It did not come home

Saka and Southgate

Two Englishmen and a German talk about football… With SDF episode no. 48 being recorded sandwiched between the 1966 World Cup win (20,187 days ago, assuming Sam’s calculation is correct) and the 2021 final of the Euros (2.5 days ahead at the time of recording), we couldn’t possibly avoid the topic.

It was by no means the only topic though, and we started our latest Zoom outing by bashfully listing recent achievements, from Sam’s quadruple haul at the Communicate Magazine’s Internal Communication and Engagement Awards – read all about it here,

At least Sam’s a winner

to my co-guest-editorship of ESSACHESS Journal of Communication on the future of all things PR and comms, together with the truly fabulous Ana Adi,

Great food for thought about PR in this free journal, edited by Dr Ana Adi and Thomas Stoeckle

to without a doubt the most impressive achievement: Neville’s loss of over two stone in weight in eleven weeks (check out the Zoom video!), thanks to the NOOM programme, behaviour and mindset change, and a copious dose of strong will.

On health and behaviour change, Sam briefly mentioned the de Pfeffel government’s weight loss campaign post Alex’s brush with the cold hand of COVID: sunk without a trace, like so many test & trace and other emergency billions.

We did talk vaccination, from the US vaccination programme hitting a bit of a red wall (and no it’s not the same as in the UK, more like the opposite), where, via Tortoise Media, Sam tells us that anti-vaxxing Trumplanders are now blocking the way to nationwide herd immunity. Who would have thought…

For all the comparisons between Trumpland and Johnsonland, the UK continues to do comparatively well on vaccinations and vaccine confidence. Sam quotes a study from Real Chemistry – a former employer of all three of us, coincidentally – which shows the UK clearly ahead of the other G7 markets, with the highest support, and lowest hesitancy and opposition.

Real Chemistry vaccine confidence dashboard by W2O, February 2021

So it seems some things are going well, in spite of all the doom and gloom – and we’re also discussing media scare stories about NHS black alerts which may be more media construction, than reflection of reality (our opinions are certainly divided on that point).

In India, meanwhile, another maximo lider bungled his vaccine diplomacy badly: first Narendra Modi promised defeat the virus and then to vaccinate the developing world, then things went “horribly wrong” and vaccine diplomacy turned into vaccine nationalism. So now it is India First, just as it is America First, or Britain first, etc. Not even a zero-sum game, since everybody seems to be losing.

What is odd about this is how blatantly the numbers seem to be telling an unambiguous story: according to a recent IMF study, a global mass vaccination plan to end the pandemic in 2022 would cost $50bn, with an upside of $9trn by 2025. If this was about the numbers – ah but if the five years of doing this podcast have told us anything, then it is that it’s much less about the numbers, than we numbers focused nerds think.

So to Mr de Pfeffel’s mouthy G7 promises on a sun drenched Carbis Bay in June: the ever excellent Tortoise Media has a story on that too – and reader this may shock you but it would seem this was a promise not quite worth its weight in truth. It’s funny how much Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit reads like an unauthorised psychography of the British Prime Minister. Anette Dittert, London correspondent of BBC equivalent ARD, comes to a similar conclusion in her excellent long read analysis (in German), “Die Politik der Lüge” (the politics of lying).

John Lanchester (2019): The Wall: A Novel

On COVID, politics and society, Neville informs us how the theme of deadly viruses runs through many of his favourite dystopian novels. A lot of it is rather too close to reality. John Lanchester’s 2019 The Wall comes to mind. The current Home Office Secretary, arch Brexiteer and daughter of Ugandan-Indian parents who came to the UK in the 1960s, would fit nicely into Lanchester’s depressing narrative: migrant camps on defunct oil rigs are the one story line that’s missing from the book.

Back to football, or rather the politicised appropriation of symbols. The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley made some sharp points on novice Three Lions shirt wearers: “Priti Patel neglected to have the package creasing ironed out before she stuck on the shirt, while Rishi Sunak forgot to snip off the sales tags.

Even the German embassy jumped on the ingratiating bandwagon with its #EsKommtNachHause tweet / post.

German Embassy tweet

I added my own, very personal perspective on lions and St Georges – not on the podcast, but on Twitter before the game – by pointing to the coat of arms of my hometown of Freiburg, and more so, the fact that I grew up in a part of town called St Georgen. Many places have a valid claim here, including Genoa and, most of all, Georgia (the one in the Caucasus, not the one in the Deep South).

Thomas Stoeckle tweet

As for the home-coming: in the end, it didn’t. It went to Rome.

The world goes back to normal. Trees and hedges in Leicester Square will be replanted. Broken windows replaced. Prime Minister de Pfeffel’s Twitter image is again showing his face instead of the back of a rather stretched football shirt. Sam’s quiet renditions of #EsKommtNachHause will be parked until the World Cup next year.

For now, at least, there won’t be an additional stanza for “One Britain, One Nation”, praising victory for the valiant lions. And its message of different races united, opened doors and widened shores seems to lack some penetration and resonance, given the racist abuse suffered by Rashford, Saka and Sancho after their penalty misses.

