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It’s exactly a week since Boris’s nightmare interview with Eddie Mair on the Andrew Marr Show.

“You’re a nasty piece of work” was Mair’s now famous put down. This piece is not to endorse that view. Nor is it to echo Boris’s father Stanley or his friend Darius Guppy in mounting a staunch defence of the Mayor of London.

My worry is that we have developed a new bad habit – universal adversarialism. Or to put it less politely, it’s open season for everyone slagging off everyone else. We have an adversarial parliamentary system – which is unlike, for instance, the USA. They seem to have survived without it for nearly 240 years and governed themselves adequately. We have an adversarial legal system. Policing is largely adversarial. Sport is almost entirely adversarial.

As to the ‘Fourth Estate’, both broadcast and print media are increasingly confrontational. Not that that is anything new. Even before he was sent to jail, Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891, ‘In old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralising. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism.’

Slagging off on TV and radio is of course not confined to editorial pieces. Audience participation shows like Question Time and Any Questions actively encourage members of the public to join in and attack their tribunes and prominent citizens in general. Plays, soaps and movies are packed full of aggression and verbal abuse – echoing no doubt what is happening behind closed doors in hundreds of thousands of households.
I am commenting on a social trend, not advocating censorship. In all relatively free societies from the days of the Greek agora and the Roman Forum down to Cairo’s Tahrir Square last year, there has been a tradition of popular protest. Even under totalitarian regimes brave souls have risked their lives by criticising those in power.

Nor is it wrong to argue and debate. I strongly recommend a book by Susan Scott, an American consultant – Fierce Conversations (Berkeley Trade, 2004) – in which she urges the reader not to shirk difficult debates with everyone in their lives, where necessary, including oneself.

I worry about the way adversarialism is delivered. My concern is that from children upwards we are all starting to see confrontation as the default setting, rudeness as a stock in trade, and aggression as a natural way to debate. You see it in road rage. You even see it on pavements and in the Tube. Watch a junior football, rugby or cricket match. I am not sure what is worse – the language and demeanour of the kids, or that of their parents on the touchline or boundary.

I am dedicated to helping everyone make better decisions. That is why I wrote my book Decide, and why I am now hard at work on its successor. The crucial cauldron for decision making by teams and organisations is the endless series of meetings they all rely on. Meetings are at the same time the most frustrating part of decision making (because they seldom produce any decision whatsoever), and the best hope, because decision making is precisely what the meeting was designed to achieve.

But check out your friendly local meeting. Is the atmosphere collegiate? Is the language calm and urbane? You must be joking. Inevitably confrontation now dogs the meeting as it threatens to poison the rest of our life. And because confrontation is unconstructive, it impedes debate and reduces the chance of arriving at a decision.

I say it is time to blow a whistle, to sound a warning, to call a halt to the slagging off. If we can achieve any progress in this direction, we will start to see that we can make far more progress by debating and discussing in what we used to call a civilised fashion.

And then, Mr Mair, calling someone a “nasty piece of work” will say more (and not in a nice way) about the slagger, and less about the slagged.

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Season tickets were always going to go up this month – and commuters have known for three months by how much. Yet newspapers and radio phone-ins have been buzzing with righteous indignation, swiftly followed by demands that the railways should be nationalised. For people interested in decision science, it’s a classic case, and one worth dwelling on briefly.

But let’s knock one urban myth on the head from the outset: the one about the railways being under the control of private companies. It’s certainly true that the train operating companies (TOCs) own assets like rolling stock and the power units that move them around the rail network, publish timetables, charge customers and pay wages. But control? Forget it. The UK rail industry is very firmly regulated, and is effectively controlled by the Government. None of the TOCs can run even one service without Network Rail. And Network Rail is a statutory corporation, with no shareholders. The Government has the right to make any changes to the company, including taking it into state ownership.

The Government also manages the whole industry through the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). ORR is responsible for economic and safety management, through a Board, which reports to the Secretary of State for Transport. ORR has the final say in fare structure. Also they negotiate with the Treasury on what proportion of investment is paid for by the Government, and what by the rail traveller. The UK rail industry has significantly less subsidy than in other countries.

