Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Tell Boris what you think

October 18, 2011

That’s the heading of a letter/questionnaire I got in the post yesterday from the ‘Boris for Mayor’ camp. Well Boris, what I think is: this survey is a very clever way of drawing people in to support you.

It’s nicely designed and inviting, and it primarily looks like a survey with proper questions about what you think London’s key issues are. So you think ‘gosh, Boris really wants to know what I think’. Good start.

Plus his team get useful research feedback on priority issues for the electorate and can play the results back to us in their communication so we feel listened to. I predict in the future we’ll some ‘Londoners told us that … so we …’ in public communications and if they’re really smart I might get some direct mail acknowledging my answers and giving me some targeted information.

Then you realise they’ve cleverly begun a lot of the questions with an assertion of Boris’s achievements in that area: ‘Boris Johnson has secured the biggest upgrade of the Tube network on record. What is the next part of the transport network you would like to see upgraded?’. In so doing they get you to read about his achievements by stealth and, importantly, I think the mere act of ticking a box underneath in some way creates a level of acceptance of the assertion in your mind.

The question is constructed in such a way that you don’t get invited to consider whether you actually believe he can truly claim the credit for the Tube upgrade and aren’t able to have a whinge about the Tube upgrade (which frankly all Londoners would want to do) but rather you are encouraged to accept that he has ‘sorted’ the Tube and only asked to comment on ‘what next?’. I think that’s really clever.

I even like the way they call their campaign BackBoris2012: the alliteration, the acknowledgement that he’s a one-name brand and the purloining of 2012 as a strong Olympics-related equity that many Londoners feel good about. I am not a natural Tory at all but you’ve got to admit these people are good at marketing. The bikes are a brilliant way of getting re-elected. I feel I’ve heard nothing from Ken at all.



Why equality is better for everyone

June 25, 2010

That’s the title of a book I’ve just read (by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett), which can be summarised by the charts below. They show very comprehensively that all manner of health and social issues (from life expectancy to mental illness, violence to illiteracy) are correlated most strongly with how equal a society is, not how wealthy it is (once a country has reached a certain wealth).

For rich countries and for the US states they took lots of different health and social measures and almost all map closely to income inequality and not to income per person. You can see the UK ranks third of these countries in terms of both income inequality and the aggregate index of health and social problems.

The authors’ hypothesis is that living in an unequal society makes people more anxious, less trusting and supportive of others and reduces social mobility to such an extent that it has profound effects on health, crime and community life. They make a convincing case for how a more equal society would benefit all of us, not just the less well-off, and that measures that reduce inequality would simultaneously tackle a multitude of health and social problems that we spend millions on tackling separately.

This chimes with the rather depressing news this morning of a study by Oxford University that has modelled the impact of the reductions in welfare payments announced this week and found they could severely impact people’s health – they’ve calculated that spending on social welfare has a bigger impact on people’s health than spending on the NHS.

Go to Hay

June 4, 2010

I went to the Hay Festival for the first time yesterday and loved it. The glorious weather helped of course – it really is a beautiful location. But I was really impressed by the festival: the speakers I saw were of very high quality and the whole thing is very well organised and relaxed. The visitors were nowhere as smug and posh as I had feared – lots of Lib Dems I’d say and there’s nothing wrong with a few Lib Dems.  There was a lot of grey hair but also quite a lot of younger people and kids.

I had deliberately gone for a day when there were lots of ‘ideas-y’ speakers not just novelists.  The best one by far was John Gray, a mega clever political theorist and writer, who spoke without any notes and made complex ideas really simple and interesting. I read his book Straw Dogs a few years ago and found it rather depressing but in the flesh he comes across as merely realistic and extremely well versed in history and politics.

One of his themes yesterday was that history tells us that progress is not steady and inevitable and that the gains we perceive have been made in our lifetimes can easily be reversed. He’s not talking really about science and technology, where advances are not generally lost, but more about economic and social wellbeing.

For instance he believes we are currently at a point of major discontinuity in terms of the global financial meltdown. He believes that in the future things will not be the same and that more banks and countries will default, that debt is simply unmanageably large and the world so interconnected and complicated that no-one really understands it. He thinks significant inflation will ensue in years to come, which means investing all in pensions and other intangible assets is pretty questionable.

Thought-provoking stuff and he comes across as very credible. You could call him pessimistic but perhaps just more realistic and prepared to tell it like it is than politicians.

I also saw Andrew Simms and David Boyle from the New Economic Foundation who are also in the ‘things will never be the same’/’we need a new model’ camp. They mentioned a number of interesting titbits which weren’t really explored (probably  because they want you to buy their book) but a couple that struck me:

1. Reducing the length of the working week is one of the few credible variables that could be played with in order to reduce our debt at the same time as  reducing our consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. They say they have done work that indicates you could do it without creating mass unemployment but I don’t know any more of what they propose.

2. Small island states are particularly efficient at using their fairly limited natural resources to deliver quality of life and wellbeing (whereas say the US has loads of natural resources but is very inefficient at delivering mass wellbeing).  This could be because geographical isolation forces them to plan well and creates cohesive communities that look out for each other.

Anyway. I could go on but a debrief beckons. Hay is definitely worth the trip.

Another Great Debate

April 29, 2010

I can’t quite believe that I am looking forward to the political TV debate tonight, but I am. Not so much for what is said, more for the sense that the nation is galvanised around considering something important. While some people I know are a bit snooty about the debates (superficial, scripted, Americanised, etc.) there have very clearly got a far wider group of people engaged in politics than would otherwise be the case, and considering a wider set of options.

It’s a terribly vivid demonstration of the power of television. Whilst we all fret about our apps and use of social media and wotnot, all it took was some primetime television to get people to think very differently about a party most had previously seen as a bit of an embarrassing also-ran.

I saw a bloke from Thinkbox (the marketing body for commercial broadcasters) at a meeting at the IPA yesterday – this must be manna from heaven for them.