who showed dissent. One might have thought that the attempt at unity by narrowing the gene pool might have been more effective, but no. Once Johnson had fulfilled his purpose, by wrapping Brexit in cellophane and popping it in a microwave oven at ‘gas mark 4’, it became obvious that the deal he struck could never be delivered to the satisfaction of the ERG. It also became apparent that even the Brexiteers in his party could not agree what Brexit actually meant. Eventually, reasons were found to topple Johnson.
The hiatus of Johnson’s departure offered the Conservatives with an opportunity for a reset. But it never happened. A damaging campaign of bloodletting ensued between Liz Truss’ fan club and Team Rishi. The Truss’ leadership was characterised by incompetence, intransigence, insincerity and insecurity. Truss won her premiership on a slew of meaningless catchphrases, many of which included the word ‘deliver’. Truss was more decisive and didactic as a leader, sacking people who angered her or broke rules, such as Suella Braverman and Kwasi Kwarteng. However, any world leader that suggests that a highly successful leader of another country is someone who is ‘best ignored’ has some severe insecurities beneath the veneer.
The cocaine fuelled ‘Trussonomics’ budget produced an early end to Liz Truss, costing the country an uncool £70 billion and ending young people’s dreams of home ownership for the foreseeable future. Truss’ days were numbered, possibly more because of ERG misgivings about her appointments of former remainers to government than the nuclear levels of financial mismanagement. The toxic combination of muscular confidence and sheer incompetence / intransigence eventually brought about Truss’ end. I epitomised Truss’s 46-day reign in this piece of music that I wrote and produced:
The ERG probably realised that they could not afford another toxic leadership tournament, given the approaching general election. So Steve Baker et al. said that the fighting was over and they would all unite under Rishi Sunak. By comparison with Truss, Sunak exudes competence and confidence. However, he knows that he does not command the confidence or support of his party, having not been elected.
The policy chasms between growth and caution were exposed in the Truss / Sunak beauty contest. This means that Sunak is weak. It explains why he has not been able to sack ministers who have demonstrated gross incompetence and scant regard for standards in professional life. Nor has he been able face down ERG demands for a harder Brexit when it has become obvious to all but Jacob Rees-Mogg that Brexit broke Britain. Sunak also feels he must support illegal, immoral and indecent approaches to asylum seekers, because he is frightened of Suella Braverman and the people who hide in the shadows behind her.
Keeping up appearances
The present silence of the ERG seems to come from a position of desperation rather than genuine unity. In OD terms, I expect therefore, further conflict and challenge to Rishi Sunak’s leadership in the coming months, as the cost-of-living crisis and other factors restrict the choices he can make in the Tory cabinet of chaos, crisis and confusion.
As I said on LBC Radio with James O’Brien recently, Rishi Sunak would be well advised to move towards the centre of politics, in order to seek the prize of re-election. I fear however that he will be forced to lurch inexorably to the far right by Badenoch, Mordaunt, Farage, Coffey, Truss et al. to maintain the appearance of unity. This will be their undoing. Essentially Rishi is Sunakered.
Join Peter Cook online to discuss ways to ensure that ‘populism will eat itself’ and plan for 2024 at his ZOOM event on Wednesday June 7th at 8 pm via this link.
We need your help!
The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs.
If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette from as little as £2 a month🙏