Philip Whiteley's Blog

September 17, 2014

Specialist politicians are inept at politics

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:48 pm

Last week I characterized Clegg-Cameron-Miliband as ‘three overgrown schoolboys’. This was insulting. I apologize immediately and unreservedly to schoolboys everywhere. Even I did not expect that they would be quite so clueless, panicky and naïve in their dealings with the canny Alex Salmond. What a mismatch! If it were a boxing match, it would have to have been stopped by now.

They’ve been played. When Mr Salmond spells out plans for independence that are quite deliberately vague and contradictory, I shout at the TV: ‘It’s a trap! Don’t do it! Don’t wade in with dire projections of capital flight, austerity and unemployment!’

Too late. They can’t hear me. Salmond then plays his ‘scaremongering’ card and his support is bolstered. Westminster has ignored Scotland for so long that all his narratives have resonance, the honest ones and the disingenuous ones alike.

Then, without consulting any voters, the party leaders with Gordon Brown decide to offer everything Mr Salmond ever wished: more powers, generous subsidies, keep the pound. The matter is agreed in a back-of-an-envelope deal before the votes are even cast. It would sell out the taxpayers of England, Northern Ireland and Wales (the last of which will probably be hit hardest, and has greater needs than Scotland), although there is no guarantee that they can get it through Parliament.

What should they have done instead? Lay out a positive vision for Scotland in the union. Point out that California did not have to secede from the USA to become an economic powerhouse, and challenge Mr Salmond’s emphasis on oil. The bedrock of lasting prosperity is strong schools and universities, not commodities. Also, they should have started these narratives months ago.

Basic principles for negotiation are: talk calmly, negotiate firmly. Clegg-Cameron-Miliband have done the opposite: insulted and patronized the Scots, but rolled over in the actual negotiations. One explanation is the issue I referred to last week: the insular nature of politicians who’ve only done politics. Their world is one of marketing skills and understanding Westminster: when it’s real lives and economies at stake in actual negotiations, they have little real-world experience. In the old days, a Tory would have actually run a business, and a Labour minister would have actually run a union. They would have known something about how to handle negotiations when the welfare of your firm or your members is at stake. Clegg-Cameron-Miliband, A-grade students with an exaggerated sense of their own control, panic when faced with unexpected events.

The politics of this is now quite scary. The psychology, however, is fascinating.

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