The Small Data Forum podcast is both delighted and honoured to bring seasoned campaigner, Gina Miller, to the latest in our occasional – but increasingly frequent – interview series. SDF co-founder and co-host Sam Knowles talked with Gina on 9 February, in the week in which British politics tumbled still further into disrepute.
Two days before we spoke, Labour leader Keir Starmer and MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, were surrounded by a rag, tag, and bobtail coterie of anti-everything protesters. The potty-mouthed crew were apparently fired up with confidence by premier Johnson’s “rough and tumble of debate” gibe at Starmer in the previous week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. During that session, in which Eton’s finest rifle accused Starmer of failing to prosecute serial paedophile, Jimmy Savile, while the Labour leader was Director of Public Prosecutions. This attack – which the PM’s advisors all recommended he avoid like the plague – took the low level of political discourse in the U.K. to new depths.
Sam starts by asking Gina to explain to SDF listeners why she’d founded her new political party, True & Fair, and what she hopes to achieve with it.
Gina believes that Britain’s system of politics is outdated, no longer fit-for-purpose, and so in dire need of reform. The lack of systematic checks and balances mean our national politics lacks transparency, accountability, and good governance, and her objective in creating and launching True & Fair is to address these failings head on.
“It’s time to audit British politics,” avers Gina, to bring the accountancy principles of truth and fairness to a failing system. The status quo fails to deliver value for money, is not sustainable, and isn’t working properly. And although creating a written constitution might take decades, her aim is to provide a practical solutions toolkit for our broken system.
Sam wonders if the purpose of politics is to govern and political parties to win elections, how will this be possible for True & Fair, given the constraints and shortcomings of the British electoral system.
Gina is not despondent – at this question, or, indeed, at any point in the interview – that change is not possible. Electoral reform – though rejected in the 2011 Coalition referendum – is urgently needed, to provide a system of meaningful proportional representation in which the two-party cartel no longer wins by getting “first past the post”.
Throughout our discussion, Gina is very much focused on the numbers, the data, the algorithms of targeted digital marketing and how these can make a difference to those interested in truth and natural justice rather than demagoguery and dictatorship.
In the three elections from 2010-2017, for instance, she observes that almost half the electorate changed the way it voted; never have there been less tribal, more volatile voting patterns. She has respect – and not really grudging respect – for the seismic impact delivered by UKIP, Vote Leave, and the Brexit Party, even if she is (and was) deeply opposed to their goals and the success they achieved.
She acknowledges their deployment of modern data marketing techniques, voter segmentation, and targeted communications, and pledges that Truth & Fair will be similarly modern.
And though Sam is tempted to draw parallels with the success of the Social Democratic Party (the SDP) in the early 1980s – the party was polling at 50% before Margaret Thatcher sent her ‘task force’ to recapture the Falkland Islands – Gina is at pains to point out that the political landscape is very different today from what it was 40 years ago. Though mention of war does make Gina speculate on what further dark turns may develop if Putin’s mustering of north of 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine turns into actual war.
Up for the coming battle
Sam asks what True & Fair’s tactics are likely to be in a forthcoming general election – will it focus on marginal seats in the Red (or should that be the Blue?) wall; will it target specific seats as, for instance, the Greens have to great success with Caroline Lucas in Brighton?
Gina believes it’s too soon to say what the party’s precise tactics will be but it has already made the strategic choice to be registered and so to fight elections in England and Wales (and therefore – by omission – not in Scotland or Northern Ireland), so some data-driven decisions have clearly already been made to fight where it believes it can have most impact. And sensibly so.
Gina observes that part of the volatility in modern voting patterns and intentions is driven by emotion – from Partygate upwards (or downwards) – and that True & Fair will always be driven by data and smart polling.
One of the principal aims of the new party is to ensure that the current Conservative administration is not returned to power, although Gina is by no means convinced that Johnson will be leading the Tory party at the next election.
As a survivalist animal that aims to win seats and win elections at all costs, she predicts carnage for the current Government at May 2022’s local elections and a swift decapitation. Ironic, really, that for all his bluster and lies, it should be simple electoral arithmetic that sees the end of Britain’s Trumpian bloviator.
The electorate will remember Johnson’s willingness to tolerate rule-breaking under lockdowns – and the real human tragedy they had to endure, while others in Number 10 had boozy pub quizzes – and indulge in that rule-breaking himself. They will, she believes, bring that ire to the ballot box.
If Johnson is swept out of power this Spring, that poses an interesting challenge for his successor, Miller believes. So many of the politicians and spads and civil servants are Johnson appointees and a new PM will want to establish his – or more likely her – authority on the party and apparatus of Government, meaning wholesale changes all over again. It may also drive Johnson’s replacement to seek a new mandate – their own mandate via a fresh General Election – rather than be tarnished by the stale tang of Team BoJo.
One trend that True & Fair’s pollsters have already determined is that the low level of discourse and total absence of good governance in Johnson’s Government has turned more people off voting – making an active but negative choice – than ever before. The proportion already saying they will actively not vote in the next election is standing at historically high levels, and trust in all politicians – not just the Johnson junta – has never been lower. “Many, many voters see it as a case of ‘them and us’ – and that’s not healthy.”
Good governance is overdue
Since True & Fair was launched, its slow-burn unveiling has started to gather momentum. It has absorbed the Renew Party, bringing with it foot soldiers, data analysts, and infrastructure, enabling Miller’s nascent movement to become increasingly focused and strategic in its operations and understanding of who to fight where.
At the end of our discussion, we turn to Johnson’s decision to ignore all advice and attempt to smear and tarnish Starmer with accusations that he failed to prosecute Savile when DPP. “It shows the character of the man – and that he thinks it’s all a game. But that attitude is deeply concerning, and straight out of the Trumpian playbook. As a leader, you have to be incredibly careful not to weaponize language.” Untruths stick and Gina agrees with Sam’s suggestion that this untruth may just have made Starmer unelectable for all time.
Bringing good governance to British politics is long overdue. On one level, it’s extraordinary that death and rape threats are the daily norm for so many MPs, but this should not be normal nor acceptable for those who put themselves forward and exercise their civic duty. The House of Commons should not be a dystopian fish market; it needs rules and order.
Yet despite the parlous current state of politics, Miller isn’t despondent. She reflects that Trollope wrote in the mid-1800s that Britons lived “in the most dishonest of times”, lamenting the state of politics. Yet we pulled ourselves out of that, and we can do it again.
With the help of Gina Miller and her new political party, we might just get there.
Gina Miller in conversation with Sam Knowles: