Why We Suddenly Have A Plastics Crisis

or  How Kahneman’s System 1 Fast-Tracked The Plastic Crisis,  and System 2 Slow-Tracked The Issue

A child’s plastic fish, and a plastic cotton bud innard, both found on my local beach.

(Long post – download it as pdf here)


The UN has acknowledged that we have a ‘plastics crisis’ and on December 6th 2017, adopted a (non-binding) resolution calling for an end to plastic entering the sea.

Many see plastic pollution as comparable in scale, threat and challenge to Climate Change.  Yet if it seems to have crept up on us ‘as if from nowhere’, that’s not for lack of earlier warning signs, dating back to the 1960s.

We’ve had knowledge about the key elements for a very long time but that knowledge has not been accessed or acted upon.   Why not?   In large part, it’s because for decades, ‘plastic’ as pollution has been a  ‘Track Two’ issue (see my previous blog for an explanation), confined to the slow-moving domain of analysis and in this case, mainly rather obscure science.  It was, as my American friends might say, ‘lost in the weeds’.

Plastic enjoyed a ‘near miss’ in terms of becoming a Track One mainstream issue back in 1970 when explorer Thor Heyerdahl got the world’s attention with his discover of ‘a sewer’ of pollution in the deep mid Atlantic but it then sank below the surface of ‘general public’ awareness until the chance discovery of ‘Plastic Soup’ in a Pacific Ocean gyre by sailor Charles Moore (see below).  This gave plastic pollution its second signal ‘moment’ on Track One at the turn of the century.

The high degree of separation of slow Track Two from the fast moving mainstream of Track One, helped keep it plastic off the radar of major policy and campaign groups from 1970 through to the 21st century.    Decades of research into plastic pollution down on Track Two effectively found no audience up on Track One.

Moore’s discovery turned him into a scientist and campaigner.  The publicity he gained boosted existing research efforts and began to interest the media in plastic as a global pollutant, sucking up scientific findings from Track Two, making it ‘news’ on Track One and feeding dramatic documentaries like the BBC’s recent Blue Planet II, in which David Attenborough has admirably laid into plastic.

Here’s a summary:

A history of plastic as a pollutant in Track One and Two terms.  See later for discussion.  Communication on Track One is dominated by Kahneman’s System 1, intuitive, easy, unconscious and fast, and on Track Two by System 2, slow, hard, conscious and analytical.

Moore’s 1997 discovery was blessed with scientific confirmation in 2001, meaning that it’s taken another sixteen years to get plastic pollution firmly onto Track One.  1970 – 2017 is most of a lifetime of wasted opportunity, leaving us with a truly monumental problem.

So as there were signs that plastic posed a pollution threat early on, how did plastic proliferation evade control from the 1960s until the present day?   One significant reason is the psychological status that was conferred on plastic on Track One, through decades of everyday use.   Intuitive System 1 thinking means that we take-for-granted and mainly just don’t notice what is normal and repeated, and interpret new information through what we ‘already know is true’.  Plastic, became framed as a benign, helpful, modern convenience (cheap and disposable).  This was promoted by the plastics industry even before it was actually true (early plastic items were quite durable and relatively expensive).

The ‘throwaway’ appeal of plastic celebrated in LIFE magazine in 1955.

So, as noted in the previous blog, the more we saw others using plastic (social proof), the more we used it; and the more we used it, the more we accepted it (the consistency heuristic): behaviour rationalised as opinion.

It became ‘common sense’ and ‘inevitable’ that we ‘rely’ on plastic.  Anything which did not fit with that frame had a hard time being taken seriously.  So ingrained is this idea, that even science groups generating evidence to the contrary, have often accepted it as a starting point.  In the Royal Society’s 2009 ‘Theme Issue’ Plastics, the environment and human health, which was mainly devoted to the problems created by plastic, the very first ‘scientific’ article stated:

‘Any future scenario where plastics do not play an increasingly important role in human life [therefore] seems unrealistic’.

In the early 1990s I remember hearing a very senior UK government climate expert saying something similar about fossil fuels:  ‘no government would ever close a coal-fired power station to meet climate commitments’.  I doubt he’d really thought about it, rather asked by a journalist if that’s what was needed, it just seemed ‘unrealistic’ to imagine it.

Plastic has had some highly effective advocates in the shape of the PR and advertising industries.  They made sure that mass use of plastic was helped on its way by judicious promotion to hit all the Motivational Values ‘hot button’s: from being safe, to fashionable, to planet-saving (eg it’s lighter than glass so transporting plastics drinks bottles creates less climate changing emissions).  Here are a few examples of how the industry has covered off the three values groups of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers:

Plastics make you safe.  Settler messages from industry group ‘Plastics Make it Possible’: safety slides and life saving heroes using plastic.

Plastic is fashionable.  Prospector messaging. Vintage 1960s when vinyl became fashionable (for the first time).

Plastics Save the Planet. Slide from a 2015 Plastics Europe strategy workshop.  Their main concern (centre) was regulation against endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals but bottom right you have two public communications objectives, one (saving energy, less CO2) aimed at climate-concerned Pioneers.  ‘The Wonder Material’ is what the industry has been claiming since the 1950s and is now probably evidence of self-delusion.

Rethinking Plastic

There’s a small group (which I’ve done a bit of work for) called ‘Rethink Plastic’ and that’s exactly what needs to happen.

Plastic communication strategy needs more than a bit of an overhaul.  For example if scientists governments, the UN, EU and campaign groups working against plastic pollution want to make rapid and effective progress, they have to stop using the ‘litter’ frame for plastic, and start thinking of it as inherently dangerous stuff, and acting and communicating accordingly.

Perhaps more challenging, the reality is that ‘recycling’ and conventional waste strategies are not only incapable of taking plastic out of circulation to the point where plastic pollution actually declines and stops, but they, like ‘litter’ framed beach cleans, have been heavily co-opted by the plastics industry, whose simple objective is to maintain the flow of plastic production.

I’ll return to this in a following post but now that plastic pollution has finally become a public issue, the immediate risk is that it is kicked into the ‘political long grass’ of Track Two, with detailed and lengthy ‘studies’ and ‘commissions’ on how to rejig the ‘recycling system’ and if politicians succumb to the entreaties of the plastics industry for time to come up with ‘innovations’, which will inevitably be reformulations of their polymers.

To begin with, we need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, both on issues like climate change, and in the history of plastic pollution itself.

1970: Plastic Momentarily Gets Onto Track One

Just as the mass production of plastic was really taking off, there was a moment where plastic in the ‘wrong place’ hit the headlines with the help explorer Thor Heyerdahl, of Kon Tiki fame.

In 1969, Heyerdahl had set out on a papyrus boat Ra I to try and show that ancient people could have made it across the Atlantic from Africa to the Americas.  He almost succeeded before having to abandon the voyage.  On the way he had signs of noticed pollution, and arranged to make observations send a report to the UN, on his second attempt a year later.  That came at a moment when the world was sensitized to news of environmental pollution, as the first ‘Earth Day was to be held in April 1970.

Earth Day 1970 – http://www.lincolnandrose.com/home/photos-first-earth-day-1970

Earth Day 1970, regarded by many as the inception of ‘the modern’ environmental movement, took place on April 22nd 1970. It featured ‘teach-in’s’ across the US and a rally in New York, along with demonstrations, speeches, protests and the start of the great environmentalist bombardment of ‘the general public’ with ‘facts’ (the start of a long-running attempt to change people on Track One with System 2 thinking). 

Earth Day 1970 AP Photo

On 8th July 1970, after traveling some 6,100km across the Atlantic (some of it backwards as he was relying on intuition and experiment rather than knowledge of how to steer such a craft), Heyerdahl made it to Barbados.  Not surprisingly, this feat created a lot of public interest but so did the revelation that he had found signs of industrial pollution far out in the ocean.

May 1970 Heyerdahl’s papyrus boat Ra II proves the ancients could have crossed the Atlantic, and shocked the world with reports of mid-ocean pollution.  Signed by the 8 crew members. https://www.bajanthings.com/the-ra-expeditions-thor-heyerdahl/

Heyerdahl’s reports of nylon and other plastic containers in the ‘unspoilt’ mid ocean, along with many clots of oil, momentarily captured mainstream attention.  He recollected : 

‘we had hardly been to sea three days before we discovered that we were in something like a city sewer—and yet we were 100 miles or more from land … we saw plastic containers, nylon bags, empty bottles, all sorts of refuse’

But it seems he took no pictures of plastic and he counted the sightings of oil: “I decided to make a day-by-day survey, dipping down with a dipper and taking samples of the oil clots. We found oil clots on 43 days of the 57”.

Heyerdahl’s report to the United Nations spurred action on oil, which was already framed as ‘pollution’ but plastic pollution receded from view.   While far from the only factor, Heyerdahl’s oil report probably gained more political traction because he put numbers to the oil.  That complied with the dictum attributed to management guru Peter Drucker: “what gets measured, gets done”.

From the Kon-Tiki museum in Norway

Most of all, oil looked like pollution was expected to look.  Plastic didn’t, and in the following decades, a succession of  oil-spill disasters such as Exxon Valdeez (1989) kept oil in the ‘public eye’ and on the monitor-and-manage agenda of institutions tasked with pollution control.

Sea Otters oiled by the Exxon Valdeez in 1989.  After the spill Exxon kept the ship but changed the name.  After being resold more than once it was scrapped under the name Oriental Nicety in 2012.

For politicians, quantifying oil also helped resolve their constant need to prioritise: let’s ‘do something’ about the ‘biggest’ (and also most soluble) problem.

