Tony Abbott winks into a political controversy defending his budget cuts

May 22, 2014

A nod is said to be as good as a wink to a blind man, but for a leader, the public gaze is never blind

Australian politician Tony Abbott reacted to a moment of embarrassment during an ABC broadcast, [20th May, 2014] with a wink to the program’s presenter. He had appeared on the call-in show to defend budget cuts to health and education spending.

His embarrassment was produced by a call from ‘Gloria’ describing herself as a chronically ill 67 year old grandmother struggling with medical bills though his government’s budget cuts . Gloria gave a candid and emotional account of being forced to work on adult sex lines to pay for her medical needs.

His looking away and winking to the male Presenter went viral, interpreted as his disrespect for the sex worker or of her story.

What did he mean?

It is not important to prove his intentions. The social reality lies in how a public action of leader is interpreted. The interpretation will factor-in earlier actions and perceptions. Mr Abbott had previous form as rather casual in his remarks about women.

In the UK, comparisons were drawn with a recent story in which private emails of Richard Scudamore, a business leader were revealed to the public. The social reality was a perception of a leader with disrespect for a specific woman, and broadened to presumptions of casual sexism.

The stories bring out the post-modernist in commentators. Followers of the French postmodernist Foucault examine social events as ‘texts’ to be ‘deconstructed’. Foucault proposed a grand Discourse through which knowledge is produced and the hidden and suppressed voices of the powerless are heard.

While post-modern approaches remain contested, they consider that an interpretation of mine is no less worthy as a consequence of my flimsy grasp of the views of authorities. So here goes:

Tony Abbott’s wink ‘speaks’ of a moment of discomfort. He looks away from the source of embarrassment and his gaze connects with someone he believes to share his views. He is aware of the need to avoid alienating potential voters. He finds no form of words. His wink implies

I’m in it like a wombat in water. But I can still get out of it if I don’t show this slag what I really think. You see if don’t.

The power of the image

A wink is a wink is a wink. In the UK, it is often a nonverbal signal of complicity, the sign of ‘us’ in the near presence of the more-powerful them.

A friend, whose judgements on business matters I trust, falls in with the conspiracy theorists in his interpretation of an old photograph. It shows Lyndon B Johnson winking to a friend in public during the funeral of J F Kennedy . My friend believes the wink helps identify two conspirators in the murder of Kennedy. That’s one trouble with postmodernist deconstruction, sorting out the signal from the constructed reality.


Tony Cocker fronts up at Eon following Ofgem’s £12m penalty

May 16, 2014

Tony Crocker, The chastened CEO of E.on, heads for the media studio circuit to be grilled on the failings in the company following the record £12m penalty for systematic mis-selling

The BBC interviewed Mr Crocker as a follow-up to its own reporting on the fine:

Energy giant E.On is to pay a record £12m penalty following an investigation into mis-selling by the industry regulator. Ofgem has carried out a series of mis-selling investigations, and in December imposed a £3.5m penalty on Npower. Ofgem says E.On’s penalty is the biggest supplier pay-out to customers, reflecting the extensive rule breaches, both on the doorstep and by telephone. The energy supplier apologised for the “completely unacceptable” failings.

Moderated contrition

At an interview on BBC Five Live radio [16th May 2014], a well-prepared Tony Crocker just about managed to balance contrition with rejection of accusations of leading an ethically corrupt company engaged in a sanctioned policy of misleading customers to agree poor deals.

The great leader arrives

Utility Week had produced a sympathetic and admiring profile less than a year ago [September, 2013].

The story reads as ‘clever but nice guy comes in, quickly sees weaknesses in company’s relationship with its customers, sets up participative ‘listening scheme’ which fixes the problems’:

Tony Cocker is not your typical chief executive. Down-to-earth, friendly, fiercely intelligent, he doesn’t seem to possess the ego that usually goes hand-in-hand with a corner office. That may be why he was able to so quickly perceive that something was very wrong with the relationship between UK energy suppliers and their customers when he returned from a stint in Eon’s German HQ to take the reins in 2011.

Cocker decided that the situation called for a total reset of Eon’s relationship with its customers, and in January 2012 launched the “Reset” programme to do just that. A six-month initiative entailed a 28,000-strong customer panel, intense research with frontline staff and the launch of the customer council.

