Monday, 29 March 2010

Death Wish?

The second planned strike by Unite has gone ahead and BA reckon that 75% of their scheduled flights will go ahead.

The two statements within that one sentence should be the most terrible things a world class airline could possibly imagine but for Willie Walsh, the CEO of what was once 'The World's Favourite Airline', it seems to be music. He has been described recently as being 'macho' in the face of an unreasonable Union but the reality is that the fight with Unite over changes to Cabin Staff contracts is only one area of failure amidst a whole plethora for the CEO. In fact, about a year before the recession, he was voted one of the Executives of the Decade, right now he is about the biggest chump. Having lost the hearts and minds of some of the best and most loyal staff a business could have, it seems that the Board of BA are 100% behind his absurd actions but this cannot be good for shareholders.

In the grip of the first strike, I had to travel to Germany. Our agency got quotes for the required travel times and BA came out at £800 for the planned journey vs Lufthansa's £237 - standard economy fares on a standard route. OK, so that was in the middle of the strike, but last week I flew to Milan and Lufthansa again came in at around £325 to the similar flight of BA's at over £700.

All along, it has never been about the cost cutting for me - it's been Walsh' abject lack of strategy and business acumen. How can you have a business that is going to succeed when it is charging such prices at recessionary times against its main rivals? Lufthansa is cleaning up - full planes each trip, efficiently run, on time and with decent service with real technological advantages like Boarding Cards via SMS. BA is lost in the wilderness between premium class and low cost. So what does it do with the cash injection it got? It buys the second largest loss making airline in Europe, Iberia, who is similarly placed and tries to combine them. Iberia is perhaps worse off - all its old premium roots into Malaga, Valencia and other cities are dominated by low cost airlines who fly customers in waves - supposedly cheaper - for no frills. BA inherits few new profitable roots, a heavy cost based business and a management equally defunct of ideas from an airline that does not yet lose as much money as BA.

But that's not all - less than a year after two decent airlines flying all business class service to New York went bust (and both were excellent), BA launches one from City Airport which flies just 32 people via Shannon for around £5,000 each. The target customers are City Bankers, the most hated part of society since the recession and credit crunch - Walsh could not have made a bigger PR and business blunder.

Yet he survives. The lack of strategy is almost childlike, the tackling of Unite is pathetic. You can feel it happening again as the whizz kids at Royal Mail found out when capitulating to the Unions for a cost much higher than originally asked for, that modern businesses cannot take prolonged industrial actions and Walsh will have to relent or let his business die. Why would you do that?

BA is basically ruined. It will never rise again to be the airline it was but maybe the world wants something different. The trust and belief that the loyal staff had prior to all this has been ruptured and will never be regained. Walsh has put a sword through the heart of what was one of Britain's best companies.

It takes some skill to be that incompetent; to make a once loyal and much loved staff strike to kill their own company. When BA was the world's favourite airline, it was all about the staff.
He simply does not get it, does he?

Monday, 22 March 2010

They Think It's All Over.....

Oh, how naive of us to believe that dodgy expenses was the full extent of Political trough-snouting.

No one seems to realise that Politics is the ultimate game of sales - how else can a former PM be suddenly worth an accumulated £20m in just 3 years whilst being a Middle East Envoy. I mean, think about it - it's all about selling your rolodex of contacts, it's all about telling people that you can get things done - why else would someone like Blair be useful to Insurance Companies?

And we thought the Hamiltons' were sleazy. Just look at the crop we have now, not emptying mini bars anymore, the going rate for the likes of Byers and Hewitt, allegedly, is between £3,000 and £5,000 per day. Yes, that's per day.

It puts fiddling expenses into it's correct perspective - it's all just part of the way of making money.

By sheer coincidence I had lunch with a couple of people who are employed in the Lobby Industry and they had no idea this story was about to break. They talked about only the bit of the industry which they see - the endless stream of 'freebies' which MPs regularly and repeatedly partake of which royally look after their holidays and make their schedules less stressful. They believed it was right on the edge, and in some cases, well beyond the boundaries of 'influencing opinion'. The latest revelations remind me of the famous case of John Prescott being taken across the US by private jet and lauded at a ranch owned by the CEO of the lottery co-bidder, who gave him the infamous cowboy suit. Soon after, the same company landed the rights to run the lottery as part of the Camelot consortium and have remained at the heart of the biggest and easiest money making scheme since it's start in 1995.

My lobbyist friends believe that there is growing fear in Westminster and Brussels that there will be a hung Parliament causing at minimum financial inertia where no one can get things agreed and done. They said there is also a growing belief that over half the sitting MPs will lose their seats and be replaced by a new batch of wannabe MPs - the biggest churn of Politicians in ages. It would be a great thing if it happened and we got rid of the stagnant thinking, populist policies and cynical abuse of the system but I think it's naive to think so.

I agree that a huge number of people are really upset about the expenses thing and will clearly be angered about the lobbying scandal too. The belief that constituencies will vote as they should, about the individual candidate, is likely to occur in the extreme situations like Luton South or Bracknell but politicians have thick skins and voters have short memories with a limited capacity to reason. In many areas, the local MP could commit murder but the locals would still vote by Party while many will just look at the value of their staples like beer and fags and vote accordingly.

This year is unusual. We have a sitting Inquiry into the steps that led to a war that cost us billions, led to unnecessary loss of life and has stoked up the rattler's nest of fanaticism to endanger us more. The sitting PM has already admitted he has lied to the Inquiry - God knows that others have. Our economy, that we were led to believe was impregnable, has suffered a worse recession than any of its rich counterparts and our GDP is now lower than that of Italy's. We have a spiralling budget deficit and no plan to tackle it; we have the prospect of more taxes and yet we are already the most taxed British citizens of all time.