There’s not much to be gained by dwelling on might-have-beens but we can imagine that if Heyerdahl’s report to the UN had led to a surveys to check on plastic at sea elsewhere, and some examination of the emerging science, things might have turned out differently.

As it was, although by 1970, plastic was already starting to lose its sheen as a ‘wonder material’ and symbol of modernity (most famously captured in Dustin Hoffman’s encounter with Mr McGuire “there’s a great future in plastics” in the 1968 movie The Graduate), plastic was already established as a mainstream opportunity.

“A great future in plastics” – and there was.

Growth of plastics. From one of the best recent assessments of the problem is Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant  by Boris Worm, Heike K. Lotze, Isabelle Jubinville, Chris Wilcox, and Jenna Jambeck (2017)

Plastic as a pollutant was probably still counter-intuitive to many in the early 1970s. In 1974, W C Fergusson, a member of the Council of the British Plastics Federation and a Fellow of the Plastics Institute, probably felt confident when he stated:

‘‘plastics litter is a very small proportion of all litter and causes no harm to the environment except as an eyesore”. 

The Ladybird ‘Achievements’ Book on plastics, aimed at children

In 1972, the authors of the Ladybird Story of Plastics, painted an unremittingly positive picture, and openly acknowledged ‘the co-operation of ICI Plastics Division and the Plastics Institute Information Sub-committee in preparing this work’.

Plastic Gets Overlooked

In the 1970s and 1980s a succession of other pollution ‘issues’ broke onto Track One because they had the necessary qualities to be processed intuitively: CFCs for example, connected the personal, such as hairspray, to the well-being of our planet.  Discovered in 1985, the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica  looked like we’d holed the roof of the planet.  It led to an unusually fast-track response.

Hole in the ozone layer 1995-2004 at the bottom of the planet – slowly healing thanks to a 1987 restriction on pollution from CFCs and other ozone depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol

In the 1980s, ‘acid rain’ air pollution produced significant political action led by Germany when forests started dying, and private forest owners sided with the Greens, threatening the government.  Waldsterben or forest-decline, produced dramatic pictures and dead trees from iconic forests were carried into the German Parliament.   Germany led Europe into embracing the catalytic converter for cars and stricter new emission rules.

Acid rain’: dead trees in Germany, 1980s

By this time plastic production was galloping ahead and almost none of it was getting re-used. In 1991 Germany was alone in introducing a law (attached to the Green Dot scheme) extending responsibility for recovery of plastic and other packaging to the producer.  Britain had just one plastics recycling officer at that time.  In most countries plastic got dumped but it was regarded as an unsightly nuisance, awful to look at but harmless.

‘Next time try recycling’: message from Greenpeace, 1987

‘Waste’ made a rare appearance in the international media in 1987, when the Mobro 4000 with 3,000 tonnes of New York waste became a real-life ‘Flying Dutchman’ and ‘the world’s most famous barge’.

Towed by the romantically named tug the Break of Dawn under captain Duffy St Pierre, it was originally destined for a North Carolina landfill but after 112 days and 5,000 miles, it ended up back in New York, having being turned away by ports from Louisiana to Texas, Florida and Belize.   One account noted that:  ‘authorities in Mexico and Cuba threatened to fire artillery at the barge if it tried to dock’.

This episode caused the number of US cities with ‘curbside recycling’ collections to increase from 600 to 10,000 but even today, only 9% of US plastic packaging is ‘recycled’.  (The barge of waste was eventually burnt in a Brooklyn incinerator).  The take-away lesson that lodged in the public consciousness was that ‘recycling’ was the answer to ‘getting rid of’ waste.

Then in 1988, the ‘world discovered’ climate change. On a sweltering 23rd June, Jim Hansen of NASA told the Senate in Washington DC that it was ‘99% certain’ climate change was real, adding in case they didn’t get it, that “it’s time to stop waffling so much and say the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here”. An international climate conference was about to get underway in Toronto and press and politicians rang the alarm on climate change.

US Presidential Candidate G W Bush declared that if he elected he would ‘deal with’ climate change.  He didn’t but the UN set up the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).  It all sent a signal loud enough and authoritative to take hold in Track One: something must be done about climate and especially, ‘carbon’.

In the cosmology of the pollution apocalypse climate change took over as threat no.1, and there it has remained.  It was not the only reason that plastic got eclipsed but responding to the climate threat sucked the air from many other pollution problems, a number of which such as Persistent Organic Pollutants, themselves pose an existential threat to us, and much other life on earth.

1970 – 2000: Plastic’s Long Sojourn on Track Two

Out of sight and out of mind to almost everyone except esoteric networks of marine biologists and oceanographers, the ‘plastics issue’ never really went away, and even pre-dates Ra II.   It just stayed in the slow, carefully studied world of Track Two, invisible to almost everyone, and largely ignored by big-science, campaigners, politicians and the media alike.

Plastic Pollution Research:  A Track Two Timeline   [Ryan and other sources]

  • 1960 New Zealand: stranded Prions (seabirds) found to have ingested plastic
  • 1962 Newfoundland: Leach’s Storm Petrels found to have ingested plastic
  • 1966 Midway Island: 74 of 100 dead Laysann Albatross chicks have plastic in their stomachs
  • 1968 South Africa: plastic pellets found in young loggerhead turtles
  • 1969 Atlantic:  Puffins with balls of plastic thread filling their gizzards
  • 1969 California: a mass death of sea-living red phalarope; plastic is found in all 20 birds examined
  • 1970: South Africa: plastic sheet blocks intestine of a Leather Back Turtle
  • 1971 North Sea: in ‘Pollution by synthetic fibres’  Buchanan finds up to 100,000 fibres /m3 of seawater & larger fragments in plankton samples in “embarrassing proportions”.
  • 1971 Sargasso Sea: Carpenter and Smith find 3500 plastic particles km2, “accumulating in the North Atlantic gyre* for some time”. Suggest such particles could become a significant problem if plastic production continues, and could carry toxics such as plasticisers, PCBs into food chain
  • 1971 Long Island New York: ‘food’ regurgitated by terns for their young, contains plastic, showing it moves up the food chain
  • 1972 New England: Carpenter finds up to 14 plastic pellets (nurdles) /m3 of seawater, and 14 species of fish eating plastic
  • 1973, 1974, 1976: UK studies find three fish species eating plastic & up to 30 pieces in Flounders
  • 1975 Skagerrak the Baltic: Holmström reports Swedish fishermen “almost invariably” catch plastic sheets [packaging] in their trawls, showing that plastic reached the seabed.
  • 1975: a New Zealand fur seal is seen to be entangled in plastic, elsewhere sharks are entangled
  • 1974 Hawaii: plastic ‘pellets’ in the gyre  found to outnumber tar balls from oil, with up to 34,000 pellets /km2
  • 1975 Baltic: Holmström shows encrusting sealife can weigh down plastic, carrying it into the depths
  • 1977 North Sea: plastic bottles found to travel over 100km/week, some reaching Germany and Denmark from the UK in 3-6 weeks
  • 1980s Mediterranean, more than 100,000 items of plastic /km2 on the seabed of the Mediterranean, and floating plastic particles and pellets recorded across the Pacific.
  • 1980 Alaska: Day shows that plastics affects an entire ecological community. Of 2000 birds from 37 species studied in 1969 -1977, plastic is found in 40 % of species and 23 % of individuals.
  • 1983 South Atlantic: Furness finds over 90% of Great Shearwaters contain plastic, one with 78 pieces in its gut
  • 1984 Honolulu: first Workshop on the Fate and Impact of Marine Debris takes place attended by 125 people from eight countries, discusses plastic ingestion, entanglement
  • 1985: Wallace estimates 100,000 marine mammals die a year from plastic ingestion or entanglement in the North Pacific Ocean alone
  • 1986: California: Sixth International Ocean Disposal Symposium focuses on dumping of plastic at sea
  • 1986 Alaska: Day, Clausen and Ignell find an accumulation of small plastic particles in the N Pacific gyre
  • 1987 Southern Oceans: Ryan shows 40-60% of seabirds are ingesting plastic
  • 1987 Florida: Azzarello and Van Vleet collate dozens of studies showing choking, reproductive failure, starvation, weight-loss and death of seabirds due to plastic. These ‘profound effects on birds’, are down to ‘industrial and user-plastics composed of polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene, styrofoam, and polyvinyl chloride’, the ‘most prevalent forms of plastic marine pollution’
  • 1987: Gregory infers that beached plastic degrades more rapidly than seaborne plastic, due to sunlight
  • 1989 Honolulu: Second International Conference on Marine Debris with 170 delegates from 10 countries, discusses ‘tackling the problem … solutionsthrough technology, law and policy, and education, as well as the first estimatesof the economic costs of marine litter’
  • 1993: Ryan and Moloney publish Marine litter keeps increasing in Nature
  • 1994 Miami: Third International Conference onMarine Debris: the report includes 10 chapters on land based sources of plastic
  • 1997 Coe and Rogers editMarine debris: sources, impacts, and solutions, a 432 page book

* gyre: ocean area where current circulation concentrates floating debris

Despite this research and more like it,  right up to the 1990s most books on ‘pollution issues’, hardly mentioned plastic [1].  Even in 2001 when the European Environment Agency published Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896–2000 , specifically about such slow-burn unforeseen problems, plastics was mentioned just once in over 200 pages, and that only as a carrier for CFCs in styrofoam.  [Nor does it feature among the dozens of problems described in the 764 page 2013 follow-up volume except for as a carrier for toxic additives such as BPA, mercury and PCE.  By then, science was in fact catching up with the problem but much of the policy machinery had not caught up with the science].


