More on Cameron /Clegg negotiating strategies

This is available as a 'comment' below on our previous piece on Cameron / Clegg but it is so good I've copied it here.  From Andy Davies, who runs the London Universities Purchasing Forum, and demonstrates from this that he is far more perceptive than me and really needs to become a regular guest blogger here.  Thanks Andy.

"The best lesson our profession can learn from the Lib-Con coalition negotiations is the importance of effective planning. Both parties demonstrated this well, while Labour showed how hard it is to manage without it.

I enjoyed monitoring and trying to piece together the respective strategies from the various news sources. It was refreshing to see that, apart from the ever-so-slightly grubby way that Nick Clegg’s ’secret’ talks with Labour came to light, both his party and the Conservatives seemed to share a good sense of what was ‘cricket’.

As you would expect, Cameron oversold his opening offer (”I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats”) which was pretty pitiful in reality, majoring on those lesser Lib Dem policy concessions and a flimsy offer toward electoral reform. But Cameron did helpfully set out his ‘red lines’ on Europe, Trident and cutting the deficit this year. (That was as much to keep his own party sweet, of course, as on 7 May many Tories were reeling from the result, having agreed to the TV debates and then failed to wrest an overall majority from a tired Government.)

Buyers will be able to learn from the exemplary demonstration of thorough planning that followed. Both teams had planned the whole process out in some detail, probably weeks in advance – carefully selecting team members, rehearsing scenarios, tactics and permutations and managing out unhelpful behaviours. Only such advance planning could explain how the ‘Fair Votes Now’ campaigners outside the Cabinet Office on that first day seemed to have got themselves and their purple banners organised so remarkably swiftly.

The Lib Dem team made good use of their recent, relevant experience in the Scottish Parliament, where they are said to have kicked off proceedings by tabling a 26-page document setting out their detailed demands, setting the agenda and grabbing the initiative. Cameron’s very public opening offer presumably sought to pre-empt that particular move.

It was obvious that the Lib Dems would be talking to Labour simultaneously, even last weekend. We all suspected it and Cameron knew it. Clegg’s error was letting Cameron get the moral upper hand by letting him ‘find out’ about the ’secret’ Lib-Lab meeting. Clegg would have been better telling the Tories that he owed both his party and his voters the opportunity to hear what Labour had to offer before they made up their minds.

The Lib-Dems said Labour’s team did not take their talks seriously, and it’s true they allowed themselves to be distracted by the leadership election posturing and former secretaries of state defaming the talks from afar. But there are really only two possibilities: either Labour failed to plan properly, or their plan proved ineffective. All the Lib Dems really wanted was an plausible BATNA, but amid increasing pressure from the media, markets and the Tories, in the end it proved a pretty unconvincing one, so Clegg rightly dropped it early on and moved to close the deal with the Conservatives as soon as possible.

Brown, seeing the writing clearly on the wall, then moved quickly to get a slot at the Palace that evening, thereby giving himself and his family proper media time for a tearful send-off and catching Cameron on the back foot, disrupting the final negotiations and sending him to see the Queen in a sweaty shirt, stuck in the traffic".

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