“The West’s Most Daring Government.”
That’s what The Economist is calling the United Kingdom’s new Conservative-Liberal coalition, headed by Prime Minister David Cameron.
What makes Cameron so daring? His approach to fixing the UK’s ailing economy, for one. Unlike his predecessors, Cameron is working to reduce deficits and stimulate economic growth–at the same time. While most political leaders pick one or the other, Cameron believes doing both simultaneously is the best way to help the UK thrive long-term.
To critics, this approach to jump-starting an economy is “simply not credible” at best, downright “risky” at worst. Cameron, however, remains undaunted–and quite popular. With an approval rating above 55 percent, he is perfectly comfortable defying convention, much as he has done throughout his career. Even his commute reflected this non-conformist attitude. The product of wealth and privilege, a younger Cameron was more likely to navigate London’s notoriously crowded streets via bicycle than from behind the wheel of a tony Aston Martin.
Though pro-business, Cameron holds progressive ideas when it comes to the environment and is credited for the “greening of the Conservative Party.” As the head of an unusual coalition of conservatives and liberals from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Cameron once again is doing things outside the norm. The youngest PM in 200 years, he holds his allies together with a mix of pragmatic solutions and wide-eyed ideals. His plans for education reform are a perfect example.
To reduce the UK’s ballooning deficits–the highest among all G20 countries–Cameron believes drastic cuts in public spending are necessary. That includes education, one of Britain’s most sacred institutions. Rather than sacrifice quality, however, Cameron wants to transform education entirely. So, along with his proposed spending cuts, he has proposed significant structural changes designed to boost quality and decentralize oversight. This includes ceding supervision to local communities, advisors and even volunteer groups. The unusual strategy to cut costs and address quality has won him support from both sides of the political spectrum.
The same is true in healthcare, where the prime minister wants doctors to oversee a decentralized National Health Service. Rather than make decisions about patient care from London, Cameron believes it would be less expensive and more effective for local doctors to decide how to treat their patients.
If there’s any doubt as to why Cameron believes it is possible to take on dual challenges at once, his personal history certainly offers some clues. Amid a contentious campaign in 2009, Cameron faced perhaps the most difficult personal crisis of his life, the tragic death of his six-year old son, Ivan, who suffered from cerebral palsy. His ability to maintain his professional duties and step up for his family amid what he called a “very grim and difficult period” won the hearts of many citizens. To many voters, Cameron emerged as a strong figure with depth of character who could take on multiple challenges at once.
So far, he’s leveraged the faith the public has put in him to address issues that proved too daunting to some of his predecessors. While traditional party loyalists carp about which problem deserves the nation’s attention–deficits or growth–Cameron and his coalition government are simply trying to do right by all Britons by addressing the two problems simultaneously.
Can it be done?
The world will soon know. In October, government ministers are expected to unveil their proposed cuts. The debate that follows is not expected to be pleasant. But it will reveal what kind of progress citizens can expect.
Regardless of how Cameron’s efforts turn out, his approach to leadership offers a unique, new way to look at problem solving. Instead of defending a status quo born of false choices, Cameron is doing both.
Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today’s Profits and Drives Tomorrow’s Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.