Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Sharing the Leadership

Now that our UK elections are over, we have a coalition government, an uneasy alliance between two quite different ideologies. My interest in this is in predicting what will be the outcome, particularly given the sharing of leadership across very different parties.

I read in The Guardian the other day about the imminent house share of the grace-and-favour residence of Chevening (a 115-roomed house) between the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (Lib-Dem), and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague (Conservative). It illustrates quite neatly the challenges ahead - these two being the most unlikely of house mates. Clegg for example is a former MEP and ardently pro-European, whilst Hague, it would be fair to say, is eurosceptic, wanting to renegotiate on the UK's integration with EU human rights, social affairs, criminal justice and employment legislation.

The situation is made even more unstable given there are 18 Conservatives and 5 Liberals in the Cabinet. As one Cabinet Minister put it, "as we looked around the table, it was hard to imagine that only a week earlier we were tearing strips off each other on the campaign trail". In a most recent YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, 45% of respondents think the two parties will soon be fighting among themselves. As a mediator I should point out that conflict is not a bad thing, in fact it is necessary and healthy, but only when handled well.

It is not just the ideologies which will make this coalition pitted with problems but the personalities of the two leaders. As with most leaders, Clegg and Cameron are fiercely competitive, ambitious and single-minded in following their objectives through. Will this energy be put to mutual benefit or to tear one another apart however?

These challenges are in no way unique to politics. Much research has been undertaken on the subject of corporate mergers and acquisitions and a fairly dispiriting statistic is quoted of around 80% of large cap European M&As failing to deliver on their predicted value, and 50% of European small cap, within 18 months, due to differences in corporate "culture". The fact that the majority of M&As fail to meet the financial and synergistic expectations of shareholders or employees is put down to post-merger "cultural clashes". This is the least tangible or measurable element of any partnership (the ideologies, the codes of conduct and the history) yet it is the glue that either binds people together or where at odds, they come unstuck. This is true in politics, as it is in business, as it is in personal relationships. Within the corporate world, there has been some research undertaken about the style of leadership needed post-merger, one addressing the key processes of creation, change, and integration. Just how this will work within such disparate political groups remains to be seen however. As a musing observer, seeing the most unlikely of pairings between such opposing ideologies, at this stage unfortunately I do not rate their chances of success too highly. At best, this is going to be a severe culture shock for both parties, at worst it is going to be trench warfare.