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October 16, 2007


tom s.

This is a good theme to hammer away on and I'm glad you hammer at it so well. But I fear that you overestimate the smartness of the private sector:

"It's a very dim firm these days that thinks the personality of its chief executive matters more than corporate structure, strategy or market positioning."


My impression is that firms think personality of CEOs matters a whole lot and that they are just as vulnerable to the lure of leadership+managerialism as the public sector.


I'm inclined to agree, but be careful not to mix up two separate forms of authority. You say that "we've learnt since the around the mid-80s that decentralized decision-making often works best" but that implies exclusive emphasis on what 'works'. That's a technocratic assumption (I shan't say you're being managerialist!).

Weber famously distinguishes between bureaucratic legitimacy and charismatic legitimacy. The first is assured on the basis that things 'work'; the second is assured on the basis that people are aesthetically/emotionally affected by it. People, including Weber himself, crave charismatic legitimacy, precisely because even - or especially - very bureaucratically effective organisations leave them feeling empty.

So there's no contradiction between recognising that decentralised decision-making works best, and having a yearning for someone who will inject something vibrant and feintly irrational into public life.


The most obvious example is Michael Howard replacing IDS (in the other two three Tory changes of recent times, Major - Hague, Hague - IDS, and Howard - Cameron, there was a leadershp vacancy and one because the leader happiyly left), and I really think the Tories did better in 2005 under Howard than they would have done under IDS.


The _personality_ of the leader may not matter, but their ability does. Put a clueless loser as the manager of anything and watch it fall apart.

Perhaps the Lib Dems thought Ming was incapable, rather than merely lacking in charisma.


"we've learnt since the around the mid-80s that decentralized decision-making often works best": I observe the managerial failing here of thinking everything is new. The Royal Navy practised decentralized decision-making for many a century.


As a long time sceptic of the "great men" theory of history, I should agree but I am somehow reluctant. I think it has always been that way. Squabbling over the top job, (and watching people do it) is a primate thing. We've been doing it since we were more like baboons.


The Lib Dem are still the only major party who are not pragmatic. They never swapped to win undecided votes - that's why I consider them future party


"Undoubtedly, the MSM is part of the story. Its obsession with personalities rather than difficult questions of policy..."

I speculate that this is an effect of TV journalism. It can show people doing things much more easily than make reasoned arguments about policy. So instead of (for example) an argument about policy options about the environment, we get photo ops of David Cameron bicycling to Norway.

They show people, not policies.

Blogs may offer an alternative, so in the long term people may start to pay more attention to policy, but this sort of change takes time. After all, right now, no normal person reads a blog on politics.

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