Taking over the running of a country is arguably rather a different activity to taking over a company. But, as Messrs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown seem to appreciate, there are strong points of similarity. In government as in business, speed and leadership are of the essence in times of change. As Anita van de Vliet highlights in When Mergers Misfire (p40), a lack of clear direction and procrastination on the part of new managers are two of the most common reasons why such a high proportion of mergers and acquisitions fail to unlock the promised value.
Were Blair and Brown to have just completed a corporate takeover, few would now question their decisiveness, even though some doubts might linger over their strategy. For the Blair/Brown duo has shown its leadership abilities and its managerial controls to be as impressive in government as they were in opposition. The pair has concentrated power on numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street in a manner not seen since the Thatcher and Lawson days. Witness the way in which the decision to grant the Bank of England operational independence was taken - a medium-term goal until the eve of the election when Blair and Brown decided otherwise. Only two senior ministers, members of the all-powerful inner strategy committee, were consulted before the move was made public. The Treasury permanent secretary Sir Terence Burns was informed of the decision only a couple of days before the step was announced. Yet he can at least comfort himself that he fared better than Eddie George, the Bank governor, who only learned of the development 24 hours before the Bank cleaner was in a position to glean the information.
So far the concentration of power combined with speedy implementation has gone some way to reassuring those business people who were convinced that behind the media-friendly smiles of New Labour lurked a wolf in wolf's clothing. The Bank of England coup de theatre went down well in business quarters. So too did news of Sir David Simon's move from the chair of BP to the seats of the Lords as minister for trade and competitiveness in Europe. His appointment reassures those who expressed concern about the lack of business experience within the DTI ministerial team, and offers hope to Europhile executives, increasingly marginalised over recent years. The new management of Britain plc needs, however, to be wary of acting in what former chancellor Kenneth Clarke has termed a 'tearing hurry' when it comes to Brown's plans to promote greater long-term investment.
Given the very real confusion about how the tax system could be used to this end, this is one area in which the new chancellor would be well-advised to limit himself to advance corporation tax and windfalls for the time being, shunning for the moment the bolder steps to which he has taken such a shine.