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“And how was the campaign for you, Mrs May?”

Until recently, General Elections could be reliably guaranteed to produce ads – usually posters – that by virtue of media coverage, would end up being seen by more or less everyone in the country.

Not in 2017. Can you name a single memorable political poster? I can’t. While the Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket ad from 2015 was a poor example of the form (I blogged about this here), it garnered some column inches and TV airtime.

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Now, it seems, our two main parties are devoting their resources to social media, with Labour in the ascendancy on Twitter (which tracks well with the better educated and metropolitan types) and the Tories ruling the roost on Facebook, which has a broader, more representative user base and might have something to do with the illegal use of data. If you believe what you read in The Observer

Anyhow, with no decent advertising to speak of, the most noticeable marketing-related efforts in this election have been slogans. I wrote back in 2015 about Nigel Farage being ahead of the game in terms of repeating a single, simple message and backing it up in words and deed. He might be a c*nt, but he’s not an idiot.

With that in mind, the Tories hit the ground running with “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos”: snappy three-word slogans which (you might have spotted if you’re a sentient human) they repeated ad nauseam in the first week of the campaign, tethered not to the party, but to Theresa May, whose personal poll numbers must have been only slightly less impressive than Kim Jong Un’s in the weeks before her announcement of the election.

Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a classic case of assertion rather than demonstration, as May has made a mockery of her own USP by looking nervous and guarded in front of crowds and by executing a massive U-turn the day after the Conservatives’ manifesto launch.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses Conservative parliamentary candidates for London and the south east at the Dhamecha Lohana Centre in Harrow, north west London

Theresa being charismatic

If (a little bit of politics now) she’d had the guts to stick to her guns and tell us that the only way we’ll be able to pay for social care in this country going forward is to ask those who can to pay for it, she’d have enabled strong and stable to ring true. Unfortunately, “strong and stable but unpopular with your core voters” was deemed a tad unwise in an election campaign, so she folded like an executive order by Donald Trump.

Subsequently, her team have taken her out of the firing line, avoiding TV and radio interviews and ensuring that only party members are present in most of her public appearances. Like many other people, I’ve always maintained that being comfortable in front of the media and able to connect with people on a human level does not necessarily make you a great leader. But it’s fair to say that we all feel a little uneasy when confronted by someone who exhibits all the empathy of a South African prison guard from the 1970s and a truly remarkable inability to think on her feet.

Anyway, back to slogans. “Coalition of chaos” was another catchy, well thought-out line of attack that has endured longer than “strong and stable”, although as soon as the various parties ruled out any deals or pacts the Conservative hierarchy dialled it back a bit.

The other problem the Tories have had is that Theresa May’s stodgy, “best of a bad bunch” message plays so poorly when contrasted with left of centre politicians saying popular, human, empathetic things. Which, when they’re in opposition (as they usually are) play well. Lots of irate right-wingers – and the Daily Mail – took to social media after the BBC leaders debate moaning about bias, but a) the Tories’ policies aren’t by and large the kind of things you’d cheer for, and b) even if they were, many people don’t like admitting they’re Tory in public. It wasn’t a biased audience: it was an audience where the Conservatives (comprising 35% of those in attendance) sat on their hands or clapped politely every so often, while the other 65% demonstrated understandably more enthusiasm for sentiments like “we’ll give you better healthcare/ schools and tax the rich.” It’s really not complicated.

Anyway, while “coalition of chaos” and “strong and stable” have endured a bumpy ride, Labour’s “For the many, not the few” has articulated the party’s USP pretty well, and grown more relevant as the campaign has progressed. Under Blair/ Brown, “the few” fared extremely well, so this slogan isn’t as facile as it might first seem.

Jeremy Corbyn’s unapologetic acknowledgment that the very wealthy are going to be paying for at least some of the largesse he has promised has had the effect of enthusing his base by reconnecting the party’s newly-minted membership with its core principles. It’s exactly what Nigel Farage did: take a truth, communicate it at every opportunity and back it up with your actions.

