Inflation! Energy crisis! Cost of living! Inequality! Strikes! A government out of its depth and out of touch. And that’s just 1978 …
The latest episode of the SmallDataForum podcast opens with Thomas comparing the not-so-good old days of the Winter of Discontent in Britain with the dry bleak hot summer of 2022. Ah, 1978: when Margaret Thatcher was not yet Prime Minister, and the average CEO of a UK FTSE 100 company earned 11 times that of the average full-time worker (Equality Trust report).
Fast forward to today when political weathervane Mary Elizabeth Truss, erstwhile anti-monarchist Liberal Democrat, committed Remainer and serial Maggie cosplayer, is given a 95% chance to be the new Prime Minister by 5 September. The median CEO / worker ratio is now well above 100 to 1.
While wistfully recalling the rubbish heaps triggered by a general strike in ‘78/’79, Neville cites a long list of present societal afflictions that the UK’s “zombie government” is unable to address, from inflation to climate change impact, energy bills to raw sewage dumped on beaches. Now, as then, there is plenty of anger and a strong sense that we’ve had it, that enough is enough.
So much so that there is now an Enough is Enough campaign – however now, unlike then, there is digital and social media from the We Say Enough website to the @eiecampaign Twitter handle, to amplify the message and generate momentum around a grassroots campaign.
There are plenty of strong voices (including Bernie Sanders giving his democrat socialist blessings from across the pond), Neville muses, but what will this lead to: civil disorder? Are we facing an insurrection in waiting?
For Sam, the situation is worse than the Winter of Discontent. With two thirds of all UK households predicted to fall into fuel poverty this coming winter, and structural problems way beyond the remit of even the most talented politician (if there was one in sight) – there is little hope that things will get better any time soon. Looking at the problem through a wide-angle lens, Sam declares that the neoliberal dream of infinite growth is over and that we will have to get used to becoming poorer.
Interestingly, the Metro newspaper’s fuel poverty map is almost perfectly inversely proportional to the distribution of the 160,000 or so Conservative Party members across the UK – those disproportionately white, male, older, wealthy, southern, English 0.3% of the British population that get to choose the next Prime Minister.
The SmallDataForuminati engage in lively debate re political realities: the urgency, the scope, the possibility of change. Thomas connects the short-term needs to a longer-term vision (and need) of restructuring the economy, society, the political system.
Not for the first time, he pleads for proportional representation, his German political instincts still very much intact. In fact, when he reminisces about 1978, it’s not just the first proper gig he attended (Status Quo, no less!), or West Germany beating the mighty USSR in the final of the Handball World Championships, but also the days of a coalition government run by SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, with Hans Dietrich Genscher’s Liberals. Better not compare that to the Dave and Nick Show that gifted us Brexit …
Talking of distinguished political figures and their polar opposites: it is quite something to go from Roosevelt’s “nothing to fear but fear itself”, Churchill’s “never surrender” or Kennedy’s “ask what you can do for your country” to the Pfeffelian cakeism that now appears to be reborn as Trussonomics.
The perma-partying-or-holidaying parting Prime Minister has evidently always been much more Marie Antoinette than Winston Churchill.
As for Mary Elizabeth Truss, no appropriate historical equivalent comes to mind, but Sam’s reference to the (alas, only satirical) Papua New Guinea Courier London correspondent’s assessment is hard to beat: “a woman so dense that light bends around her.” Though it has to be said, Matthew Parris’s assessment of a “planet-sized mass of overconfidence and ambition teetering upon a pinhead of a political brain” runs it close.
Sadly, tragically, Truss appears devoid of even the faintest trace of the “power of humility in asking smarter questions” that Sam so passionately and masterfully proposes in his new book, the final part of a must-read trilogy on Using Data Better.
The ostensible-Prime-Minister-in-waiting’s beef with the British work ethic is recorded in multiple publications and recordings, as are her 2009 plans to charge patients for PG visits and slash doctors’ salaries. Which makes her exceptionally well placed and more than willing to make Neville’s dystopian insurrection vision a reality by promising a “crackdown on militant unions holding the country to ransom”.
Thomas expects things to get ugly when cocaine snorting football hooligans gagging for disorder opportunities realise that this is a great bandwagon to jump on. That’s when the shit will really the public fan rather than being pumped onto Great British beaches, say.
Sam provides much needed positive vibes by recalling the feel-good-factor of Euro 2022: great live football experiences without the often unsavoury side effects of the men’s game. Friend of the show, German sports cartoonist Christoph Haerringer made the point beautifully a few weeks ago:
Back on the domestic politics beat, Thomas suggests that there might be hope in mobilising the UK’s largest voter bloc – the non-voters. At the 2019 general election, they accounted for almost a third of the electorate, against the Conservative’s 29%, and Labour’s 22%. Then the question is – how to overcome voter apathy?
Sam proposes a compulsory vote as in Australia, with a stick and carrot approach: no show, no fuel rebate. Voter turnout routinely hits 90% in Australia. Neville disagrees and supports nudge not force as a principle. He thinks the argument needs to be sold to the people. Which is a fair point, but then how do we bridge the gap between what the Daily Mail / Telegraph / Sun sells vs what the Guardian / Independent / Mirror sells?
Implausibly, we end on football and Rishi Sunak. The likely Con leadership loser, whose unlimited capacity for gaffes – from his inability to do contactless payment, to feasting on phantom wraps at McDonald’s with his kids, to not knowing who his ‘beloved Southampton’ (whom he probably calls Hammers instead of Saints) are playing – gives the term gaffer a whole new meaning.
Post Con leadership contest, Thomas sees an interesting career change on the horizon: with Manchester United fans planning their very own ‘enough is enough’ campaign, and the Glazer family perhaps willing to sell, there are currently a number of potential suitors, from silly (Musk) to serious (Ratcliffe). But what if Rishi’s billionaire father-in-law Narayana Murthy buys the club for his purportedly football loving son-in-law? Stranger things etc…
And finally, while the UK government has picked a fine moment to make it easier for landlords to evict people who fall behind on rent, perhaps Mick Lynch and his fellow EiE campaign organisers are looking for the perfect song to connect the spirit and feeling of 1978/79 with the here and now. Turns out Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer recorded it all the way back in 1979:
” I’ve had it, we’ve had it, you’ve had it, he’s had it
No more tears
Is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough”
In about three weeks, we’re back with a live recording, a new Prime Minister and more musings on the septic isle.
Listen to Episode 60:
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