Market Thinking

making sense of the narrative

What Cricket can teach the Tories

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A wise man once said that everything made sense when viewed through either the movies of the Godfather or the rules of English Cricket. With that in mind, we would consider the opportunities now facing the UK Conservative Party as being similar to those that have been most wonderfully seized by the English Cricket Board (ECB), whose bold change of direction has given English Cricket fans a summer that has been as thrilling and exciting as Boris Johnson’s has been gruesome and miserable.

To consider the lessons and analogies.

1) get back to the essence of Cricket, the five day test is Government, while the ‘white ball game’ is Politics, all noise and glitz. People need good government, only politicians are interested in politics. Showbiz for ugly people as they say. Become the party of government. Short term media skills are important, but running government in pursuit of favourable headlines and party politics is a disaster. Have a vision and a plan. Cricket is about winning well, not winning ugly, it is about playing fairly, not cheating. The best counter to ‘sledging’ is not a smart comeback, but to hit the ball out of the ground.

2) View the opposition/competition as someone to learn from, not as someone to be demonised. Hire their coaches if necessary, ask why they appear to have a system that works, whereas you patently don’t. China has a simple target – to double GDP per capita by 2035 – everything else is then fitted to that. “How does policy x help with that target”? Borrow the best ideas and A/B test them on your team. Embrace the concept of Common Prosperity. Labour nailed it with the expression “for the many, not the few”. Why not?

3) Test cricket is fed from the counties, good central government needs to be fed from good regional government – not local politics. The Tory party could unilaterally re-organise itself around regional groups, combining leadership from local MPs to local government. Use the regions already set by the EU and have central government lobbied by regional government as part of the A/B testing of ideas. It is no coincidence that to succeed in the Chinese government you need to have succeeded in local government, not local politics. Lobbying should be done by regional politicians on behalf of constituents, not large corporations and financiers looking to establish monopolies and rent seeking.

3) The new Cricket is about every team member having a part to play and being allowed to do it, not a narrow ‘top order’ hogging the limelight and doing everything. The Prime Minister should be a shrewd deployer of team skills, not simply the ‘best batsman’.

4) The top offices of state are about systems, not personalities. They are like the top order batsmen who have to build the innings. The Chancellor and the Treasury are not just the accountants, they are the finance director, providing and allocating long term capital with long dated returns. Government has access to long term capital to build better public goods, not outsource it to rent seeking high priced ‘private finance’. The Home office is about building a law and order system that is clear and easy to understand, not full of loopholes to be exploited by crafty lawyers and lobbyists. The Foreign Office is about trade and international relations and like all of the above needs to be focused on the needs of the people, not the idealism and ambitions of the mandarins.

5) The provision of public goods is then the role of the bowlers. Here they need to be effective as well as efficient. Simply focusing on cutting costs (which never happens anyway) is like not conceding too many runs, but being effective in terms of delivering what the public need is like taking actual wickets. Health, Education, Transport and Energy are the priorities here and need to be properly planned for and delivered. The former two need to manage with the money they have, the latter two need proper long term planning and funding.

6) Take risk where appropriate. Old England would play for a draw when chasing 250, New England double the run rate and chase down 350. But neither Bairstow, nor Root, the main players in this summer’s drama, took unnecessary risks. They deployed the skills they had learned from ‘white ball’, to reinvent the test game. Encouraged by their new coach and captain (PM). The zero risk mentality of the last few years (“You can’t be too careful”) needs to go. Not least because the system can take long term risks, even though the individuals (including Politicians) may feel they can not. Old England had too many players thinking of their personal time at the crease and their personal statistics.

Who goes where on the pitch?

So who goes where? Here we obviously stray into pure punditry, for which, as ever, we claim no special skill. But bearing in mind our Cricket analogy is more about empowering and re-ordering the incumbents (think obviously Jonny Bairstow as specialist batsman) and the actual reality of politics, we might suggest the following from the list of wannabe PMs and their factions.

Chancellor/finance director. Nadim Zahawi. He is clearly a systems man and can and would build a proper long term financing role for the Treasury. Other ministers can apply for long term capital, if they can illustrate a long term return (not necessarily monetary, but always aimed at the GDP per capita target).

Foreign Office. Rishi Sunak. Having been in investment banking ourselves, we recognise the usefulness of the ‘relationship banker’, which is what Rishi is. With a Green card and an Indian family, he provides the ideal bridge for Britain between East and west.

Home Office. Sajid Javid. On the basis of stacking the top order with the known batsmen, we would return ‘Sarj’ to the Home Office, where he would have the advantage of a second chance to bypass some of the built in intransigence and have responsibility for setting clear rules and guidelines on policing and immigration.

Health. On the same basis, we would turn to Jeremy Hunt, who after 7 years at the Health Department has since written about how he would reform it. Off you go then.

Education. James Cleverly is already there, just arrived. Leave him to show what he can do. Both Health and Education have claimed that online working and working from home is perfectly acceptable. Call their bluff and bring in digital competition in both areas. If your GP can apparently diagnose you over zoom, then so can an AI. If your lessons involve watching poor quality videos made by your teacher, subscribe to (literally) best in class presentations instead.

Energy, Transport and Housing. Need effective ministers (whoever they may be), but a clear vision to implement with proper long term funding. Electrification of transport, cross rails not HS2 and development of new nuclear to provide the electric. In the meantime allow fracking and other hydrocarbons and abandon the Green Leap Forward policies, including taxes on fuel and energy. Policy by lobby groups based on highly subjective forecasts is no way to run an economy. Build new towns in an intelligent manner, with government sourcing the land and outsourcing building to a competitive range of providers with proper infrastructure. Private sector delivery, not private sector finance.

And finally. Who for Prime Minister? Not just because of the nominative determinism in her initials, but we would favour Penny Mourdant. Untarnished by the Boris administration, pro Brexit but supported Jeremy Hunt in the last leadership campaign, ministerial experience, notably in Defense (she is a Royal Navy Reservist) but also International Development and Women and Equalities. Unlike the previous 4 out of 5 PMs, she didn’t go to Oxford, or obviously unlike 2 of the previous 3 wasn’t at Eton. She was at state school and Reading University, where she studied Philosophy as the first person in her family to attend university. This profile by Conservative Insider Ian Dale is from after the last leadership Election and his description of this particular exchange raised a smile:

when a gentleman who rather disapproved of young, unmarried women putting themselves forward to be MPs asked her: “And will we be having children?”, she retorted: “You are very attractive, but we’ve only just met…”

We can not of course speak to her captaincy skills, although Naval Reservist suggests there are plenty, but overall we would suggest she is most likely to emerge as PM in the manner of John Major after Margaret Thatcher. She is currently at odds of around 7:1.

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