Unfortunately for Labour, for all UKIP’s mastery of their message in 2015, they didn’t manage to see their increased relevance reflected in the numer of parliamentary seats they secured. They have been a phenomenal success as a pressure group and an irrelevance as a political party. I may be wrong, but I suspect Corbyn’s Labour Party are about to suffer a similar fate. There’s only so much that a slogan – or an ad – can do.

 

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My goat has been got

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

SPOILER ALERT: What follows is a personal opinion, shared by the owner of my business (i.e. me). Discussion, debate and dissenting views welcome.

My goat has been got is not a Grandaddy song title; it’s my reaction to the announcement of a General Election on June 8th.

On the day that the UK offically triggered Article 50, Ed and I were present at a Brexit talk by Keir Starmer. Starmer impressed me, largely because he provided a bipartisan perspective on the situation the UK finds itself in.

Whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit, and the strange, fence-straddling position of the Labour Party, it was actually refreshing to hear a senior politician concentrate exclusively on getting the best deal for Britain. Starmer is clearly intent on using his powers of scrutiny to help achieve such a deal, and didn’t allude to any party political considerations. It was admirable, grown up stuff.

Instead, he talked about the message he’d heard all over the country, but especially from business* people, about the potentially catastrophic repercussions of a hard Brexit, and pledged to put pressure on the government to accept a deal that avoided the type of seismic shock that a hard Brexit will likely represent.

Indeed that very day at the despatch box, Theresa May had suggested that she would try and ensure Labour’s Brexit tests would be met, while continuing to parrot (understandably) her mantra about “the best deal for Britain”. What politician would promise anything else?

Starmer also described how David Davis – the man charged with delivering Brexit – was hearing the same messages about hard Brexit and adjusting his stance accordingly. I left the meeting feeling optimistic that Theresa May might just be playing a bit of a blinder, by allowing the harsh daylight of a hard Brexit to turn the living dead on the Tory right into ash: a gaunt, terrified line of John Redwoods and Jacob Rees Moggs spontaneously combusting and, hopefully, disappearing forever more. That’s one way of ensuring you don’t have to live in a changing world, isn’t it chaps?

It would be not only be possible to do this while satisfying everyone apart from the staunchest UKIP blowhards and retards, it’s clearly the right thing to do if you accept that the decision to leave the EU is final. In other words, this is going to hurt for a while but let’s not cut off our nose, arms, legs and genitals while we’re at it.

I should have realised that a politician capable of making the kind of brain dead intervention May made recently about Easter eggs would not be capable of using this delicate balance of power to achieve consensus. Instead, she’s taken the opportunistic and cynical political decision to hold a General Election while describing this as a move towards unity. May also misrepresented Labour’s position and, like most of the press, continues to paint any opposition to Brexit as a form of treason rather than an entirely reasonable response to the horrific prospect of people any normal person would jump in front of a train to avoid talking to dictating the terms of our exit from the EU.

All she is actually doing is providing another opportunity for the usual suspects to lie, cheat, steal (copyright Run the Jewels) and fool us into voting for more cuts in health, education, social care and basic fucking humanity while at the same time our economy undergoes a seismic shock.

As yet another Conservative who never actually mentions conserving the one thing we should all agree on – the environment – she has proved herself to be the ultimate short-termist, self-interested career politician; clearly hamstrung by a middling intellect and surrounded by men who have as much in common with modern Britain as Donald Trump has with coalminers in Virginia.

Meanwhile on Twitter, the type of people who park in a disabled space and then give you the middle-finger for calling them on it are harrumphing triumphantly about making sure UKIP’s agenda is followed, and the remnants of this once admirable, tolerant, humane and self-effacing nation slip from Dover’s white cliffs into a sea which will be two metres higher in 50 years.

Still, at least Spurs are playing well.

*Ed and I were attending a Labour Business event in Westminster.

