Two rants and a wry smile

In a distinctly un-Friday 13th Feeling, the @Podnosticators Three gathered for the 78th time to pick through the familiar themes of politics and social media, separately and intermingled. Spoiler alert: this episode may contain rants.

The rest is politics

Sam started by reviewing the remnants and the impact of the recent U.K. party political conference season. Least said about the Liberal Democrats’ opening event the better – not least because it didn’t touch the sides, of either our or the media’s consciousness. Though as Sam pointed out, several commentators have noted that the LibDems’ decision to try to occupy the centre left when disastrous Jeremy Corbyn was dragging Labour further left has come back to haunt them.

With Starmer reclaiming the centre left and the Tories lurching ever further right, there’s clear space – in terms of ideology and electorate – to occupy, and nobody’s making a play for this traditional kingmaker zone of British politics.

We then consider the Tories’ week in Manchester. Comic writer Armando Iannucci – creator of the legendary Thick of It and In the Loop – declared satire to be dead, and that he’d have never dreamt of setting a Tory party conference in the very city where a flagship policy designed to benefit that city was axed in a keynote, leader’s speech.

But sure enough, Lame Duck PM Sunak cancelled the Birmingham to Manchester link of the £100bn-plus HS2 rail project … from the lectern in Manchester. He came over as the modern day Beeching anti-matter – announcing £30bn on branch lines – but as many had already been budgeted and spent, it all rang a little hollow from the Thin (and Short) Controller.

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Flushable, unflushable, or lingering round the U-bend?

We start episode 74 of the Small Data Forum podcast – or “1 AB” as Thomas christens it; the first after B*ris – in what many are calling “the era past peak podcast”.

Things haven’t worked out as well for our medium of choice as Spotify predicted and gambled, and that includes the platform’s not-so-conscious uncoupling from the Sussexes. But we – like the relentless grind of British politics – carry on regardless.

Thomas recalls the halcyon days when democracy meant the executive, legislature, and judiciary: three, interlocking, interdependent branches that worked with checks and balances, each branch (or arm) keeping the other in its proper place.

In banana republics (like the US and UK), this breaks down when – usually – the army takes over; what was termed Gleichschaltung or a system of coordination or total control in Nazi Germany. There have been more than shades of this under the Johnson and Trump regimes from 2016 onwards.

The terrible two

Sam surveys the carnage in British politics in the past month.

Since we three last met, the House of Commons Privileges Committee has published its findings into the Partygate affair. Getting wind of a pre-publication draft, Johnson clearly saw the writing was on the wall for his political career inside Westminster, pronounced the Committee (and the report) a “witch-hunt”, and resigned as an MP.

He’d have been out on his ear when the report was published – recommending a 90-day suspension, triggering a Recall Petition and a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency – so rather than be pushed, he jumped. His pre-publication Trumpian rhetoric added to the severity of the punishment, and yet still Johnson didn’t care.

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We don’t do that here

“In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities.” This Aristotle quote opens one of my favourite books, Aldous Huxley’s last novel, Island (1962).

It also summarises neatly Neville’s, and to a lesser degree, Sam’s, position re the appetite and capacity for, and thus the likelihood of radical change to the British political and electoral system.

To be fair, Neville suggested not to focus on politics at all in our latest episode, and instead invest all of our podnosticating attention in the “only big news of the day”, the split of Phil and Holly. In a masterclass of persuasive communication however, Sam and I manage to talk him round to our planned discussion of the recent local elections in England and all the related fall-out.  

Chris Riddell in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/profile/chrisriddell/2023/apr/29/all

Both Neville and Sam refer to local political evidence in their respective leafy neighbourhoods in West Berkshire and East Sussex, where Conservative councillors are all but extinct.

And yet, as Sam highlights, on the local election evidence, UK-psephologist-in-chief Sir John Curtice doesn’t quite see an outright Labour majority at the next general election.

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Burn, baby, burn

Fire and music go well together. Sixties rocker Arthur Brown – a long-time resident of the liberal enclave of Lewes, home of your correspondent, Podnosticator Knowles – made an entire career out of his 1968 cult classic, Fire

Indeed, I even played roadie to him and had the honour of putting him out when he caught fire during the first chorus of Fire in a Sussex gig back in 2007, my pimple on the backside of rock ‘n’ roll history. And the first time Arthur had gone up in flames since the 1971 Windsor Jazz Festival.

The least successful rockstar of all time, John Otway, was given a 50th birthday present to remember when his fans “rigged” the charts in a totally legal way and bought him a second, top-ten hit in a 5,000-plus gig career, and that catchy ditty Bunsen Burner stormed the charts.

Its chorus features the line “Burn, baby, burn”, a lyrical echo through the ages, from The Tramps to (appropriately enough) Ash.

And “burn baby burn” is exactly what it appears the planet will be doing – even quicker than the entire combined scientific consensus has unequivocally determined it will do, thanks to our crack-like addiction to fossil fuels – if we don’t shake our very recent, very deep love of generative AI.

Sam starts episode 72 of the Small Data Forum podcast with a look at the latest developments in this new technology, whose poster boy is ChatGPT and one of whose early funders was Elon Musk. But more of the Musky one, anon.

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How should we shape our future digital life?

The Small Data Forum podcast was created spontaneously and almost accidentally after your three co-hosts met on a panel at a media industry event in 2016, a few weeks before the EU Referendum.

After a lively debate featuring sometimes radically-divergent views to keep our audience entertained well past the scheduled end time, seasoned podcaster Neville Hobson suggested to podcast ingenus Thomas Stoeckle and Sam Knowles that our ramblechats might work rather well in pod land.

Who were we to argue?

And so it came to pass – with Thomas’ wry titling – that the Small Data Forum came into being, with the inaugural episode dropping on 14 June 2016. Since then, we’ve taken a more-or-less-monthly, sideways look at the uses and abuses of data big and Small in politics, business, and public life. 

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