Football, immigration and national identity: such a fascinating, complex relationship.

Migration Museum tweet

From the AfD in Germany to the freedom fighters of Brexit, all want to bask in the reflective national glory of a winning national football team. Even though, without immigration, there wouldn’t even be a team there in either case. For now, fevered English nationalism will need to look for alternative outlets.

The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is only 497 days away though, and the final, 527 days. Perhaps, then, a combined 20,716 days of hurt can be laid to rest. Although, as our German football cartoonist friend Christoph Härringer reminds us, there are likely to be some more challenging non-football themes at play.

Christoph Haerringer cartoon
Keeping politics out of football? Worth a try. Keeping human rights out of football? Morally bankrupt.

The next episode of the SmallDataForum, in early August, promises to be a largely football free affair.

Listen to Episode 48:

Watch the recording of Episode 48 on YouTube:

Oh-oh-oh, your pants are on fire

Johnson Brexit lies

During the Matrix Churchill affair – a conflict of interest and bit of political skulduggery so tepid compared with what’s happened in the intervening 20 years – the Tory MP Alan Clark conceded that he had been “economical with the actualité” in answer to Parliamentary questions.

Lying about arms export licences to Iraq seems almost innocent compared to the stodge we’re served up daily by our demagogic masters in the fibbing 2020s. Even if Clark was branded by his wife as a “total Ess-Aitch-One-Tee” in a puff-piece documentary in the 1990s, not least for his endless affairs that were satirised by Private Eye as “discussions about Uganda”.

We start our examination of the uses and abuses of data big and small with a focus on politics in the latest outing of the Small Data Forum podcast, episode 47.

Sam is inspired by the writing and the message in comedian Stewart Lee’s tragedy vehicle, his weekly Observer byline. In a recent column picking through the ashes of Labour’s shambolic performance in British local elections, Lee takes aim at Prime Minister Johnson’s record as one of the worst – and most transparent – liars in British political history.

Continue reading “Oh-oh-oh, your pants are on fire”

The state of the world: “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”

“It is beyond moronic.” Yes, this might well have been a quote by Gary Neville, Alan Shearer or some other righteously outraged standard bearer of the purity of – in particular – the original English version of European soccerball, in response to the announcement of that ill-fated, short-lived ‘thought’ experiment in the commercial optimisation of said soccerball, the European Super League.

More of that – in Sam’s sober analysis: “arrogant imperialist cultural misappropriation” – later.

In this case, the quote refers to a story that broke on the morning of St George’s day, last Friday 23rd April, just in time for the recording of our latest SmallDataForum episode.

It should really have been a narrative about a hero slaying a huge fire-breathing beast (ignoring the Hydra problem that my dear friend and SDF guest illustrator Christoph alludes to in our title image, the English version of his German football cartoon), but as it turned out – perhaps more in keeping with the storytelling potential of the context and cast – this one was about a chatty rat, featuring prominently the near-forgotten Ghost of Barnard Castle, Dominic Cummings.

Neville (not Gary, but Hobson) kicks off SDF46 by relaying the highlights of the chatty rat saga, which he informed us had even made headlines in the Knutsford Chronicle. That turned out to be the Knutsford Guardian, but all the same.

Continue reading “The state of the world: “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal””

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – or, when Uschi met Jezza

From our very own version of Numberwang, to utilitarianism, the precautionary principle, the Plague of Athens 430 BC, to Gartner’s latest tech trends, the SmallDataForum serves up another mixed bag of goodies and smarties.

I kick off by offering a selection of ciphers for our very own SmallDataForum Numberwang from:

Continue reading “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – or, when Uschi met Jezza”

The SmallDataForum Interview, vol. 1: Darren Lilleker on politics and communication

After almost five years and 44 episodes of the SmallDataForum with the same old (though always fresh and sparkly) line-up of Neville, Sam and Thomas, we’re introducing one-on-one interviews as a new format, and an extension to the show.

In the first interview of this new series, Thomas talks with Darren Lilleker, professor of political communication at Bournemouth University (and Thomas’ patient, tolerant PhD supervisor).

Main themes include

  • the increasing professionalisation, personalisation and commercialisation of politics
  • the tension between “permanent campaigning” and governing in politics
  • the public’s dissatisfaction with traditional politicians
  • how charisma has replaced practical skills and competence (because legislation is boring and political entertainment is easier than day to day governance).

We weave a tangled web of themes from Thatcher to COVID and speculate that perhaps in the yin and yang of political leadership in the UK, the next Prime Minister will be rather less flamboyant.

However, Professor Lilleker is not optimistic when it comes to self-reflection in politics, and change from within: “what is needed for politics is never going to come from politicians.” The hope is that the public will demand from its political leaders the qualities required for good governance. So far, the signs are not altogether encouraging.

We offer you two ways to access the interview:

1: Watch the interview video on our new YouTube channel:

2: Listen to or download the audio podcast MP3 file: