Category Archives: Qualifications of Politicians

UK Leadership Contest: Open Letter to the Members of the Conservative Party

Dear Members of the Conservative Party,

The fate of the nation now again is in your hands.

Britain is at a crossroads, between a direly needed turn towards a rational politics serving the nation and its citizens or towards ever more irrationality, government blunders, and scandals harming and weakening the nation further.

People want a politics of integrity they can trust. People will trust in a politics of transparent and convincing rationality. Continuing a politics of irrationality will not only continue to harm the nation. It will undermine trust in both, politics and the Conservative Party.

The Conservative Party wants to win elections. Initiating a sound politics of rationality in which people can trust will win elections for the Conservative Party, not the cheap and populist look to what people might think and feel about personalities.

What can and should the members of the Conservative Party do to ensure the direly needed turn to rationality in British politics?

Two steps appear necessary:

  1. Implement in as much as possible at this stage a rational method for electing the new Prime Minister

A nation which wants a qualified leader must necessarily start with choosing a rational method to selecting its leader. Otherwise, the selection process may lead to results which ultimately nobody wants and which harms the nation. The  approach implemented by the 1922 Committee, however, is highly unprofessional and ineffective. It points to huge deficits in the know-how of systemic and rational methods of problem solving and decision making in the political system which urgently need to be corrected. Already the near to four-year paralysis of the political system through the Brexit decision making process highlighted these shortcomings, independently of the result of the decision.

The professional method of choice for deciding between various options for action is the “Analytic Hierarchy Process”. In selecting the candidate for a job, it relies on a logically necessary sequence of steps, starting with identifying the precise demands of the tasks and the qualification criteria to be applied. In a second step it weighs the decision criteria against each other and determines the most important ones. As a final step it selects the candidate who best fits the overall set of qualification criteria required.

The current selection process appears so superficial and chaotic (and does not help you in making your decision), because it does not take these rationally necessary steps, it neither identifies the qualities and qualifications required from a future Prime Minister precisely, nor does it determine the most important ones, nor does it take suitable steps to measure in how fare each candidate fulfils these criteria. It embarks instead on an endless discussion of individual policy proposals which due to the complexity of each issue and our own inability to judge what is right and wrong on such complex issues is largely unsuited to identifying the relevant qualities of the candidates.

To mend those fundamental deficits in the application process, the Conservative Party at this point basically has two options: To stop the botched selection process completely and start all over in a properly structured way, or to incorporate as many elements as possible of the rational decision-making process in the remaining phases of the selection process under way.  Given that the nation needs a functioning government I suggest turning to the second alternative.  

Ultimately the complete list of criteria to be applied in selecting the leader of a nation must be discussed and created in a thorough consultation process. Some of the main criteria appear to be:

This third qualification criterion is necessary because in our complex world no person is smart enough to determine effective policies on their own. In a world facing huge challenges, any head of government must lean on the government system for their policy making and, therefore, must ensure it operates optimally.

An abbreviated application of the Analytic Hierarchy Process would probably suggest that “intelligence” and “integrity” are the decisive criteria.

Rishi Sunak clearly seems to beat Liz Truss on the criterion of intelligence (his appearance and way of talking, his credentials, his training at Stanford University etc.)

In assessing candidates, debates can be misleading. One must rely to some degree on references.

What do people who know her, say about Liz Truss?

These quotes from the Guardian appear to be largely reliable and indicative:

“Her critics (state) – She fails to display intellectual gravitas, they say, relying instead upon cheap slogans, and struggles to make convincing speeches, another facet of her character that could be quickly exposed under the intense scrutiny of Downing Street.

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, told the online magazine UnHerd in May that Truss was “as close to properly crackers as anybody I have met in parliament” and would be an “even worse” prime minister than Johnson.”

Even if one were to harvest reservations against Dominic Cummings, the statement appears independent and worth consideration. More important even appear these observations:

“Others doubt if Truss really believes anything she says, and relies upon a gut instinct to fulfil her own ambitions. Anna Soubry, the former MP who served as a minister alongside Truss, said many had questioned whether she had the skills necessary to lead the UK.

