Given our combined decades of experience in the wider media business, it’s no surprise that this post-party conference edition of the SmallDataForum takes a close look at politicians’ media performances.
And boy is there a lot to look at.
Front and centre, of course, is the new Prime Minister and her serial car crash interviews. Neville asks serious questions about the buffering Trussbot’s media advisers. It shouldn’t come to anybody’s surprise that Jason Stein, her Director of Comms, was a media advisor to Prince Andrew until THAT Newsnight interview with now News Agent Emily Maitlis.
Despite this being fat bear week as Sam informs us, our focus is more on fat cats and those that feed and breed them. So we delve straight into the cesspit of Conservative party politics, where Sam detects a distinct whiff of the mid-Nineties, that case study of Tory self-destruction where things could only get better under fresh-faced New Labour leader, Tony Blair.
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).
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.
As I am typing up the show notes for our latest podcast, news has come in that former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has been assassinated during a campaign event. A sad, sinister reminder that contrary to what the soon former prime minister of the UK would have us believe, it’s not all a laugh and a half.
As if we needed reminding. The murder of Sir David Amess was only nine months ago, and Jo Cox was killed just before the Brexit Referendum, in June 2016. Culture wars and wedge politics will only ever make things worse.
Even The Spectator is now pushing back against the growing Trumpification of political discourse in the UK. But that was never an issue for the P.T. Barnum of British politics and his confederacy of dunces, as Sam generously labels Her Majesty’s continuously thinning Government.
But the times they are about to be a-changin: together with a majority of – not just the Westminster commentariat but – the great British public, the SmallDataForum punditariat on Friday rejoiced in the news that finally, FINALLY, the Shagamemnon (thanks Marina Hyde) of Downing Street, the tousled blonde cherub, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, announced his resignation on 7 July as leader of the UK’s Conservative Party.
He remains Prime Minister until a new party leader is voted on by Conservative MPs and party members.
In another case of the speed of news catching out the SmallDataForum’s best-laid arguments, Neville’s, Sam’s, and my combined Musk-whispering was rendered somewhat outdated by the announcement – just hours after our podcast recording – that enigmatic Elon has put his Twitter purchase on hold because … oh never mind the stated reasons.
Actually, it wasn’t our exploring Musk’s motivations that had become outmoded, it was merely the factual base of our musings. Will he, won’t he buy Twitter? Will he, won’t he lose billions over the deal?
Will he, won’t he instate rules and regulations that draw the line really only at whether speech has been performed by an actual human (you’re fine, and if you say something that’s “illegal or destructive to the world”, you face temporary suspension, because free speech is a more holy principle than protecting against the impacts of hate speech, ostensibly), or a bot (in which case Elon really doesn’t want you, and in fact will retract his offer if he feels he is being outbotted).
The free speech issue is one of many highlighted by Neville in his characteristically well informative and well judged blog post. Neville also points us to an Axios piece listing everything Elon Musk wants to change about Twitter (surely another news item that would benefit from hourly updates), as well as challenges surrounding the commercials of the bid: a triple whammy of Twitter’s market cap dropping $9bn below Elon’s offer, Tesla’s share price down by a third from April Fool’s Day, and the Bitcoin crash impact on Tesla’s investment position.
So maybe, just maybe, Musk’s stated bot problem is a bit of a sock puppet. The Washington Post at least thinks that won’t get him out of the deal.
Taking its cue from professional media commentators, the SmallDataForum kicks off with Thomas quoting Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who is better known by his nom de class struggle, Lenin: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
Unprecedent times, anyone?
Sam is reminded of the times of Soviet openness and reconstruction, Michail Gorbatschow’s Glasnost and Perestroika initiatives of the late 1980s, ‘when it all began’ – laid out with great insight in this four-part series of The Rest is History podcast.
To which Thomas adds some on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand perspective: Francis Fukuyama’s famously misunderstood End of History essay, versus the insight of US Army educators that a permanent pulling back of the Iron Curtain will reveal a stage beset by increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, which gave us VUCA – a sort of cat nip for business school educators.
With the benefit of hindsight, declaring the end of history turned out to be as premature as the description of our ever-modern world as VUCA was prescient. Brexit, Trump, COVID, war in Ukraine – it doesn’t get more VUCA than that.