Back in 2008, I made this podcast about things which make us stressed at a time when, you’ll probably notice from the beginning, I was pretty stressed. Always good to speak from experience, though…
Listening back, I think I learned a lot through and since making this, not least that conversation can feel better than monologue to me for exploring big ideas. That’s one way my upcoming podcast about being a dad is going to be different from this one.
But I enjoyed rediscovering this from the archive, and thought you might also like to dip in to this podcast which actually topped the iTunes “Self Help” chart for a while despite the message being more like “don’t do self help – there’s better help available!”
Episode 1 – the intro!
Episode 2 – the one about a bump in the road (and why self help can be a bit rubbish)
Episode 10 – end of series 1 with stories about being in control (or not!)
After some quibbles about my maths, Robin made three substantial points about Labour’s stance on Brexit which make sense to me, but still need a push back. They were:
“Labour’s strategic ambiguity has stopped Brexit.” (At least for now, because otherwise enough Labour MPs would have put Withdrawal Agreement (WA, or May’s deal) across the line.)
“In a situation where Remain is not strong enough to win a full-on battle, the best solution is a guerilla struggle.” (Stretch it out, avoid losing, keep Remain “in the game” essentially.)
“As soon as the Tories elect a new leader and adopt a harder Brexit stance, Labour can endorse a second referendum as a last resort.” (It can be said that Labour tried everything else first.)
While that sounds kind of sensible to me, it also sounds all kinds of horrific, for reasons I’ll explain in my reply below.
But Robin’s most powerful point, I thought, was that “Remain have won all of the arguments* but lost the POLITICAL battle,” and that Labour needs a political strategy. (* by “arguments” I think Robin meant economic analyses rather than elections, but he could correct me on this.)
In any case, I thought I should post my reply here rather than just leaving it in a Facebook comment.
The breakfast food references are my way of trying to make sense of these polling numbers, by the way. Thousands of people were asked to rank their preferred Brexit options. “Remain” was the most polarising, in a Marmite-like “love it or hate it” way. “No Deal” had quite a few fans but most people were not keen, which I’ve likened to black pudding. The middle options were more palatable to most, but were more for settling than loving – “Soft Brexit” looks to me like the cornflakes most people will happily put up with (it’s the majority’s second choice), but the “WA (Withdrawal Agreement)”, or “May’s Deal”, is a lot less popular, perceived more like a bowl of cold porridge.
I like analogies which help me to think laterally and potentially break out new solutions to tricky problems by seeing if there’s something we can observe from a different angle. Also, I like food.
What stands out for me in your excellent analysis is the idea of perhaps winning an (economic?) argument but losing the political battle. I’ll stick with my breakfast analogy for a bit, but put it in a domestic situation...
Let’s say Dad wants black pudding but Mum says it’s too expensive and gross. Mum wants Marmite, which is better economically, but Dad says it’s yeasty shite which no one in their right mind could like, and now Mum is crying.
There’s an economic argument here, but the kids won’t remember it. They will remember how Mum and Dad started to make them feel when they kept shouting “bollocks*” at each other and nobody had any breakfast, even that crappy dust in a jar which no one likes or remembers why it ended up in the kitchen in the first place.
(*If you’re wondering why the bad language is necessary, by the way, I didn’t start it. This is the state we’re in. This is a REAL photo, from a REAL political campaign from a party generally known for its sensible, moderate views, led by your kindly uncle. How did we get here?)
Fact is, the significance of broken politics is starting to overtake the significance of who’s right in the economic arguments. There’s an economic cost to pay for this as uncertainty is not an attractor of business investment. But the political cost of a prolonged fight should be a scary wake up call to Labour, Conservatives and the rest.
It’s possible that Labour forces the election it wants, but in doing so loses the trust of the electorate. Enter parties like the Brexit Party which might get real wide-ranging power without offering any real policy other than Brexit. You might think that’s as unlikely as a lying, repulsive, impetuous, emotionally stunted, economically incompetent reality TV star winning the US presidency, and you’d be right.
(At time of writing, I forgot that the Brexit Party had also recruited a candidate who may be most famous for appearing on a popular reality show and not being very good at what the show is meant to be about. But I strictly shouldn’t mention that.)
The political battle is everything now, and if parliamentary democracy can’t or won’t deliver something, anything, even an unpopular but workable option, it may get overwritten by the next charismatic dictator who comes along and says we can have what we want if only we’ll trust them. Even if we obviously can’t trust them.
So Labour needs to get itself together. “We want an election” is not a policy you can put into a manifesto if you get one. So grow a policy.
I’m thinking Labour might regret trashing the WA quite so much. After all, if policy was to deliver Brexit but make it nice and soft, the WA was (and, err, still is) the way to get that. Yes, it seems like a political win to unseat May, but who’s going to celebrate that if it leaves Labour unelectable? I’m not going to write publicly about how a Conservative could reframe the whole debacle to make that happen, but they could. I think we’ll find that at least one of the leadership candidates will be better at basic political competence like this than May.
