The Art of Negotiation

The Art of Negotiation 

Theresa May performed atrociously on her interview with Andrew Neil this evening. She was patently evading or lying on every question, and as usual repeating key phrases again and again whatever she was asked. I do not think I am naïve to believe this does seriously underestimate the intelligence of the electorate.

I thought that Andrew Neil did very well. He was unusually gentle with May – he interrupted her only three times in thirty minutes, and I am willing to bet will interrupt other leaders more. But his technique worked with May, because it gave her room again and again to trot out those robotic phrases and hack off the entire nation. Whether intentional by Neil or not, she used the rope he gave her to hang herself.

Twitter thinks she did very badly by about thirteen to one. Even Tories are saying so. And I think this is the strongest proof of what people really thought:

BUT not that many people will have watched. Far more people will see news reports of the interview than saw the actual interview, and those reports will give a very different impression to the reality. Nicola Sturgeon was viewed by those who saw the full Scottish leaders’ debate as having won, but all the news bulletins merely say she was monstered by the specially planted nurse, who was on Question Time last week and was specifically invited back by the BBC. Mmay will not have been pathetic when the News reports it.

It is a fact that in all opinion polls for the last week, Labour is doing better than their performance in the 2015 General election. They will have more voters. Yet the BBC continues to produce “vox pops” in the news, which they pass off as representative, interviewing Labour voters who are converting to Tory. Of five “ordinary” voters the BBC showed in a vox pop interview from Middlesborough today, one of the five was definitely switching from Labour to Tory, and another one was “probably” going to switch from Labour to Tory which was a “game changer”. The journalist concluded the Labour Party was struggling to hang on.

But that is not what the opinion polls tell us. The Labour vote is growing not falling, and the Tory vote is indeed growing, but mostly by transfers from UKIP, not by transfers from Labour. The BBC “vox pop” gives a deliberately false impression of what is happening. There is so much they do not tell us. How did the BBC find and contact these people who are switching from Labour to Tory? How many random people did they interview? What percentage of random people they interviewed were switching to Tory, and how did they select their sample? Did they find not one person who was switching to Labour – because the polls show that people are?

This blatant and undisguised propaganda continues all day every day. Fortunately even the most sophisticated propaganda has difficulty selling ordure as birthday cake. Every time May appears, the smell is deterring buyers. How they will hide her still further for the rest of the campaign, will be fascinating to behold.

ORIGINAL POST Look at this astonishing body language from Theresa May when confronting mild contradiction.

Note the tight lines of the mouth, the eyes darting from side to side as if seeking assistance or escape, the apparently involuntary small head movements signalling disengagement, which eventually develop into vigorous head-shaking. And that is just the body language. As ever, Theresa May was in a hall containing nobody except vetted senior Tory activists and mainstream media representatives. And yet, at six minutes in below, even that audience starts audibly jeering and dissenting.

All of which underlines a thought that has been pulling at me ever since the election started. May has continually tried to pitch this as a question of who you would wish to act as the negotiator of Brexit, either her or Jeremy Corbyn. But why would anybody believe that a woman who is not even capable to debate with her opponents would be a good negotiator?

In fact she would be an appalling negotiator. She becomes completely closed off when contradicted. She is incapable of thinking on her feet. She is undoubtedly the worst performer at Prime Minister’s Questions, either for government or opposition, since they were first broadcast. Why on earth would anybody think she would be a good negotiator? As soon as Michel Barnier made a point she was not expecting across the table, she would switch off and revert to cliché, and probably give off a great deal of hostility too.

The delusion she would negotiate well has been fed by the media employing all kinds of completely inappropriate metaphors for the Brexit negotiations. From metaphors of waging war to metaphors of playing poker, they all characterise the process as binary and aggressive.

In fact – and I speak as somebody who has undertaken very serious international negotiations, including of the UK maritime boundaries and as the Head of UK Delegation to the Sierra Leone Peace Talks – intenational negotiation is the opposite. It is a cooperative process and not a confrontational process. Almost all negotiations cover a range of points, and they work on the basis of you give a bit there, and I give a bit here. Each side has its bottom lines, subjects on which it cannot move at all or move but to a limited degree. Sometimes on a single subject two “bottom lines” can be in direct conflict. Across the whole range of thousands of subjects, you are trying to find a solution all can live with.

So empathy with your opposite number is a key requirement in a skilled negotiator, and everything I have ever seen about Theresa May marks her out as perhaps having less emotional intelligence than anybody I have ever observed. Bonhommie is also important. Genuine friendship can be a vital factor in reaching agreement, and it can happen in unexpected ways. But May has never been able to strike up friendships outside of a social circle limited to a very particular segment of English society, excluding the vast majority of the English, let alone Scots and heaven forfend continentals. The best negotiators have affability, or at least the ability to switch it on. It is a vital tool.

That is not to say occasionally you do not have to speak and stare hard to make plain that one of your bottom lines is real. But that is by no means the norm. And you need the intelligence and sharpness to carry it off, which May does not. That is one of the many differences between May and Thatcher.

Frankly, if I had the choice between sending in Jeremy Corbyn, with his politeness and reasonableness, or Theresa May, into a negotiation I would not hesitate for a second in choosing Corbyn. I am quite sure there is not another diplomat in the World who would make a different choice. May’s flakiness and intolerance of disagreement represent a disaster waiting to happen.


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