Eon drafted in business big shot and former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton to chair the council, who was not a man to compromise. Staff across the business, from the front line to Cocker himself, reported back to Leighton and the council, having what Cocker calls with a smile “very challenging discussions”.

By the end of the Reset period, Cocker had fully assembled his management team and board, and they were ready to plan further ahead. “We spent some time with our teams reviewing our strategy off the back of Reset. What we’d inherited as a team was a much more complicated set of strategies. It was 57 pages and simplified it down to one page, [which could be summed up as] “becoming our customers’ trusted energy partners”.

The article ended with a quote from Mr Cocker saying his plans were progressing nicely:

I would say we’ve made good progress, so come back and let’s have a chat in a year’s time. We’ll be there, eager to see if doing the right thing can really translate to a competitive advantage in today’s stormy energy market.”

Before Utility Week had a chance to accept his offer, Mr Crocker is admitting his plans are not progressing as smoothly as he would have liked.

Five down and one to go

To date, the industry regulator has found five of the six major energy suppliers in the UK to have been in breach of regulations and fined them accordingly. A spokeswoman indicated that their investigations are not completed, so the ‘one’ remaining supplier is not necessary operating to higher ethical standards.

Outrage and the path to reputational hell

Politicians and the media in the UK are finding the utility companies a convenient set of targets for their sense of moral outrage. Public sentiment retains enough loathing of greed and corruption among the privileged to have some to spare for leaders of our private and public organizations. Regardless of his good intentions, Mr Crocker has a long road to ridding himself and his company of the on-going damage to their intertwined identities.


Ford gets its succession planning right with Alan Mulally and now Mark Fields

May 2, 2014

Ford seems to have managed the transition from dynastic leadership well, beginning with the appointments of Alan Mulally and now Mark Fields. The appointment even succeeded in exorcising the ghost of the anti-Semitism of its founder, a Century earlier

My inclination is to test leadership stories for their hidden side. So this feel-good story of leadership success appeared to require rigorous testing. After all, I reasoned, The Ford PR department would want to project a good-news story. I was pleasantly surprised. For once they had little need for any great display of the dark arts of their profession.

A balanced scorecard

I first came across the story in The Detroit News, which is a bit like going to the Vatican for a balanced scorecard on the Pope’s leadership achievements. The News [May 1st 2014] tells how close the mighty Ford Empire was to extinction in 2006. The last throw was for the dynasty to euthanize itself and appoint Alan Mulally, a well-chosen Ford insider, but not a scion of the Ford family:

”We’ve had very few, maybe ever, a planned and smooth transition, all the way back to my great-grandfather,” William Ford Jr. said from the [Corporate headquarters, Thursday April 30th]. Mulally, 68, came to Ford from Boeing Co. in September 2006 to engineer one of the greatest business turnarounds in American history. When he retires July 1, and Fields, 53, assumes the CEO position for which he was passed over eight years ago, it will truly be the final act of Mulally’s historic reign in Dearborn.

Leadership chops

Other articles recounted a similar tale of two great leadership appointments. The headline in the Autonews article suggested that Fields has ‘the leadership chops’ which roughly translated is leadership presence and ability’ to silence critics

Critics?

Criticism of Fields has been mild, and Mostly about him being an MBA and a Harvard MBA. And a hint that he has been known to square-up physically in meetings when things go wrong.

The exorcism

There were a few mentions of the fact that Ford had put to rest the anti-Semitism that haunted the company since the days of its founder Henry Ford. My source, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has the same reputation for balanced reporting as the as the mythical Vatican agency with its gleeful headline “Take that, Henry Ford! Car company goes from anti-Semitic founder to new Jewish COO” on Fields’ promotion in 2012.

The succession plan

Bill Ford’s comments showed more than a hint of satisfaction at the succession planning that went so well.

“From the first day we discussed Ford’s transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities,” Ford said. “Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO.”

