The twelve rules of opposition: day 11

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 11 – What gets measured gets managed

Labour’s favourite pearly peer, Maurice Glasman, popped up last week with his latest sage intervention. This time he was attacking the monopoly of Oxbridge graduates at the top of British politics.

Ignoring, for a moment, the alma mater of Ed Miliband, the man who saw fit to enoble Lord Glasman, and the piquancy of a peer of the realm railing against elitism, he nearly had a point.

Glasman was right to identify an issue with the background of the current crop of political leaders, but an Oxbridge education is not it.

My Uncut colleague Rob Marchant put his finger on it when he tweeted that the real problem was that so many them had never had a proper job.

There’s nothing wrong with having only worked in the Westminster village per se. Many politicos work extremely hard and achieve great things.

Few can doubt Ed Balls’ pivotal role in ensuring that Labour did not enter the euro, which, in hindsight was one of the party’s most valuable legacies from government.

But life as a journalist or political adviser has its limits if the ultimate destination is Parliament.

This new caste of politicians has become increasingly proficient in the Westminster game of snakes and ladders, at the cost of broader experience. The specialised gene pool from which they are drawn has led to professional inbreeding.

Rule 11 involves applying the basics of modern management practice to the operation of politics: if it matters, measure it.

But it is one of the hardest for the political classes to grasp.

Write the initials MI, and many in politics would think it refers to Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster rather than management information.

In private, public and voluntary sectors, the importance of effective measurement is axiomatic for successful delivery. “What gets measured gets managed” is an aphorism embossed on the psyche of every effective programme manager.

But politics remains ossified in a management world where amateurs still reign over players.

Measurement is a prosaic and tedious practice compared to the glamour of spinning to journalists, generating the next big policy idea or political manoeuvring.

The manner in which leaders conduct their most important act of party management exemplifies the problem.

At reshuffle time, decisions on who is promoted and who is sacked are based almost entirely on opinion and hearsay.

Rarely are they leavened with some hard measurement – who has generated the most positive news coverage for the party? Spent the most time campaigning in the country? Or recruited the most members?

Each of these metrics is eminently measurable, but has never been applied.

Rule 11 would underpin the effective delivery of all the other rules of opposition. It would track progress in making the changes the party requires, to the schedule needed to win the next election.

For example, rule 6 involves showing the leader’s human side. Simple process measures like the number of human interest stories placed in the media, along with output metrics such as polling on the leader’s image amongst readers and viewers of these pieces, would track how the leader was humanised.

Similarly, for rule 7, which requires building alliances with truculent government backbenchers, metrics such as the numbers of their backbenchers signing opposition EDMs, abstaining on opposition motions and ultimately voting against the government would measure progress in fomenting rebellion.

But the prospects for making rule 11 a reality are not bright. The current shadow cabinet has the narrowest breadth of experience outside of politics, ever.

12 members of the current shadow cabinet have spent the majority of their career before Parliament in the orbit of Westminster, leaving education for the carousel of think tanks, campaign groups, journalism, lobbying and berths advising MPs before securing a seat: Miliband, Harman, Alexander, Balls, Benn, Burnham,  Cooper, Angela Eagle, Murphy, Twigg, Watson, and Winterton.

In comparison, for the cabinet it was  6: Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Gove, Lansley and Alexander.

Anthony Painter wrote recently of a nepotistic guild at the top of the Labour party that stifled true diversity. Peter Watt described a political bubble that demanded group think and enforced loyalty.

Both are right.

But there’s more.

Unless Labour’s politicians consciously make an effort to broaden their professional experience and skills, their increasing homogeneity will not just perpetuate today’s insular and unquestioning elite, it will threaten the ability of the party to learn from the outside world and evolve.

Management might not be a sexy topic for politicians, but it’s more interesting than a future as a political dodo.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

Tags: , , ,

10 Responses to “The twelve rules of opposition: day 11”

  1. Frederick James says:

    Good piece, but if you continue to fastidiously avert your gaze from Rule 13 there is no point pontificating about 1 to 12.

  2. figurewizard says:

    You could make a start by putting more emphasis on advisors who understand good business practice and less on self styled PR gurus. That of course would involve actually listening to what they would have to say, about the dangers of operating operating cash flow deficits and ensuring an acceptable level of investment to maintain a positive debt to asset ratio for example. Some may scorn such approaches but these are exactly the issues that have put the world’s financial markets in a spin over Eurozone sovereign debt and would have done so in respect of Gilts if they had not accepted that they were going to be addressed here.