1997 – 2001: Charles Moore Resurfaces Plastic Pollution

It took sailor Charles Moore, to put plastic pollution on the world’s mental map, and onto Track One.  When Moore’s findings captured public attention, that in turn spurred greater research activity, and led to Track Two science activity being imported onto Track One by the media.

Charles Moore with samples of microplastic – from http://www.captain-charles-moore.org/about/

Moore was not thinking about plastic when he crossed the North Pacific Gyre in 1997. He was on his way back to California, after taking part in the TransPac ocean race, undertaken to test a new mast on his sailing boat.

Moving slowly across the sea, he began to notice small bits of drifting plastic such as ‘shards’, bottle tops and bits of plastic rope.  He later recalled for Lucy Barnes of BBC Witness (2013) that at first:

“it was just these bits and pieces of stuff there that seemed out of place … I don’t know the time of the first realisation that something was wrong out there.  It’s more a cumulative effect. This is not an ‘aha’ moment, this is not a ‘eureka’ type of event, it’s more a gradual awakening to the fact that something is amiss”.

Seeing as the plastic caused no hazard to the boat, Moore didn’t mention it in his ship’s log but he started checking for the plastic.

I said to myself that as I came out on the deck and surveyed the horizon ‘this time that I bet I can stay here for a few minutes and I won’t see any detritus floating by but I would always lose that bet”

“I did a kind of on the napkin calculation of a half a pound per hundred square metres and it turned out to rival you know the years deposition in the Puente Hills landfill which is the largest landfill of trash in California”

Once home, Moore started talking about what he’s seen and got some System 2 back up for his discovery by contacting oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer with some of the flotsam used to track ocean currents   By Rick Rickman – http://vos.noaa.gov/MWL/dec2001.pdf, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3675306

An expert on flotsam, Ebbesmeyer was already known to the media for his studies of how plastic ducks and Nike running shoes had made their way around the oceans after being spilt from ships in the 1990s.  Moore sent Ebbesmeyer some plastic ‘chips’ obtained from the coastguard,  to check they had not come from a passing barge.  Ebbesmeyer decided they had come from many different sources.  In Moore’s words: Ebbesmeyer thought “it was such that a one-liter bottle could put enough plastic pieces in the ocean to put one on every square mile of beach in the entire world. He said he thought this stuff was not coming from a barge but was getting spit out from this gyre that was accumulating it”.

Armed with advice from Ebbesmeyer, a scientific sampling protocol, special nets and some scientists, Moore went back in 1999 and undertook a systematic survey.  The most striking finding was that by weight, their ultra-fine trawl nets captured six times more plastic than plankton.

“We were just absolutely shocked” Moore told Barnes. “It was an explosive discovery that changed the direction of my career, it changed the focus of our marine research institute and has generated now a whole new body of research.  Papers are coming out every day now by scientists around the world looking at the consequences of this detritus, which turns out is not confined to these gyres at all but just part of the world ocean”

Oceanographers, indeed even Jules Verne, had long known about oceanic gyres.  Unknown to Moore, Alaska-based scientist Bob Day had already plastic in the gyre but Moore was the first to publicise the fact that the plastic was collecting in huge amounts of mostly small fragments in mid ocean.

Charles Moore of the Agalita Foundation, set up with his own money

Most of all Moore had a story that was interesting, shocking, easy to understand and which he told in the popular media.  Like the hole in the ozone layer within an atmospheric vortex, the oceanic gyres formed vortexes which could be visualised on a world map: pollution this big simply looked big. The Pacific ‘patch’ was as big as Portugal, Spain and France combined.

Moore told the BBC:

“You can sit and observe the albatross on midway island regurgitating coathangers into the baby chick, or cigarette lighters or bottle caps, when you can actually observe the tragedy of being fed rubbish.  And then when you see the quantities of plastic inside these baby birds that never get to fledge, never make it off the island, that die with a full stomach”

“Whales are washing up dead full of plastic, even whales that feed on plankton and whales like the grey whales that feed on the mud at the bottom of the ocean are washing up with golf-balls and surgical gloves in their stomachs.  Every trophic level, meaning every feeding stage in the ocean in the food pyramid  is being affected by this polluted plastic”.

… maybe we don’t have a plastic island now out there but if we keep putting it in and it doesn’t go away, we will have the surface of the planet covered in plastic.”

Laysan Albatross with plastic on Midway Island- http://ocean.si.edu/slideshow/laysan-albatrosses%E2%80%99-plastic-problem

The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch or North Pacific Gyre (top left) described by The Independent newspaper as ‘the world’s rubbish dump: a tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan’.

Like Heyerdahl, Moore gave the media a personality.  This was ‘System 1’ communication: vivid, easy to pass on, intuitive to grasp, hard to ignore.  Plus they gave it names: Ebbesmeyer coined the term ‘Eastern (Pacific) Garbage Patch’, and Moore the term ‘plastic soup’.

The Independent reported that Ebbesmeyer ‘compares the trash vortex to a living entity: “It moves around like a big animal without a leash.” When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. “The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic”’

Moore has been back to sea many times. In 2009 he told Earth Island Institute “We went back last year and found 46-to-1 plastic to plankton … every decade, it’s getting close to 10 times worse”.

In the world of science, Moore’s discovery started making real waves in 2001 with the publication of a paper of which he was lead author: A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre.

Not everyone was convinced that plastic posed a real and systematic ecological threat.  Scientists were aware that there was still a lot to find out and some were inclined to discount any claims from ‘campaigners’.  As late as 2011 when Moore and Cassandra Phillips published a book called Plastic Ocean, Bob Holmes a reviewer for New Scientist magazine,  quoted Moore:

“I wasn’t the first to be disturbed about plastic trash in the ocean, and I wasn’t the first to study it … but maybe I was the first to freak out about it.”

‘Many readers’ wrote Holmes, ‘especially New Scientist readers – are likely to find Moore unpersuasive … the biggest problem is that Plastic Ocean comes across as a bit of a rant’. (I thought it was a pretty good book).

The Microplastic Threat Multiplier

For scientists, the threat posed by plastic pollution underwent a step change with confirmation that microplastic fragments were widespread, and were being eaten by living things at the base of the food chain, and had increased over decades.

In 2004 UK researchers led by R C Thompson from Plymouth University published a paper  Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic?  which analysed microplastic on beaches, estuaries and sediments, and stored samples from Atlantic plankton surveys stretching back to the 1960s.  This ‘time series’ was equivalent to the climate pollution record of gases trapped in ice-cores, in that it showed how the problem had changed over time, alongside increasing plastic production.

Increase in plastic in plankton, and plastic microfibre production, from Thompson et al, Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic ? Science,  June 2004, DOI: 10.1126/science.1094559

One third of all the very small ‘micro’ scale particles they analysed were plastic polymers including such familiar names as acrylic, propylene, nylon, polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene.  While some microplastics were granular, most were brightly coloured fibres.

Their next step was to keep three types of small marine life in aquaria containing some microplastic as well as natural food. They found ‘all three species ingested plastics within a few days’.

A 2009 review of marine plastic debris by David Barnes of British Antarctic Survey pointed out that away from surface sunlight or when covered in marine life, many plastics break down very slowly.  This was illustrated by accounts ‘that plastic swallowed by an albatross had originated from a plane shot down 60 years previously some 9600 km away’. In deep ocean waters plastic is thought to have a life of hundreds of thousands of years.  Barnes noted that ‘plastics comprise 50–80% of the waste stranded on beaches, floating on the ocean surface and on the seabed’, and ‘the abundance and global distribution of micro-plastic fragments have increased over the last few decades’.

In 2011 Mark Browne and colleagues published Accumulation of microplastic on shorelines worldwide: sources and sinks showing global pollution by microfibres from textiles such as polyester, nylon and acrylic, coming from washing machines, drains and sewers.  Washing machines could become the ‘hairspray’ of microplastic pollution: a source of global pollution in the home, and gadgets to stop that could become the ‘catalytic converters’ of the issue (more at this previous blog).

In the next year or so, microfibres were found in tap- water (including in Trump Towers and the US EPA), in edible fish, salt, beer, honey and other foods, as well as in houses and falling from the air over cities.  One researcher calculated that someone fond of mussels might consume up to 11,000 plastic microfibres a year.  The two largest microfibre sources are from clothes and wear of car tyres, as well as road markings.

In 2014 Marcus Eriksen, a co-worker of Charles Moore, headed a team who made the first ‘global estimate’ of floating marine plastic: Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea.  This combined the results of 24 voyages to sample plastic in the upper two metres of seas around the world, from 2007-13.

‘Five trillion pieces of plastic’ caught the attention of news media and showed the mind-numbing difficulty of any retrieval operation but it only represented 0.1% of world annual plastic production.  There was far less floating microplastic at the surface than expected, perhaps meaning that the huge majority was sunk well below the waves, in the water column or on the bottom, and so even harder to get back, or even more worrying, being cycled around the food-web inside living creatures.

Eriksen and colleagues pointed out that ‘many recent studies also demonstrate that many more organisms ingest small plastic particles than previously thought, either directly or indirectly, i.e. via their prey organisms’, and ‘there is ‘increasing evidence that some microbes can biodegrade microplastic particles’, leading to yet smaller plastics entering marine food chains nanoplastic.  Subsequent studies have confirmed that even the 0.33mm sieves used by Eriksen are indeed too large to catch the smallest particles.

In short, although it is an excellent idea to remove what plastic can be caught in the ocean gyres, like beach-cleaning, this leaves the vast majority of plastic pollution unaccounted for, and as it gets progressively mingled up with sediments along coasts and in deep waters, and gets into the bodies of wildlife and people, and into soil and freshwater systems, the problem becomes ever harder to tackle.

