During my professional days in management education and training one of my jobs was to mentor new managers. One question I frequently encountered was “I am inheriting a right mess – how can I protect my own position if things go wrong?”.
My advice was, first and foremost, document the full set of horrors that you are facing, and date the document so you can always produce it in a crisis. My next step was to ask the new manager what the general opinion in the organisation was of his or her predecessor. It was easy to deal with a situation where everyone recognised the departing manager was inadequate. If the person leaving was popular, and most people most people thought he or she had done a good job, it was far more difficult. I encountered the latter situation once myself. I took over a crumbling department from someone who had immense face validity – he was well liked – but as far as I could see had done very little for the last eighteen months. When I tried to introduce changes, I met a deal of resistance from those who had rated him.
Labour’s leadership contest has caused me to reflect on this advice – not that Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey or the other contenders have sought my guidance. The list of horrors that they face is easy to construct: a complete lack of credibility with the electorate; ambiguity on the central political question of the day, Brexit; lack of imaginative and relevant thinking on pressing 21st century issues; inadequate and underperforming shadow ministers; a National Party Executive captured by a destructive faction; the failure to deal with antisemitism; a deeply divided membership in the country.
This list would be enough to keep anyone awake at night. They should however be able to take comfort in the fact, turning to the second part of my guidance to new managers, that nobody thinks that their predecessor had done a good job. To misquote Laurel and Hardy, he has got them into a fine mess.
There is, however, always the odd exception. Things can be different in Norfolk. This time the example comes not from my own North Norfolk Labour Party, but from the neighbouring constituency of Broadland. At their first meeting after the General Election, on a Saturday morning in January, the membership in Broadland was asked to support the following motion, which was presented by member of the Regional Executive of the Labour Party. I might add that I have no idea what is meant by the word ‘comparable’ in this context.
Broadland CLP records its gratitude to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for their work over the past four and a half years, in moving the policy agenda forward so that the Labour Party now has policies that are comparable with most European social democracies.
The secretary is instructed to write to the NEC (via the General Secretary) to formally record our thanks with a copy to the respective offices of the Leader and the Shadow Chancellor.
The classic model for dealing with loss talks of seven stages of grief. It seems that some in Broadland are unable to move beyond the first stage of the process – that of denial. With members like this a hard road lies ahead for our new leader!
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