“She was the most ambitious person many people had encountered. I honestly believe she was given jobs – ministerial promotions – just to shut her up. Her ambition is, undoubtedly, considerably greater than her ability,” said Soubry.” (‘Ambition greater than ability’: Liz Truss’s rise from teen Lib Dem to would-be PM | Liz Truss | The Guardian)

In summary:

  • She fails to display intellectual gravitas (i.e. intellectual ability) and relies on cheap slogans
  • Her ambition is undoubtedly greater than her ability
  • She would be an even worse Prime Minister than Boris Johnson

These three statements from people who know her have enough substance to exclude any applicant as a candidate for the office of Prime Minister and as the leader of a nation in the first round of a properly implemented selection process. Not only the degree of her intelligence is questioned in these observations. Also the integrity of a person who relies on “cheap slogans”, a statement affirmed by the debates, must be in doubt.

For the sake of rationality and trust in politics, for the sake of the nation and given the state of the current selection process as it is, it appears that the members of the Conservative Party must choose the most intelligent and capable among the remaining candidates, they must choose Rishi Sunak as the Prime Minister. Nothing stops the party from using the two years to the next election to review the selection process for their leader.

2. Ensuring a fundamental turn to rational politics in the UK

Both candidates do not fulfil the third crucial criterion, necessary for the well-being of the nation: The competency and willingness to ensure the highest effectiveness and efficiency of the government system. (We do not hear them say that this is what they will do as the first step in office and they probably do not have the competencies for it.)

Ultimately ensuring this criterion for the choice of the Prime Minister requires that we, society and everyone in politics, rethink our approach to politics. We must ensure that the entire political system uses professional and rational methods in the way it operates. Our entire world, our societies and our governments are “systems of systems”. The fundamental approach to government it appears must be interconnected thinking, “Systems Thinking”. To ensure rationality and trust of the people in politics the political system must, furthermore, apply rational problem-solving and decision-making methods.

Such an approach to politics informs us that in order to ensure rationality in politics a new Prime Minister must start his or her work with a fundamental inquiry into what rational government means at all. He or she must also investigate in a public consultation process how to optimise government policy making and verify the above suggestions on the foundations for effective government. Otherwise, a Prime Minister cannot govern effectively.

Systems Thinking tells us that everything in our world is interdependent. In government this insight reveals the logic that there cannot be effective government without an effective Government Performance Management System and that there cannot be an effective Government Performance Management System without incorporating all know-how available in society and the world on the matter in a constant and open consultation process.

In the Conservative Party there is some discontent about the ousting of Boris Johnson. What these considerations tells us, however, is that Boris Johnson, even if he is in many ways an extraordinary and highly admirable personality, unfortunately one might say, was not suited as a Prime Minister and that he probably should not be in politics at all, but perhaps in entertainment (unless he completely changes his approach to politics). He is a person to whom, as already his headmaster stated, “rules do not apply”, he appears to consider government a sport, rather than a task which requires a thorough, analytical approach, his government, as a consequence, was a government of chaos not rationality. The infinite series of scandals during his government, furthermore, put his integrity in question and harm the trust of the people in the political system. The UK needs a more rational approach to policy making. Rishi Sunak did the right thing in helping to end Johnson’s time in power and should be supported not criticised for it. 

Conclusion

The British people want and urgently need a government they can trust in.

To ensure rationality and the trust of the people in politics the Conservative Party must select the clearly most intelligent and most capable candidate, a person of integrity as the Prime Minister.

As regards the qualities of the candidates the fact that someone happens to be rich should not

rule him or her out as a candidate, if he or she otherwise happens to be the most suited candidate for the position as PM.

But one core requirement related to integrity is the commitment of the PM to serving society as a whole. The fact that together with his wife he owns more than three quarters of a billion pounds might actually put Rishi Sunak in a conflict of interest with his duty to serve the nation.

In 2016, the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, a man of the highest degree of intelligence, suggested in simple and powerful words that for rescuing our nations and the planet “with resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.” In practical terms this suggestion might necessitate to tax the rich in our nations and the world to a higher degree. Many people in the world, even rich ones themselves, advocate this thinking. If we want to protect our world and societies, we will have to examine our approach to this issue.

In this context it seems important to consider society an organism in which every part is responsible for the health and resilience of the organism. If we manage to make society healthy and resilient, it has the greatest chance to overcome the challenges, we are facing, to attract investment, and to generate adequate well-being for everyone. A rational government must initiate a debate on the suggestion by Hawking. But this is only one aspect of relevance for an effective government. Given the state of the application process we are in, I suggest giving Sunak a chance at least until the next election and to see how he handles this matter and policy making in general. Ultimately, whoever is in office, it is also the effectiveness of political control which decides over the quality of policy making, not the person alone.

