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Theresa May Should Dump Pollsters And Talk To A Chief Executive or Two for Political Tips

14/06/2017 11:49
Eddie Keogh / Reuters

Instead of pollsters, election 'gurus' and focus groups during the election, Theresa May would have done better to talk to the CEO of a successful company. Any company.

She failed to grasp that politics, like business, is about passion as well as principles; and we saw precious little of either from the Government campaign.

Her preferred currency - pragmatism - earned a raspberry from a large proportion of the electorate fed up with austerity and the promise of more to come. Nobody votes for a worse future any more than they buy the prospect of a poorer product.

A successful chief executive knows that an enterprise needs a clear sense of purpose; and that this needs to be communicated with passion to everyone: employees, lenders, shareholders and customers. Jeremy Corbyn confronted Mrs May energetically with a whole new set of ideas. Her response was stony silence.

If a business rival comes up with an alternative, then a good chief executive meets the challenge, knowing that this will enhance their own enterprise. Mrs May offered nothing to pensioners or young people except, respectively, hazard or indifference.

Jeremy Corbyn was simply the better election CEO. He identified his customers and came out with a positive, firm corporate vision. He still lost, of course. But his loss has the scent of an ascendancy. Mrs May's victory smells like a wake.

We will see what lies smouldering beneath each leader's political business over the coming weeks. But the direction of travel seems clear. Mr Corbyn was rewarded for a better packaged product. It was also one far better sold through social media, which has the power to launder even quite old school ideas into freshness.

He recognised far more intuitively that people want to benefit their particular lives. A company survives the same way. Ratners failed in part because the head of the once ubiquitous high street jeweller, Gerald Ratner, once described its product as 'cr*p', not because the product itself changed. Sentiment is everything in life and politics and business.

"It's not what I did at the time," Mr Ratner said years later. "It took me years to realise that the only proper apology is a fully apology." Mrs May seemed not to understand that wise truth during the fiasco over future funding of social care.

Mr Corbyn also made a lot of people feel more hopeful and less embattled. He reached out to a new market - young people - and galvanised them. It was a marketing masterstroke. They bought his product, few questions asked.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives were busy unsettling their core, reliable pensioner market. Everyone else was told, more or less, only that the current Government was best placed to help us all cope with the kicking that was going to come our way.

But in some respects, the general election was remarkable for more than ineptitude. There are now 40 per cent more MPs who classify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, 45 in total. There also seems to be fairer ethnic respresentation. All of this is to be applauded. It shows a representative democracy working despite the constraints of our first-past-the-post electoral system.

This plurality will mean more of the rest of us at least buying into a 'product' that appears to be closer to the democracy it claims to be, which has never been more important given the consensus that needs to be built on the big issues of our time, whether Brexit or social care. We should embrace that opportunity to find common ground. It makes good business sense to do so.

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