I don’t know how closely you follow politics and government in the United Kingdom but something quite remarkable is occurring there, beginning with the recent formation of a coalition government of liberals and conservatives.
That’s quite a concept: liberals and conservatives working together. But even more remarkable than that – which normally might easily be dismissed as a ploy based on electoral and political expediency – this coalition, according to Vince Cable, an economist, member of the Liberal-Democrat Party and the Secretary of Business, Innovation and Skills in the newly formed government, has an expressed goal of collaborating to get things done.
That is what Cable told me when I spoke to him over lunch recently during a trip to Scotland and England, and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity.
He’s been a Member of Parliament since 1997, but he stepped down as Deputy Leader of the Lib-Dem party last month, shortly after joining the new coalition government. He’s more than the average politician – he has a PhD in Economics from the University of Glasgow and has written many books and articles on economics and trade, including last year’s The Storm: The World Economic Crisis and What it Means (Atlantic Books, 2009; ISBN 1-84887-057-4). Prior to becoming a MP, was chief economist for Royal Dutch Shell for two years.
So it’s fair to say that when Cable speaks about the value of coalitions and collaborating, we should pay attention, both in governing and in outsourcing circles.
In a speech last week at the Cass Business School, Cable said the new government is “revolutionary at least for anyone less than pensioner age.” It’s “a full coalition” with a policy platform “based on compromise rather than first-past-the-post force majeur.” (Or What’s in it for Me.) The problems are deep-seated, he continued: “A very fragile recovery both at home and in our continental European neighbors. A massive budget deficit. A dysfunctional banking system. An economy that is seriously unbalanced both in its sectoral mix and in its regions. That’s why we have deliberately projected this coalition’s ambitions over a full Parliament, because the task is that big.”
He wants to bring more balance to business, markets, trade and people: “I think being pro-enterprise, pro-trade and competition doesn’t just mean being the voice of business. I do however think that the market economy has to deliver opportunity rather than constrain it. It has to spread wealth around, not concentrate it at the top or siphon it off to tax havens. It should be a place where value and reward are transparently linked. I think that it has to be a route to social justice as well as economic efficiency.”
A recession is “in part a failure of confidence, just as the banking crisis was a failure of trust,” Cable says. “We have to repair both those deficits.”
And if a government can collaborate, while trying to get beyond self-interest, partisan gamesmanship and gotcha! politics for the greater good, anyone can!
Imagine for a crazy moment if the UK experiment in collaboration became a trend that actually caught on across the Atlantic. That would be another revolution.