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The Loneliness of the Punchbag Mediator

Posted: Wednesday, 27 February 2019 @ 10:16

For me one of the striking aspects of Brexit is how the role of Theresa May as Prime Minister negotiating the UK's exit from the EU mirrors that of a mediator.

It does so in the following ways.

1. You Have to Manage Competing Factions and leave people completely in the dark about what you think. At this stage (end of February./begging of March 2019) - do we really know what PM May prefers namely no deal or delay extension? This guarded approach has its political uses but can undermine trust. It is also means that fundamentally the negotiator is isolated.

2 You Can Take A Lot of Abuse - Irrespective of one's views of PM' s May she has had to endure a significant amount of abuse from all parties - threats to leadership, a divided and vocal cabinet and a hostile press. This can be unpleasant and bluntly you just have to deal with it.    

3 Small Talk is A Potent (and Underrated Weapon) - One of the great skills of the negotiator is the ability to establish rapport with all people including those who one would deem opponents. This serves well in any form of negotiation including hard nosed litigation. The Conservative leader Ted Heath was lousy at this and Margaret Thatcher was much better. One of the one hand, she seems to have a good relationship with European leaders who have quite a high tolerance for seeing her. One the other hand she does not seem too skilful with managing parliamentary colleagues, possibly because she knows them too well and she finds them a pain to deal with. 

4 Control of Agenda is a Significant Advantage - A reason why Prime Minister May has been under-estimated and her fall consistently (wrongfully) predicted as been the inherent advantage as Prime Minister to control the agenda such as the parliamentary timetable. It is why she is able in the face of threats from her opponents(cabinet) been able to survive because she has used political tools to keep pushing even in the face of terrible defeats.(botched general election, biggest parliamentary defeat, insubordinate cabinet)     

5 Having A Balanced Vision and Reality Game Plan in Chaotic Environment is Critical. As mediator and negotiator in complex and rough negotiations you sometimes hit stages when you cannot see a way through. As Prime Minister  her ability to ultimately succeed may actually depend on how reflective she is and how engrained is the ultimate solution is for her. At her core does she have a workable solution which can obtain a majority? Does she know it and with good reason?