Steven Hester: A good leader in a bad place at RBS

June 15, 2013

This week Stephen Hester was removed from his post as CEO of the Royal bank of Scotland. The decision seems more politically than financially inspired

LWD has followed the RBS story since Steven Hester’s arrival in 2010. Steven Hester: Villain, hero, or just an outstanding business leader?. The post is summarized below:

Royal Bank of Scotland took its turn this week as another giant banking institution paying ridiculous bonuses while still in hock to the Government’s bail-out scheme. Its leader Steven Hester is reviled as another fat-cat financial leader insensitive to public opinion. Contrition is a rather hard emotion for a leader to fake. So when one of them appears to be making a good fist of apologizing without appearing a pathetic wimp and maybe a bit of a damp rag as a leader, it’s worth taking a more careful look. The broadcast [March 2010] showed the BBC’s Hugh Pym asked RBS’s CEO Stephen Hester, why were there still such big losses for RBS. In three minutes, Henson left me with the impression of someone capable of a mix of toughness and sensitivity as a leader.

Later

Three years later it was well-known that he had taken a cut in earnings to take on one of the most challenging jobs in the Financial world and that the bank has made an impressive turnaround under his leadership.

The politics of Hester’s dismissal

Chris Blackhurst, Writing in The Independent, offered an explanation for Hester’s departure.
that the Chancellor now needed a more compliant leader in the run up to privatization of RBS. He points out that under Hestor’s leadership the bank improved its balance sheet to the sum of a staggering trillion pounds sterling.

As a result of volunteering, he’d become a public figure, his private life dissected, his country house photographed from a helicopter. A snap of Hester in the garb of his pastime of fox-hunting was wheeled out to traduce him as “another fat cat banker on the make, except this was one who was now being paid by us, the taxpayer”.

Yet, he’d chosen to do it and was sticking with the task. So, why wasn’t I surprised at the announcement of his going? Because his face never fitted. Behind the scenes, Hester could be an awkward customer. Softly spoken and eloquent (for a banker), he was strong intellectually, fully prepared to speak his mind, not prepared to lie down easily in front of politicians and civil servants without banking experience and know-how.
Osborne made plain his wish to be seen to begin the process of privatization in 2014 – in other words, well in advance of the 2015 general election. Hester indicated he would stay until 2015 when the bank was expected to be restored to profitability – after that, though, he was unlikely to want to remain any longer.

Hester’s reluctance has been used to oust him. It’s a fig leaf, as is the notion that while he was good at cutting he’s not someone who knows how to grow a business and he’s not a natural front-of-house salesman of the sort who would persuade [the general public] to snap up the shares. Having steered Hester to and through the door, Osborne must now find a successor. It won’t be easy.

The stock market agreed. This week RBS shares tumbled.

The sloppy and amateurish manner in which Hester’s departure was handled cost UK taxpayers dear as the shares tumbled at the market open on Thursday [14th June 2013], down almost 8.5% at one point as investors made their feelings clear at the bizarre turn of events.

Dilemmas

The story makes interesting material for business students interested in dilemmas and interpreting the decisions made by leaders.


Things I wish I hadn’t said: Sir Clive Woodward

March 19, 2013

Clive WoodwardMonitoring the predictions of Rugby experts in the recently finished Six Nations competition, I noted those of former England coach Sir Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward will be remembered as the England coach for the team that won the Rugby world cup in 2002. He is now a commentator for the BBC. I was particularly interested to learn insights from the thinking of a successful sporting leader. I found that over the last two weeks of rugby, he shared the human tendency to avoid challenging the reliability of his prior opinions in light of additional evidence.

Prior to the England Italy game

“It would be good for England to score five tries to put them in the right spirit for the game against Wales [the title decider, the following week]“

After the England Italy game

“The way they played against Italy is just the wake-up call to prepare them against Wales”

Before the Wales England game

“It will be tight but England should shade it.”

After the Wales England game [which Wales won 30-3]

“England will learn a lot from this defeat”

The next day

After the match, Sir Clive seemed to have had a spell of amnesia regarding his early remarks, telling the BBC

“The rest of the world would have taken notice of that, the bubble has been burst and teams would have seen who they [England] are and what they have to do to beat them.”

