British politics is in turmoil. After the EU referendum, the Conservatives had a short and vicious internal fight, then appointed a new leader who has ruthlessly replaced most of the previous Cabinet.
Theresa May now appears to be pursuing a very different agenda from the mandates delivered by both the 2015 General Election and the 2016 EU Referendum: abandoning the austerity programme, back-tracking on the Hinkley C power station project (and with it, Britain’s strategic relationship with China) and even kicking Brexit into the long grass.
All of this presents a great opportunity for the opposition Labour Party. An open goal. Instead, the party is tearing itself apart. The Parliamentary Labour Party have passed a vote of no confidence in their leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s supporters claim a right-wing conspiracy – A Very British Coup. But multiple reports from within Corbyn’s former team point to something more straightforward – an absence of trust.
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood, former Shadow Transport Minister, explained this in a speech to her constituency party to explain her resignation.
I’d ask you to imagine how you would you feel if you agreed something with your boss but he then did something completely different. Something that undermined you. Something they hadn’t even had the courtesy to tell you about.
On HS2 (a core part of Greenwood’s brief):
Despite our agreed policy, despite Jeremy’s Director of Policy and I agreeing our position, without saying anything to me, Jeremy gave a press interview in which he suggested he could drop Labour’s support for HS2 altogether. He told a journalist on a local Camden newspaper that perhaps the HS2 line shouldn’t go to Euston at all but stop at Old Oak Common in West London – but he never discussed any of this with the Shadow Cabinet, or me, beforehand. I felt totally undermined on a really difficult issue. And when two frontbenchers voted against the three-line whip at 3rd Reading in March he did nothing, telling one of them: “well I’ve done it enough times myself.” Breaking the principles of collective responsibility and discipline without which effective Parliamentary opposition is not possible.
When I raised my concerns it was simply shrugged off. It undermined me in front of colleagues and made me look weak. It made me feel like I was wasting my time. That my opinion didn’t matter. And it made me miserable.
In this post, I discussed the components of trust: dependability, transparency and honesty, consistently applied. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party – and for that matter, Donald Trump’s leadership of his own campaign do not display these characteristics – and this may ultimately be the reason that both of them fail – not because of the values they represent.
If you’re a business leader – even if you have no interest in politics – Lilian Greenwood’s speech is well worth a read as a great example of dysfunctional leadership caused by absence of trust. And if you’d like some help building trust and team performance in your organisation, please get in touch. People named Corbyn or Trump need not apply.