Edit: This article makes many of the same points as I have, but with fewer swear words

Edit 2: Deutsche Bank (among others) think that May has called the election to secure an increased majority to ensure a softer Brexit. There are several highly-paid city analysts who subscribe to this view (hence Sterling’s recovery). If true, this would force me to assume my previously-held position, and acknowledge that Theresa is, indeed, an intellectual heavyweight and tactical genius. However, given that the existing tiny majority and resultant scrutiny will also lead to a soft Brexit, I think this is absolute bollocks. Of course city analysts have a well-known ability to predict seismic political and/ or socio-economic events…

 

Could business save the world? Part 2

December 14, 2016 Leave a comment

You can’t move at the moment for end-of-year thinkpieces explaining why people all over the world are rebelling against whatever they believe to be responsible for their sorry circumstances. Articles suggesting solutions, however, are a little thinner on the ground.

In my previous post I suggested that business would have a role to play in providing individuals with the power to protest against the encroachment of right wing agendas and fascism. That’s because many of the utopian left wing/ progressive solutions that sound wonderful in theory tend not to work in practice. Why? Mainly because it’s highly unlikely that sufficient numbers of people will vote for any party espousing them – in the short term, in any case –  given that humans possess an innate desire to enjoy life’s material benefits. Persuading us to give up something tangible and nice in the present to achieve something theoretical in the future  (i.e. stop flying everywhere to reduce carbon emissions and slow down climate change) simply won’t work.

Here are two articles that I found pertinent to this ongoing discussion. The first, by Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg, supports my theory that unless the opportunity to make a  profit is present as an incentive, meaningful action on our climate is unlikely. The second, by the ever thought-provoking George Monbiot, attempts to “champion new approaches to politics, economics and social change.”

It’s too late now – and the risks are too great – for us to rely on education and thinking to turn things round. That model doesn’t seem to have worked. Business has to take the lead – and it has to do it now.

 

 

We’ve never had it so good

October 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Back in around 1999 or thereabouts, I suggested in a conversation to some miserable git or other that we were living in a golden age. My evidence for this was that, at the time, we were enjoying unprecedented economic wealth, were not at war with anyone (at least not what we would usually call a war), were governed by a centrist Labour government whose stated primary objectives (of alleviating poverty and improving the life chances of all through education) more or less chimed with the prevailing mood of the nation, and were not, it seemed, imperilled by any aggressive totalitarian regimes threatening our existence. Even the IRA had piped down. Admittedly Arsenal were much too strong for my liking and England still weren’t that much cop at cricket, but things were, on the whole, pretty good.

The only dark cloud (literally) came in the shape of eventual climate armageddon, but there was still time to deal with that.

Whoever I was talking to clearly wanted to start a conversation with someone else, because after some minor hectoring they agreed with me. “Put it like that, and I can see your logic,” they smiled (or so I like to imagine). “Let’s hope things carry on improving, or one day you’ll end up writing a blog – whatever they are – about how prescient you were.”

And here we are.

I shan’t chronicle the past 17 years, but a few things have happened. As the infuriating American saying pithily puts it, “It is what it is.”

So, I was watching the movie “The Big Short” and there’s a great bit at the end where, quoting Michael Lewis’s book directly (I assume) Ryan Gosling’s character amusingly says something like, “post the financial crash, all the bankers were jailed, the taxpayers were reimbursed, the politicians got a hold of things and justice was served.”

Then the payoff: “Only joking. They just blamed immigrants and poor people as usual.”

And here we are.

It’s hard to argue that life is better now than it was in 1999, for those of us fortunate enough to have lived through that golden era. Cynical politicians have managed to persuade the uninformed that “immigrants and poor people” are indeed to blame for their ills. There’s Trump. ISIS. Farage (in descending order of scariness). But, again, it is what it is. My point is that things could very well get worse.

We mustn’t take for granted what we have now, because there’s no guarantee we’ll still have it in 20 years unless we get to grips with the alarming increase in nationalism and racism we’re seeing now. We have to deal with it.

I watched “The Big Short” with a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the events that led up to the biggest global financial crash in history. I laughed, knowingly, about the “immigrants and poor” line. I wondered how they’d managed to get through the whole film without mentioning Gordon Brown or Labour, as I had heard the Conservatives say that the financial crash was all his fault. I wondered why Barack Obama, who has overseen an almost implausibly solid recovery in the US from the ruins of an economy he inherited, is not only given no credit for this achievement but has to watch as his opponents accuse him of trashing their country. It’s a film based on actual events, which makes it clear that bankers and lax regulation by the politicians they owned screwed us all.