Finally, also the skin colour of the applicant appears to, in fact, play an unstated role in the decision-making process. It should not have any relevance.

If we want our societies to flourish, we all must embrace reality, ideally as quickly as possible. Not embracing reality harms and weakens our nations. The reality of our world is that the composition of the population of nations has always changed in the course of history and that today also western nations have become multiracial. We should appreciate the richness this racial diversity brings to our nations. For the sake of our societies, we should choose the most able person to lead our governments.

Next to selecting the most suitable candidate for the job as PM the Conservatives must start now a fundamental rethinking in politics on how to establish rationality and trust in government. Concretely they must ensure that the new Prime Minister takes the steps required to ensure the highest effectiveness and efficiency in government.

After years of blunders and scandals in government, the UK now needs a government of rationality. The Conservatives have the choice to initiate this change. Not doing so might for years to come set the UK on course of further ineffective governments. It would seriously compromise the ability of the nation to cope with the severe challenges it is facing and harm and weaken the nation further.

What is the Prime Task of a Prime Minister?

An essay competition on the subject between the candidates

The British democratic policy making system is in shambles. Britain and the Tory party specifically are looking for a leader able to sort out the mess and to get the nation back on track. As an intriguing new element in the three-year spectacle, now eight or so candidates have entered the stage and are jockeying for the top job. The show could go on for ever.

By now, however, the British public have enough of the spectacle. We need rationality to re-enter. The nation urgently needs a capable leader to clarify what happens on Brexit and to address the many other challenges the nation is facing.

To select the best candidate and to see whether the candidates understand at all what the job is about I suggest starting with an essay competition. The question to be discussed by all candidates is: What is the prime task of a Prime Minister? The candidates have half a page, at most one page to answer the question.

The plain truth is, no one can be the Prime Minister of a country, if they do not understand what the prime task of a Prime Minister is … and how to fulfil that specific task.

So the Conservative Party should really hold that essay competition. I offer to be on the panel of experts to evaluate the essays. This is no joke. A process which does not establish objectively – and transparently – whether a candidate is at all qualified for the job and who ultimately is the best candidate lets the nation down again.

Ultimately all of the UK ought to be discussing these questions: What is the prime task of a Prime Minister? And: Which qualifications does a Prime Minister actually need? If the nation does not answer these questions and does not select the best candidate accordingly, the play is set to continue.

Back to Basics for British Politics

The decisive question: How can Britain get a government with professional decision and strategy making capacities of the highest quality?

After the upheaval of Brexit, which divided the nation, the election greatly added to Britain’s political chaos rather than ameliorating it. For a small regional party like the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to determine who governs Britain in such a difficult situation, can only be considered a fluke of history, not the result of purposeful and effective design of the political system. The mayhem of the election outcome seems to reflect an increasingly chaotic world in which the most varied positions and beliefs clash with each other and in which no party seems to be able to offer a convincing view suitable to generate wider consensus in society on what the best policy solutions are.

What Britain needs to do in order to sort out the political mayhem caused by Brexit and the election outcome is to go back to the basics of politics. Society needs to refocus on what it ultimately requires from its political system. Speculating on who will be governing in the future and when a new election might be necessary, does not generate a sustainable solution. It only extends the instability harming the nation. To provide stability and to unify the nation, Britain requires nothing more or less than an extremely qualified government free from any pre-conceived beliefs and dogmas, but simply bent on and fully capable of identifying and communicating the very best solutions for the nation on each and every political issue at stake.

But here is the flaw. Unless British society improves some fundamental mechanisms of the political system, it simply will not get a government of the quality it urgently needs. Already in 2012, a Parliamentary Committee came to the devastating conclusion that government practically did not possess any professional strategy making capacity whatsoever. They formulated: We have little confidence that Government policies are informed by a clear, coherent strategic approach, itself informed by a coherent assessment of the public’s aspirations and their perceptions of the national interest.” The parliamentarians emphasised that such lack of strategy making capacity in government would necessarily lead to faulty policies in all policy areas and, as a consequence, cause the greatest harm to the nation. Rather than concentrating on sound and solid policy making and on fixing this fundamental fault in the British political system, both, Cameron and May gambled, lost, and created chaos.

