May’s ‘strong and stable’ leadership was a cheap slogan – and her failures should be a warning to leaders everywhere, says Shane Mann
Theresa May deserves this result. I hope it will be a learning opportunity for the many and not the few: the prime minister has failed as a leader. The mantra of “strong and stable” leadership is nothing more than a cheap slogan. Her premiership will be defined by arrogance and naivety, and as an affront against democracy.
Since the referendum last June I have refrained from throwing my computer at the wall on countless occasions, infuriated by the behaviours of Number 10, such as blocking my journalists from accessing ministers to ask questions to which the sector deserves answers. When Team May entered Downing Street, FE Week and FE Week teams noticed a distinct quietening of communication with the press. Countless media bids to interview ministers and senior civil servants were rejected due to “diary commitments”.
I knew first hand that ministers wished to speak and have an open dialogue, but the powers that be had other ideas.
When the general election was called, it was made clear to my team that all political enquiries were to be directed via Conservative Party HQ. FE Week readers will know from last week’s edition that we attempted on multiple occasions to interview the skills minister Robert Halfon; requests that were continually rejected. In our general election supplement published in May, we depicted a gagged Justine Greening in the space reserved for a Conservative comment piece, when both Labour and the Lib Dems managed to supply a comment regarding their education manifesto pledges.
Her premiership will be defined by arrogance and naivety
None of these problems existed before; sure we had to pester, but we always got a reply. We as the media had fair opportunity to scrutinise and ask questions. This evasion of scrutiny was perpetuated with lack of detail in the manifesto, refusals to speak to journalists, pathetic answers on the campaign trail and sending your number two to the leaders’ television debate.
When the election was called, at first I could appreciate the prime minister’s aim. It was right for her to call an election. The country needed to be heard; we had a new, unelected prime minister and were still are on the brink of an enormously challenging departure from the EU. But what made me uncomfortable was Team May’s belief they could seize an enormous majority, of the like that no party should have.
Ultimately, what this election has shown us how out of touch the prime minister and her team had become from the country.
There is a lesson here for all leaders and aspiring leaders in our sector. I’ve met with May-eque, Corbyn-esque, and even Farron-esque leaders in our sector. Thankfully on the way I’ve also met with lots of inspiring, decent, in-touch leaders – who make you wonder why they aren’t running the country.
This election has cemented my firm belief that to lead you must bring all of your team with you, and be open and transparent, and welcome their questions. Where leaders in our colleges and providers have created gilded offices and long narratives of their own achievements before their institutions’, they have typically fallen on their swords, either through a poor Ofsted, financial chaos or some personal scandal. Take note: simply saying you want something is just the beginning.
Leaders must inspire and embrace all of their staff – even the annoying ones, just as decent constituency MPs do weekly.
Now I am not saying that Corbyn has shown the competence to lead the country. He is still far from perfect, and I am sceptical of the team around him. I had little faith in Corbyn when the election was called and I felt sad for MPs such as Wes Streeting, who was doing incredible work in his constituency, Ilford North, but with polls stacked against him it didn’t look good.
But what Corbyn has shown in abundance is compassion and determination and maintained a fair amount of openness with the press.
The football season is over, but fear not, one of the greatest theatrical sporting occasions is upon us this weekend as we watch the prime minister duel with her own comrades to keep the keys to Number 10.
One thing is certain: the naughtiest thing May has ever done is lie to the country about her ability to provide strong and stable leadership.
By Shane Mann, Managing director of Lsect, publisher of FE Week and FE Week