Now the dust has settled on the election result (if not its consequences), it might be worth re-visiting the question about whether May calling the election was the right call or a huge misjudgement. The consensus seems to be for the latter. A consensus I would like to challenge.
When I had a little time working in the field of decision analysis, one of the oft cited statements is that most people tend to judge the wisdom of a decision by its eventual outcome. So it is with Theresa May. The election turned out to be a disaster so it was the wrong decision. But decision science makes clear that a decision cannot be judged by its outcome since that was unknown and unknowable at the time the decision was made. Rather, a decision should be judged by whether it was the correct course of action to take given what was known at the time the decision was made. On this the Prime Minister scores highly.
When she called the election, polls indicated that she was 20 points ahead. Labour was in disarray. Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings were underwater. With Brexit, the government was approaching what was arguably the most difficult period any UK government has faced since the war. And that had to be steered through with a wafer thin majority. The surprise would have been had Theresa May not called an election in such circumstances.
Nobody was to know, or even imagine, that the Tories would run one of their worst campaigns in history; that the manifesto launch would be botched and subject to instant U-turns; that the Prime Minister herself would turn out to be an awful campaigner; and that Corbyn would manage to connect with a vast swathe of the electorate in a way that overcame internal party divisions. Of all that came to pass, only this last could possible have been predicted. After all, Corbyn achieved the same feat in the Labour leadership election.
It is not currently fashionable to say a word in favour of the Prime Minister. But on calling the election she was right.
And this is a lesson that we should take when we judge all decisions – political, business or personal. Outcomes are unknowable. They are subject to being buffeted by events. But the best thing we can all do is to make judgements on the basis of what we know and feel at the time. We all have 20/20 vision looking backwards. But what did it look like at the time decisions were made?
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