What the nation has to realise, is that whichever person or party governs, whether May, Johnson, or Corbyn, whether Conservatives, Labour, or any other party, does not make much of a difference for the quality of policy making at all. As Anthony King and Ivor Crew describe in a book with the title “The blunders of our governments”, the history of politics in Britain over the past decades shows that governments formed by all parties are liable to severe blunders in their policy making. This will only change, if it is ensured that the governments formed by any party or politician possess decision and strategy making capacities of the greatest degree of professionalism and effectiveness.

How can it be ensured that the country gets a government of the quality it requires?

As a first step for creating an effective government and sorting out the present chaos, the nation or parliament ideally should select a person as the leader of the government and as Prime Minister who, objectively and independently of their party affiliation, possesses the most advanced qualifications in decision and strategy making. In the present quasi stalemate in parliament this would be a non-partisan approach by all politicians serving the nation best. Unfortunately, such a proposal may sound too unconventional and may not generate much support, even if, objectively seen, it appears to make sense. Especially the leader of a government must have a comprehensive grasp of professional decision and strategy making methods in order to guide the political system in the formulation of sound and effective policies.

An advisory council on effective decision and strategy making processes indispensable

Independently of who is or will be nominated as the Head of Government in the future, a second step is indispensable:  Government needs a system of some kind, let us call it an “advisory council”, which supports government in making use of the very best methods in decision and strategy making, such as for example the management sciences provide them. Government needs to know about and use problem solving tools provided by Operational Research, it needs to be familiar with systemic decision and strategy making methodologies, it needs to apply methods such as the Alternative Hierarchy Process in decision making, which induces government to clearly identify, weigh and prioritize goals exactly against which to evaluate its strategic alternatives. In the decision-making process on EU-membership for example until today there exists no clear listing of the goals of the country especially in terms of international co-operation, no weighing, and no prioritisation, against which to measure the different strategic options. Such deficits in strategy making are one reason why governments cannot come up with convincing solutions suitable to generate a far-reaching consensus and why they are unable to unite society behind a proposed solution.

So far, like in most, if not all democracies, in Britain there is no institution which supervises the functioning of the political system. As a consequence, such fundamental deficits as the lack of decision and strategy making capacity in government identified by the Parliamentarians already in 2012, now five years ago, are not being fixed. The effects are constantly causing harm to society and threaten to increasingly destabilise the nation.

Only if the political elite and society as a whole ensure that government has the necessary capacities in decision and strategy making and that government actually applies these capacities to the benefit of society, will Britain get political leadership of the quality the nation urgently requires. Only then will it get a government which can provide direction to society, join it together, and lead society effectively in an extremely complex world of 7.5 billion people.

“Send in the clowns” – Which qualifications do our politicians need precisely?

“Send in the clowns”, titled The Economist after the recent parliamentary elections in Italy when the party of the comedian Beppe Grillo won 25% of the total votes and the party of Silvio Berlusconi 30%.

Economist Italy Elections Send in the clowns

Of course the views of clowns on developments in society and politics can be refreshing and stimulating. Yet the professional qualification as a clown is unlikely to be a suitable qualification to steer our countries with tens or hundreds of millions of people in the time of globalization. It must be doubted that clowns will have the capacities to create jobs for millions of people, the most pressing issues in many European states at this point in time or perhaps to even select people with the required qualifications for this job. Since the US have had at least two world renowned actors as top nation or state leaders we must of course also ask under which conditions actors can be suitable heads of government. Are intelligence, integrity, and honesty, criteria which clowns and actors might fulfill, sufficient as qualifications to lead our nations and the globe?

“Whether policy making oriented towards the needs of the majority of people is successful, depends ultimately on the capacities and the character of the leading persons in politics”, writes the German law Professor Hans Peter Bull in a recent article on democracy in a paper. But which qualifications do our politicians require precisely for their tasks? And how do we make sure that our politicians in fact possess these qualifications?

One perspective on the tasks of our politicians is that they are responsible for public funds of hundreds of billions of Euros or Pounds or other currency equivalents, or in the case of the USA even for a few trillion of USD, and at the same time for organizations which employ hundreds of thousands or even up to 2-3 million of public employees, the numbers quoted in some analyses for France, Germany, and Italy for example. In comparison the largest private corporation in the world, the US retailer Walmart has revenues in the area of 400 billion USD and about 2.2 million employees, the tenth largest private corporation in terms of employees, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, has about 500 000 employees and revenues of about 240 billion USD (2011 numbers).

As the comparison illustrates, our politicians operate organizations which are at least as large as the largest private corporations in the world. Our politicians must make sure that the gigantic organizations they lead are structured and perform optimally and that they generate a maximum of benefits to the public out of the sizeable amounts of tax money or other public funds they require for their work. The work of our politicians contains a significant, if not a dominant element of management responsibility.

Against this view one might contend that the Civil Service has its own management which “supports” the politicians in their leadership jobs. That view would mean the tail is wagging the dog. We rather elect our heads of government as the key persons we look to in running our states as effectively as only possible and to “sort out things” in the public sphere for us, when they have gone wrong. Our heads of government must lead, not only in policy design, but also in policy implementation.

What are the tasks of our politicians, especially of our Heads of Government, in more detail? They must identify the public concerns of the people and any risks for the well-being of society from economic, technological, environmental or other developments. They must identify which issues are more critical than others, jobs, infrastructure, defense and global stability, health, education, welfare programs, or the exploration of space, a difficult task since many of those aspects are interdependent. More education might generate more jobs and more production, more tax income, and allow for better infrastructure and social services, but more education without simultaneous other measures to create jobs might be a waste of funds. Politicians need the methodical skills to analyze and assess these complex interdependencies. Having set adequate priorities they must raise and assign public funds to these issues. Finally they must design and implement strategies, they must establish the effective organizations mentioned above and effective control mechanisms, and they must co-ordinate the work of public institutions at various regional levels in a country.

Also the look at these individual tasks tells us that policy making is to a large degree a management task. As polls have shown, citizens in fact primarily expect from their politicians effectiveness and efficiency in delivering public policy. Implicitly also citizens attribute the highest importance to the practical management skills of their politicians rather than to “soft” skills, such as presentation and communication.

Of course many other qualities are of importance for the work of politicians such as intelligence, integrity, depth of thinking, openness and creativity, modesty, the capacity to communicate simple manners in a comprehensible fashion, negotiating skills, and finally a certain understanding of political processes. We should specify and weigh all these skills and qualifications in job descriptions for politicians just like in job descriptions for any other job. It is astounding that every accountant, nurse, or engineer must fulfill specific job requirements. Only our politicians don’t, even if the well-being of our entire societies and the state of the world depends on these qualifications. It is amazing that so far we mostly vote for politicians, because they can present their ideas in charismatic and convincing style, not because they fulfill a “hard” qualification profile. If democracy is ineffective it seems to be to a large degree our own fault, since we do not specify the qualifications our politicians need and do not ensure they comply with those requirements.

Many observers make proposals on how to ensure the qualification of politicians for their jobs. In an article for the web-journal opendemocracy Takis S Pappas from Greece suggested in 2011 for example an open list electoral system which would allow voters to choose among individual political candidates rather than on the basis of their party affiliation. Using such an open procedure or a traditional party list we could make it a precondition that anybody wanting to work as the Head of Government or head of any government department must fulfill a minimum qualification catalogue before they are even allowed to stand for election. We could select the five candidates which fit our objective qualification criteria best, then have them present their views thoroughly on TV and elect the best one of these five candidates.

Governing our countries and the world is an extremely complex task, whichever procedures for electing the best candidates we might select. We should in any case, therefore, never rely on a single person to have the required or even optimal knowledge for this task. In addition to making sure that our politicians have certain minimal qualifications we will still need an effective know-how system on how to run a country optimally, an institution which our politicians can draw upon in decision and strategy making and in setting up effective public organizations. Furthermore, as pointed out in other parts of this blog, we as citizens and highest sovereign in democratic states need a control system to make sure that the head of government, the ministers, and the public organizations in fact apply the state of the art know-how in governing the country for the benefit of all citizens, do not risk the state through incompetent policy making or work for their own interests.

What happened with the proposal made by Takis S Pappas in 2011 on the open-list system for elections? Has anybody examined it? Has it been accepted, rejected, or refined and implemented? Where are the results of our thinking about how to improve democracy? What the example shows is that our democratic nations most urgently need an effective organization to discuss and evaluate proposals like the one made by Pappas or made here on the qualifications of politicians, so we get to the best concrete concepts as soon as possible.

The sand glass for our task to make our democratic policy systems effective appears to be running. The social and political stability in many democratic countries is at stake, people even get frustrated with democracy itself, while it is the only form of government which guarantees their freedom. To maintain stable and equitable societies, to maintain the globe in a good state we must improve the performance of our democratic policy making systems, and that as soon as possible. One step for which we, as citizens, are responsible is making sure that our politicians are qualified for their tasks.