Sorry about the lesson – but this is an interesting case, and the background is important. Let’s do the rest by numbers:
1. There appears to be a paradox – ten years of increased prices, and still passenger numbers are rising. What does that tell us? The demand side for rail travel in general and commuting in particular continues to be strong. Surprising? Not really. The rail service in the UK has improved steadily in both reliability and comfort – apart from peak rush hour services, and more people than ever rely on trains to get them to work
2. There are numerous other examples of goods and services where – even in an economic downturn – demand is strong despite increased prices
3. Does this mean that price elasticity doesn’t apply to rail fares? Can the TOCs increase prices for ever with no fall off in demand? Almost certainly not – but we are not there yet
4. What about the TOCs investing in much needed improvements to rolling stock and the stations they own? Do they need to increase prices to achieve future customer satisfaction? Yes, they do, given Government regulation, and subsidy at less than 40%. It absolutely makes sense to do it while negative price elasticity still applies
5. So why were the 24 TOCs and their joint body ATOC so apologetic and defensive when they announced the average increase in season tickets of 4.2%? Heaven knows. No commuter relishes paying more, but in the current climate of cuts it is obvious that increasing the level of rail subsidy is not an option for the Government
6. Wouldn’t it have been possible to explain the reasons for investing in the future, with the Government sharing the pain with the travelling public. Of course it would. This piece has done it in less than 600 words
7. HS2? Now you’re talking dirty!

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So 91 Conservative MPs voted against the Government’s House of Lords reform bill. Despite the fact that Cameron won the vote thanks to Labour support, the timetabling bill was withdrawn, and there is no chance of this major piece of constitutional tinkering hitting the statute book any time soon.

Two immediate questions arise. First, what happens next? Secondly, how did the Government find itself in the position of proposing legislation which is anathema to many of its Conservative supporters, inside and outside Parliament? In a sense, the first question is less interesting, because there is plenty of time to for us to speculate, and the business managers to wheel and deal. The Tory rebels think the legislation is a dead duck. The Coalition partners will presumably go through the motions of keeping it on the table.

Today’s newspapers speculate that the Prime Minister promised Nick Clegg that he would support Lords reform in compensation for the defeat of the Alternative Vote referendum. This is surely the slippery slope of Coalition. What is the point of the largest single party (by nearly 50 seats) being suckered into promoting a policy that has nothing to do with Conservative philosophy, that cannot be considered any kind of priority, and is regarded with total indifference by the electorate as a whole?

It is not enough for the Coalition to sort the economy out – vital though that is. There has to be a vision, an overarching raison d’etre for this Government.

Labour are rightly disliked for what they did in office – not just in terms of economic policy. There was waste on a massive scale, and also a nanny state mentality that compounded the waste. There was also laissez-faire on benefits and immigration. As the country became weaker and poorer, it must have seemed to most voters that the beneficiaries from Labour policies were almost anyone but them.

Like many people, I felt after the 2010 General Election that the Coalition promised well. A balance of Conservative and Lib Dem policies, built around economic realism, should have been a refreshing change after the nightmare of New Labour and the dark night of the happily brief Brown regime.

But there doesn’t seem to be any vision, or higher purpose. Cameron and Clegg have faithfully followed the New Labour model of an endless succession of disconnected policy announcements – all purporting to right a wrong, or save money somehow. It has been undiluted problem-solving, with nary an opportunity in sight.

Britain needs hope, not despair. It needs to preserve the best, as it accepts cuts and sacrifice. The British people need to understand where our leaders are coming from, and where they are seeking to take us. If they are going to support the Government, they need to believe in it, and what it stands for.

The scatter-gun approach is unconvincing and unmotivating. Given the overriding economic need for what Brown used to call prudence (until he abandoned it when he sold our gold reserves for a mess of pottage), a mixture of small ‘l’ liberal ideas and the preservation and conservation of the best of Britain, would have been popular.

That’s not what we have experienced.

Cameron has some crucial decisions to make. He should spend the recess looking for vision, big ideas, and a vote-winning programme for the next two and a half years. If Clegg wants to remain as Deputy PM, he will have to accept this vision – and say goodbye to irrelevant flights of fancy like “Senators” with 15 year terms.

If they can’t agree on a vision, the Lib Dems should be allowed to concentrate on avoiding electoral oblivion in 2015, while Conservatives give us all something to rally round and get excited about.

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I liked that Pret A Manger promotion for the Diamond Jubilee: “Keep it clean for the Queen”. Simple call to action. Positive CSR from a popular brand.

People say that the Jubilee was a rehearsal for the Olympics. But was it? Hardly. Just four days with almost everyone on holiday. The Olympics plus the Paralympics are going to last for over six weeks, admittedly with a gap in the middle. Apart from weekends, and annual holidays, everyone will be at work.

LOCOG has consistently assured us that London can manage – offices and businesses, the educational world, LRT, the rail network, the roads, the health and emergency services, utilities, retail, restaurants, cafes, the entertainment industry, communications of all sorts. But can they? Will they? Will London be able to cope with the direct inflow of people for the Olympics and Paralympics, over and above the millions of tourists that come here every summer? Oh yes – and there’s us – the people who live and work here.

