David Rutley is the Member of Parliament for Macclesfield, Damian Green’s PPS, and a member of the Free Enterprise Group.
In recent years, business has come to appreciate the concepts of “failing well” and “intelligent failure“. The Labour Party, which continues to fail badly, should take note.
In many businesses, egos have been put aside, and managers are now rated by their ability to face up to shortcomings. Arrogant “masters of the universe” boardroom talk is old hat. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” Modern achievers are acknowledged to be bold with their calculated risks and, crucially, to be eager to learn from their mistakes. Corporations are learning to have humility, to acknowledge past, short-term mistakes in order to face the future and reap success.
But sometimes an organisation is so collectively adamant that it is right, its leaders so blinkered, that it keeps making the same old mistakes, somehow expecting the world to change around it. Which brings us back to the Labour Party. It failed in Government, it has failed to acknowledge that it failed in Government, and it continues to fail in opposition. Where many businesses are learning to fail well, Labour just fails badly.
In Government, Labour arrogantly announced the end of boom and bust. Then its boom – a credit-fuelled chimera of growth – imploded precisely into bust. Labour lost any reputation it ever had for economic competence. But, having lost power as a result, it remains steadfast to a path of supply-side paralysis and fiscal indiscipline. It seems convinced that the world, the very future, has moved closer to it, so why learn from the past? Remember how Labour’s leaders cheered when Francois Hollande won the presidency of France: how different it was all going to be, how obvious it seemed (to them) that a re-run of the failed 1980s Mitterrand Experiment would work this time? But it hasn’t worked in France, and Labour’s Back to the Future policies of price controls won’t work here either.
Reluctantly, a dumfounded Labour Party has conceded that the electorate isn’t convinced by its economic policies. It has therefore tried to find a way to show that it means to be responsible. But, this being Labour, rather than actually being responsible, it has latched in desperation onto a PR stunt that gives the impression of being responsible. It has asked for the Office for Budget Responsibility to examine its spending pledges, outside the OBR’s statutory remit. In other words, it’s taken Labour four years of failing to convince the voters with what they would do, to belatedly come up with something that they know can’t be done.
This is a failing party of opposition continuing its failing practices of Government: attempting to appropriate voter-friendly language without any substance or any real meaning. Labour has barely woken up to its own need to change; its policy review is PR over policy, all fig leaves, not root-and-branch reform. Only the Labour Party could try to steal the clothes of One Nation politics whilst pursuing a confused, divisive strategy aimed at winning just 35 per cent of the electorate. As far as reform is concerned, it’s not far enough, not fast enough, from Labour.
On the bright side, for Conservatives, if Labour can’t even fail well, it’s unlikely to succeed. But unlike Labour, we don’t want to be complacent. We have had lessons of our own to learn in recent elections. But David Cameron and George Osborne have learned them well. We are succeeding as a party, and as a Government, because what works comes first. David and George have a long-term plan. And the two Eds aren’t better than one of them.