Knowledge helps in that way. It allows you to contextualize and analyse. It’s why the likes of Farage and Trump are so dangerous; they are working from a playbook written back in the 1930s and relying on a compliant political class that has indulged their poison.

So yes, it’s ok to get angry at Wall Street and politicians – indeed, we didn’t get angry enough – but not to infer that everything else touched by government is illegitimate. If you want change, yes, vote against politicians in thrall to Wall Street, but not by siding with racists and misogynists.

If we don’t take care to promote the forces of enlightenment, information and reason, the tools we use to share those values may soon be taken from us. If the other side stop respecting the values and legitimacy of our nation and our institutions, then we have nothing to keep this wheezing charabanc on the road.

When that happens, then all the stuff we enjoy now – and I’m talking about a free press, the supremacy of the rule of law, a choice of food at the supermarket – might disappear.

So far, so good: if you’re reading this, you probably agree with every word. Our challenge is to break out of the echo chamber and get this message to the people we need to hear it. And that’s where we – the creative, informed, empathetic metropolitan elite – need to use our skills.

Be creative. Get to it.

 

Categories: politics, Uncategorized

It’s time to take control

June 24, 2016 4 comments

My 16-year-old son was not happy about the referendum result, and nor were his peers. His analysis of those who voted Leave (“the old and stupid”) may not be polite or entirely accurate but it’s better than apathy. He was engaged by this event, and that’s worth celebrating in a democracy.

We – my wife, daughter, son, his girlfriend and I – had talked a couple of days ago about the repercussions of a Leave vote and I outlined some of the possible positives and negatives as they related to their generation. The only positive they responded to was the possible collapse in house prices. I may not have argued the Leave case very well.

As much subsequent reporting has borne out, most teenagers feel European and can not comprehend for a moment why anyone would vote to leave something they think is working. They’ve grown up in a free and peaceful Europe and are fearful that a Leave vote might change that.

When they saw the result, they were (in their own words) surprised, angry and upset. (Exactly as I used to feel when my country voluntarily voted for a Government which included Jeffrey Archer.) Katie, my son’s girlfriend, asked me specifically to tell them why it might be ok. So here goes.

This vote proves that politics matters. It’s not something that happens to you or around you; you have the chance to change the world and shape it to reflect what you want.

If you don’t like what’s just happened, use your energy, intelligence and passion to change it. Because the 73% of under 25s who wanted to Remain will soon be 25-35s, and in positions of influence.

Don’t want a Government that ignores 98% of health professionals and tries to impose an unfair contract on them? Change it.

Don’t want a Government that looks likely to ignore the will of the people and allow fracking, when we’re expressly told by nearly every scientist on the planet to leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground? Change it.

Don’t want a society where it’s easier for Chinese millionaires to own two or more properties in London than for many Londoners to own one? Change it.

Don’t like a system that means four million UKIP voters and a million Green voters have two MPs between them? Change it.

Don’t want a society that increasingly champions ignorance and prejudice at the expense of education, and uses expertise as a pejorative? Change it.

Because if the last couple of years have proved anything it’s that there’s no need to feel impotent and ignored. If you find yourselves surrounded by likeminded people who recoil at the casual racism expressed throughout this campaign, or at a political class that has bent over backwards to accommodate multinational companies while ignoring working people in their own country, or that wants to privatise vital goods and services that should be run for the public benefit rather than to line the pockets of already obscenely rich individuals, change it.

You can. You have the power. You have youth, passion and energy on your side, because it’s your future you’re fighting for. You can take control.

And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

Enough is enough

June 17, 2016 4 comments

Farage poster

I thought blogging about the poster above might be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but a friend asked me to (honestly, that really happened), so here it is.

Any ad – and this poster qualifies as an ad – is constructed using a few universal disciplines. These are usually captured on a brief, and can be boiled down to the following main points:

  • Background
  • Who are we talking to?
  • What do we want them to do?

The brief will also contain a proposition.