  3. Richard Scorer says:

    Good piece, but there’s a further dimension to this. The last Labour government was far too uncritical in its approach to the City/ financial sector and I would suggest that this itself arose , in part, from a lack of real world experience amongst the ministers involved . If at least some of them had had more business they might have understood better how the financial sector works in reality and thus been less easily impressed/suckered by it. Business experience cuts both ways, there are useful private sector management disciplines to be acquired but an awareness of how the financial sector actually operates in the real world (as opposed to economics textbooks) would have served our Labour ministers well.

  4. tokyo nambu says:

    “What gets measured get managed” is indeed an aphorism of project managers, but it doesn’t quite mean what you imply. It’s not used an argument just about measurement, but about what you measure. It’s taken not as encouragement to measure, but to be very careful about whatever it is that you are measuring ending up being the only thing you manage. It’s a warning against proxy measurements.

    Labour got this wrong, because it boasted of “investment” as a good in itself, rather than worrying overmuch about the benefits the investment wrought. So its management strategy ended up just spending more money. Maybe it made things better, but no-one was counting.

  5. Ayub Khan says:

    Good post. My view, let’s get people who have had good and successful careers from outside into Parliament. People will relate to them much better and they will of course bring professional skill as well.

    The limited gene pool from which the current crop comes from do not relate to everyday folk. Labour must not just recognise this but do something about it.

  6. AmberStar says:

    “What gets measured gets managed”

    It is a good maxim, provided it is worthwhile actions & outcomes which are being measured.

    Our local branch is having a meeting tomorrow. On the agenda: What is the purpose of branches/ branch meetings?

    One of the purposes of our meetings, if we are to be activists rather than just members of a club, should be to decide on actions which we will perform by a specific date, with progress being followed up at successive meetings until the required outcome(s) is(are) achieved.

  7. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    …and I wonder who first mentioned this business of an unsular unelite band of nepotists? LOL But then i do have a way of putting things and am no longer in this party (thank God).

    Also your reach can stretch greater than mine as it’s bad tasting medicine that needs to be swallowed if the ramshackle embarrassment of a Shadow cabinet is to be even noticed by a wiser public.

    I was surprised at the methods you mentioned Atul, regarding how MPs get “promoted” lol, I can see now why they were so eager to prevent me becoming an MP. I would have simply laughed. I would have laughed at them all. I am terribly sorry but it is very funny. Even in a Dole Office there is more professionalism, or say a gang of thugs even take a measure of each other due to fear of the most “capable” candidate, even when we were children we knew who was the strongest, fastest, best at hoodwinking the teachers. Lol how funny ;).

    It would seem entitling the MPs and NEC as “Feudal” is too great a compliment as even such backwards systems were based upon more than merely gossip. I’m not even sure the word “unelite” does these complete losers sufficiently low credit and will have to think on this. I can’t wait to tell my mates about this lol thanks for giving me an amusing late evening…..don’t worry about stealing my ideas, it’s cool as you have repaid me full in kind lol.

  8. Les Abbey says:

    Yet it was during the Blairite New Labour government period that we see this Oxbridge group of ex-Spads, NGO and think tank wonks that Glasman refers to come to prominence. What were you saying Atul, Painter, Marchant and Watt when this was happening? I don’t seem to remember anyone telling Blair it was wrong to promote these apparatchiks or the many clones that are following them.

  9. Madasafish says:

    Richard Scorer

    So Lord Myners had no City experience? Lol.

    Your analysis is in my view wong. Labour Ministers were on the whole just incompetent and in any normal walk of life would never have held any senior position.

    See Blunkett. Morris and Ainsworth as examples. And Prescott. And Hoon. And Straw. And Balls.

  10. swatantra says:

    Where Labour usually comes unstuck is that it too often states that it is for the most ‘vulnerable in society’, and so it should be. But the fact is that there are many that claim to be ‘weak and vulnerable’ who are not, and merely want to take advantage and abuse the system. The problem for Labour is that it doesn’t distinguish between the real vulnerable and the cheats, or even want to distinguish. This is the widely held view of Labour by the electorate. Our job is to convince the electorate that Labour is for the workers and not for the shirkers. So far we haven’t succeeded. And we won’t until we admit that there is an underclass out there intent on abusing the system. One way to overcome this is by more means testing. That is what fairness is about.

Leave a Reply