Paths for Labour to proceed with political credibility have narrowed. I think there are two, and they both involve reframing unpopular Brexit options in the hope that people will buy into one.
The one I don’t want but I think is easier, and stands the best chance of avoiding no-deal Brexit, is to embrace the WA as a bowl of crud nobody wants, but at least it’s a bowl. If we can at least settle on cornflakes (and if you’re feeding a whole crowd one thing, it obviously has to be cornflakes), that’s the way to get them. Start with an empty bowl, which is what the WA should always have been described as. It’s not what you want, it’s the way to get what we all need. But Labour have trashed and possibly smashed the WA bowl to the point where they might not be able to use it at all.
The harder option is to sell the benefits of Remain to people who hate the idea. There’s maybe a little hope here. I actually hate Marmite but still like Twiglets. I know, that makes no sense. They’re covered in Marmite and even say so on the packs now. But if enough people who don’t want Marmite for breakfast can be persuaded that they might like Twiglets instead, it’s doable.
What that means in political practice is not trying to sell the idea of being internationalist to people who don’t want it, but reinforcing the power of being British and proud of it. Having a vote about what we do with Europe is having power. So let’s have a vote. And what can we do in Europe? Focus on Brits and British influence abroad, which is a positive thing to celebrate, rather than just worrying about people “coming over here taking our jobs”. Focus on the transforming for good we can get done in Europe rather than the paralysis implied by “remain”.
Labour ideally needs reframe “remain” with a better word, and back it up with positive, deliverable promises of what Britain can achieve for the many if it takes back control (yes, use that term) from a paralysed, incompetent, not-listening, failing Conservative party. That’s snack food for breakfast, eat all you want.
So, what do you think? If you’re reading this far, I’m guessing you’re super into politics, or really can’t sleep.
Is there any good way to bring people happily along into a new point of view on Brexit? Can you think of a better term than “Remain”? And what do you want to do about it?
Trust me, I’m not one of those experts you’ve had enough of. But I know my way around a bunch of numbers (*ask me about Excel at reasonable rates!) and I’m writing as I’m trying to process what the hell happened in the Euro Elections, perhaps like you.
I want to remain in the EU, so feel free to be sceptical on that basis, but come on, let’s be friends…
I live in Bristol, which had an election result so massively different from the rest of the UK, you might be amazed. “How can I possibly be objective in this organic, locally grown, vegan bike-riding lefty paradise?” you may well ask. I like eating meat in McDonalds, if that helps.
If you’re The Sun or The Daily Express, that means Brexit won, right?
Not exactly. The clearest pro-Brexit parties, Brexit and UKIP got 31.6 + 3.3 = 34.9% of the votes between them. While Brexit got the most overall, they were clearly opposed by parties running on a pro-referendum, campaign to remain ticket. There just happened to be more than one of them. The Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK + nationalists Plaid Cymru and SNP were the clearest, I think. Their vote came to 20.3 + 12.1 + 3.4 + 1 + 3.6 = 40.4% including nationalists (or 35.8% without)
On either basis. people overall did not demand that Brexit is delivered – actually, the opposite.
Looking a different way through party swing, how did the Brexit/UKIP block fare against just the non-nationalist Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK?
Gain by Brexit/UKIP = 31.6 – 24.2 = 7.4%
Gain by Lib Dems/Greens/Change UK = 21.0%
That’s a net swing towards the pro-referendum parties more than towards the Brexiters.
What about the MEPs elected?
Brexit/UKIP overall gained 29 – 24 = 5 MEPs
Lib Dems/Greens/Change UK gained 15 + 4 + 0 (thanks for playing, Chukka) = 19 MEPs overall.
So the vote, the swing and the MEPs returned are overall more pro-referendum and pro-remain than pro-Brexit.
If this were a UK parliament then, yes, Farage would be Prime Minister and we’d all look forward to Anne Widdecombe’s contributions as Home Secretary, Treasurer or Minister for Strictly Come Dancing, BUT IT’S NOT.
Do we even know what people voted for?
That’s a really good question, thanks for asking. Anne Widdecombe argued that it was a vote to leave the EU because the Brexit Party only stood for one thing, and other parties got votes for a variety of reasons. (Video below from BBC iPlayer may only be visible in UK and until the end of June 2019.)
But by this logic, with only the Brexit party’s vote counting, they won a one-competitor race. So…
It turns out that YouGov researched what people thought the different parties stood for on Brexit, and you might be surprised at the results (full article here…)
Yes, it’s a mixed bag. All very nuanced and confusing, especially around the middle. People really didn’t know whether or not Labour were anti-Brexit (though more thought they were than not), and similarly with the Conservatives (just the other way around.)