I’ve started to listen to my tweet-mate Vince Cabbie. I was critical of him in the coalition, but now he’s thinking of quitting politics to become what I call a full time taxidermist (taxi driver who’s continually getting stuffed). He talks a lot of sense. He says the road system is in the worst state ever – in terms of road works, obstructions, diversions, and all manner of restrictions.

Today – two days after the Jubilee – the Mayfair / St James’s area was mayhem. It probably was everywhere else as well, but there was no chance to find out unless you went there on the Tube. Just imagine all that plus the dedicated “Games Lanes” and the 4000 BMWs to fill them, not to mention the parking restrictions. Remember the embarrassing lack of loos we saw last weekend, with the massively increased demand (if that’s the word) the Games will bring. Think about the effect of  additional security, necessary as it obviously is.

How will people get to work, or school or college? Get home? Travel about town? Be on time to pick up the kids? What about restaurants, theatres, and all the venues that have to keep to time? How will husbands and wives, partners and friends, families and mates reach each other?

My slogan – for now right through September – is even simpler and more far-reaching than Pret’s. It is “Keep London Working”. I appeal on behalf of us all, our visitors, and our long-suffering city, for all branches of Government, Boris’s praesidium, the Met, the Armed and Security Forces, Fire and Ambulance authorities, the borough administrations and LOCOG to work together and take a long hard look:
• How bad could it get?
• What is the worst case scenario in each element of infrastructure?
• Are there any interventions and schemes that might make things better?
• Are there any decisions already taken that could profitably be reversed?

I’m not criticising the decision to bid for the Games, nor the huge effort that has gone into making it all possible. But I do worry that chaos and crises could do a lot more than knock the gilt of the gingerbread. There are so many clever people in London. So many of them could make a contribution to keeping the show on the road. I believe the authorities would do well to invite some of them to help – including those in our marketing and communications community for whom problem solving is one of the core skills.

For me it is equally as important for those who live and work in London to be able to carry on as normally as possible, as it is for us to look after and protect our visitors.

This is not as realatively remote as the Eurozone crisis, Afghanistan or Syria. This is here. This is now. Keeping London working is paramount. It won’t happen just because we want it to, as Vince would probably say.

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You have probably spotted the fact that I am a Tory. It’s been a lifelong attachment to the Conservative Party, apart from a period of less than 24 hours in early 1963.

That’s a story swiftly told: I was at Oxford, and succumbed one drunken night to my friend Karl Hedderwick’s insistence I should follow his true path and support Labour (Karl was actually Karl Friedrich Hedderwick, so his political direction was probably pre-destined). Harold Wilson had just defeated George Brown. He was a shiny new leader, and from Jesus College, like Karl and me, so it did seem an exciting idea that evening to change my allegiance. But I woke up with a dreadful hangover, and as it dissipated, so did my regard for Harold, and I was back in the other Harold’s camp (Macmillan) by lunchtime.

Nearly 50 years later, I am worried about David Cameron. He started so well. He was impressive in that he seemed to take the whole coalition business in his stride. What is rather disturbing is the revelation in The Times this morning that he knew all along that he was not going to win an overall majority (Cameron: Practically a Conservative, by Francis Elliott and James Hanning, to be published this week by Fourth Estate). So that Rose Garden performance was rather less spontaneous than they would have had us believe.

Cameron has also been commendably consistent on the economy, and the need to be fiscally disciplined. But for the rest, there are more questions than answers, more Nos and Maybes than Yeses, and more criticisms than plaudits. Here’s why I am worried:

• Where are the stars in his ministerial team? This is a first term for goodness sake
• Has the whole coalition business been a dreadful compromise? Have the sacrifices to Lib Dem policy and sensitivities robbed this Government of any discernible Conservative rigour?
• Does it make sense to have Cable as Business Secretary? It was an appointment as bizarre as Huehne’s as Energy and Climate Change Secretary
• Is Cameron credible as a statesman in Europe?
• Is Hague the right man to be Foreign Secretary?
• Is Justine Greening credible at Transport?
• I could go on around the Cabinet table. Harsh, but I think true

When the coalition was born, I admit to having been quite pleased. I felt the alliance might make the Government more popular for being broadly-based. I also felt it would make life very difficult indeed for Labour, particularly when they chose a slightly odd leader in Miliband.

But the Government isn’t popular. Conservatives and Lib Dems were mauled in the May local elections – with the exception of the redoubtable and fearless Boris. It doesn’t need Labour to wrong foot the coalition. The so-called allies scarcely make the effort to look united any more.

