Politics, power and interdependence

The current state of British politics provides an interesting parallel for thinking about organisational life and the way in which fluctuating  power relationships between individuals, and between groups, affect the way that the game develops.

In the days when the Labour Party had a strong majority and a leader who was perceived to be in control, opposition became focused around resisting the New Labour project, such as it was. When it is clearer who is influencing the course of the game this consequently defines the programme of opposition. Equally, since those who dominate must adapt consistently to the strength of the way they are resisted, so the quality of opposition also affects the way the game is played.

Within the government itself the task of the leader is to encourage rival groups to co-operate in support of a programme of activity that most members would support. According to Norbert Elias, the function of the king in the mediaeval court was to maintain himself as a pivot between the many different groups who were vying for power. He had no interest in fully supporting any one group but would always nod in one direction, then in another, hopping from foot to foot to maintain himself at the centre of the fluctuating power relationships. One might make the argument that Tony Blair also had to resist and constrain a particular rival to the throne, Gordon Brown.

The current figuration of power relationships differs significantly from this. The government has a smaller majority, the Conservatives opposition has become more coherent, the leader of the Labour Party is perceived to be much less powerful and is unable to persuade different factions within the party to set aside their differences in support of a programme which he seems unable to articulate because of the complexity of what he is facing. One might make the argument that Gordon Brown is less adept at placing himself at the fulcrum of power between the different groups, and perhaps is missing the influence of Blair, someone of equal or more power, to constrain and enable him. Perhaps he is simply a less  nimble dancer than Blair. It is also interesting to notice the way in which idealisation of leaders, for example the way  Brown was portrayed as masterful in his first months in office, can quickly turn to its opposite, denigration.

So the government has a reduced majority, the leader is less nimble and has suffered a dramatic reverse in the way he is portrayed, the opposition more coherent, and the binary constraining/enabling dynamic between leader and chancellor is at an end, all of this within the context of catastrophic financial and political problems in which everyone is implicated and no single party has a coherent set of proposals for knowing what to do about them. This is a combination of factors that noone could have predicted and has caused the game to separate out much more clearly into different games all being played at the same time, where the power of the players is much more evenly distributed, and therefore they are much more functionally interdependent. This makes the outturn of events much less predictable.

Within the Labour government just who is able to dominate whom is much less clear with all sides able to wound but not deliver the coup de grace. Although the the Conservative party leaders have been able to steal the march on the government on a number of issues theyare not so strong or so coherent, or so detached from the broader socio-economic problems engulfing the country that other foci of resistance are unable to gather support. Opposition to the government is much more broadly based than being simply bi-polar. Because resistance is multi-faceted, so the task of domination becomes much more problematic.  Even  extreme parties cannot believe their luck that suddenly, with a much less powerful government and many centres of opposition, their own opposition is considered legitimate by some voters.

There is no vacuum of power in the UK at the moment, rather there are a multitude of more evenly balanced power relationships between groups, within and without the government, which makes a prediction of what will happen much more difficult to call. There are many players who could potentially influence the game.

There is no direct parallel with organisational life in the sense that most organisations are not subject to a democratic process. Nonetheless, the role of politics, power and interdependence are very much at the core of organisational life.


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