But look carefully at what people thought even of the Brexit Party. Over 1 in 5 people didn’t know they were pro-Brexit, even though that was their only policy and the clue was in the name. In a close vote where a couple of percentage points could tip things either way,
3 percent of people thought the Brexit Party was anti-Brexit.
Honestly. The state of our country.
But why did the big parties’ votes collapse? And why did weird things happen in places like Bristol?
I think it’s all about two things which are individually hard to measure but combine to make visible support:
Votes = Policies x Confidence
If you love a policy and you’re confident that the party who says they’ll deliver will deliver, that’s a vote winner. But if either policy or confidence fails, it can all zero out.
For example, if the Lib Dems promised to get us to the moon and build an all-British stadium complex big enough to host the Olympics in 2032, that would be amazing, I would love us to compete with home advantage in the low-gravity BMX freestyle, and I would definitely vote for that if I thought they could deliver. But it’s unlikely, so not a vote winner.
On the other hand, if the Conservatives promised to stop free school meals for every child, exacerbate poverty among the least well off and give tax cuts to the rich, I would totally believe they could and would deliver that. But I don’t like the policy so, for me, not a vote winner either.
You need the right policy and the confidence to deliver to get the vote.
What happened to the Conservatives in the EU 2019 election was not a change of policy – lots of people liked their policy – but a collapse of confidence. Brexit has consumed political energy in the last couple of years to the point where it’s all that seemed to get worked on, and all people wanted to get done. In this, almost literal, “YOU HAD ONE JOB” situation, the Conservatives didn’t deliver. So confidence and votes fell like Eddie The Eagle with a broken ski.
What happened to Labour? Maybe a crisis of confidence, but probably even more a confusion and rejection of policy.
Change UK never got off the ground because they never commanded recognition of either policy or ability to deliver. The leaflet they sent us about their group of amazing independent candidates failed to name any candidates, possibly because at time of printing, there were contradictory stories about who they were.
The Greens have a lot to be happy about, especially in Bristol where they topped the vote by a loooooong way…
I think Bristol has always wanted to vote Green, and loves Green policies, but lacked the confidence they’d be able to do much in Parliament. They closely contested my constituency, Bristol West, after the Lib Dems lost popular confidence thanks to the 2010 coalition.
Even that didn’t help Labour win here. It doesn’t take much policy to be wrong or confidence to drop for support to come crashing down.
General Elections are more complicated, with more policies expected and demanded to govern a country rather than contest one issue. My guess is that if there were an election tomorrow, Labour would still romp home here for all the reasons they did in 2017.
But if that election taught us that marginal seats can become super safe looking very quickly, we should also have learned by now that there is no such thing as safe and, frankly, anything could happen.
And whatever parties want to commit to, they’d better be sure they are policies people want AND are confident they can deliver.
So what should Labour do next?
It’s hard to be Labour, trying to reconcile leavers and remainers among members and voters alike. But on Europe, they need to clarify the policy and build the confidence.
The trouble with committing to leave now is that many (Brexit Party supporters excepted) have little clarity about what would be next, and diminishing confidence that this can be done well.
Lack of confidence, not lack of policy, killed the Conservative vote in 2019.
If we can’t be confident in what Labour policy will accomplish – and “let’s try and renegotiate” would be pretty vague and uninspiring – they’re going to have to commit to something deliverable.
Committing to seeking a fresh election isn’t enough, because what do you put in the manifesto when you succeed?
Committing to rescind Article 50 is bold and, arguably, anti-democratic and suicidal.
But committing to a People’s Vote for confirmation of the path ahead is sensible. Labour can still respect the differences of opinion people have on Europe, and allow MPs to go separate ways on what outcome to campaign for. Having the vote is, by definition, democratic in my view, and I think it’s the only way to work out what people really meant when they voted in the Euro Elections last week.
But we’ve already voted!
Yes, and generally in elections we vote again every few years. Parliaments get a chance to work things out over five years maximum, less on average. We are most of the way towards a time when we’d naturally have a confirmatory vote on anything else through a fresh General Election, so why not for leaving the EU now that we know the terms?
How a fresh vote could work
Three options, and a single transferable preference vote for each person. The options would be the only ones which are currently deliverable. That’s the only way for people to have confidence that the process can deliver right away. No wish lists. Right now those options are:
Leave the EU without a deal
Leave the EU with the transition deal negotiated by Theresa May
Remain in the EU for now
But it can’t be a fair vote if it’s split three ways, can it?
That’s an argument the Brexit Party tried using to dismiss the whole idea of a People’s Vote as unfair and unworkable. This would be a fair criticism if one remain option faced two leave options, winner takes all.
But a transferable preference vote overcomes that problem. You simply put a “1” by your first choice and “2” by your next favourite option. That’s all you need – even easier than “1, 2, 3”
How would that work?