5.25 trillion pieces of plastic is ‘720 items for every person alive today’ but a more recent, a follow-up study arrived at an even larger estimate of 15 – 51 trillion particles floating in the oceans in 2014.

Recognizing A Different Type of Threat

Put these findings together, and plastic poses a threat far worse than ‘just’ entanglement or choking wildlife, or in Track Two jargon, it’s a completely different class of risk from say, ‘litter’.

The discovery that plastic goes on breaking down into smaller and smaller fragments, rather than ‘actually going away’, makes it long-lived and extremely hard to detect, let alone retrieve with current technologies.

On top of this, as with climate-changing gases, there is a future ‘commitment effect’ from the many millions of tonnes of plastic already in the environment and the damage it can do may increase as it breaks up.

Plastic is also known to pose a health-hazard to humans, mammals, fish and invertebrates because being made from oil, it attracts and concentrates pollutants insoluble in water, such as PCBs, long-lived insecticides, flame-retardants and other industrial pollutants. In 2001 Hideshige Takada and colleagues showed these can be concentrated a million-fold on the surface of ocean plastic particles.   Such chemicals are implicated in the ill-health and reproductive failure of top-predator mammals like killer whales.

Long lived PCBs are long-banned highly toxic chemicals but still circulating in the environment.  Through ‘International Pellet Watch’ Takada works with volunteers collecting plastic pellets from beaches, to map how much pollution is ‘sponged up’ by plastic particles around the world.  From Microplastics and the Threat to Our Seafood , Hideshige Takada 2013

As if that isn’t enough, plastics release their own cocktail of chemicals, partly by ‘outgassing’ from the day they are made (such as ‘new car smell’ and the smell of plastic printing inks), and partly as their polymers degrade and let go of single-chemical monomers like ethylene and styrene.  Some of these are toxic, along with dozens of different additive chemicals used to make plastic hard, soft, heat resistant, colourful, resistant to sunlight and other things.  Many of these ingredients are kept secret under the guise of commercial confidentiality.

The full implications of breathing, drinking and eating plastic pollution are not yet known:  science hasn’t had the resources or time to find out but they are unlikely to be positive.

For scientists and policy makers subscribing to the Precautionary Principle (a very Track Two concept enshrined in EU law), or in ‘common sense’ Track One terms (‘when in a hole, first stop digging’ or ‘better safe than sorry’), this means one thing: first stop making the problem any worse.

Calls From Scientists

With many parallels to the early history of the current climate change issue, there have been an unusual number of calls from scientists global action on plastic.  Some of these have even reached beyond the confines of scientific journals on Track Two.

In 2013 the journal Nature carried a call from ten researchers to reclassify plastics as hazardous waste, saying ‘policies for managing plastic debris are outdated and threaten the health of people and wildlife’.

In 2017 four scientists from Canada, Australia,  and the US called for ‘a Global Convention on Plastic Pollution’ in the face of ‘the unfolding plastic pollution crisis’.   Plastic, they said, is a persistent organic pollutant, akin to the toxic PCBs and pesticides covered by the Stockholm Convention on POPs or Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Also in 2017 Stephanie Borrelle from New Zealand and six others from Norway, Canada and the UK, proposed ‘an international agreement with measurable reduction targets to lessen the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans’, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US.

They warned:

‘…  international plastic pollution agreements are now where climate change agreements were in 1992, when the UN … formally recognized the climate change problem and simply encouraged voluntary, undefined support. If policies for plastic pollution maintain the same pace as international carbon emissions deliberations … an effective agreement may not happen until after 2040. By this time, emissions of plastic into the ocean are predicted to increase by an order of magnitude …  To avoid waiting 25 years for an international plastics agreement with reduction targets, reporting, and signatories … the scale and pace of solutions must match the scale and pace of emissions’.

‘Plastic pollution’ they noted, ‘has received little attention in terms of international agreements—a notable contrast to carbon emissions and other global pollutants, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)’.

Putting Plastic Back in Pandora’s Box

In February 2017 UN Environment ‘Declared War on Ocean Plastic’.  Erik Solheim, Head of the agency said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. … We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”

Plastic now poses a hideous problem for politicians and regulators.  Vast quantities are abroad in the environment, and all of it turns out to be hazardous as it breaks into ever smaller particles.  Nobody knows how to get it all back.  Recycling has not contained it and existing recover, re-cycle and remanufacture practices do not make it go away (more in the next blog).   Governments are not yet thinking about containing production, and only just beginning to restrict the most non-essential uses.

Back in 1999 the German Advisory Council on Global Change recognized different classes of risk problem (since refined) and gave them Greek-God names like Medusa, Cassandra and Damocles.

They assessed environmental risk against eight criteria: Probability of occurrenceExtent of damage, Certainty of assessment, Ubiquity, Persistency, Reversibility, Delay effect and Potential of mobilisation (political relevance).  Plastics ‘ticks many of these boxes’ and has finally checked off the last one.

Plastic crosses the boundaries but it comes closest to the type of threat termed ‘Pandora’s Box’.

Here’s the description of risk type Pandora’s Box:

Risk class ‘Pandora’s box’:  The old Greeks explained many evils and complaints with the myth of Pandora’s box – a box which was sent to the beautiful Pandora by the king of the gods Zeus.  It only contained many evils and complaints.  As long as the evils and complaints stayed in the box, no damage at all had to be feared. However, when the box was opened, all evils and complaints were released which then irreversibly, persistently and ubiquitously struck the earth.  This risk class is characterised by both uncertainty in the criteria probability of occurrence and extent of damage (only presumptions) and high persistency. Here, persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disruptors can be quoted as examples.


A Plastic Gift Box

If plastic was sent to test us, the gods have succeeded.

[1] ‘Plastic’ did even not appear in the indexes Colin Moorcrafts’ Must The Seas Die ? (1972), or K A Gourlay’s Poisoners of the Seas (1988) or The Ocean our Future (1998), the Report of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans.  I take my share of the blame: my own book, The Dirty Man of Europe published in 1990, made just two references to plastic, both about recycling

In a Future Post: What to do About The Plastic Crisis

Psychology played a role in getting us here, what does it now mean for the design of campaigns and policies to curb the problem

  • How does plastic need to be re-framed?
  • The visual language of the plastics problem and solution: are beach cleans and recycling now themselves part of the crisis?
  • Why does the plastics industry promote beach cleans and recycling, and what real difference can they make?
  • Can scientists and NGOs be persuaded to stop talking about “litter”?
  • Are scientific experts on plastic pollution the right people to lead communications on getting rid of it?
  • What strategy lessons can be learnt from past pollution crises so we can get on the fast track?
  • What should governments do and what should be left to the market?
  • What role for lifestyle campaigns?


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A Two-Track Tool For Issues Development and Campaign Design

   (download this blog as a pdf here)

Campaigners will be very aware that not many people spend much of their time bothering about “issues”.  For most people, most of the time, what bothers and pre-occupies campaigners, ‘policy wonks’, political nerds and political scientists, is of little interest to the ‘mainstream’.  Some campaign organisations use distinctions like ‘elite’ audiences, often meaning those ‘already in the know’ about the issue, as opposed to ‘public audiences’.  And some will have experienced the quixotic way in which, once ‘an issue breaks into the mainstream’, it ceases to become ‘an issue’ (contested, argued about) and becomes ‘normal’, at which point most of us assume we always knew about it.

I’ve been looking at how the ‘plastics issue’ seems to have ‘suddenly’ emerged ‘as if from nowhere’.  It’s obviously an ‘environmental’ or ‘sustainability’ issue yet until very recently it’s been a hyper-specialised interest, even for most sustainability professionals.  My last blog featured two new products people can use to stop microplastic (microfibres) draining from their washing machines and getting into drains, sewers, and the sea, where it then enters the food-chain.  I showed one of these products, the ‘Guppyfriend’ wash bag being promoted by clothing company Patagonia, to a room full of such professionals on a Cambridge University Masters Course, as an example of an innovation which Pioneers were taking up and Prospectors and Settlers could be expected to follow, (in this case I guess, quickly).  I asked for a ‘hands up’: “has anybody heard of it?”  Nobody had.  Microplastic wasn’t on their radar: it wasn’t in their particular issues silo (though I did notice some people writing it down).

Above: the spread-of-behaviours example slide from a presentation to CISL courses in November 2017.  Illustrates how new behaviours start in Pioneers and if they spread to become ‘normal’ are next adopted by Prospectors and then Settlers (values groups dynamic).  Solar pv/thermal has got ‘all the way round’, the trend for ‘upcycling’ clothes is now adopted by Pioneers and Prospectors, and ‘going plastic free’ is just starting out.  It’s also an example of an issue breaking from obscurity on Track Two and appearing in Track One, in this case manifest in a new behaviour of buying a washing bag to trap plastic fibres.  (For other going-plastic-free examples see here).  A product converts the complex issue into a much simpler choice, enabling participation on Track One terms.

My next blog looks in more detail at the way plastics pollution nearly became a big thing (Track One) almost fifty years ago, then languished in obscurity for thirty years (Track Two), before finally surfacing like a fully-formed whale, gradually breaking from the waves (onto Track One).

This blog proposes a way of thinking about issues in terms of two tracks, which may be applied to any issue.

Here’s one visualisation of the Two Tracks.

Track Two is defined by careful, often painstaking, deliberate thinking and is obscure to those not involved.  It’s also not a single track but more a network of tracks or city of connected communities, many obscure to each other.  The development of ideas and new behaviours on that track is slow because it depends on analysis, which reveals complexity. Track Two has a potentially infinite ‘bandwidth’ but no human has the ‘Renaissance’ capacity to grasp it all.   A working assumption at almost every point on Track Two is that “there is more to this than meets the eye”.  Track Two is the natural home and breeding ground of ‘issues’.

