Tuition Fees: Power and Promises


7. What Does Good Leadership Look Like?

By considering ‘what good looks like’ for leadership, it might be possible to make an objective  judgement about the LibDem leadership’s policy u-turn.

To do so, we need to consider the question in two ways:

  • what are the hallmarks of effective leadership within the organisation itself?
  • what are the hallmarks of effective leadership in the environment in which the organisation operates?

8. Effective Leadership within the Organisation

Some of the more commonly observed features of organisations with a ‘high leadership quotient’ are as follows:

  • Innovation and change are embraced and risks are taken;
  • Purpose and direction are increasingly clear and understood;
  • Belief in the organisation matures and deepens;
  • Individual and organisational goals overlap or even coincide;
  • External issues and concerns increasingly overshadow introspection;
  • The organisation’s reputation increasingly develops as an asset;
  • Energy increases but without simply consuming more resources;
  • Pride is taken in competitive performance and there is an appetite for improvement;
  • Learning is valued and lessons are adopted.

Above all, it is relatively easy to get things done in, and by, these organisations.

In contrast, in organisations with a low leadership quotient, it is not possible to get anything done without massively disproportionate effort and endeavour.

So how does the LibDem leadership score against these criteria? What is the current state of the LibDem organisation?

  • The LibDems are now in disarray, with only 54% of those who voted LibDem in May planning to do so at the next election (source: Sunday Telegraph poll, reported in the Independent);
  • Policy direction is hotly disputed, with the LibDems deputy leader admitting there is ‘considerable anger that we’ve got ourselves in this position’;
  • The party’s energies have been almost exclusively focused inwardly for the last month or so trying to deal with this anger;
  • Innovation and risk  – in the shape of the originally pledged tuition fees policy – has been eschewed in favour of pragmatic compromise;
  • The party’s reputation is in tatters and pride in the party has taken an apologetic back-seat;
  • Learning from the policy u-turn has been drowned out by endless and inconsistent attempts to rationalise the breaking of a promise.

Weighing against all this, the LibDem organisation has secured a share of power, and this power is being used: it can get things done.

But only at the cost of redefining the party’s purpose (as evidenced by its policies) and by undertaking a titanic internal struggle, which has left wounds which will take a long time to heal. This does not seem like a good exchange.

3 thoughts on “Tuition Fees: Power and Promises

  1. On matters in general I am an idealist. But on tuition fees I am one of Spincop’s pragmatists. The political ‘system’ (of which we are all a part in one way or another) expects political parties to make election commitments, to simplify and avoid nuance, and not to hedge their bets with ‘ifs and buts’. Parties know that they need to win power if they are to achieve anything. So, they make promises to garner our votes. But the public should take election manifestos with a pinch of salt. If the LibDems had been elected to govern, perhaps the critics would have a point, but the Conservatives won the election. The Government is a coalition, with LibDems a minority. All parties to a coalition cannot have their way. Compromise when it comes to Commons voting means that one party or another is going to be open to the charge of breaking a pledge or principle, not sticking to its guns, etc. Politicians would be wise to resist making pre-election promises. The public and media need to grow up. Instead of singling out the big fish to blame, see and understand that the fishtank (aka the system of attaining and exercising political power) is “fearful, stressful, murky, confusing and insecure”. Cleaning up electioneering (as Phil Woolas found to his cost) is necessary, but political fish will never shine as brightly as we’d like them too, because the water is always going to be somewhat dirty. Not just here but in the Middle East too. It’s easy to see and blame the sharks in Sharm el-Sheikh’s blue waters, but it’s people who dump food waste in those waters and feed fish to get nearer to them and take better pictures. A few days ago I passed a road sign saying ‘Don’t complain about the traffic: you are the traffic’. Well, we are all a part of a politician’s environment: they sometimes feed us promises because they know that is what we want to hear them say, and then we reward them. So stop feeding them in return. Vote for the ‘no promises’ party! Most of them are really trying to do their best in the circumstances. That all we should hold them accountable for.

    1. Bill – this is a good, robust response to the post, much of which I’m in agreement with. I am critical of Clegg, but I accept your point that he’s been swimming in filthy water for some time! I would just like to see a leader (of any political persuasion) make a start, no matter how small, on cleaning it up.

      My particular concern here is that people in high profile leadership roles (in public life and in business) are undermining the credibility of leadership when they act in this way. A classic example is calling for restraint, belt-tightening and sacrifice. This only has any real power if your own record on these matters stands up to scrutiny.

      When it doesn’t, you just water the seeds of cycnicism. How many more percentage points can the ‘I never trust a politican’ score increase by before the whole system is in terminal disrepute? There are some pretty unsavoury political movements swimming in the waters already; people in power should be careful not to provide them with a food supply. Thanks again for your excellent feedback.

  2. I’d have some sympathy with the cry of ‘we didn’t know how bad it was until we were in power, and so that is why we are going back on our promise’ if they didn’t all read the same briefings, walk down the same corridors, and drink in the same bars. In business, if you are externally recruited this cry washes, if you are promoted or transferred from another unit it does not. I suggest that Clegg has been promoted or perhaps transferred from another unit.

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