Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Politicians Behaving...

Back in the 1980s, when the satirical puppet show on TV, Spitting Image, provided the most credible political opposition, David Steel and David Owen were the leaders of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party respectively. The parties were considering merging.

Spitting Image was in no doubt who was wearing the trousers in the relationship (you could use that metaphor in the 80s) and pictured the two Davids in bed together, wearing dressing gowns. Owen was a giant and Steel was a tiny puppet, sitting on his lap like a poodle.

They discussed merging. The dialogue went a bit like this, although I can't remember it word for word:

If our two parties merge David, what will we call the new party?

Well David, I thought we could take some words from the two party's names. From my party we'd take Social Democratic and from your party we'd take Party.

Social Democratic Party. I see.

I recalled this sketch when David Camera-on came out to make his big, inclusive offer to Nick Clegg's Liberals last Friday. The offer included everything that the Liberals might want, as long as it was already in the Conservative manifesto. Clegg probably did the only thing a good negotiator could do in the circumstances - walked in the room and winced.

Sometimes, when I was negotiating insurance claims settlements, I found the only technique in response to a ridiculously large claim for damages was to hang up the phone.

Since that offer we have had the, not entirely surprising, news that Clegg is courting the Labour party too. Clearly he wants to see who can offer him the most of his own agenda to do a deal. Not unreasonable and he seems to have got his first wish - exit Brown.

In the midst of this the media have been wheeling out anyone they can find who thinks a speculated deal might be inadequate, to rubbish it before it is announced.

We need to remember that the beauty of negotiations is that a deal is done when everyone feels they have got all they can get and given all they can give. Two seconds ago George Osborne said he thought the public would be dismayed about the time this was taking. Well I'm not. I think I would have been dismayed if they'd fixed it in two hours, especially since the Conservative leader had probably had four hours sleep in three days, up to that point.

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