Other reactions

One English commentator pre-match had made a different assessment to Sir Clive in an article “Here’s why the whole of Wales and Scotland and Ireland want to see England humiliated”. It’s worth reading in full, to capture some of the dimensions of the “Arrogant English” charge leveled at its Rugby establishment.

More typical was the view expressed by another former England international, Mike Tindall, in his balanced analysis of why “England must be ready to face Cardiff’s cauldron of hate”

“England are by far the best team in the Six Nations. The most important thing about them is their base game. It’s of the highest standard and that will always keep you in a game.”

Image

Image is from barryjphillips blogspot . Barry wrote a positive review of Sir Clive Woodward’s book Winning, saying he would like to deliver a pass to a rugby playing friend, but decided to retain possession.


2012 in review: clever things these helper monkeys

December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 150,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


How important was the BBC in the success of the London Olympics?

August 14, 2012

Many factors have been proposed as contributing to the success of the London Olympics. The efforts of the BBC should not be overlooked

The success of the London Olympics has been attributed to various factors which came together partly by design, partly by accident.

The BBC as a medium for state control

The British Broadcasting Corporation played its part in shaping the cultural mood in a way that was consistent with a state apparatus for controlling communications on behalf of a ruling elite.

Marxist training camps

Did I write that that stuff about BBC as a vehicle of state control? Have I become a spokesman for the neo-Marxist group known to have its training camps deep in the rolling pastures of the East Cheshire countryside? Has a fortnight of coverage of the London Olympics finally loosened my grasp of reality?

I hope not. It’s just that I have always encouraged my students to look behind the headlines. To read stories and then to look for concealed messages suggesting a different perspective.

Behind the headlines

Applying that principle, I wanted to look at the hidden story behind the widely reported one. The official story was that of the friendly games (sometimes coupled with the crying games) which had helped bring a nation together in harmony to celebrate the highest ideals of human performance and mutual respect. In the official story, criticism was brushed aside as untimely unpatriotic.

LOCOG’s fire-fighting

The London Olympic Committee (LOCOG) effectively snuffed out problems that broke out. A pre-Games failure to recruit security staff morphed into an appreciation by the public of the role played by the armed forces brought in to meet the challenge.

Complaints about empty seats petered out when members of the armed forces were re-assigned to seat-filling duties.

Cynics had a change of heart

Even the contrarian views expected from The Independent and the Guardian newspapers were overwhelmed by confessional pieces along the lines of “I was prepared to be cynical about all this, but won over by … [select from: the volunteers, the tears of joy and sorrow, the police, the cheering of the crowds, the sexiness of the athletes]. Other papers just celebrated the victories. Winning gold medals was great, but silver and bronze medal winners could make for stories of pluck and heartbreak.

The Prime Minister was a one-man political cheer leader, frequently shown shouting on Team GB to greater success. He also found time to fulfil other political duties, although reporting of these was minimal.

The BBC’s role

Then there was the role played by the BBC. Its coverage began hours before each day’s events, and was continuous until hours after the competitions had ended. There were temporarily 24 BBC channels of televised reporting. Most of its journalists seemed to be thriving on punishing schedules throughout the games, with a format of discussion, anticipation of events, interviews, background stories. Oh yes, and reporting of every competition on offer. The efforts showed the highest qualities of professionalism, motivation, and discipline. The absence of advertising breaks was mostly a blessing, but did make the challenge of continuity all the harder.

How might the East Cheshire neo-Marxist irregulars analyse the Games?

The political parties all take the same line. Mr Cameron supports the entire venture uncritically. The Queen played a now famous role in the opening ceremony to consolidate her position. Other members of the royal family were expected to be present at all the main events. [It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. Ed]

The BBC is simply following orders imposed by a dictatorial regime to manipulate the emotions of the oppressed masses. The armed forces are presented as friends of the people. This will come in useful after rule of law is enforced in the attempted right-wing coup planned to coincide with a succession crisis.

Did I write that?

Yes. But only as an example of an alternative view of the Olympics. I don’t think the BBC is state-controlled. Rather, it is an institution in symbiotic relationship with the State, including the licence fee arrangements. I have no doubt that discussions are continuing about which BBC employees will receive which awards in the New Year’s honours list, to go with those for Bradley, Jessica, Mo, and maybe even Andy.

Was it worth nine billion pounds?