Track One is where things can move much faster.  Thinking and decision-making here is dominated by unconscious intuition.  Behaviour does not have to wait for analysis but is powered by framing, heuristics and values.  Track One is mainstream life, and it has far less capacity for complexity than Track Two.  Track One errs to simplification.  Anything too complicated won’t to get onto Track One, and anything which becomes too complicated may get diverted off.   Track One works on the basis “What You See Is All There Is”.

Issues can persist on Track Two almost indefinitely but they will not change the mainstream.  Issues gaining promotion to Track One, tend get quickly resolved in Track One terms (ie perceived to be resolved), even if those familiar with them on Track Two, see unfinished business.

The business of campaigns, for otherwise they would generally not be needed, is to get an issue onto Track One, and to do that, they need to be designed in ‘Track One’ terms.  This means campaigners need to understand how Track One works (itself a Track Two task), and planners face the often unpopular task of taking some of the ‘issue’ as perceived in its full complex glory on Track Two, and finding a way to drive just a bit of it onto Track One, in a way that will produce a useful result.  That is campaign strategy.

A Recap: Two Speed Thinking

Many readers will recognize that the key difference between Track One and Two is the decision-making divide identified by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Above: Kahneman’s System 1 left, and System 2 right.

Kahneman and Tversky famously showed that we have two modes of thinking: System 1 is the ‘intuitive’ easy, reflexive, unconscious autopilot which constantly offers us instant answers that we usually accept.  System 2 is the laborious, analytical, reflective process, in which we ‘really think about’ whatever ‘it’ is.  System 1 is dominant, shaping the vast majority of our daily decisions, and when confronted by a need to be analytical, if there’s an easier System 1 option on offer, we usually take it. Kahneman calls this ‘substitution’ of System 1 for System 2 and the forms that takes are known as ‘heuristics’ or ‘rules of thumb’, or in posher language, cognitive biases.

Above: how substitution works in particular ways which generate testable ‘heuristics’ as studied by Kahneman and other psychologists

Evolutionary history has provided us with the basic neural wiring of System 1, acting in Kahneman’s words, as a ‘system for jumping to conclusions’.  This is why I always try to convince anyone whose project needs to ‘fly’ with anyone outside their specialist community (where System 2 is probably in use), that their communications need to work in System 1 terms.  That means using the systematic tools of the unconscious mind, such as Framing, Heuristics and Motivational Values.  If a call to action, problem or solution first requires public explanation, it will probably struggle.

An Example

Below is a slide from a campaign planning presentation for WWF, which is suitably vintage (2003) and so gives nothing away.  It proposes reframing an ‘issue’ (hormone-disrupting chemicals affecting health) from being ‘about science’, very System 2, to being about the world of consumer goods and consumer choice (operating on well understood System 1 rules).  In the terms of this blog, it amounts to shifting (the public part of) the campaign from Track Two to Track One.

In 2003 the WWF toxics campaign was operating in the frame (left) of ‘science’ and bogged down by industry gaming of the science process.  This proposed shifting to a faster track (consumer choice) with different ‘rules’, to get a better outcome.

Shopping, it need hardly be said, operates almost entirely on a System 1 basis, and that’s how advertisers and retailers want to keep it.  In this case, shifting from Track Two to Track one involved changing the context or ‘battlefield’ and thus the actors involved, as well as the proposition (and visuals, engagement and storytelling opportunities etc – see more on this example in my book How to Win Campaigns, Appendix Two).

Not Just Individuals

As cognitive psychologists, the work of Kahneman and Tversky was on the individual human mind.  Their ideas were tested and verified with experiments which showed how individuals think.  Consequently most applications of their work have naturally centred on individual behaviours.  For instance in ‘behaviour change’ campaigns, marketing and advertising.

We tend not to conceive of the two ways of making decisions as applying to ‘issues’ or to groups of people, whole societies or institutional systems but it seems to me that these have evolved into two quite distinct domains defined by whether System 1 or 2 is dominant, and that the very functioning of those ways of thinking, acts to keep them largely on separate tracks.

My earlier diagram tries to show the fast Track One as like an elevated urban motorway, running above the largely hidden and far more convoluted Track Two.

In this case I’ve imagined ‘traffic’ (eg of ideas, behaviours) which progresses towards the same destination in both cases but which flows along far more easily on the upper Track One.  Up there, if it passes the requirements for Track One ‘traffic’, it can move smoothly with little social friction.  For something to be flowing along on Track One, it’s normalised and we don’t question it much.

Anything routinely and widely accepted is by definition tootling along on Track One, often being done again and again, with much thought being given to it.  Plastics as something useful and essential got up there in the 1960s if not the 1950s, and has been there ever since, which is why we can now make so of it much without anybody really noticing.   (Plastic production now exceeds the weight of all human beings alive, every year).  That, and the fact that we assume ‘recycling’ makes it ‘ok’.  More on that in the next blog.

Down on Track Two, analysis slows things right down.  The processes of System 2 thinking put more and more information into play.  It has much greater information content than Track One.  But establishing what that information means, is a long and tedious process with many dead ends and ‘traffic lights’.  I’ve just shown a few indicative examples typical of ‘science’ led policy processes but you could do the same thing for development of principles of law, in human rights, or in medicine with its double-blind tests.  Almost every step of the way creates a waiting game, as research and testing or just debate and deliberation takes place.

Governments sometimes aspire to ‘evidence-based’ decision making (Track Two) but ‘politics’ and needs of the moment (Track One) often get in the way.

Up on Track One our behaviours and attitudes are largely untroubled by deliberation.  The requirements for forward motion simply include, getting ‘waved on’ by the System 1 mental traffic cops of Framing, Heuristics and Values (not necessarily in that order).  If something fails those tests, and becomes too confusing or unrewarding or simply has no visibility, it can drop from Track One to Track Two.

Debating the details of any “issue” almost always takes place on Track Two.  Getting any significant change to the issue almost always requires public support, which in order to create political support (aka political space, political appetite or willingness), almost always has to happen on Track One.  So to be successful, campaign design usually needs to project the issue onto Track One.

What defines the difference between Track One and 2 is not information, knowledge, significance or understanding but how communications works.  Track One predominantly works on System 1 intuitive communication.  Track Two works on System 2 analytical communication.

None of us are purely Track One or Track Two people.  These are not tribes but spheres of activity, places we spend time, although some of us spend far more time in One or Two, than others.  Sometimes far too much time, as my partner keeps reminding me.

The ‘Traffic Cops’ Of Track One

Framing involves being recognized as a ‘type’ of thing, a mental frame whose operating terms are used by the brain to give meaning to information.  If information does not fit the frame, the brain discards it and we are not even aware that’s happened.

Not everything on the fast Track One is a desirable positive: dominant ideas about what’s bad are also there, such as ‘pollution’ (never good), and this is why the plastics industry has successfully strived to have plastic debris framed as ‘litter’, and not pollution (see this blog).

The Heuristics traffic cop has a whole Highway Code of rules to deploy, all defined by being accepted by more people than not, such as ‘social proof’, meaning that if most others seem to be doing it, then it’s probably right.  The more we saw others using plastic, the more we used it, and the more we used it, the more we accepted (the consistency heuristic) the ‘fantastic-plastic’ frame that says it’s wonderful and harmless [behaviour>opinion].

Motivational Values work a bit like a vastly more complex combination of heuristics but they boil down to whether or not something feels good or ‘right’ because it helps us meet our particular set of dominant needs.  If I am a Settler, it will feel right if the something ticks a box for safety, security or identity; if a Prospector, it needs to help deliver me esteem of others (eg looking good) or self esteem, and if I’m a Pioneer, it needs to help me innovate, explore new ideas, or be a net benefit in the ‘bigger picture’.

Track Connections

I’ve shown the two tracks as completely isolated from one another but in reality of course this is not true.  Major events which disrupt our behaviours (such as disasters, conflicts) and other things such as unexpected big signals from authority (eg government), from ‘celebrity’ figures and the media, can also promote ‘new issues’ onto the fast track but only if they present in simple, tangible forms that can be processed by System 1.

Most of the time though, the ‘traffic’ from the Track Two world to Track One is information which confirms what is already the conventional wisdom (confirmation bias).  Track One is conservative: it sucks up new information which reinforces the dominant perception but ignores what ‘doesn’t fit’.

System 1 only works on what we already ‘know’ to be true or right.  Amongst it’s many other effects, it always prioritises going on doing what we are already doing (the commitment, consistency heuristics) and used to doing, over diverting to a new behaviour.  The overall result is conservatism:  it’s a domain of instant autopilot decision-making constituting what’s ‘mainstream’ because others are doing it (social proof), and because it’s easier to do so (cognitive ease, requiring least effort).


To remain ‘sane’ functioning human beings, we also compartmentalise life to limit the amount of ‘System 2’ thinking required on a daily basis.   Our day job may require us to use System 2, but we look forward to ‘switching off’ in the evenings.   Likewise we are more likely to try new behaviours when on holiday than when at work, and exploring ‘new ideas’ may be firewalled by reading a few pages of a book before bed or watching the odd documentary.

‘Education’ and ‘training’ require System 2 thinking: learning new things is hard, and we need ‘time off’ from both.  Plus when we are very young and most like ‘sponges’ for new information, we tend to accept what we are told by parents or teachers, and this is an influence of System 1 (the authority heuristic).  It gets more exhausting once we are asked to question everything and exhorted to test ideas for ourselves.

Thinking about it

Yet society needs System 2 thinking.  The advancement of knowledge and understanding has long been understood to bring benefits.  For instance discovering that fatal diseases are not brought about by upsetting ‘the gods’ or ‘bad humours’ in the air but things like bacteria and viruses.

