Before the 2015 election, the Labour party practised collective denial (“misplaced confidence”, “kidded themselves”), believing that “organization could compensate for uninspiring leadership”. Following the election, “a danger now is oversteering the other way”.
Denial and oscillation are two of the principal symptoms I have identified of Organizational Stupidity (May 2010).
Contrast this with the Conservative willingness to invest in ‘blue collar conservatism’. Behr attributes this initiative to George Osborne, one of whose political gifts “is the self-knowledge to identify gaps in his own experience and to plug them with astute appointments”. Cameron, he suggests, is much less intellectually curious than Osborne. And yet it is Cameron who carries through Osborne’s plan to appoint Robert Halfon in order to recalibrate the Conservative’s relationship with the working classes.
What reveals itself here is a form of intelligence and leadership that is collective rather than individual, a form of collaboration and teamwork that has not been strongly evident in the Labour Party recently.
Steve Richards goes further …
“During Cameron’s leadership the Conservatives have become more alive as a party, impressively animated by ideas and debate. Cameron appears to be an orthodox Tory but likes having daring thinkers around him, even if they do not last that long. … In recent years Conservative party conferences have been far livelier than Labour ones, which have been deadened by fearful control freakery.”
… and insists that “the next Labour leader must not be frightened by internal debate”.
One of the essential duties of leadership in any organization must be to boost the collective intelligence of the organization. Not just debate, but debate linked with action.
Patrick Wintour reports that there was plenty of (apparently) healthy argument in Labour’s inner circle.
“Meetings were quite discursive, because there were a large number of views in the room. … [Miliband] enjoyed that. He used the disagreement as a means to get his own way. It is a very interesting case study in power, in that he would not be described typically as a strong leader, but very consensual. The caricature of him is as weak, but internally he had great control.”
But that’s not enough.
“The team that Miliband had assembled around him consisted of highly intelligent individuals, but the whole was less than the sum of its parts – it was, according to many of those advisers, like a court in which opposing voices cancelled one another out.”
Furthermore, an important requirement for organizational intelligence is that it is just not enough to have an inner circle of bright and well-educated ‘spads’, and to appoint either the cleverest or the most photogenic of them as “leader”. Perhaps the Labour inner circle deeply understood the political situation facing the party, but they neglected to communicate (forgot to mention) this insight to others. The vanguard is not the party. Any party that aspires to be a movement rather than a machine must distribute its intelligence to the grass roots, and thence to the population as a whole.
Exercise for the reader: count the ironies in the above paragraph.
Finally, intelligent organizations have a flexible approach to learning from the past. @freedland argues that Miliband was single-minded about the future, and refused to tackle the prevailing narrative about the Labour government’s role in the 2008 economic crisis.
“The management gurus and political consultants may tell us always to face forward, never to look over our shoulder, to focus only on the future. But sometimes it cannot be done. In politics as in life, the past lingers.”
Rafael Behr, The age of machine politics is over. But still it thrives in the Labour party (Guardian 4 June 2015)
Jonathan Freedland, ‘Moving on’: the mantra that traps Labour in the past (Guardian 5 June 2015)
Tim Glencross, Attack of the clones: how spads took over British politics (Guardian 19 April 2015)
Brian Matthews, The Labour Party and the Need for Change: values, education and emotional literacy/intelligence (Forum, Volume 54 Number 1, 2012)
Steve Richards, Labour’s next leader should look to David Cameron, not Tony Blair (Guardian 1 June 2015)
Patrick Wintour, The undoing of Ed Miliband – and how Labour lost the election (Guardian 3 June 2015)
Chris York, The Rise Of The Spad: How Many Ministers Or Shadow Ministers Have Had Proper Jobs? (Huffington Post, 13 November 2013)
Updated 6 June 2015