The calculated cost of the Olympics works out at about the same per head of population as the annual BBC licence fee. How can anyone say that’s not value for money?


News International Update

April 25, 2012

The fate of Rupert Murdoch’s business empire continues to attract attention globally. Leaders we deserve is providing regular updates, as the Leveson Enquiry in the UK into Government and news media relations continues

Updates

This post will be updated regularly. Earlier LWD posts include:

The Murdoch meltdown
The closure of The News of the World
The business model of Rupert Murdoch

May 12th

Leveson enquiry continues to attract media attention with Rebekah Brooks, the former Sun editor, taking the stand at the Leveson enquiry. The BBC asks whether she have been treated differently if she had she been a “grumpy old man of Fleet Street”

Her testimony suggests that the Government will face more political problems from the stories produced through the enquiry which was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron. These appear to leave the spotlight on culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, as well as Mr Cameron’s own relationship with the former Sun editor.

May 10th

Selective amnesia and his status as someone on bail in connection with phone hacking hinder evidence to Leveson from Andy Coulson

Independent newspaper suggests Coulson’s evidence ‘leaves toughest questions at Prime Minister’s door’.

Personal view [TR notes for LWD]:

Coulson at times showed a grasp of the unspoken implications of questioning as well as more generally as someone thoroughly cautious and well-prepared with a few key points to make (no conspiracy; was not hired to influence Robert Murdoch’s political decisions.

May 9th

Story picks up as Leveson enquiry resumes. David Cameron’s closeness to Rebekah Brooks is not particularly new.

May 3rd 2012

BskyB distances itself from its major shareholder News Corporation in a statement from its chief executive Jeremy Darroch.

May 2nd 2012

Select committee finds Rupert Murdoch unfit to run News International. James Murdoch is also severely criticised.

Committee appears to have exceeded its brief, particularly with the most damning criticism, where voting occurred along partisan lines.

The Washington Post notes:

The parliamentary report issued Tuesday [Ist May 2012] was far harsher than most British observers had expected. It was approved by a 6 to 4 vote, with the four members from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party staunchly objecting to the description of Murdoch as an unfit proprietor.

April 30th

The former First Minister of Scotland Jack McConnell reported as political target of phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News International.

Jeremy Hunt ‘On probation’ by Prime Minister’s statement.

April 29th

Telegraph reports Cameron could fire Hunt if new evidence emerges.

April 28th

Leveson rejects Government plans to review Jeremy Hunt’s conduct over BSkyB bid saying “It’s not my problem”

April 27th

The Guardian: Rupert Murdoch’s evidence to the Leveson inquiry was like one of his tabloids: a lively mixture of accurate and inaccurate reporting, one-eyed comment and total fantasy.

Sky News, itself part of the story reports on Simon Hughes’ call for an investigation into Jeremy Hunt’s conduct during BskyB takeover bid.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that George Osborne is facing questions over whether he was lobbied by Rupert Murdoch and played a role in supporting News Corp’s attempted £8bn takeover of BSkyB.

April 26th Murdoch

Two inter-related stories today. In Parliament, Jeremy Hunt defended his ‘quasi-judicial’ role in the BskyB bid by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Mr Murdoch appears before the Leveson enquiry into Media ethics.

The BBC reports Rupert Murdoch’s witness statement

The Independent sees the Jeremy Hunt story as “a toxic trail” leading from Jeremy Hunt to the Prime Minister’s involvement in the Murdoch bid for B Sky B.

The Scotsman: Cameron admits “we all did too much cosying up” to The Murdochs.

April 25th 2012

The BBC continues its reporting of the Leveson enquiry with a ‘What the papers say’ review.

The Daily Telegraph examines the testimony of James Murdoch [24th April 2012] to the enquiry concluding that the Government’s relations with the Murdochs are coming under close scrutiny and ‘revealing a lack of candour’

The Guardian focuses on another close political relationship: between Rupert Murdoch and Alex Salmond

April 23rd 2012

Lord Patten tells Leveson enquiry:

Plainly, Mr Murdoch took the view that publishing a book which was critical of the Chinese leadership would not improve his chances [of expanding his business interests in China] , so he instructed HarperCollins to drop the book on the grounds that [the book] was no good”.