So our social ecosystems have created ‘think tanks’ and whole domains where System 2 rules, or are supposed to, such as in Science, Medicine and the Law, in which we require testable ‘evidence’.

This sort of evidence is not like the ‘evidences’ provided by advertisers, story-tellers or film-makers.  ‘Evidences’ here mean simply cues, usually visual, which for instance, advertisers know will be immediately taken by our System 1 reflexes to ‘prove’ something without any analysis being necessary.  A shot of an egg frying on a pavement signifies that “it’s hot”. Amazon informs us that “people like you” also bought x y and z (the similarity and social proof heuristics).

Compartmentalisation helps maintain the distinction between the Two Tracks, with limited interaction and generally,  lower participation on the slow Track Two.  The consequences include the scientists struggling to ‘educate the public’ about ‘science’, and the overall primitive understanding of how the political system works, in the US and UK.

In general, although most of us have a fairly good idea what’s happening on Track One, Track Two is largely invisible from Track One. It requires an effort to get into that world.

And if you are a national political leader and need to deal with an entire waterfront of problems from health care to defence and the economy, or the ‘news media’, then a category like ‘pollution’ is likely to end up represented by just the most salient ‘issue’, that most recognized easily by the public, and so that’s the one to ‘focus on’ and act on.  (Cognitive scientists studying the workings of System 1 call this ‘single action bias’).

So far as I know, Daniel Kahneman hasn’t really written much about how his System 1 and 2 manifest themselves at group or institutional level or in relation to social trends and dynamics but he does devote an interesting page or two to organisations (417-8 if you are interested) in Thinking Fast and Slow.

‘Organizations’ he says:

’are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.  Organizations can institute and enforce the application of useful checklists, as well as more elaborate exercises, such as reference-class forecasting and the premortem.  At least in part by a distinctive vocabulary, organizations can also encourage a culture in which people watch out for one another as they approach minefields.  Whatever else it produces, an organization is a factory that manufactures judgements and decisions’.

Which describes the ‘Track Two’ role of campaign groups and policy and research institutes quite well.  It’s also one reason why effective campaigns are very hard to run without organizations, and why behind every issue that breaks onto Track One, there’s usually a long tail of activity on Track Two, much of it often by NGOs.

Applying Track One and Two To Campaign Design

It’s true that campaigns can be started with no ‘Track Two’ type input.  The advent of social media has made it possible for millions of one-person ‘campaigns’ to be started in Track One terms with a single post, and sometimes by pure serendipity, they spread and become established but only very rarely. Those which do become established, frequently run into subsequent difficulties as the organisers get to know more about the stakeholders, dynamics and details of ‘the issue’.

Not yet a critical path …

It’s also clear that a lot of the preparatory work for any public campaign, such as understanding of ‘the problem’, power and situation analysis, choosing and testing a point of intervention and making a critical path, are very System 2 tasks and hard to share outside an organisation (or even across it internally).  Many supposedly ‘crowd sourced’ campaigns are actually only sharing options around one step of a plan cooked up in a proverbial ‘back room’, and many which are not, consist of just a single tactical ‘beat’, perhaps relying on just one heuristic.  As such they are usually not strategic or they do have a bigger but hidden strategy.

Assuming that campaign planners do research, create and test a critical path, the most appropriate point to apply the Two Tracks concept is probably when it is in draft.  At its simplest, look at the plan and ask where and how much System 1 type thinking must apply, or whether System 2 type thinking has to apply.  A System 1 and 2 Audit if you like.

This can then be verified by testing propositions intended for ‘public’ or ‘mainstream’ audiences with qualitative research: ‘does it work for them’?  That’s a big topic which has been discussed in many of my Newsletters and posts but there are no short-cuts and the old rule still applies: rubbish in, rubbish out.


Here’s a summary of some of the differences between Track One and Track Two.

Dominant decision method (thinking) Intuitive, automatic, unconscious (System 1) Analytical, reflective, conscious (System 2)
Operating experience Easy, natural Laborious
Speed (ideas, behaviours) Fast Slow
Bandwidth/ information capacity Low High
Internal commonality of experience High Low
Mutual recognition of reference points within Track High High in sub-tracks, otherwise low
Visibility track to track Track Two largely invisible Track One largely visible
Repetition of processes, behaviours Default Unusual
Common descriptive ‘handles’ Mainstream, public, popular, normal, general public Elite, professional, academic, technical, specialist, disciplines
Indicators Icons, symbols Footnotes
Information acquisition reflex Acquired where it confirms existing beliefs Sought as needed for analysis
Default appraisal perspective WYSIATI There’s more to this than meets the eye
Internal potential for contagion High Low
Lumper/splitter tendency Lumper Splitter
Complexity Reducer Increaser
Perception tendency One world Multiple worlds
Dominant source of individual status Salience, prominence Forefront reputation



And here’s a small Track One bookshelf:

(left) George Lakoff’s primer on framing, Daniel Kahneman’s and Robert Cialdini’s books on heuristics, all well worth reading although Caildini’s book is a lot easier going than Kahneman’s, and (right) my book on motivational values.  All three topics are also summarised in How to Win Campaigns.  


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Do Some Good and Shop Before Black Friday

Microplastic at plankton scale (copyright Dr Richard Kirby).  These little sea creatures get tangled in plastic fibres and eat plastic particles.  Fish eat plankton.  We eat fish.  Look at @PlanktonPundit’s tweets to see amazing and beautiful images and videos of plankton wrestling with and ingesting microplastic Or visit Richard’s website.

Want to do something good to help curb the tide of plastic pollution?  There’s something you can buy which will help.  (Read on – Black Friday is 24th Nov. so shop early!).

We’ve all seen pictures of plastic bags choking turtles, filling the stomachs of albatrosses and killing their chicks and lacerating the necks of seals but if you own a fleece, socks or any other clothes made with synthetic fibres like polyester, acrylic or nylon, microplastic fibres will be escaping from your washing machine every time you wash.  They go down our drains by the billion upon billion, and into the environment, where they are irretrievably small.

Video of plankton eating plastic if you’ve not seen it before.  Fish, seabirds and shellfish also eat it, and it seems they are attracted to the smell.

Fortunately there is something you can do.  Get one of these gadgets to catch some of the microscopic fibres (most under 1mm long) before they reach the big wide world.

The Guppy Friend, was created by Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, surfers and co-owners of German retailer Langbrett which sells outdoor clothing.   This is a ziplock nylon mesh wash-bag which traps fibres.  It is being marketed with Patagonia, known for its many environmentally-minded actions including, turning post-consumer plastic into outdoor clothing.  Patagonia funded research into microfibre pollution with  the University of California Santa Barbara and according to Grist Magazine, ‘found that a single fleece jacket can lose as many as 250,000 synthetic fibers, or 1.7 grams of plastic, in the laundry’.

When I checked at Patagonia from the UK, the Guppy Friend was out of stock but I imagine many readers of this blog will own one soon.  I bought one direct from Langbrett here.

According to the Netherlands-based group Plastic Soup, a filter has already been developed for septic tanks, which might also be deployed on domestic wastewater outlets but it gives few details.  Patagonia also suggests ‘install a permanent washing machine filter, like Wexco’s Filtrol 160’.  As they say, it ‘requires some plumbing expertise’

For more on effects of washing techniques and the latest from Patagonia visit http://www.patagonia.com/blog/tag/microfibers/


The Coraball – another microfibre trapper.

Also for washing machines, the Rozalia Project is scrambling to market ‘the world’s first microfiber-catching laundry ball’ – the Coraball – which it has patented.  You can get it here in the US.  Not sure about the Rest of the World.

What Europe Could Do Soon

Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission is door-stepped by plastics pollution campaigners in Brussels from #Rethinkplastic, bearing a 500,000 signature petition (October 2017)

At the European Commission, Frans Timmermans is currently poring over the draft of the EU’s planned ‘Plastics Strategy’.   An early leaked draft showed the Commission was thinking about restricting ‘Single Use Plastics’ like water bottles (the law that could enable this already exists in Europe, and was used to get Member States to restrict plastic bag use).  A good idea.  Then the plastics industry started intensive lobbying and the Commission got cold feet.  Now the idea is back in play and a public draft should be out for consultation before Christmas.  This is relevant to other countries as where Europe goes, others may follow.

Washing machines may not be on the Commissions agenda but if they were looking for a quick hit to take out a significant chunk of the pollution problem, mandating manufacturers to build in filters to catch micro-plastic fibres would make sense.

I imagine that microfibre pollution is a hot topic in the backrooms of the white goods world.  If past experience (such as with refrigeration and use of industrial greenhouse gases) is anything to go by, the first ‘out of the traps’ with a ‘Micro Filter Washingmachine’ might be a German company.  Washing machines with microfibre filters could become the ‘catalytic converters’ of the micro-waste issue, both cutting pollution and increasing understanding of the problem.

Why you Need to Clean Up Your Wash

In 2011 a team led by Mark Browne from University College Dublin tested three types of washing machine and showed huge amounts of microscopic plastic fibres were being washed from everyday clothing, which nowadays contains a lot more synthetic than natural fibre.   Their paper  Accumulation of microplastic on shorelines worldwide: sources and sinks reported that a single synthetic fibre item such as a fleece, could release 1900 fibres with every wash.


The three different types of washing machines used in the study.

The researchers also compared the quantity of microplastics shorelines at 18 shorelines ‘representing six continents from the poles to the equator’, to investigate the relation of wastewater (sewage effluent) to plastic in the environment.  For each litre of sediment, they found from 8 microplastic particles (Australia) to 124 (Portgual and the UK).