You add up the totals for everyone’s first preferences. If one has more than 50% of the votes, that’s it, game over, thanks for playing.
But if not, you take away the least popular option and use the second preferences from the people who voted for it. Adding those to the first preferences will give a clear result.
So for example, let’s say 40% put Remain as first choice, 40% want no-deal Brexit most, leaving 20% preferring transition-deal Brexit. You’d then look at the second preferences of the transition-deal Brexiters. If more of them want no-deal Brexit, that’s what we would have as the clear winner. It could go either way.
EXTRA CREDIT READING: Yes, it can be complicated…
If you offer a lot of options, you could end up with different results depending on how you add them up. This is one reason to keep a multiple choice ballot as simple as possible.
Here’s a great study from politics.co.uk using live polling data from April 2019. They went with four options, including a “Softer Brexit” to be negotiated.
Remember, this is real data, not made up to make an awkward “what if” scenario. I think it’s one hell of a breakfast buffet.
REMAIN is Marmite on toast. Lots of people love it the most, lots hate it, there’s not much middle ground.
NO DEAL is black pudding. Quite a few fans, but significantly more people don’t like it than like it.
SOFTER BREXIT and MAY’S DEAL are the blander, more cereal-like offerings. The soft Brexit people imagine they might be able to get is cornflakes. No one dislikes cornflakes. Hardly anyone really loves them either. But at least they’re better than May’s Deal, which appears to be cold porridge. Yuck. I mean, it might be better than starving, and it’s not as hated as black pudding, but there’s a very short queue for it.
Now, you can imagine how any one option for everyone is going to be unpopular.
Even more awkwardly, there’s more than one way to serve this breakfast mess. With a single transferable preference vote (also known as “Alternative Vote”), it turns out that remain would win, though it’s close. Marmite for all – people love it!
But through another way of counting the votes, say by eliminating the most unpopular options first, Remain would actually get knocked out in the first round and Softer Brexit would win. You’re all getting corn flakes because nobody hates them!
(PS – remember, this is REAL DATA, and that the cornflakes are NOT REALLY ON THE TABLE. They’re just something people would not mind if they were. The porridge isn’t looking so bad now, is it?)
So, in conclusion
We are all going to have to deal with a lot of people we know and love being rather unhappy and feeling treated unfairly, possibly for quite a few years to come.
We’re all going to have to choose between sticking in groups of people who agree with us and mistrusting everyone else, or getting back to some good old British moaning behind people’s backs and just within earshot while still choosing to be polite to their faces and keeping our inner rage to ourselves, thanks very much.
After all, we all know how frustrating and disappointing British life can be, but in the end, don’t we have one overriding thing in common?
We are all part of a nation that is most famous for things that look completely crap but turn out, given half a chance, to be absolutely amazing.
A new 64 GB iPhone 8 could cost anywhere between £1,011 and £2,142 over two years, depending on your network deal and how much data you want per month.
While it’s not news that the more data you get, the more expensive it is, you might be surprised at the range of prices for the phone for any given amount of data.
For example, if you need about 8-10 GB of data a month, you could be paying anything between £1,035 for the cheapest deal (buying the phone for £699 and having two years of SIM-only connection with Three) and £1,441.75 for the most expensive (a £58 a month contract with EE).
Here, I did a graph. I’ll post links to my working soon in a spreadsheet. While this is just for the 64 GB iPhone 8, the shapes of everything are similar for the 256 GB and Plus versions.
Stuff to notice:
Every provider apart from Three really doesn’t want you to sign up for a lot of data. EE and O2 offer particularly expensive deals if you flag yourself as a potentially heavy data user.
There’s almost always a premium for paying less upfront. The contract deals (solid lines) sit well above the SIM-only + cost of phone deals (dashed lines) except in a few weird cases. On Three, this premium generally adds between 26% and 38% to the total cost over two years. There’s another particularly extreme example on Three which is the big kink in their cost curve. You can pay £79 upfront and get 100 GB data for £65 a month (total £1,639) or get the same phone and data with zero upfront and £81 a month (total £1,944). That’s a £305 charge to borrow £79 for two years – something like 190% annual interest. Seriously? If you’re paying £81 a month for your phone anyway, you’d be mad to go for that.
You should probably note that there are “added value” extras in some networks’ plans, and I haven’t costed that in. If you want Spotify Premium, you’ll get that thrown in with Vodafone’s Red Entertainment plans, for example, which is worth £9.99 a month. I just got a free pack of Hotel Chocolat chocs as a random freebie with Three. Go figure.
Ultimately, it’s worth doing a few sums before grabbing any new phone deal, especially at a low upfront price.
And I’m probably going to stick with my cost-saving strategy of buying a last-gen phone outright next time I need a new one!