Image

Image of Rupert Murdoch is from livetradingnews.com


A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse even if it’s a retired hack from the police service

March 3, 2012

A highly-charged symbolic story has emerged around David Cameron’s ride on retired police horse Raisa. Headline writers demonstrate their creativity

The New York Times captured the symbolic dimension to the story neatly:

Prime Minister David Cameron’s ride on a retired police horse in the Oxfordshire countryside appears, for now at least, to lack the elements of a full-blown scandal. But as political symbols go, the horse and its links to the tabloid newspaper scandal roiling the country seems likely to become, at the least, rich fodder for political satirists and cartoonists. In Brussels on Friday [March 2nd 2012], Mr Cameron was peppered with as many questions about Raisa, the horse, as about Britain’s refusal to sign on to a new treaty.

Henry 5th and all that

It set me wondering about the potency of horses in narrative. Where better to start than Shakespeare? The hero king Henry 5th and the villain Richard 3rd are tales retold as great movies with the monarchs and their nags as the stars.

Horsegate

The story seems to have attracted the press after initial press statements had appeared to be unconvincing denials of a matter of fact, namely that the Prime Minister had ridden on a horse pensioned off from the police service and placed in the care of horse trainer Charlie Brooks. Mr Brooks is the husband of Rebekah Brooks, who is involved in the hacking stories at News International. Both are close friends of David Cameron , as is a senior policeman who may have helped in the arrangement to pension off Raisa, the nag at the centre of the story.

Beyond the rational

At a rational level, some kind of plausible explanation can be constructed. On the other hand, you might think that on a rational level there doesn’t seem much point in such an exercise. It will take a lot of effort to find serious wrong-doing. The potential of the story lies in the symbolism of a cosy group of wealthy friends using friendship to get further unpaid privileges.

Symbolism and leadership

It is a case of symbolic leadership, as portrayed, say, by Sir Lawrence Olivier mounted on his horse before the battle of Agincourt. It might also be seen as more a narrative interpretation of leadership. The symbolism is of Mr Cameron enjoying himself with his friends through privileged access to the aging Raisa. Faint echoes of Animal farm also seep into mind.

What the papers said

The whole episode offered creative opportunities for headline writers. The mirror went for losing the reins I did horse around with Sun’s old nag. The Telegraph offered
Horsegate: the PM will forever be saddled with Raisa‎. The Guardian went for the old cliche of closing the stable door

To be continued


Message from and to the Financial Times

January 16, 2012

The Financial Times now supplies information about its web articles with the request “Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post”. Point noted. The battle for pay to view continues

Rupert Murdoch was among the earliest figures to recognise the importance of developing new business models for successful management of news in the era of electronic information media.

The Financial Times, (FT) is also wrestling with these issues.

The FT is part of the Pearson group, the largest book publisher globally. Pearson, led by Dame Marjorie Scardino, has risen to the challenges of the electronic age. Its recent innovations include the search engine newsift

Creating value

On this issue I suggest that the FT may be misreading the way to create value from its information generating capacity. Increasingly the protectionist route is being eroded (music being the obvious example). News media are increasingly relying on social media inputs for the first signals of breaking news stories.

I remain a personal supporter (and reader) of the FT. However, as things stand at present, LWD will chose alternative sources from which to to extract information, and to critique and cite the source. What LWD does is of little importance to the FT. If a similar decision is reached by millions of web-savvy individuals around the world, it’s a different matter.


Andy Rooney and the Power of False Reporting

November 6, 2011


Obituary Reflections: The death of Andy Rooney [4th Nov 2011] should remind us of the power of false reporting.

Andy Rooney, one of America’s best known TV commentators died at the age of 92. He announced his intention of standing down from the “60 Minutes” shows after what he described as “70 years as a writer”.

“My Lucky Life”

In his last regularly scheduled appearance on “60 Minutes,” Andy Rooney commented, “I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”

A Cranky Voice

The New York Times described him as The Cranky Voice of CBS noting the tone of bemused frustration in much of his work, which led to censure on grounds of homophobia and racism. His output did carry with it a bluntness which offended.

Racist or victim of false reporting?

The Times article also reviewed the controversy over his alleged racism:

In 1990, CBS News suspended him without pay in response to complaints that he had made remarks offensive to black and gay people. The trigger was a December 1989 special, “A Year With Andy Rooney,” in which he said: “There was some recognition in 1989 of the fact that many of the ills which kill us are self-induced. Too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, homosexual unions, [i.e. sexual relations] cigarettes. They’re all known to lead quite often to premature death.” He later apologized for the statement.