Behind the headlines

Behind the headlines there are interesting issues to be considered. Is the story just great leadership from the time the last Ford in the dynasty,saw it was time to introduce an outsider? Then great leadership by Mulally in turning around the behemoth organization, and now the prospect of a third great leader, Mark Fields at the top? If so, we have a traditional account in the spirit of natural born leaders. Or again, we might wish to examine the story as an example of distributed leadership, which is more likely to defuse power struggles and encourage corporate morale.

For Fordists everywhere

Those wishing to, can purchase from the Detroit News a framed photo of Alan Mulally shaking hands with Mark Fields, with a beaming Bill Ford looking on.

To be continued


World War One and Jeremy Paxton’s existential dread

March 31, 2014


In the projection of his professional persona, Jeremy Paxton conceals and reveals his personal anxieties

Jeremy Paxton is one of England’s best-known media celebrities. He has became the inquisitorial voice of the BBC’s Newsnight programme [1989- present] and with little shift of style, the inquisitional voice of University Challenge. Building on these achievements, he has produced literary works often with grand themes of British achievements. He is currently fronting one of the BBC’s series to mark the events of The Great War of 1914-1918.

The other Jeremy

His style is combative and ironic. Some years ago, in 2009, listening to a radio interview,I mistook him for another celebrity Jeremy. Only at the end of the interview did I discover I had been listening to the equally combative and ironic Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear. Clarkson is arguably the greater financial asset to the BBC, and equally assiduous in cultivating a controversial and discomforting personal style. In the earlier post, I made tentative analyses of the behavioural styles of each.

I return to this topic as Newsnight Jeremy is making an acclaimed contribution to the Nation’s commemorations of WW1.

The mask of control and the mask of command

Leadership studies sometimes refer to the mask of command. Both Paxton and Clarkson show the mask of control, beneath which lurks the existential fear of losing control. The leader inspires confidence by concealing the natural human feelings of despair and weakness. For Paxton, the TV interview, and the quiz with answers to all the questions provided to the interrogative quiz master provide ideal situations to act out his concealed anxieties.

On the dark side

I make no claims for the validity of these observations. They may be rooted in my mistaken reading of Jungian psychology. They just make sense to me. They confirm my belief in the nature of the concealed dark side of the persona of some of the leaders and celebrities who gain cultural acceptance.


George Osborne killed my nanny

March 20, 2014

Nanny StateThe Chancellor dealt a mortal blow to the nanny state in his budget. Or did he?

In the UK, there are two evil monsters in the popular bestiary, the nanny state, and the crazed demon known as political correctness. In his budget yesterday [March 19th, 2014] George Osborne appeared to have struck hard at the nanny state monster and her grip over the pensions of hard-saving workers.

At a stroke he handed control of pension funds back to their rightful owners. And with awareness of confusions caused by that sudden liberation, the grateful pensioners will be able to receive advice from ‘independent advisors’.

Irresponsible pensioners?

Might some liberated pensioners go on a spending spree, and then end as a burden on the state? Not at all, Danny Alexander assured us, and he should know as a coalition partner of Mr Osborne. Savers are responsible people not feckless losers about to splurge their liberated cash.

Getting away from nanny

Anyway, he implied, there may be a few old reprobates who head off to Ibiza and limp home penniless (or Euroless). That is a small price to pay for shocking the country out of the domineering control of the nanny state.

And we all lived happily ever after

Or did we? Mythical monsters are not as easy to kill off as natural species like tigers or rhinos. The nanny state may retreat, wounded but not destroyed. There may be stories coming up about unscrupulous advisers charging for dodgy financial advice over dodgy financial products. I know that’s hard to believe.

The cynical BBC analyst Nick Robinson went so far as to suggest that the pension changes were targeted ‘with laser precision’ at older voters who might be tempted away from the conservatives by the seductive offers from Nigel Farage and his Ukipian vision.

Next stop political correctness gone mad

As George Osborne rests from his labours, the country awaits a champion to liberate us from the dominance of that other monster, political correctness gone mad. I am thinking of starting the anti political correctness party [APCP]. If willing, Boris Johnson would become its leader, or maybe post-Ukip, Nigel Farage.