And the mistakes: Carriers without aircraft, Granny Tax, Pasty Tax, Charity Tax, cutting the 50p level, is HST vital or dispensable? A long-running PR nightmare about the NHS. The list is endless.

Now Cameron is facing highly unpredictable consequences from a Greek nightmare that is absolutely not his – or our – fault. He has the tricky dilemma about stimulating growth – is it a no-brainer, or high risk? Should he change Employment Law as the Beecroft Report suggests? Will the longed-for summer bring a rerun of the dreaded urban riots? Will the Falklands dispute escalate? Is the British position on Afghanistan sustainable if other NATO members follow Socialist France into precipitate withdrawal? And all this before we look at the possibly disastrous consequences of being seen to have been too close to the ongoing News Corp debacle.

The Cameron brand faces challenge and problems on every side. It may not be a full relaunch he needs. But surely strategic change and fresh presentation would help. If the account went to pitch, I am sure that at least one agency would recommend a full throttle Tory strategy. Hard to see how slavish loyalty to Clegg and co is going to pay off. The Lib Dems are electorally damaged, and they have too much influence over Government policy. Surely that has to change for a start. Is it too simpliste to point out that Boris has bucked the trend by not compromising, and being his own man?

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While the intelligentsia wake up to the Today Programme, I prefer Nicky Campbell and Rachel Burden on 5 live Breakfast. I should say Rachel and Nicky, because she bothers to get up an hour before him!

Why am I a 5 live fan? Love politics. Love sport. Love the presenters (at least most of them), and their banter. But that brings me on to why I am very uneasy about the BBC’s role in politics, this morning after the council elections. I will explain.

Rachel and Nicky have become vicarious friends. The same is true of some other presenters, notably: Peter Allen, Anita Anand, Victoria Derbyshire, Shelagh Fogarty, Aasmah Mir, Mark Pougatch and Phil Williams. The station’s style is friendly and chatty. Conversation is informal and jokey.

Then they start interviewing politicians. It was a bad night for the Lib Dems. Hundreds of lost seats. Punished by their supporters for joining a coalition government, which has inevitably become unpopular. Campbell conducted a very aggressive interview with Tim Farron, President of the party – but not a front line politician. In a blink of an eye, the man was transformed from lovable Nicky into a pastiche of John Humphrys – brutal, waspish, interrupting rudely, putting words into Farron’s mouth.

That was bad enough. A few minutes later Paddy Ashdown was being interviewed by sweet natured, girl next door Rachel, who unwisely set about Paddy a la Nicky, after playing a highly misleading clip from the Farron interview. Ashdown destroyed her, ridiculing her approach, and refusing to play her games.

What worries me about the BBC’s involvement with politics is not so much the combative interviewing style on Radio 4. It is not even the sardonic know-all approach of the editors: Robinson, Peston, Pienaar, and Flanders. It is the “politicians are fair game for me to rubbish and be rude to” approach of chummy presenters who fancy themselves as hot shot journalists. They are like the bloke in the pub sounding off. Except the bloke’s audience is usually a maximum of three people. To judge from the endless phone-ins, thousands of listeners are taken in by the caustic critics in fluffy jumpers.

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“We are in drought” say the posters. It is hard to believe as I write this with the rain hammering down outside, but everything is relative. Turn off your hosepipe in Berks. Carry on filling up the fishpond in Gloucs. Always remember that the problems are caused by gardeners and car washers, and bathers who could take a shower instead. Never mind the inconvenient truth that households account for only 8% of UK water consumption.

“In drought” is an interesting phrase. I don’t recall our being “in heat”, “in freeze”, or “in wind” – or indeed “in drought” at any stage in the past. The powers that be, and their professional spinners and wordsmiths, choose their words carefully. I have a feeling that “in drought” has been chosen to equate with “in recession” or “in crisis”. It is a way of not only enveloping us in disaster, but hinting that it is at least partly our fault.

It is as if we have had this long-running conspiracy with radio presenters and weather forecasters to get them to say “it’s going to be a lovely day”, when we should be wishing for “another ghastly rain-free day ahead”. Even if our car is always filthy and the garden is habitually neglected in favour of watching TV or going to the pub, we are potential hosepipe terrorists. No wonder the Coalition control freaks have imposed a £1000 fine for illegal hosepipe use, and encouraged us all to rat on our neighbours. Once the ruthless 8% start watering their roses again, the reservoirs will dry up. Industry? Agriculture? How could they be a factor?