The TriCities News summarised the consequences of the episode:

The Advocate [A Magazine for the Gay Community] interviewed him over his comments [in Feb 1990] and printed remarks attributed to him from the interview, which he vehemently denied making. A torrent of negative publicity followed, after which then-CBS News President David Burke suspended him for three months. The outcry for his return was deafening. Burke reinstated him after only three weeks, saying Rooney was not a man “who holds prejudice in his heart and mind.”

It is not difficult to see that even the remarks he originally made would cause offense. But the dilemma of freedom of expression of opinion rumbles on. The wider corpus of Rooney’s life work and actions largely confirm his own claims that he was a closet liberal and approved of the achievement of Barack Obama in attaining the Presidency as a black American.
Other false reports persisted

The Tri Cities article continued:

Rooney was also mistakenly connected to racism when a politically charged essay highly insensitive to minorities was written in his style and passed off as his on the internet in 2003. Over the next few years, it found its way into the e-mail boxes of untold thousands, causing Rooney to refute it [although] it continued to proliferate, in an Associated Press article a year later.
Many assumed he wrote the [false article] because Rooney’s long time habit of writing or speaking plainly on sensitive topics had often left him open to attacks by activist groups. The racist essay was one of the many false Rooney quotes and essays bouncing around the internet. The racism charge angered and hurt Rooney deeply. He hated racism: As a young soldier in the early 1940s, he had himself arrested in Florida by refusing to leave the seat he had chosen among blacks in the back of an Army bus.


The People’s supermarket: A communitarian innovation?

February 9, 2011

Tudor Rickards

The People’s Supermarket, as televised on Channel 4, appears to be a social innovation offering a communitarian local alternative to the international retail giants. But there is more to this project than meets the eye

The People’s supermarket exists as a physical entity in London, with two entrepreneurial founders and a group of local members. It also exists as a Channel 4 television series. It can be said to exist as a visionary dream with social and communitarian values.

Over a million people watched the TV launch of the People’s Supermarket. This is sort of publicity most entrepreneurs can only dream about for a new venture. As I watched [February 2011] I had trouble getting my head around what I was seeing. Is this whole thing a creature of the media? A little more research and I discover even more publicity for the project in a recent [23rd January 2011] Guardian/Observer article.

The People’s Supermarket is giving it a go. Set up by Arthur Potts Dawson, who was behind London’s environmentally sound, award-winning Acornhouse restaurant, the mission statement is “for the people, by the people” which in practice means a not-for-profit co-op. Pay a £25 membership fee and sign up for a four-hour shift once a month and you become a part owner, have a say in how it’s run and receive a 10% discount on your shopping. The store itself, in London’s Lamb’s Conduit street, opened on 1 June [2010]

So what’s going on?

The initial fund-raising event involved sixty people lobbing up top-dollar prices for a special dinner cooked by a celebrity chef. That bit I understand. It’s a classic fund-raiser much loved by politicians. The creative edge was food ‘obtained’ from discarded stuff acquired by volunteers and discarded by the major supermarkets (but that’s another old media story, isn’t it?). The diners got their few minutes of TV exposure. Health worries were reassuringly addressed (they had begun to worry me, anyway).

By the end of the episode, the critical elements of the business model had become clearer. The success of the enterprise depends, pretty much as the Guardian indicated, on whether the community membership and volunteers will go on supporting the idea, and whether the products will generate footfall and satisfactory financials.

A bit of a mash up?

While the TV mockumentary would like to preserve the story line, information in today’s multi-media environment means that we can experience a bit of a mash-up. The Retail Gazette reported:

Kate Bull, the former Marks & Spencer commercial executive and co-founder of The People’s Supermarket alongside chef Arthur Potts Dawson, told Retail Gazette: “Average spend per person has grown from £3 to £5 in recent months. “On a Saturday – our busiest day – this has grown to just under £10.” The evidence suggests that the store is drawing a small percentage of locals away from the top grocers at weekends.


What happens next?

I just have a feeling there will be a few crisis points in the mini-series. Viewers will share the roller-coaster as Arthur, Kate and chums experience the pains and pleasures, the highs and lows of becoming involved in creating social reality. It is likely that the future of the venture will remain unresolved.