Credit for nanny state image

Image is from the venitism blogspot


Cardiff City Football club and the dilemmas of leadership

December 21, 2013

Vincent TanAn earlier post outlined the story of Cardiff City Football Club and the dilemmas facing its new owners. Leaders We Deserve updates regularly as the manager is invited to resign or be dismissed.

LWD will keep a watching brief on the developing story since the original post

A summary of the interim happenings can be found in The Telegraph article which catalogues a series of battles between the Malaysian owners and their executives. CEO Vincent Tan has become a central figure in a battle to oust the much-respected manager Malky Mackay

December 20th 2013

News media in the UK all tell the story of a public announcement by billionaire owner Vincent Tan that Mackay must ‘resign or be sacked’. Tan is flying to England [Liverpool for the match, not Wales] to complete the arrangement one way or another.

December 21st 2013

Last gasp attempts to re-negotiate attempted. Tan to meet his chairman, Mehmet Dalman, who was expected to defend Mackay. Candidate for the next manager requires assurances about the contract and some level of control over playing matters which Mackay failed to achieve


Who spoke out this week against heartlessness and why was the speech reviled?

December 2, 2013

Answer: It was Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, whose other remarks in the same speech were the focus of its negative reporting

I could have begun this post by stating: “Boris Johnson spoke out about social injustice and heartlessness this week [Nov 2013]. His words in this vein were reported as follows:”

“I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness – figuratively riffling bank notes under the noses of the homeless,” he said.

”And I hope that this time the Gordon Gekkos of London are conspicuous not just for their greed – valid motivator though greed may be for economic progress – as for what they give and do for the rest of the population, many of whom have experienced real falls in their incomes over the last five years.”

The outcry

The speech was mainly however an attempt to re-invent competitive capitalism. The article offered another perspective on Boris’s political philosophy, captured in the speech, and which led to a flurry of critical comments:

Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low IQ and that greed is good.

Mr Johnson, who many believe wants to succeed David Cameron as prime minister and Conservative Party leader, has created an image that is both bumbling and endearing, based on bluster, wit and fundamental competence.

He has survived missteps, including various affairs and a love child, that would have sunk ordinary politicians, but he is a fiercely intelligent debater and funnier than most comedians.

But his comments on Wednesday night in the Thatcher Lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies have created an uglier fuss, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accusing Johnson of discussing humankind “as if we are a sort of breed of dogs”.

Boris and a clue to charismatic leadership

Boris Johnson is regularly described as charismatic. He illustrates the survival of a leadership style that refuses to die away to confirm the arrival of a post-charismatic era. He conveys, as the article suggests a bumbling style, but he conveys also intelligence and charm. Brand Boris is consistently inconsistent.

He defies the assumption held knowingly or not by almost every other politician, that to look foolish is career damaging. This is an almost impossible act to sustain (not looking foolish). The majority of mainstream politicians struggle with the dilemma of appearing authentic, as their mask of omniscience slips.

Will Boris achieve his political ambitions?

Not if the fate of his beloved classical tragic heroes is pertinent. Boris’s destiny is to replay the fate of those who would defy the gods.

In the meanwhile he appears to demonstrate the possibility that ‘we the people’ deserve the leaders to whom we give our unconditional admiration and good will. The leaders we deserve.

Later:

The Chancellor, George Osborne ‘distances himself’ from Boris’s remarks, [Andrew Marr show, Dec 1st 2013]


Boris Johnson, Feel-Good politician

November 10, 2013

TV Review

Unedited Notes on watching a repeat [Nov 9, 2013] of the BBC documentary of Boris Johnson

He tends to ignore ‘Network of social obligations’. Quote from His House master at Eton

The Darius Guppy affair. Friend who called to ask Boris for an address to help Guppy beat up a journalist

On challenged, sometimes presents his bumbling but endearing style in public rather than denying wrong-doing

Became editor of Spectator and broke his word not to stand for parliament in 2001.

Sacked for lying to Tory leader Michael Howard about an affair

Stood for London mayor backed by Prime Minister and school friend Cameron

Can show discipline when needed, but very chaotic otherwise.