The team found that offshore sites used by the UK to dump sewage sludge until it was banned to comply with EU rules in 1984, still contained over two-and-a-half the amount of plastic found in reference sites, showing that plastic going ‘down the drain’ is accumulating and persistent in the environment.  What is more, when they tested for the microplastic in sewage effluent, they found it in similar proportions to the marine sediments (polyester 67 %,  acrylic 17 %, and nylon – polyamide 16 %).

An EU-LIFE funded project http://life-mermaids.eu/en/ involving researchers from Italy, Spain and the Dutch Plastic Soup Foundation, has been assessing possible technical fixes for microfibre pollution from washing clothes. It reports even higher figures for loss of fibres under 1mm in length: one 680 gramme polyester fleece jacket loses almost a million fibres per wash, an acrylic scarf loses 300,000 and a pair of nylon socks 136,000.  According to Plastic Soup, acrylic can release more than 3,000 fibres in each wash.

An ingenious demonstration of the problem from Plastic Soup

After tests on washing machines, in 2016 Imogen Napper and Richard Thompson reported in the Marine Pollution Bulletin: ‘we estimate over 700,000 fibres could be released from an average 6 kg wash load of acrylic fabric’.

Microplastic in Food, Air and Water

As Plastic Soup points out, Gerd Liebezeit from the University of Oldenburg has found microplastic in honey, beer (24 German brands) and mineral water.

It has also been found in salt, especially sea-salt and in tap water.  In 2017 The Guardian’s Environment Editor Damian Carrington reported that ‘scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media …  overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres’.

Above: plastic microfibres in drinking water, surveyed with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health/ Difaf  From https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_plastics  Fittingly, it was also found in Trump Tower and the HQ of the US Environmental Protection Agency

As Chris Tyree & Dan Morrison of Orb Media wrote: ‘it is everywhere: the most enduring, insidious, and intimate product in the world … the evidence is unmistakable: We are living in The Plastic Age’.

Not surprisingly, plastic is also an air pollutant.  Carrington wrote:  ‘In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in people’s homes’.

Is There Any Complete Solution?

Few sewage works have filters that can trap microplastics and these small millimetre scale particles break down further into ‘nanoplastics’, meaning they are in the nanometer scale: one-one thousandth of one-one thousandth of a millimeter.  These defeat almost any filter and can get into the body across lungs or the gut, as described in my earlier blog.

Aside from washing machines another huge source of microplastic particles is wear from car-tyres, now made from plastic.  Plus of course break down of any plastic item – it just goes on getting smaller and potentially more dangerous, as it fragments.  I worked out that this Coke bottle contains enough plastic (25 grammes = about 17 cubic centimetres of PET) to make 17,000 1mm wide (effectively invisible) microplastic particles.

You don’t see it but it’s there

The health effects of microplastic pollution are currently unknown but are not likely to be positive.  Microplastic particles have been found in tumours and many of the chemicals attracted to, concentrated around and transported by plastic are long-lived accumulative toxic organic pollutants or POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants), such as PCBs.  Many of these get concentrated in the food chain, are stored in body fat, cause cancer, birth defects and disrupt development hormones: endocrine disruptors, and include pesticides and PCBs.  Many plastics also release their ‘own’ toxic chemicals as they break down, such as styrene.

Plastic in general and microplastic in particular is a threat-multiplier: plastics x toxic chemicals is a lot worse than either threat on its own.  Plastic fragmentation should give a shot in the arm – if that’s not too unfortunate a phrase – to efforts to clamp down on POPs.

Plastic isn’t just a litter problem, it’s now a global pollution crisis similar to climate change.  More on how this crept up on us, and whether campaigns can still just focus mainly on beach cleans and recycling, in future blogs.

video from Story of Stuff


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Index to Campaign Strategy Newsletters Numbers 43 – 101

In case it is useful … here’s a rough index (with short extract) to Campaign Strategy Newsletters 43 – 101.  I’m currently working on the next one, and #102 is at this website while a compendium of Newsletters 1 – 42 is here.  All the Newsletters can be downloaded here.

Sign up to the Newsletter here

Follow me on twitter @campaignstrat


No 101 Feb 2017: Bubble Prints | Values Story of Brexit Split | Whose Fake News ? | International Politics Makes A Comeback | Campaigns Course 21 March


Extract: In 2011 Eli Pariser of Upworthy invented the term ‘Filter Bubble’. His TED talk page explained: “We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview … this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy”.‘Bubbling’ is not new. People have always tended to select evidence and sources which reinforce their views, and hang out with the like minded where possible. Psychologists study how ‘confirmation bias’ encourages this, while the Victorians referred to “congenial company”.


No 100 January 2017: Planet Earth II: A Threat to Saving Planet Earth? | Trump: Don’t Over-Inflate Him


Extract: Despite me even wanting to be David Attenborough when I was a child, and loving the cinematic spectacle of nature in the BBC’s record-breaking Planet Earth II, I agree with BBC SpringWatch presenter Martin Hugh-Games who argued in The Guardian that such nature blockbusters are not helping ‘save the earth’ because they create a sedating illusion that nature is abundant.


No 99 August 2016: Are People More Pro-Nature in Urban or Rural Areas? Brexit | Brent Spar


Extract: As the implications of voting for Brexit sink in, questions of identity are coming to the fore in the UK. Environment, nature and our countryside play a significant part in the British psyche and in debates about identity. It’s often assumed that people in urban and rural areas are very different in their affinity for nature but is this true? If it is true, what does this mean for nature conservation or environment groups, where they should look for support or how they should try to shape policy?


No 98 June 2016: Values | Brexit Campaigns | A Nightingales Campaign Success


Extract: This blog explores why (in my view) both sides of the UK EU Referendum campaign (the decision date is June 23rd) so frustrate and baffle the wider British public:

‘my guess is that the underlying reason both fail to really connect with most of the British public is that their origins are deeply and narrowly political. The pro and anti EU arguments have been rehearsed many times in the halls and backrooms of Westminster but with very little exposure to the public. As such they are fine tuned in UK political terms but largely untried on most of the public except for the rightwing of the Conservative Party and UKIP’.


No 97 May 2016: Brexit and the Cat Factor | Parameters for Campaign Direction | A Lesson in Campaign Directness


Extract: I argue that the most likely explanation for fence-sitting by some large UK NGOs is that, as with fear of annoying cat-owners by taking action on the damage moggies do to wildlife, the conservation groups fear they might lose supporters or possibly legacies if they told members what they really think about ‘Brexit’. Some of these groups have been spooked by a values- driven split in their memberships on the EU.


No 96 March 2016: 48 Strategies, Brexit Values battle, German SMEs v TTIP, A Harbour Campaigns Against Plastic Pollution, A Cautionary Tale and Values and Charity Preferences.


Extract: A List of 48 Campaign Strategies

See my blog for short explanations of these 48 campaign strategies – or are they tactics? I got to 48 and gave up. Can someone contribute another couple to make it 50?


A 2014 British Values Survey asked people to choose their top five types of charity from a long list. This blog shows how values very strongly influenced charity choices. Similar tendencies are likely to be present in charity choices in all countries.


No 95 January 2016: A New Narrative on Climate; Trouble With Stories; Tiny Bits Of Good News.


Extract: The December 2015 ‘climate conference’ in Paris turned around the global political leadership. By adopting a new ambition to actually do what the UN FCCC (Climate Convention) always aimed to do – captured in the pledge to ‘try to’ limit the average increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C – it dramatically changed the political alignment. Out goes giving up on trying to keep the climate within safe bounds, in comes trying to do so.


No 94 December 2015: VW scandal; Is Spain The New Green Leader in Europe?; Terrorism; Why Campaigning Matters; SMEs Start To Campaign On TTIP; Divestment Rolls Forward; Drones & VR.


Extract: When the VW scandal broke in October, I suggested in this post Emissions Cheating : What VW Should Do Next, that the company should make amends by doing three things, which in summary were…. But are consumers ready in its home market ? Of course Germany is no longer VW’s biggest market but is of huge symbolic importance, and it looks from a November survey by CDSM (more below) that VW execs have work to do persuading fellow Germans to buy electric.



No 93 August 2015: Climate and Divestment – a good strategy right now; Any Action from the Catholic Church after the Encyclical? Strange and dark goings-on in the UK; Global values survey results


Extract: In this blog I try to take a planner’s point of view of climate divestment campaigns, and explore five reasons why I think it’s such a great campaign strategy at this point in the climate issue. Other things in this blog: Climate and Divestment – a good strategy right now, Any Action from the Catholic Church after the Encyclical ? Strange and dark goings-on in the UK, Global values survey results, Holiday reading, Good things and Bits from my Blog.


No 92 May 2015: Post UK Election Next Steps; The Media Museum Effect: A Growing Cause of Extinctions?; Evidence That Values Determine The Pattern of Attitudes to Climate Change; Climate and Values Papers; No Alarm, No Reaction. No reaction, no action


Extract: I’ve argued in previous articles that growing blindness to nature is now a significant driver of extinctions. In other words, what people can’t distinguish, they can’t really see (or hear), and so they don’t notice it going. This is undoubtedly a reality in Britain and other highly urbanised societies. Even conservation minded folk, horrified at the concept of the variety of life disappearing, let it dwindle and vanish right under their noses because they can’t recognise plants and animals. They are no longer nature-literate, and so can’t see more or less ‘biodiversity’. We need national efforts for eco-literacy.


No 91 February 2015: The Big Gap Issue; Emotionally Charged Facts; Making Polls Interesting to the ‘Media’, TTIP: A Graveyard for SMEs?


