Play the ball, not the man. It is the lament of many a frustrated PE teacher and has become a metaphor for debating. Maybe the Prime Minister didn’t play football at school – or maybe he’s just forgotten the advice.
Professional Manager took its seat in the press gallery for today’s PMQs. Our thanks to colleagues at Civil Service World for the invite.
The event was its usual high theatre, perhaps more so today. It was the first week back from the Easter holidays, and Ed and Dave seemed even more anxious than usual to get kicking.
Yet Miliband’s approach was more effective. He simply asked question about the viability of policies he knew were causing problems for the government.
Cameron’s response was not to answer them, but to simply attack the questioner – “not fit to lead the opposition, not fit to lead the government” – or someone else. Ken Livingstone, mainly.
But no-one was immune, not even Cameron’s own MPs. In an extraordinary exchange, the Prime Minister told rightwinger Douglas Carswell that he “needed to get a sense of humour” after the Clacton MP queried whether the PM did or did not believe whether Yes Prime Minister accurately portrayed the civil service.
When he later responded, Carswell played the ball not the man. “I can do humour,” he told the Huffington Post. “But right now they are not laughing about the budget in Clacton, they’re not laughing about the lack of economic growth in Clacton, there not laughing about 20% VAT hike on static caravans in Clacton.”
There’s a leadership lesson here: when you come under fire, take on your opponent’s argument. Don’t lash out at him. Cameron’s problem is – particularly as the government suffers in the popularity stakes – that he is throwing in wild tackles like a panicked centre-back. It’s not precise, it’s not effective, and it sometimes results in own goals.