Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Fire, aim, ready


Over the past couple of decades, a whole new management approach has been built around the idea that businesses have traditionally spent too much time preparing and targeting rather than acting, and the slogan which sums it up is “Ready, Fire, Aim”, the assumption being that doing something is the most important part and that any errors or problems can be corrected later. As a mantra for business, it’s a little over-simplistic, but it has some merit in discouraging over-analysis and delay. As a mantra for governments, its value is rather less clear, but that hasn’t stopped the current UK government, which even seems to have taken it a bit further – the slogan is more like “Fire, Aim, Ready”. Act first, think about what you were trying to achieve next, and only then ‘prepare’ (or in this case seek to overcome the problems caused by taking the first step without even thinking about the second).

Brexit had to be ‘done’, even if they didn’t know what they were trying to achieve and were obviously unprepared either for the negotiations or the consequences. They signed up to a deal, over Northern Ireland in particular, the consequences of which they appear to have completely failed to understand or consider. And when the other party to the deal, the EU, seeks to implement – and demand that the UK implement – the deal that they have signed rather than agree to a complete renegotiation, this is portrayed as being utterly unreasonable.

Today it appears that, in his haste to sign up to a deal on tax in advance of the G7 meeting, the ex-banker in 11 Downing Street appears not to have noticed that the deal he has struck will hit banking profits. He, too, wants everyone else who is party to the agreement to agree to renegotiate the detail.

And then there was yesterday’s story in the FT about Britain’s new Boris Boat which is, according to the government, going to be built entirely in the UK to show the prowess and success of UK industry and skills. Except that the government signed an agreement with the WTO last year under which shipbuilding for non-military purposes (unless by promoting trade they mean something akin to the opium wars) is very clearly not excluded from the requirement to open up bidding to companies in other countries.

All this could just be down to utter incompetence or the adoption of a misunderstood and inappropriate management slogan. But the FT story may have hit the nail on the head, albeit unintentionally, with this quote from Dmitry Grozoubinski, a trade expert who is visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde: “The government can’t simultaneously present itself as a champion of the rules-based trading system and retain the freedom to ignore those rules whenever politically expedient.” With all due respect to the expert concerned, I rather suspect that that is exactly what the government thinks it can do – and is doing. Nobody can say that we weren’t warned. Johnson and others have said often enough that they want the UK to be ‘buccaneering’, and a key aspect of piracy (as it is otherwise known) is precisely a disregard of the rules which apply to everyone else. As the infamous letter from a teacher at Eton about Johnson makes clear, disregard for any obligations to others is, and always has been, a central character trait. Coupled with an unshakable belief in the truly exceptional nature of the English ruling class, it’s an infallible recipe for turning the UK into the rogue state which it is rapidly becoming. Time to depart.

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