In his regular column in the Observer of 3 September, Andrew Rawnsley wrote: “It could be that the China policy is being kept so secret because the government doesn’t actually have a plan with enough coherence to deserve to be called a strategy.“
What Rawnsley points to in relation to China could surely be applied far more widely. How confident are we that the current crop of ministers understands strategic thinking? Do they know to ask their staff: “What if xxx happens – what should we do?”
Cameron was no strategist
Certainly, David Cameron was no strategist when announcing his ‘back of an envelope’ referendum without vision or plan for either success or failure! Did Teresa May, between 2016 and 2019, spell out what resources should be applied and by whom in respect of: border controls; workforce development; trade replacement; research funding; international crime; technical standards; water quality; energy security; etc – when or if Brexit happened?
Was there any strategy behind Johnson ‘getting Brexit done’ or spaffing an arbitrary £37bn of tax-payer funds for ‘test and trace’ other than panic or irresponsibility? Was there anything behind ‘levelling up’ other than political schmoozing of newly-Conservative constituencies?
When Chancellor Kwarteng not only did not ask the most senior, relevant civil servant in the Treasury for his advice, but actually removed him from his post and expressly refused to consult the Office for Budgetary Responsibility about his ‘plans’, we are entitled to wonder on what basis ministers are appointed and what they think their role is. Our expectations might be very different to theirs.
What of the current administration? How strategic was Tory commitment to carbon neutrality when, less than a year into his regime, Sunak back-tracked in the aftermath of a by-election in order to boost his party’s following, rather than do something for the long-term good of all? Sunak has indeed made a flurry of policy announcements which are seemingly random and unconnected with the priorities of the people and the economy. Which matters more: the cost of living or mobile phones in schools? The appalling NHS waiting list or local traffic controls?
The only thinking detectable behind his petty posturing is to pander to his own party in light of disastrous polls. This suggests that there is no strategy for the future of the nation, merely a drip-feed of scorched earth tactics designed to leave his successor a broken public domain, into which Tory-backing capitalists can step to pick up investment plums.
What is our government’s approach?
It seems quite basic to suggest that organisations should develop and implement strategy, to have a road-map, time-scale and clear responsibilities for improving the future. True, some business leaders eschew such structured thinking and say “just go for it”; but where the organisation or the world in which it works is complex, resources are tight, competition is strong, and millions depend upon performance, strategy can ensure that the resources needed are identified and put in place, in time and with common purpose and with contingencies addressed.
Does our current government, responsible for looking after the nation’s well-being, have such an approach? Can you see the big picture that they are aiming for on our behalf, or fathom any purpose behind its tactics other than mere party advantage?
As Sun Tzu back in China tritely put it: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Such a defeat looks imminent for the government, but 14 years of Conservative irresponsibility and self-interest, without strategy or concern for the people’s well-being have already done near-irreparable damage to the country.
It has been refreshing to hear the Labour leader suggesting that it may take 10 years to effect some of his plans.
That suggests strategic thinking.