To leverage the article's value I would like you to think about some of the connections between it, The Deal, the article on the Lib-Lab Pact that I'll hand out in class, and the Balance of Power exercise. I end this post, as usual, with some questions, but before we get to the questions let's tease out some initial lessons.
Our Balance of Power exercise does not give you as much face-to-face negotiating time as you would have in the real world, but even within our time constraints you may be able to adopt some of the proposals Susskind spells out in the section headed "managing group interactions." Breaking into smaller working groups might be feasible, for example.
Susskind states that "[c]larity about the group's decision rules is crucial," to which I would add that clarity about the decisions themselves is equally crucial. When I decided to introduce you to The Deal (which is a teacher's way of saying "when I decided to force you to sit through it") I had several goals in mind. One goal was to prompt you to think about whether Brown and Blair did, in fact, have a deal. So in the focus-and-feedback form I asked you two direct questions about this:
- When Blair and Brown meet at the Granita Restaurant, they discuss the leadership of the Labor Party. Brown agrees to stand aside. What else, if anything, do Blair and Brown decide?
- Think back to your Contracts class last semester. For a contract, you need offer, acceptance, and consideration. Are these present in the Granita conversation? Are they present when Blair and Brown are talking about the “big job” back in 1987-88?
By showing The Deal and asking questions about the putative existence of an agreement, I want you to focus on the uncertainty, the lack of clarity, and the possibility that Blair wanted to create "plausible deniability." I also want you to ask yourself what a politician -- or an attorney representing a client -- could stand to gain from an almost-but-not-quite agreement or a blurry agreement. This, in turn, should encourage you to be on the lookout for such ploys when you are negotiating with your classmates and, in future, your fellow attorneys.
Although I only put the finishing touches to the syllabus in December, I have been thinking about this aspect of our course, i.e. intentional blurriness in negotiations, for quite some time; about 30 years, in fact. The image that accompanies this post shows two British politicians, David Steel (left) and James Callaghan (right). Why is it there? Because the article I am distributing in class describes the negotiations that led to the 1977-78 agreement between Steel's Liberal Party and Callaghan's Labour Party, an agreement called the Lib-Lab Pact.
To orient you chronologically, let me put the Lib-Lab Pact in the context of The Deal. You will remember that the archive news footage near the beginning of The Deal starts with the Falklands War of 1982 and the general election the following year. We see Margaret Thatcher in a tank and hear her calling the Labour manifesto (i.e. platform) "the most extreme... ever put before the British electorate" By that point (1983) Thatcher's Conservative Party had been in power for four years, having won the 1979 general election. The Lib-Lab Pact came shortly before the 1979 election. Both parties to the pact, Liberal and Labour, saw their popularity decline considerably after the pact and lost votes to the Conservatives in the subsequent election.
Before you read the article, it is worth knowing something about the impact the pact continues to have, and how perceptions of the pact influence inter-party negotiations to this day. In an article by Martin Laffin in the January-March 2007 edition of Political Quarterly that I was just reading, about the coalition government in Scotland, I highlighted the following passage:
"The Liberal Democrat negotiators in 1999 were acutely aware of how, in the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78, the then Liberal Party kept Labour in office yet gained very little in policy terms. Consequently, they insisted that Labour sign up to lengthy, public partnership agreements that provided a policy [program] with some quite specific commitments for the two [parties]."So Liberal negotiators nowadays try to avoid what they perceive as the mistakes of their predecessors in the 1970s. My first question for you relates to the central alleged mistake. Why would Steel's Liberal Party have entered an agreement that offered "very little in policy terms." You can find one answer in the handout, on page 149 to be precise. My subsidiary question for you, once you have read the article, is whether the pact (devoid as it was of weighty policy commitments) makes sense in hindsight.
Finally, here are the key negotiating issues I want you to look out for in the article. I think you will find the answers helpful in the Balance of Power exercise.
- In terms of the three models of counseling that Cochran writes about, where would David Steel's approach to his colleagues and members fit?
- How, exactly, did Steel communicate his initial position to the other side? When Steel and Callaghan met, what was Callaghan's response to the demand?
- How did Labour open negotiations with Steel?
- According to the article, why was Callaghan's invitation to meet so important to Steel? I have another handout, which I'll post on TWEN soon, that casts this issue in a different light.
- What was the "first wrangle" that Steel had with the people in Callaghan's office?
- In their initial meeting, where did Callaghan ask Steel to sit?
- How did Steel seek to improve his party's BATNA?
- What were the time-related costs to Labour and Liberals respectively?
- Why was Steel's fifth point important (see pages 148-49)?