The fact we haven't voiced our discord to date is testament that we will revert to type at the General Election. It may get close but the sweet talk of the likes of Mandelson will likely win the day. And before you think I'm too biased, I predict the likes of Nadine Dorries will somehow get voted back in and what about Julie McBride?

It comes to something when we trust the likes of a twice disgraced MP.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Truth Will Out?

The revelation today that 'Bush's Brain', former senior adviser Karl Rove, has admitted he was 'proud' of the use of waterboarding as a form of 'information gathering' may be startling to some - simply necessary to others.

Under legal notes passed at the time, Bush's administration effectively relegated waterboarding to a 'non-torture' status therefore allowing its use in extracting information from alleged terrorists. It was the non-torture method of choice in places like Guantanamo and if that was considered non-torture, then the mind boggles at what methods were used in the name of 'getting the truth' on non-US territory.

Waterboarding is a lovely method of 'questioning'. It involves putting a prisoner into a position where water is doused over their face so that they cannot breath, therefore making them think they are drowning. Clearly, it is a method which may not work first time and so it is repeated ad nausea until the information required is extracted. For anyone who has been in the very terrifying position of believing they are going to be drowned, there are few more dreadful feelings in life, especially when you know that the difference between you living or dying is entirely controlled by someone else.

Under such pressure, it is argued from laymen to eminent psychologists then the prisoner will say anything in order to stop the torture. Often prisoners will say many things, much contradicting what they have already said in an avalanche of extracted information in the vain hope that the investigators get what they believe they are looking for. In fact, so primal is the whole thing that more intelligent people than I would strongly argue that any such information extracted under such duress is most likely to be unreliable.

Rove reckons that umpteen terrorist plots were foiled by using such methods. Perhaps it could be argued that umpteen plots that US investigators wanted to believe were to be perpetrated were uncovered. After all, amid the failures in Intelligence Agencies leading up to the Iraq War to get even the basics right, the last thing you would want is that new, more aggressive methods, actually found that no new attacks were known about. It could be argued that success rates were written by the investigators in order to justify their methods and their jobs, for that matter.

Anyway, it's a moot point as the method is rightly outlawed by the Obama Administration and Guantanamo hardly achieved a thing with only one tribunal enacted so far. Even the famous case implying MI5 knowingly gleaning information from torture seemed to come from a person who was ultimately freed with no charges against him, to be hailed as some kind of hero. But, with the definition of 'non-torture' afforded to waterboarding and its enthusiastic approval by Government officials, would it not be interesting to find out what would have been revealed had we used the methods in official inquiries such as the Chilcot Inquiry?

Perhaps the sleek, svelte calm of Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell would have been broken. Perhaps the contradictory evidence from Jack Straw might have been tested for veracity. Perhaps we would have easily got Gordon Brown to tell the truth about his spending policy when many officials before him had attested to it.

But in reality it is all about the skill and tenacity of the questioner to obtain information. Sir John Chilcot and his team seem to be just writing down whatever is said with no cross referencing or rebuttal questions to test the truth. I watched the film 'Frost/Nixon' last night and saw how devastating good questioning can be in terms of putting powerful, intelligent people on edge and taking them into territories in their minds that they do not want to go - forcing the real truth out of them. I am an exponent of testing truth in interview techniques as I have a firm belief that those coming for jobs only want to talk about what they want to talk about and highlight themselves to their own advantage. Getting at the truth in an interview is vital as only under pressure will you find out how people will really perform.

The Chilcot Inquiry has had lines of questioning which frankly could have been put together by school kids and the follow ups to answers have been woefully absent. Ministers have gone before the Inquiry and basically said what they want with impunity from challenge, even when others have already said something entirely contradictory. It's as if the whole thing is choreographed and scripted to once again suit the Government and the stooges involved.

Perhaps Karl Rove is right - waterboarding and the like does get at the truth. Personally, I think it would be far better if we got a bunch of investigators in the Chilcot Inquiry who really want to get at the truth and who have a healthy cynicism about how Politicians and their mandarins lie to protect themselves. We will have spent millions, learnt nothing and will repeat the same mistakes time and again until we find out just why Iraq was so important for us all to be lied to in order to justify a war.

With that central question asked, perhaps we would have got somewhere near the truth.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Month Is A Long Time

I am happy to say I have enjoyed a month away from writing as I have been lucky enough to become a father for the first time at my ripe age. It's been a very rewarding time.

Not much has changed around us, if truth be told. I thought Gordon Brown's performance in the Chilcot Enquiry was cynical beyond belief when even ex-Ministers, let alone ex-heads of Services, have already told everyone that the UK troops have been denied vital equipment through budget restraints. It just seems that lying to the Enquiry is perfectly acceptable and Brown is playing a 'It's your word against mine' routine. I just hope that documents to be reviewed by the Enquiry actually discover what actually went on and that the word of a defunct PM is not taken as gospel.

Brown has told us that we still have a long road to go on the economic crisis and cuts should not be implemented right now for fear of upsetting the delicate recovery. His precise judgement, which has served us so dreadfully in terms of a ballooning budget deficit which is growing faster than he predicts each month, is that at approximately midday on 10 May will be the exactly time when a tumult of cuts will be finally be required - uncannily that is almost certainly to be one day after the election result is known. How spookily cynical is that?

Meanwhile, the IOD and CBI have urged the Government to start making cuts immediately as the budget deficit seems to be completely on its own spiral with Alistair Darling completely unable to predict where it will be month on month let alone in 2014. It's laughable but somehow on the back of this and the appalling news in Afghanistan and the lies about Iraq, the Government has closed the gap in the Polls to just 2 points.

The old Mandelson Magic is at work - our brains are washed. If we really do think things are ok, then we are barking mad.