The lingering whiff of sulphur in the air

(Please note that this episode was recorded – and these show notes were written – on Thursday 8 September, before the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.)

The first Small Data Forum of the @TrussLiz era sees the podcast team convene IRL on the morning of 8 September for the first time in aeons – and in a professional, West End Studio, to boot.

Nothing to do with the fourth Prime Minister (not to mention fifth Chelski manager) since our ‘umble podcast started crackling over the digital airwaves. More to do with a desire to get together IRL more often post-COVID, as well as a heart-felt yearning to “up” production values, as decent as Zoom may be. Plus an opportunity for a post-pod lunch at our favourite Italian haunt, Olivelli on the Cut.

All trussed up and no place to go

With a new Prime Minister in place, Thomas asks who fancies prognosticating on the latest incumbent of Number 10. Sam leaps in. He’s concerned about the far right, ideologically-driven agenda of Truss et al. While memes in recent days – from #ThickLizzy to #NotMyPM may be variously misogynistic and laser-focused – Sam pinpoints the Truss administration as “continuity Johnson”.

Ironically for a new team replacing de Pfeffel’s hated, ADHD-raddled regime, Sam believes Truss made a profound mis-step with her first two speeches, one to Tory Central, the other to the waiting world. Both at the Gathering of the Tories and outside #10, Truss first name-checked BoJo and all the “amazing” things he achieved, from a bungled Brexshit to “the fastest COVID vaccine rollout” (until – very soon – it wasn’t).

Though he believes she’s no orator, stumbles over her words in proper wooden style, Sam does believe that the latest CEO of Lidl Britain has made a less bad (better?), more competent start to her premiership that many predicted. It’s just a shame that she …

  • Is so far right, as embodied in the heinous 2012 tract, Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity – DON’T BUY THIS (co-authors Kwarteng, K. [Trinity, PhD; Chancellor of the Exchequer], Skidmark, C., Vacant, Priti, Raab, D., and Truss, M.E.)
  • Stacked her cabinet with supporters only, in the most echoey of chambers known to man
  • Appointed Sextus’ old fella – Jacob Rees-Mogg, a confirmed climate-change denier as Secretary of State for Business, Energy (seriously – I’m not kidding), and “Industrial Skills” (whatever they might be)
  • Chose to praise Cincinnatus, not to bury him, smart as that ultimately may be. “Anointed” (not elected) as she may be by 81,000 old, white, South East-dwelling, bigoted men. As “continuity Johnson” she believes – with minimal justification – that there’s no need to seek a fresh national mandate before the business-as-usual General Election in 2024. She’s just carrying on with what the bloviating beluga whale was elected to do back in 2019

Electoral expediency aside, it ghasts Sam’s flabber that Truss chose to join the BBC in her repeated hagiographies of Johnson, whose victory tour was characterised so beautifully by acerbic stand-up Stewart Lee as the “insane peacock parade of a monster of a man who has ruined everything”.

Stymied Starmer?

Thomas is impressed by the way Truss has endured, in parliament for a dozen years and (at least) the junior echelons of government for ten. She must, he argues, have some level of confidence and competence and knows how to perform and function as she dances up the pole of modern British government. What particularly impresses Thomas is how she’s managed – in a few short days – to push Starmer’s Labour Party further to the left, always an electoral liability in Lidl Britain.

Neville applauds Truss, believing she outplayed a “stodgy” Keir Starmer at their first Prime Minister’s Questions, answering questions directly. Atypically, Sam agrees with Neville on this point at least. By laying out the principles of Trussanomics – Thatcherism x Reaganomics ^2, remixed for the 2020s – she’s put clear blue water between the Tories and Labour. Though as Thomas points out, with no EU oversight of sewerage and what it’s legitimate to pump out onto British beaches, it’s more like shitty brown than pure blue water.

Data, data, everywhere

We are, of course, the Small Data Forum, and numbers drive our narrative. Thomas is curious that such an unpopular and unpromising candidate could have ended up with the top job, With just 31.8% of votes in the final round of the MPs’ final ballot – and just 14% (50 out of 355) in the first round – she nevertheless won it. Of the Tory members – whose total number was inadvertently revealed in the final ballot – she only scored 57.4% of the votes. Or just over 1/10th of one percent of the total U.K. electorate. That’s the way the democracy crumbles.