Let’s imagine how that brief might have looked:

Background

Britain has traditionally been a tolerant country, with a proud history of providing refuge for  those in danger and helping disenfranchised people from far and near. Indeed some of our greatest achievements as a nation – the stories of which we can be most proud – surround the actions of people such as Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of foreign Jewish children from the Nazis.

Our population comprises thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who owe their safety, prosperity and, in some instances, their very existence, to our country’s generosity of spirit and instinctive ability to distinguish right from wrong. In return, those people have gone on to enrich our nation themselves, living productive and responsible lives in their adopted country.

None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the vast majority of Britons, who, safe in the knowledge that they have been immensely lucky to have been born in one of the most enlightened and wealthy countries in the world, have been only too happy to help those less fortunate than themselves.

It’s no exaggeration to say that our national identity – both in our own eyes and the eyes of the world – is constructed on our sense of behaving in the ‘right’ way. In 1939, when Europe was in the throes of the greatest existential crisis in our history, we acted. We stared the forces of prejudice, hatred and division in the eye, and we repelled them. We couldn’t manage it alone; we needed some help along the way. But we took the lead. When a despot blamed the ‘other’ for the woes of his people, we refused to accept this demonisation based on religion or creed, and fought back. And we won.

As a result, our continent has experienced over 70 years of peace and prosperity. We helped entrench these values by helping to frame the Human Rights legislation that has formed the basis for much of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Recently, as immutable global pressures of population growth and the rapid development of populous but previously undeveloped countries has accelerated, we have faced a series of tough challenges. Violence in other areas of the globe has precipated forced movements of large numbers of refugees, many of whom have sought refuge in countries which they perceive to offer their families safety, security and the prospect of a better future. That’s human nature; which of us would not do the same?

Most Britons – those decent, honourable people mentioned above – understand that we must do our best for these people. Their displacement may be temporary but in the short term, they need help; both from us and our European neighbours. It may make life a little difficult for us all; but it’s all relative. We know that doing the right thing doesn’t always mean doing the easy thing. And that we aren’t living in a place where hospitals and schools are being bombed.

Who are we talking to?

Most Britons are like the people mentioned above.

We’re not talking to them.

We’re talking to the others. The ones (and there are many) who are dissatisfied with some aspects of their life (who isn’t, after all?) but will not be able to understand that the lack of sufficient housing, school places and hospital beds in the UK has literally nothing to do with, for example, a photograph of Syrian people queuing in Slovenia.

What do we want them to do?

We want them to vote Leave in the forthcoming referendum. There are plenty of entirely reasonable arguments for rejecting the EU and wishing to leave it, but these are far too complicated for this target audience, so let’s just appeal to the worst in them, while at the same time betraying many of the values (see above) that they would probably wish to be associated with. It’s ironic that by invoking fascist imagery we will be seeking to gain the votes from people who are the most vocal about their Britishness, which might be summarised as “gloriously anti-fascist”. But there you are.

A welcome corollary of this is that such a blatant dogwhistle to the racists, bigots, ignorant and uninformed, will inflame the majority of the nation to such an extent that they will protest. Many of these protests will come from people who, thanks to the qualities listed above, have gone on to achieve much in our society and will therefore be easy to portray as “out of touch” and “elitist”. Another way to describe them might just be “tolerant, decent Britons”, but let’s try to avoid that, eh?

Proposition

Are you a small-minded racist who hates knowledge, intelligence and other people? Nigel wants your vote.

Mandatories

As voting day approaches we will continue to appeal to the very worst in a minority of British people, and probably link all immigrants with terrorism, so please prepare the ground for that. Thanks.

 

 

The verdict is IN

I’m sure our readers are waiting to hear how the Breakfast team are voting in the forthcoming European referendum, in which case today is your lucky day.

It’s IN. For all of us.

None of us have been polled – online, by phone or any other way – so we’re hopeful that there are others whose opinions are unsolicited and who feel the same way. The team all have their own reasons for wanting to stay, and I am (surprisingly) not egotistical enough to think that my opinion will sway anybody one way or the other.

However, whatever your answer to the question so eloquently posed by Mick Jones a few years ago, please sit down with a cup of your favourite hot drink and read this.

It’s powerful stuff.