Political parties are guilty of the same sin and often end up with a kicking at a subsequent election. Labour’s infamous pre-election “Every little hurts” and “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way” eventually led to its implosion.
Managing expectations is a key component of retaining client and voter confidence. I’ve always held the view that I would prefer not to win business on the basis of unsustainable promises. This has undoubtedly cost me business but helped me to sleep easier at nights.
The Brexit campaign will go down in political history as a massive exercise in over promises and arguably blatant lies to the electorate. The cynical claim that the £350 million a week spent on EU membership would go towards the NHS was abandoned within hours of the referendum result. Rather than saving money it now looks like the UK will have to contribute anything up to £60 billion just to extract itself from EU obligations.
Once elected leader, Theresa May had the opportunity to dampen down expectations. From the blitz to present day terrorist atrocities, the British people have demonstrated an admirable ability to respond bravely and stoically to adversity. Churchill in his “we’ll fight them on the beaches” and other speeches did not underestimate the challenge facing the British people in World War Two.
May had an opportunity to start to manage expectations by saying, “Look, Brexit negotiations will be tough, there will be setbacks, we won’t get everything we’re looking for but long term Britain will be a better place.”
Instead, perhaps running scared of the Tory press and anti EU wing of the Conservative party, she talked about a “Red, white and blue” Brexit. In her Lancaster House speech on 17th January 2017 she referred to the need to control EU immigration while at the same time advocating a free trade agreement which would “allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states… on the export of cars and lorries for example, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders”.
Good luck with that Theresa. On the latter front many City financial institutions already seem to be voting with their feet and implementing plans to export jobs to EU capitals. The Brexit cheerleading Tory media such as The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail has lauded the strong performance of the British economy over the last year in terms of employment, growth and a booming stock market.
But the fact is that the UK has not yet left the EU and already Brexit is starting to have a negative impact.
UK growth has largely been supported by consumer confidence. But the fall in the value in sterling has led to inflation which will reduce consumer spending. As Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Markit pointed out (The Daily Telegraph, 24th March): “The economy’s persistent resilience since last June’s Brexit vote has been largely built on consumers keeping on spending.
“With consumers now seemingly moderating their spending, the long anticipated slowdown in the economy looks set to materialise, unless other sectors can make significantly increased contributions”.
In the same newspaper the same day (yes some of us still read newspapers) Lord Wolfson, Next’s chief executive said that it had already raised shop prices by 4% to offset higher import costs from a weaker pound and that he expected prices to rise again by the same amount in the second half of the year. Reporter Ashley Armstrong adds, “he cautioned that this would weigh further on shoppers’ demand”.
Oliver Kamm reported in The Times (March 23) “Brexit has yet to be triggered but the poor are already suffering”.
He said, “Almost everyone in Britain is poorer than they were exactly nine months ago, on the day of the Brexit referendum.
“As the prime minister triggers Article 50…it is vital that policymakers be realistic not only on the prospect for trade deals but also about the challenges facing the domestic economy.”
This lack of realism is at the heart of Theresa May’s PRexit problem. A good rule of thumb to retain voter confidence is to under promise and over deliver. May and her three Brexiteer ministers seem to have adopted the opposite approach. At the moment they are protected by a Labour party civil war and unelectable leadership. But Jeremy Corbyn won’t be Labour leader forever.