Rivalry with Cameron intensifies after Cameron becomes PM

Another affair…”he’s our Berlusconi, only funnier” [Private Eye editor Ian Hislop]

London riots may have put his re-election as Mayor of London at risk

Said to be the only ‘feel good’ politician in land

Implies he is a serious contender for PM. Prospect offered with less than ringing endorsements

Missing: did I miss any mention of his unpopularity on Merseyside after ill-judged remarks over Hillsborough in a Spectator editorial?

What did we learn about Boris?

What did we learn about Boris? Not a lot that was not already in the public domain. Will he become Prime Minister? Probably not, but the public mood of disillusion of conventional politicians remains high.

The Boris publicity wave rolls on

In the days after posting the above, Boris continues to make media headlines. Click here for a video clip of his claim to be pro-immigation. [Warning: it may come with irritating plug ins]


Why is Rob Ford so popular? The question is relevant to politicians everywhere

November 6, 2013

Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto is made a figure of fun by his political enemies. Yet he remains popular, and his popularity has risen since he has accepted his use of hard and soft drugs among his other misdemeanours

Rob Ford could be written off as a one-off, an eccentric figure and a joke. His appearances in the media show a larger-than-life figure, an Archie Bunker goes to Washington character.

Another way of looking at it is evidence of the rejection of conventional values by a proportion of the electorate. One commentator suggests that at least some of his support comes from disillusioned electors who believe they have not been listened to by mainstream politicians.

Does that seem familiar?

It does to me. I remember covering the election of political ‘figures of fun’ in Brazil and Italy over the last few years. In Italy, earlier this year, the anti-politician Beppe Grillo won 25% of the vote running for President. In Brazil Tiririka, or Mr Grumpy, stood in the elections of 2010 and won election as a deputy on the slogan “things can only get worse”

The leaders we deserve

In a perverse way, these outcrops of the democratic process are a healthy reminder of the right of the people to opt for the leaders they deserve and reject the rhetoric of political orthodoxy. I find it at least as constructive as the case made by Russell Brand in a recent Newsnight interview [October 2013] to justify ‘revolution by not-voting’.

What’s going on?

I leave open the possibility that a vote for a figure of fun is actually a serious political statement.

An Archie Bunker moment

According to my urban dictionary, Archie Bunker is a slang word for crack or cocaine. Saying that you have some Archie Bunker is referring to the bigot Archie Bunker, which means your product is whiter then one of the whitest men in America.

Updated

Nov 8th. Rob Ford ‘may enter re-hab’


Rob Ford and Leaders We Deserve

November 2, 2013


Rob Ford is still mayor of Toronto as increasingly bizarre stories previously on the web escape into mainline media

Rob Ford makes an easy target for stories vilifying his lifestyle choices. They are accumulating in a way that aging commentators like myself may find reminiscent of the stories about Richard Nixon. History tells us that Nixon continued to deny his actions were illegal, as the evidence mounted that was eventually to impeach him.

The long-running background story of Rob Ford implies a leader struggling to maintain a facade of normality around incidents implying lack of control and involvement in substance abuse. Mr Ford as a target is all the easier for his numerous unflattering images which are now entering the wider public domaine.

Several accounts giving historical background of the Ford story have emerged. The Toronto Star has been a particular rich source of the breaking news.

I also like The Huffington Post story today [1st Nov 2013]

In June [2013], the day after police made the massive drug raids called Project Traveller, [Police chief] Blair said he would not comment on whether the police had seized any video of the mayor or whether he was under investigation.
But that was before an actual video of the mayor was recovered on Tuesday, taken from a hard drive seized during the Project Traveller raids on June 20.

On Thursday, [Nov 30st 2013] Blair said, “I think it’s fair to say the mayor is depicted in the video.”
He added: “I’m disappointed. As a citizen of Toronto, I’m disappointed…I know this this is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city, for the reputation of this city and that concerns me.”

Will Ford resign?

From a distance, the Rob Ford drama appears heading for a sad conclusion. If I believed in tipping points, I would say the situation has tipped over irretrievably. Other commentators believe that this is a leader who will have to be forced from office rather than resign. This view was expressed in The Guardian a few hours after this post was published [2nd November 2013].

Update

Nov 4th 2013 In his weekly radio broadcast, The Mayor apologizes for his mistakes but avoids admission of any criminal wrongdoing, or intention of standing down.


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