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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

The robber barons are at it again

Jump the shark

Thomas greets the first episode of the Small Data Forum to be “AT” – 1AT, indeed; the first recorded After Trump – with some cheer.

That said, this month’s often-passionate look at the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life doesn’t give us much cause for optimism that all that much has changed. In our VUCA world of multi-factorial problems, our Teutonic tipster bemoans the meaningless trend in which complexity is constantly reduced to in and out, black and white, this and that.

What is undoubtedly good news is a new format coming soon – perhaps even later this week – to @SDFPodcast: the first in a new series of interviews with interesting people.

First in the Nerf-Gun firing line is Professor Darren Lilleker from Bournemouth University, described by the BBC as “a man who watches Westminster” and by Thomas as “my doctoral supervisor”. His dissection of the state of permanent campaigning by the demagogues of modern politics will be well worth a listen.

Although it had been bubbling under for some weeks, breaking news on the morning we recorded this latest episode was that the fracas between the Australian Government and Big Tech has gotten serious.

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