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The Resigning Game and Should Blair Quit?
Publication date: 2004-02-09

The BBC Bosses Resigned and Some Say Blair Should ... but What are Resignations?

According to the British Press, 51% of the British people want Blair to resign. We have also seen the recent resignations of the BBC top management.

But what are all those “resignations”?

Resignations are common among top people in politics and management. They come in two flavours: (1) the top man announces his resignation, and (2) the people demand that the top man resign.

Frequently announcements of resignations by top people are just a game. They announce their resignation hoping that they will be asked not to resign, but to stay on. Often, however, the announcements of resignations are accepted, and the top man vacates his office with a sense of bitterness at the “ungrateful” people who did not ask him to stay on.

When the people demand a top man to resign, then the situation is different, and the outcome depends on the ability of the top man to restore his authority and trust among the people.

Once the top man has resigned, it often happens, that those who replace him are not better than him. And the people begin to look with nostalgia at the days when the old top man was in charge.

In most cases, however, resignations are not the right way of dealing with a “crisis” or a “problem” with which the management is confronted.

The only cases when resignations are justified are when a person appointed or elected to a position is proved to be incapable of discharging his duties due to his personality flaws which he is incapable of rectifying, or lacks the competence in the area which is essential for the performance of his duties and lacks the ability to learn as he goes along. In such cases the person is simply not fit for the task and should either resign or be removed from his position.

In the case of the BBC resignations, the problem faced by the management was the criticisms expressed in the Hutton Report. The report did not conclude that the persons within the management of the BBC were unfit for the positions held by them. It merely pointed to the need for better control of the journalistic output. The correct way of dealing with the criticisms of the Hutton Report by the management was:

  1. to consider these criticisms in detail,
  2. to establish which points of these criticisms are valid and which are not,
  3. to refute the invalid points by giving full reasons for the refutations,
  4. to accept those points which are valid,
  5. to determine which measures are necessary to rectify whatever faults within the organization, and
  6. to implement those measures.

The resignations by the BBC management did nothing to improve the operation of the BBC. The BBC has lost some capable and experienced managers and now it has to find new personnel, who might or might be not fit for their roles.

In the case of the BBC, the resignations were obviously wrong.

The issue of Tony Blair's resignation belongs to the second group of resignations. Tony Blair is not proposing to resign. It is some people who say that he should. They say that he has lost their trust.

The reason for Tony Blair's loss of trust with the British public is his tendency to say “something” in support of his case, regardless of whether it is factually true or logically valid.

This tendency, however, is not unique to Tony Blair, but is part of the government and management culture that developed in the last third of the 20th century.

The names under which this culture became known are “presentation techniques”, “public relations”, “social engineering” or just “salesmanship”.

The essence of this “public relations” culture is that those who practice it seek to “sell” their products or ideas by relying not on the quality of the items sold or their fitness to the prospective “buyers” needs, but on the personality weaknesses of the prospective “buyers” (often called “punters”).

For example, a double‐glazing salesman would say to his “punter”: “Do you prefer your windows in white or in mahogany?” He hopes that faced with a “dilemma”, the “punter” will select one of the colours, and by doing so will “subconsciously” accept that the windows are “his”, and that he “wants to buy” the windows.

Often, however, this technique fails, and the “punter”, to the salesman's disappointment, says firmly: “I do not want either!” and slams the door in the salesman's face.

When Tony Blair wanted to justify the attack on Afghanistan, which happened still in the atmosphere of the 9/11 hysteria, the technique used by his “salesmen” was to say, whenever the “punter” asked an awkward question: “Are you not sorry for all those Americans, who died in New York?”. This often worked, because the “punter” would answer: “Of course, I am!” and would not persevere with his “awkward” question. Who would answer “I am not!”?. But, the correct answer would have been: “Do not try to avoid my question. Whatever happened in New York, has nothing to do with it.”

In defending the war against Iraq, Tony Blair, sought to persuade the people that Iraq presented an imminent danger for Britain and the rest of the world, because it had “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. He even said that Iraq could deploy their weapons within 45 minutes.

Most people in Britain have neighbours, who have kitchen knives or hammers. Either of which can be used to kill a person within seconds. And yet this is no reason to call the police or to attack the neighbour “preemptively — before he attacks first.

But the mention of WMD and of weapons being able to be deployed in 45 minutes might have even persuaded some people that the war against Iraq was justified.

Now, that it is becoming increasingly clear, that Iraq neither intended to attack Britain, nor even had the alleged WMD, let alone being able to deploy them within 45 minutes, the people accuse Tony Blair of misleading them, and some are calling for his resignation.

But is Tony Blair's resignation a good idea?

Will those who replace Tony Blair be better than him?

To answer this question one has to go beyond the issue of Tony Blair's Iraq war “sales script”, and to look at the “product”, the name of which is “Tony Blair's leadership”.

Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister at a time when “party politics” has reached the end of its “useful life”. The right‐left politics of the 20th century have lost their relevance.

The issue is no longer, whether the government are “right” or “left”, but whether they are right or wrong.

Most politicians, however, are still thinking in their old ways.

It was Tony Blair who moved his party away from its 20th century socialism onto the unchartered territory of non‐political government. And being an unchartered territory, it means that the going is not smooth.

On the world scene one can see similar cataclysmic changes. From a collection of ego‐centric nation states, which see the rest of the world from the point of view their “national interests”, the world is becoming a Global Village, where people move increasingly freely across the national frontiers, where businesses operate in global markets, where events in each country affect the rest of the world and can be seen by all the world in real time, as they happen.

Such world needs global thinking and the old nationalist mentality which pervades most national and international institutions is not capable to deal with the problems of the Global World. Here, again, the national leaders are on an unfamiliar, unchartered territory. Is it surprising that in such situation, in the absence of precedents, manuals and textbooks, national leaders tend to rely on their “instincts” and proceed by trial‐and‐error?

So, how has Tony Blair performed on this difficult unchartered terrain?

Better than anybody else from the British political establishment active today would have done in his place.

They either followed him or opposed him. Those who opposed him, whether in his own party or in the other parties, were either wrong, or, having taken issue on a particular point, were merely “critical”, and could not provide a workable alternative, or convince the Prime Minister of the validity of their criticisms, and either grumbled or resigned (games, games, games!).

Yes, Tony Blair did show some flaws in the course of his leadership. His main flaw, and the one that can be the cause of his downfall, is his belief in the power of “presentation”. He believes, that, if he says something in the right way, people will accept it regardless of whether it is true or false, right or wrong. Sometimes this works. But what happens when it does not?

The punters lose trust in the salesman, and the salesman gets a bad name.

And this why many people have lost trust in Tony Blair's leadership and are calling for his resignation.

So, how can Tony Blair restore the public's trust in his ability to govern Britain honestly and competently?

The worst thing he can do is to try to divert attention from this issue or to seek to cover up this issue or to present it in a favourable to himself light. This can only lead to accusations of “evasiveness”, “sliminess”, “cover‐ups” and “whitewashes”. And we saw this in the public reaction to the publication of the Hutton Report.

Nor will it be any good to say: “Never mind my selling techniques — look at the outcome!”.

Whatever the “outcome” is, the issue of the “crooked salesman” still remains. It is an issue in it's own right — the issue of the techniques used by Tony Blair to sell the war. And any attempts to avoid or marginalize this issue will still further undermine the public trust in Tony Blair.

The only way Tony Blair can restore the public trust in his leadership is to deal thoroughly and honestly with the issue of “government communications” in its own right.

The modern public increasingly resents being treated by governments as a “bunch of idiots” who can be manipulated by slogans and “presentation techniques”. They expect the government to be competent and honest.

Nor should the issue of “government communications” be sidelined by “turning towards the bread‐and‐butter issues of education and health”.

Whatever the government does, it has to communicate with the public. This is just as true of health and education as it is true of waging wars. If the government cannot be trusted to wage wars, can it be trusted with the domestic issues?

Tony Blair should not resign. He should acknowledge that government by politics (that is government by fraud), which he did not invent, but inherited from his predecessors, should be abandoned and replaced with government by truth, honesty and justice.

And this requires a total overhaul of the ways the government communicates with the people.

If every item of government communications is based on proved facts, if every government decision is supported by clear reasons for it being taken and can be logically traced to prime principles, and if all this information is easily accessible to the public, then will there be any need for presentation techniques, investigations, inquiries, whitewashes and cover‐ups?

And what reasons will the public have then to mistrust the government?

The issue confronting Tony Blair is the issue of honesty and competence in government. It is the issue he cannot avoid. And he is the best person to deal with it. And the future of Tony Blair and his place in history depend on his ability do deal with this issue.

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