Andrey Kulikov
Editor at Europe Insight, Cambridge

One man’s fault

Decision-making process in different political regimes

One does not need to personally visit Russia and Great Britain to comprehend the differences between the two countries. In the sphere of politics, these differences appear so great that the states almost always serve as examples of the two opposites: how one should do things and how one should not.

It has been popular lately to view Russia as a “hybrid regime”, combining elements of democracy with authoritarian instruments of governance. Ekaterina Schulmann of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), the main promoter of this evaluation, sees the root of evil in its decision-making process. According to her, the hybrid (Russian) regime can neither plan, nor react to problems. Its power elite does not perceive the signals reaching them from society fully or directly, selecting only those they wish to notice. More often than not, they simply try to guess.

It is not like this in the United Kingdom. Society and politicians are extraordinarily active: the one to talk about problems, the others – to react to them. However, the drama playing out these days should see at least one feature usually thought of as typical for hybrid regimes to be reconsidered.

The Indian multinational conglomerate Tata intends to sell its steel factories in South Wales. As a direct consequence of this decision, 15,000 people may lose their jobs. Another 25,000 could lose their positions in service and supply companies. The future of workers’ pension savings is unclear.

Some of the British press (for instance, The Times) deliberately shifts the focus onto the external factor: China is to blame for the troubles of the British steel industry. It is true that there is nothing to argue about on this point. But the important thing is something else: unlike in such papers as the Financial Times, there is only fleeting reference here to the government’s utterly thoughtless behaviour over the past few months.

The EU’s attempts to adopt anti-dumping measures in relation to Chinese manufacturers were blocked, namely, by the UK. It was the British government specifically, which – despite Tata management’s direct statements of readiness to part with the business – assigned this little significance. They did not want to deal with “Tata’s deliberations or any potential sale process,” thinks the Financial Times. In other words, the danger seemed hypothetical, even artificial.

A government’s ability to make such mistakes is not regime-dependent. Short-sightedness and underestimation can have the same colossal consequences in a democratic system as an authoritarian one. From the point of view of outcomes, it makes no difference whatsoever whether bureaucrats are ruled by their own mercantile interests or simply fail to see the need for dealing with an issue. From the standpoint of results, it makes absolutely no difference whether or not there is public scrutiny, “checks and balances” in the state system, audits, or some “critically-important” values.

The current steel crisis in the United Kingdom illustrates one surprisingly simple characteristic, one with a pronounced presence in every previous business and financial collapse in any country (bringing to mind the ending of the film “The Big Short” on the mortgage crisis in the US). This is, of course, self-confidence. In the majority of cases, reacting in a timely fashion to a signal depends not on the constitutional structure or political group in power but on the will and readiness to act of individual, very specific persons occupying certain positions in government and vested with the authority to solve problems in their own limited sphere of competency.

In 1910, in King’s College at Cambridge University, the poet Rupert Brooke spoke of two things that ‘civilisation still wants to cure us of’ – death and fools. But, he predicted that “Hamlet and Othello and Macbeth will move among us in new shapes, as they do today”. These words resonate with the famous phrase attributed to many 19th century Russian writers and public figures on the two misfortunes: fools and roads.

Wrong decisions belong to no particular nationality or political preference. And no decision-making process can guarantee the perfect outcome. Not doing due to ignorance or knowing but not doing are equally harmful. This is a case where the nature of the political regime bears no significance and, to quote the words of the character of Gary Oldman, “it’s time to recognise there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine.”

Other materials