Much of the behaviour in the House of Commons this week and last will be viewed by historians as insane, confused, unprecedented and outrageous. But for me, the most bizarre was a short statement last Tuesday afternoon from Sir Desmond Swayne, Conservative MP for New Forest West. When called by the Speaker he stood up and asked the Prime Minister the following question:
“I once took a train to Manchester to negotiate the price of a Morris Minor. Having only purchased a one-way ticket it wasn’t a sensible negotiating strategy was it?”
And sat down.
Perhaps surprisingly, six useful lessons from Sir Desmond’s intervention:
- Closed questions which are structured to get a Yes/No answer tend not to elicit a great deal of new information. In this case, the Prime Minister harrumphed and moved on.
- If you are using an analogy to make a point it needs to be obvious what the comparison is between your example and the matter to hand. It took me a while to work out that Sir Desmond, who is a Eurosceptic, was suggesting that without a return ticket he had no Plan B if his negotiation to buy the car failed, just like without the option of a no-deal Brexit the UK government has no Plan B if their attempts to negotiate a new Withdrawal Treaty deal fails. I’m not sure the PM got it. I suspect most of the rest of the House didn’t.
- Or perhaps his analogy was that through desperation he (like the UK) might end up being prepared to pay more because he hadn’t thought about what might happen if he didn’t do the deal.
- Of course, Sir Desmond did have a Plan B readily available – if he failed to do the deal for the Morris Minor he could buy a return ticket at the station in Manchester. Or walk home or hitch a lift. There is almost always a Plan B.
- Having a Plan B can be an unnecessary expense. If Sir Desmond had initially bought a return ticket and then succeeded in buying the car, the return half of the ticket would have become an unused insurance policy.
- Focus on what you have decided is important. Having identified the priority objective (buy the car, leave the EU with a deal, go for a no-deal Brexit, or whatever) and having researched the chances of success, the costs of failure and the possible alternatives negotiators should focus their strategizing time on Plan A. Rather than buying a return ticket which might never be used Sir Desmond might have better spent the money on a book about negotiating and a magazine with up to date used car prices. Similarly, the PM might have better spent his time and money on people who would help him achieve his Plan A. If only we knew what that was!
The icing on the cake is that I believe that Sir Desmond succeeded in buying the Morris Minor, which he later flipped over in a self-inflicted accident on an icy road in 2007. No other cars were involved. You can read about it here.
Now that IS an interesting analogy.