As the glorious Olympic year of 2012 unfolds, keep an eye out for other crises, which will require sacrifice and the acceptance of swingeing retribution should we stray from the path of rectitude.
Even now the ‘Government Communication Centre’ (COI as was – the new body has a title borrowed from similar bodies in Cuba and the DDR) will be briefing agencies on poster campaigns, including:

• We are in obesity
• We are in alcohol dependency
• We are in sex

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I voted Conservative, and was strangely excited about the idea of the Coalition. The tit for tat of two party politics had become a huge bore, apart from being seriously counterproductive. Tories and Lib Dems working together to repair the ravages of tired old New Labour seemed like a good plan.

Two years on, and I am very disappointed. The new “Snooping Law” is the last straw. It smacks of totalitarianism, and is about as palatable as the “Hosepipe Hotline” apparently set up to encourage people to rat on their neighbours.

Add this to:
• The “Granny Tax”, and a tax policy seemingly dedicated to beating up everyone who voted Tory, while still managing further to alienate the people least able to withstand the pressures of this recession
• Aircraft carriers without aircraft
• Lack of a credible exit strategy in Afghanistan
• Pusillanimous concession to US extradition requests
• The HST
• Abolishing zebra crossings
• Going nap on wind farms
• I could easily go on to a list of 20 or more…

…and you have to conclude that with or without Steve Hilton the Government is two sandwiches short of the ability to make a sound decision on almost anything. They have shown themselves to be prone to rushing into ill thought-out early decisions on almost every subject.

The Times today compares Mr Cameron’s style with that of his predecessors, and concludes that his is a government by chums. Forget style. Look at decision making, and you have to conclude that The Times has left out a ‘p’.

I worry that there will be more Galloways, a Livingstone back in City Hall, and goodness knows how many wild men and women elected to councils up and down the country, come May.

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So now we know the identity of the US Army Staff Sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians. Staff Sgt Robert Bales is now held in a high security facility in Kansas. I heard the head of the US Army interviewed on BBC Radio this morning. He was asked why the decision had been taken to spirit Bales out of Afghanistan, when President Karzai said he should be put on trial in Afghanistan for a crime committed on Afghan soil. The General said, ‘we always do the right thing’. I heard another Army spokesman saying that when NATO went into Afghanistan, it was understood by all parties that in the event of incidents of this type, the accused soldiers would always be tried in their home countries.

Yet Christopher Tappin, the retired British businessman accused of selling batteries to the Iranians for use in missiles (but no evidence has been presented), was disgracefully extradited to the US, and is still in a high security facility in New Mexico, having been refused bail by a Texas court.

How does this work? How come it is OK for the US to insist on home country justice for an alleged multi-murderer, while denying it to an apparently respectable Englishman in his mid-60s?

Where’s the special relationship, Mr Cameron? How do you define ‘doing the right thing’, General?

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Last week was one for dire decisions. To name just two:

• Caving in to the letter of our misbegotten extradition treaty with the US in the case of Christopher Tappin conveys absolutely no credit on the Home Secretary, the Government as a whole, British judges or the wretched European Court of Human Rights
• Did the Syrian regime have a shred of legitimacy left before the decision to shell the temporary press centre in Homs where Marie Colvin met her untimely end? Probably not. But they are now well and truly damned, with President Assad facing at least as grim a future as his oppressed people

How are we supposed to react to decisions like these? Is rational analysis possible? Or are we better to rely on gut feel to condemn them out of hand?

Using a slightly broader perspective….

Mr Tappin is alleged to have been involved in selling batteries for missiles to Iran. Whether he has a case to answer is a mystery. The extradition treaty does not require evidence to be presented in the UK. So Mr Tappin is presumed guilty, flown under guard to the US and remanded in a high security jail. Not a great decision by David Blunkett who was Home Secretary at the time the treaty was “negotiated”. Not a great decision by this Government to submit meekly to the American demand. For my money the decision traps involved are:
• Lack of frame control by the Labour Government when they gave in to the US: failing to define the problem properly, and being unduly influenced by the frame of the US government. Also lack of foresight. They surely wouldn’t have agreed to the legislation if they had envisaged the kind of cases that would arise
• This Government and the judges? Overconfidence in their own judgement

As for the Syrian regime, it is not really worth arguing about which decision traps they have fallen into. Plunging in? Sunk cost? Failing to learn?

All we need is gut feel for this one. We are back to a phenomenon we have visited before in this blog: the removal of the veneer of civilisation. Assad and company were beyond the pale before they decided to shell the messengers. Now? Surely just a question of time before deliverance for the suffering country and retribution for the butchers.

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