Neville reflects that the bookies – particularly the biggest player, William Hill – don’t believe she has much of a chance of lasting longer than the hapless Theresa May, while Sam believes she’s exhibiting all the characteristics and zeal of a reformed alcoholic. Once a LibDem (but now a Tory), once a Remainer (but now a vehement Brexiteer), Truss has taken to her new homes – serially – with more enthusiasm than “true believers”.

Thomas comes back to Britannia Unchained (that’s enough plugs – Ed), and finds it hard to square the neo-classical Thatcherism and dogmatism with the pragmatism that’s seen Truss change her point of view and convictions more often than most people change their underwear. Is she just a hollow, empty weathervane?

Neville doesn’t think so, but Sam can smell sulphur – because of what she stands for. Although we recorded but an hour before Truss revealed her much-trailed spaffing of £150bn of our children’s and grand-children’s inheritance to moderate energy bills for punters and small businesses, Neville urges us to “wait and see”.


Candidly, it had been so well-trailed we didn’t need to. Thatcher-Lite is so opposed to “taxing our way to growth”, there was no way she would ever sanction a windfall tax on the “unexpected billions in the bagging area” of Centrica, SSE, and EDF. And while Neville believes she may have a volte face on her chosen source of funds to mitigate the unsustainable hikes in energy bills, Thomas and Sam can’t see her flip-flopping – Theresa May-style – on this one.

Thomas highlights the excellent News Agents podcast in which former BBC journalist John Sopel characterizes Truss as possessing “a rhino’s skin”; in the same podcast, Truss’ former Oxford/PPE/Modern British Politics tutor – not a supporter, and a former speech writer for one-time Labour leader Ed Milliband – who remembers Truss as being all about “instinct, provocation, and contrariness” as an undergraduate.

Thomas goes on to remote-Myers-Briggs her as a super-introverted INTJ – “the architect”, apparently – a character likely to prove super-tricky for newly-challenged Sir Keir Starmer, a man apparently incapable of flexing to catch Truss off-guard. If only – Thomas longs – Sir Keir could get angry and less lawyerly, even if that meant the occasional apology.

Sam is optimistic that younger voters might finally get motivated. Among 18-24s – all 4.7m first-time voters of them – 13% would vote for the Lib Dems, 12% the Greens, and 11% the Tories. Fully 64% have declared for Labour. And yet … and yet … despite the success of Momentum-dominated Labour under Corbyn, younger voters are notoriously hard to “get out”. When Thomas asks Sam, our resident data storyteller, what he’d advise Starmer’s Labour Party to do to mobilise that vote, he zags to recommending they watch Charlie Brooker’s apocalyptic Black Mirror.

How terribly meta

We turn our attention from the foetid cesspit of British politics to something not much purer, the much-vaunted metaverse. Neville – the only one of us to have read Matthew Ball’s book about the metaverse, the only book on the topic to have graced the cover of Time magazine – is a believer in the potential of this new “journey not a destination”, the next stage of evolution of the world wide web (or, to Neville’s precise view, the Internet). With appeals to the power (if not the delivery) of Second Life, Minecraft, and Fortnite, Neville is convinced that the metaverse is the way that the real world and the virtual worlds will be glued together, once and for all.

Sam is more sceptical. Keen not to appear a Luddite, he cites Delete.Me’s CEO in The Drum, whose recent article argued that the metaverse solves non-existent problems. For Meta (read Facebook), their small “m” metaverse is surely all about trying to create a proprietary, non-regulated version of the internet (or world wide web) for their own profit and ability to sell more ads; yawn. Sam is very definitely not impressed or excited, despite having the contemporary tech creds to have run a computer club at school in 1981. Thomas agrees and bridles at the thought of the metaverse changing the rules of creativity (a topic to which we’ll return); Neville thinks we’re missing the point, and he may well be right.

We close with Thomas wondering why we’re even thinking about the metaverse when a third of Pakistan is under water thanks to climate change, a recent heatwave melting Himalayan glaciers. We are – he argues passionately and convincingly – looking very much in the wrong direction. Sam’s gets a vile and strong stench of sulphur, the silent-but-deadly emission of the secretary of state in charge of energy policy, Sextus’ old fella, one Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Climate Changer Denier Pursuivant.

We’ll be back in October. Let’s see if Truss and her acolytes last as long.

Listen to Episode 61:

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