Turmoil or turning point?

22 January 2024

GGI’s Aidan Rave reflects on our first monthly breakfast webinar of 2024 and asks what lies ahead in this election year

Last week I had the pleasure of chairing GGI’s first breakfast webinar of the year, a humdinger of a session that attracted well over 100 leaders from multiple sectors.

This being a year when elections will be happening all over the world, we assembled a crack panel of experts to guide us through the ebbs, flows and likely plot twists.

Our speakers were Dan Corry, former Number 10 policy adviser and chief executive of the charity New Philanthropy Capital; Penny Macbeth, Director of the world-famous Glasgow School of Art; and our very own Andrew Corbett-Nolan.

Here are a few reflections from what turned out to be a fascinating session.

1. There’s probably going to be more turmoil, sorry…

I reflected in my introductory comments that one of the main lessons I learned from my time in politics is that boring politics is generally also effective politics. Boring gets things done, whereas exciting politics might be good for headlines but seldom for productivity. Well, bad news on this one I’m afraid as our panel were pessimistic about anything other than further turmoil ahead. Given the parlous state of not only our own politics but those across the Atlantic, that’s probably not such a surprise. That said, several people noted the merits of ‘never wasting a good crisis’ so stoicism prevailed!

2. Place really does matter

Penny gave us some great insight into the political situation in Scotland, but also reflected on the profile of mayors in some of the bigger cities like Manchester and the West Midlands. Place still very much matters both in politics and in public policy and place is seemingly where things are happening—much more so at the local than national level—and indeed, as Penny confirmed in Glasgow’s case, it’s where things are getting done.

3. Ideas have currency

At the risk of stating the obvious, in an election year, politicians are more likely to be in listening mode. This presents an opportunity for leaders of public value organisations to get the voices of service users heard—so long as you know how to plug into the right networks. Whoever forms the next government will be looking for ideas about how to shape, resource, transform and articulate better services. That’s where you come in. Make sure your networks are up-to-date, and stay alert to where the opportunities to engage might be, because the seemingly inconsequential politicians you speak to today just might be very consequential in the new government of tomorrow, and they might just want your new idea as part of their governing programme.

4. Prepare for the unexpected

In the broad rules of the political dance, some political parties promise a lot but don’t get the chance to deliver, some overpromise and then end up underdelivering, but as Dan reminded us in both the incoming Thatcher government of ‘79 and the Blair government of ‘97, sometimes governments turn out to be much more radical than anyone expected. Given the current state of the polls, there is an understandable nervousness from the opposition to upset the political applecart and a determination from the governing party not to make their prospects any worse. But whoever forms the next government might well be more radical than their current utterances (or lack thereof) would suggest.

5. Ethics and good governance are back!

Did it ever really go away? Not here at GGI, obviously, but as Andrew reflected, the matter of ethics and governance is very much back on the political agenda due in no small part to some of the misdeeds of our political masters. Its resurgence is also a useful reminder to those of us on boards that now is a good time to ensure that our own ships are in order and ready for the challenges, even turmoil ahead.

So, an extremely enjoyable hour of thinking ahead, sizing up the runners and riders, both here and abroad, and considering the ramifications for the prospects of our own organisations.

I think two main messages came out above all else:

  1. Leaders don’t sit on their hands; they find a way into the debate and shape the thinking of those who wish to lead us.
  2. No matter how tumultuous things get, leaders always find a way to turn them to the advantage of their service users.

More turmoil? Bring it on!

Meet the author: Aidan Rave

Principal Consultant

Find out more

Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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