I have observed the Labour Party in Parliament, government and campaigning as sopmeone whose work life has been spent in helping organisations, national and international, public and private, to perform. On becoming leader of the opposition, John Smith asked me to redesign the Party’s Orgnanisation. An Organisation can only be redesigned to fulfil it’s objectives.
‘What are they?’ I asked in 1992 to silent response. ‘How about, to win elections and to govern well?’
The review took off and with the input of many modernisers – including Phillip Gould, Tom Sawyer, Bill Clinton’s election winning democrat machine, Charles Clarke, Gordon Brown, Jack Straw (my brother) and Tony Blair – it became a blueprint for New Labour’s Organisation.
It was too much for John Smith. He took up about a third of its recommendations and ‘locked the rest up in a cupboard and threw away the key’, as Jonathan Powell was told when Tony Blair became leader. I furnished a copy and briefing. The rest is history.
Everything changed from the Labour Party HQ focusing on delivery not politics, the sidelining of the NEC bringing coherence to anuthority and party discipline, rebuttal, communications (taking a leaf from the ‘speed kills Bush’ philosophy) to new people. At last the ruthlessness in decision (and humanity execution) any organisation needs to move on those who are no longer working , the Labour Party leadership acquired.
The world moves on and things change as they always do . What would I be saying now of the Labour Party’s organisation , having continued to advise it and observe ministers, special advisors, MPs and others from perhaps a unique vantage point.
Firstly, no matter how good we are, there comes a time when we can do no more for an organisation and indeed, when we become net negative. Despite having achieved much and still there being much to be done, that dawning came for me after six years as chair of Relate. Despite the size of my organisation tool bag, a fresh and different approach and style was needed. Despite my power with words, people had become bored with my voice.And I was tired. I retired. Relate continued to develop. Good!
The US has some things right in its sytem of government. One of those is the maximun term for a President of eight years.
Tony Blair has been a very fine leader and Prime Minister. And he is no longer able to add value to the UK. A change is needed, is overdue and needs to happen today.
Second, the pattern and network of relationships at the centre of government, a centre which is itself over-complex, has become type-cast. Working it harder will not produce the desired results.. It has to change and with it, a critical mass of its faces.
Third, people can get locked into jobs and find themselves unable to leave voluntarily. This happens at all levels. I have been made redundant twice agaisnt my will. On both occassions, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in my work life.
It is very sad but true that Tony will only leave in a box with Cherie at his side. Emotionally and psychologically he is stuck. Many of the very motivations which swept him to No. 10 and made him successful, keep him there.
Almost everyone in a top role has high control needs, borne of childhood losses. Who makes it to the top in the corporate boardroom? As John Hervey-Jones has said, not necessarially the most able, but the one who wants it more. The self- beliefs are powerful; ‘Only I can do this’, ‘ I know what is best’ including the right time to go. All reinforced by the diminishing court around him , whose top jobs depend on him staying.
Tony probablyt sincerely believes that staying is right. And having made a loose agreement to go will find sincere reason to stay next year and thereafter through to redundancy at the election, convincing himself of the ‘best interests’ of that descision.
And whilst we all see it as terminal, he has faced and overcome far greater challenges than this, from Clause 4 to the Iraq War. Time and time again, his astonishing political dexerity, his acute awareness of what others think and their unconscious cues, and his oration have meant he has seemingly simultaneously kept Mondeo man, Murdoch and the trade unions happy or quiet.
Just as Alex Ferguson cannot contemplate the prospect of England winning the World Cup, so Tony cannot bear the thought of Gordon occupying his house, his job his hands on the controls.
Fourth, in organisations at times of change, the disincentives and penalties for leading the removal of leaders are high. Very few remove their overdue heads on time. I have seen this time and again from IBM and Reuters to the National Theatre and Nottinghill Carnival. Periodically I have found myself taking soundings in the governing group, reassuring each that they all want change, administering brandy and hot towels as the decision approaches and holding the hand steady as the gun is fired.
Gordon Brown still waits for the handshakes to be honoured. The downsides of the alternative way heavily: old style party public in fighting , and the personal assassination of his co -former of New Labour and colleague for 10+ years.
Fifth, all successful organisations have strong governance over the executive and that includes the appraisal, reward and removal of those at the top.
The Parliamentary Labour Party has too few formal roles, but killing off overdue leaders is one of them . As I learnt many years ago, the Conservative Party always has been world class at knowing when its leaders needed to go and in being ruthless in doing so. The Labour Party has never done in my memory, preferring to wait and lose. Neil Kinnock should have gone well before 1992 to win that election, but he stayed. John Smith versus John Major would have been a different story. The issue now is of party disapline so long imposed rightly, by the leadership of the party, and accepted. Disapline cuts both ways. It is the prime ministers term to submit to Party discipline. The PLP has to do it, and now. Waiting serves no purpose.
Once having the requoisite number of public signatures and a vote if necessary, allow no wriggle and deliver the cuop de grace. Cruel to be kind. Then agree a rule that noone should serve as Prime Minister a day longer than eight years.
Over to you PLP.