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UK Election Provides Lessons For Negotiators

May 10, 2010

Whether or not you live in – or care about – the UK, there is so much we can draw from the remarkable process that has ensued from ‘the hung Parliament’ (which, according to one Russian commentator, means that all elected Members of Parliament have been hung! Perhaps in reality a move that would be greeted with the greatest public acclaim).

First, it is interesting that the media and politicians are so fixated on ‘a strong Government’ and the belief that a single party with a strong majority is desirable. They decry the need for coalitions and point to the ‘weak’ governments that result. For example, they cite Germany, where the need for behind-the-scenes compromise is invariably required. I find this observation quite remarkable when you compare the economic success of Germany with that of the UK. Perhaps compromise is not such a bad thing.

In fact, when you think about it, the countries with an adversarial, winner-takes-all political system are also those that tend to be adversarial in their contract negotiations. So perhaps a cultural shift to a situation where negotiation and compromise become the norm will lead to greater collaboration in other areas – and equip the Anglo-Saxon, common law model to fit better in an increasingly global environment.

A second fascinating aspect of the UK situation is the inter-party negotiation, with the Liberal Democrats being courted by both the major parties, giving them great strength, but also exposing them to massive future risk. Behind the scenes, there are many conversations taking place; the negotiations have many faces and represent the potential for a remarkable case study. And of course, time alone will tell us who really won as a result of their outcome.

Meantime, the Conservatives court the Liberals, while the Labour party operates a disruptive campaign behind the scenes. Gordon Brown persists as Prime Minister and demonstrates his devious methods as a deal maker or deal breaker. Will he resign or won’t he? Is the deal he offers really a cup of good cheer, or a poisoned chalice? The tricks and techniques being used to shape public opinion and to impact negotiating positions are truly fascinating. Machiavelli would have been proud of his pupils!

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