Maybe inferences will be drawn regarding David Cameron’s vision of The Big society. Or perhaps comparisons will be made with communitarian dreams such as that of the famous Mondragon community venture in the Basque region of Spain, or Ricardo Semler’s Brazilian vision.

Stop Press

By March 2011 the project had become a political football. The publicity had included a visit from Prime Minister David Cameron. But Labour-controlled Camden borough council had moved to claim unpaid rates of £33,000.


The Grigor McClelland Conference

This post was prepared as part of the celebrations planned for The Grigor McClelland Conference to be held at Manchester Business School, Friday April 8th 2011.


Is a Televised Pre-Election Debate a No-Brainer?

September 17, 2009

Pumpkins

At first sight, the democratic benefits from a televised debate in the UK by the Party leaders prior to a UK general election are overwhelming. But is the case as clear-cut as it appears?

It is an easy case to make. The Prime Minister remains reluctant to take part in a pre-election televised debate. But why should a democracy be deprived of a debate involving its political leaders in the run-in to a general election?

In a letter to party leaders, the head of Sky News, John Ryley, said: “With politics – and dare I say, many politicians – currently held in such low regard, to debate publicly the major issues facing Britain away from Westminster, presents a unique opportunity to re-engage a disillusioned electorate.”

In a letter in reply, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative opposition party said: “Prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons are no substitute for a proper primetime studio debate. People want more than the brief exchange of questions they get at Wednesday lunchtime. They want to see the leaders of the main political parties talking in detail about the issues that matter to them, setting out the policies on offer, and opening themselves up to public scrutiny.”

Presently, [September 2nd 2009], the Prime Minister opposes such a debate. It is generally suggested that the incumbent has more to lose than the challengers. But while this applied to Mr. Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair, it could be argued that the situation is less clear if the incumbent has little to lose through the low standing of his party and his own popularity with the electorate.
Gordon Brown has echoed Tony Blair’s general rebuttal on the grounds that the UK situation differs from the American one. The UK is not calling on the electorate to appoint a President. Nor, he might have argued, is the election some kind of charisma contest.

Sky gets a dusty response

The appeal to public interest in Mr Ryley’s actions were not received with universal approval, notwithstanding his offer to make the viewing available to Sky’s rivals for terrestrial [non Satellite] viewers.

B Sky B’s leader James Murdoch had expressed the company’s dissatisfaction with what he saw as the BBC’s Orwellian influences a few days earlier.

Sky could hardly have expected a positive response from the BBC
whose report noted:

The BBC’s chief political adviser Ric Bailey said there had been lots of negotiations and “informal discussions” as securing a TV debate was a “delicate” process – with the best chance being for broadcasters to work together on a joint approach.
The current ITV director of news Michael Jermey, said he wanted to see the leaders debate on ITV1 as part of a series of programmes during the general election campaign. “ITV believes that a series of leaders’ debates through the general election campaign would be good for viewers and voters. ITV and the BBC are working closely together on this and we welcome involvement from other broadcasters.”

The Times chimes in

The Times [Sept 2nd 2009] added its weight to the debate on the debate,
joining the Murdoch offensive through an editorial (British party leaders must not duck out of a TV debate), a lead story and back up stories, plus the article by its Sky colleague John Ryley with its ‘invitation to collaborate’.

The Times argued that such a debate was important. The examples presented the possibility of a crucial moment, a political tipping point which might occur.

The examples of the crucial moment were North American. There was the infamous five o’ clock shadow which did for Nixon so long ago. There was the relaxed put-down by Reagan of the earnest Jimmy Carter. There was the even more alarming account of a remark from Canadian opposition leader Brian Mulroney which apparently destroyed the credibility of Prime Minister Turner in that year of years 1984. According to the Times Journalist Chris Smith “Faced with this declaration of moral clarity, the Liberals collapsed in the polls and the Conservatives won by a landslide”.

In other words, this is the view of history as a series of crucial incidents. Unless the debate itself can rise above the quality of the debate about the debate, it is unlikely to add to much public understanding of policy issues.

Wishful thinking

Despite media interest, the whole business may be little more than wishful thinking. After all, it came on a day when the main front-page headline in The Times was Who spiked my pumpkin? A case of vegicide.


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