You’re on the slippery slope…

Oct 7, 2022

In this week’s bulletin, Charlie talks about how to rebuild your reputation after a mistake, the government being in a potential ‘downward-spiral’, and gives an insight into his army experience.

Our new Prime Minister and Chancellor have not ‘hit the ground running’ and must have had a 1 or 2-day honeymoon period before having the full weight of negative press against them, as we as critics within the same party, and even cabinet colleagues, speak out against them as well as critics. There is even talk of whether there could be another leadership election. Whatever they do seems to illicit more bad headlines. Once you are on that downward spiral, it is very difficult to get out. The more you are under scrutiny, the more chance of the press finding something that they don’t approve of, which leads to further negative headlines and the downward spiral continues.

My memory of first hearing the phrase at Sandhurst was when I was undergoing officer training. There was a reasonable rate of attrition of officer cadets who either left voluntarily or were persuaded that an army officer career was not for them. In each platoon lines, there was always someone to be seen in the platoon’s first-day photo with their faces coloured out of those who had left. If you watch films or documentaries about special forces selection then you end up with three or so who pass the course out of all of those who started in the initial platoon. Sandhurst didn’t quite have the same level of attrition, but maybe about a third didn’t make it to the end. Being told by the directing staff or your Sergeant Major that “you’re on the slippery slope, Sir” was something you dreaded in that you would be under extra scrutiny and therefore your mistakes, of where there were usually many, would be found out and you could then be back-termed, or even worse, “I don’t think this career is for you, Sir”.

If we recognise this as a concept then what can organisations or individuals do to break the downward spiral and reset their standing?

  1. Apologise if they have got something wrong, admit to it, and hope that their apology will be enough to draw a line under the event. You then have to be very careful to not make the same mistake again.
  2. Remove the visual which reminds people about the event. For those not in Scotland, there is an ongoing saga about the Scottish Government’s failure to provide enough ferries to the island and the two they have ordered have been delayed and are massively over-budget. Every time there is a new article stating the SNP Scottish Government, they mention the ferries and have a picture of them. If they scrapped them and removed them from view, this would stop the visual that leads to them being a symbol of SNP failure.
  3. Hide. Perhaps at Sandhurst I should have tried a little harder at this, but go low-profile, don’t make any comments or decisions, and wait for the media and your detractors to get bored and move on to another victim.
  4. If you have made a controversial decision, stick to what you believe. People are respected for taking a stand or making controversial decisions and sticking by them. Sometimes they are proved right. King Charles took an interest in environmental issues back in the 70s and was criticised and ridiculed for it, 50 years later his stand has been proved right. If we take a stand on an issue or decision, we have to recognise when our position becomes untenable and we will be seen as stubborn or dogmatic, when we should have moved our position a long time ago. It is a fine balance, but u-turning at the first outcry as the Chancellor has done on his 45p rate tax cut, does not necessarily work and perhaps he should have stood his ground. There are many instances in history when governments have cut tax rates and have collected more money, as the higher the tax the more the rich find ways of not paying their taxes.

I don’t think the Prime Minister reads my blogs but she has I think, at the moment, followed solution number three and hidden. She is off to Europe to talk to the other leaders at the New Political Forum of Leaders! And of course, the best thing you can do to avoid the slippery slope, is not to be on it in the first place but that is usually easier said than done!

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