Extract: For those who love Britain’s woods it came as sad news that Oliver Rackham, the landscape historian who coined the evocative term ‘wildwood’ for our primeval woodland and proved by meticulous fieldwork that Ancient Woodlands, direct descendants of that wildwood still exist down English lanes, died this month. He was Britain’s greatest living Ent.

What’s this got to do with campaigns? A campaign needs ‘facts’ but the facts that work, that engage support, that make people see things just like you do (alignment), and impel them to act, need to be emotionally charged.


No 90 June 2014: Superbugs and Politics; Rise of the CSPs; Values Uplift Through Framing; Why Values Matching is a Good Idea; Nature Blindness


Extract: Campaigners and advocates for rational use of state-intervention (by which I mean where the free market obviously fails to act in the public interest) have long struggled with the situation where many politicians realise only too well that the ‘market’ often fails, indeed often gets propped up with financial billions which are siphoned off into private profits, but run scared of saying so because they fear the voting public trust them even less. A major reason, if not the only one, is the rear-view-mirror nature of media convictions that – in Anglo countries at least – leads the media to frame almost any proposed state action as hopelessly old fashioned. Such convictions were formed when today’s generation of senior media execs were at college: the days when capitalism triumphed over communism and the 1980s credit-fuelled asset boom looked like the pain-free benefit of neoliberal economics and deregulation.


No 89 April 2014: Nightingales; The Values Behind #nomakeupselfie; UK Politics & values: Beyond Class; Theory of Change


Extract: The honest truth is that I don’t really have a ‘theory of change’, indeed I try to avoid the term. This is for the same reason that I try to avoid ‘message’: a debate about which is the right ‘message’, or which is the right ‘theory of change’, tends to make you go in circles. So my theory about theories of change, is that organisations or groups, or more depressingly, individuals, who spend -me looking for the right theory of change, are probably wasting their time. […] But if I did have a theory of change for campaigns it might be a bit like this: these things will help.

  1. Experiment, test, learn, improve
  2. Apply the learnings of others about what works
  3. Do both of the above
  4. Create a body of practice that works for your group or for you
  5. Build a campaign around a Critical Path and ground-truth test it
  6. Define your communications strategy (audiences, ac-ons) from the Critical Path
  7. Find your critical path by issue mapping to locate a single significant change
  8. Create a relationship of trust so people can support the campaign ‘on trust’


No 88 November 2013: The Philippines Aid Issue


Extract: Typhoon Haiyan left a wake of human misery and destitution but it also impacted politics and intersected with some of the great issues of our time. It and illustrates many of the communication factors shaping our perceptions, and the choices facing campaigners.

A Disaster Looking for Its Scandal

Most of us are aware of the Typhoon through the news media, and whether that’s online or ‘broadcast’ makes little difference because the new generation of channels (see ‘C’ in CAMPCAT in How to Win Campaigns) have made little difference to how ‘news’ gets constructed.


No 87 October 2013: Beware Those Who Call You Powerful


Extract: Back in the dark days of the Cold War, the shadow-watchers had a dictum that ‘once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action’. I know most readers of this Newsletter live outside the UK and I don’t know what it’s like where you are but here in Britain, there seems to be a new vogue for aggressively criticising campaigns and ‘activist’ groups, and questioning their legitimacy. It is a sinister fashion because it threatens to cut one of the vital arteries of democracy: the freedom of the public to organise and articulate public opinion.


No 86 June 2013: Why Too Much Focus on Opinion Polls Can Lead Your Campaign Astray


Extract: Using examples from climate change, a new Campaign Strategy blog post and report show how, while on the surface opinion polls have an alluring factual objectivity, in reality they can be as tricksy and dangerous as sirens tempting sailors onto the rocks. It proposes ‘ten rules’ for campaigners interpreting opinion polls and illustrates many problems, ranging from the way people answer supposedly analytical questions with intuitive, unconscious responses to the herd-behaviour of the media, the impact of framing, values and the often hidden influence of the ‘choice architecture’ of polls.


No 85 April 2013: Why We Need Climate Crises To Avoid Catastrophe


Extract: Here are three fundamental political truths relevant to many campaigns: first, politicians aspire to be in charge and remain in charge. Second, it is universally recognised that the first duty of government is to maintain public safety – from the integrity of the nation down to the safety of the individual. Third, little sharpens the political mind like being held responsible.


No 84 February 2013: Values in Five Countries


Extract: Students of values might find this interesting. The United States has become much more Pioneer dominated over the last decade or so. Well nigh half of all Americans are now Pioneers. China and India are hugely Prospector countries – at least the urban populations are. And Argentina looks pretty ‘European’ in values terms, while the values of the UK seem to be stabilising, after the recession led to some shrinkage in the optimistic, aspirational Prospector group and a rise in the number of Settlers. Published for the first time at my Blog, these insights come from surveys conducted by CDSM. All but the UK one were commissioned by Greenpeace.


No 83 December 2012: New Wine, Old Bottles?


Extract: Does online increase campaign engagement or is it old wine in new bottles.

What is campaigning and how does the way we frame ‘campaigning’ affect how we then campaign? Is it like fighting a war or all about winning an argument? Or is it a question of raising awareness, a selling job, education or essentially about starting a conversation with society?

The mental boxes we unwittingly employ in order to start thinking about a ‘campaign’ often exert a huge influence over how we create a campaign and what we expect.


No 82 October 2012: What Difference Is ‘Online’ Really Making?


Extract: It’s often assumed that more ‘engagement’ or ‘mobilisation’ is automatically a good thing for campaigns, and that in turn means the more ‘online’, the better. Yet back in 1979, a handful of staff and 10,000 supporters at Friends of the Earth delivered a million paper signatures to the UK Prime Minister’s home in Downing Street, while in 2012 Friends of the Earth (150 staff, 100,000 supporters) plus Avaaz, plus 350 delivered a petition on climate and energy to the same address, also about one million. The pre-social media ‘climatevoice.org’ delivered 11 million signatures urging action on governments at the Hague COP6 climate talks in 2000, while the post-social-media 200+ NGO alliance GCCA managed 17 million for the ‘make or break’ Copenhagen COP15 in 2011.


No 81 July 2012: The Need To Change Climate Campaigning


Extract: In a new Campaign Strategy report posted at http://documents.campaignstrategy.org/uploads/ Changing%20Climate%20Campaigns.pdf ‘Changing Climate Campaigns: Time To Retire The Apocalypse’ I argue for a fundamental psychological and political reconfiguration of the dominant framing of climate campaigns and advocacy.

The ‘old warhorse’ framing of AA, or action to Avoid the Apocalypse, that has been the default model of climate campaigns for over two decades and its sister UP – or the Unresponsive Public – are redundant and need to be retired. They are no longer compelling and do not match the new reality.


No 80 May 2012: New report – The 12 Values Modes (Part Three); Exploring Konyism; Values analysis of DEFRA Green Segmentation; A Big Idea Strategy Sequence;Energy Storage and DNAs; More


Extract: My Campaign Strategy blog (http://bit.ly/Lcs0Gm) explores the story, marketing, communications structure and wider issues surrounding the controversial Invisible Children ‘StopKony’ video released in March 2012. It concludes that while it is almost impossible to say whether the video did more good than harm, campaigners should evaluate it as a movie, and a movie marketing exercise, not as a campaign. It also voices doubts over the hidden Christian Evangelical agenda of the project and the significance accorded to the campaign objective.


No 79 May 2012: New report – The 12 Values Modes (Part Two); Why Heuristics Work And Why Campaigns Need A Psychological Makeover; Mainstreaming Change


Extract: Almost by definition, most campaigns are trying to bring about change. At some point, most campaigns want their change to become ‘mainstream’, whether by spreading socially by choice through fashion, networks, norms or other means person to person or group to group, or by rules set by authority.


When something ‘enters the mainstream’, the need for a campaign usually stops. Campaigners may of course want to ‘go further’ so that requires a new campaign. Campaigners may not see it as ‘new’ but as a natural logical consequence. However targets, onlookers and supporters probably will do, because the specific change objective in the proposition [1] will have been achieved. Even ‘stop’ campaigns are often trying to stop and change an established behaviour, and so if that means a departure from what’s seen as ‘normal’, that’s a form of innovation too.


No 78 March 2012: New report – The 12 Values Modes (Part One); how Generation Y may prefer phones to cars; Google, Egypt and Occupy; consequences of under-estimating values signals


Extract: It’s good news and bad news. The good news is that positive change can often be much faster than ‘people’ assume. The bad news is that those assumptions can be hard to shift. The further good news is that if campaigners and communicators understand values dynamics, they can plan out to trigger cascades of change. The further bad news is that these dynamics are often ignored, sometimes deliberately. The result can be that positive behaviours or technologies are treated as ‘more difficult’ to implement than they really are, and that change-pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


No 77 February 2012: Some Guidelines For Communicating With Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers

Extract: This month we’ve posted some ‘Guidelines For Communicating With Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers’ at http://documents.campaignstrategy.org/uploads/maslow_groups_coms_guidelines.pdf. These cover the different sorts of actions, offers and asks, channels, contexts and messengers, that tend to be preferred by these different ‘Maslow Groups’.


No 76 December 2011: Episode 2 of Eurofish.tv – interviews with the small fishermen and the EU Commissioner; The Advantages of Insulting Your Audience; Post Durban – Where Now on Climate Change?; Stuff in Brief


Extract: The thing about campaigning is that there is usually a problem with a group of people who are doing the ‘wrong thing’. Maybe they are not doing something they ought to, or we think they are doing something they shouldn’t. Either way, these folk are “wrong”. And the temptation is to tell them so. All too often we succumb.

If it makes you feel better, go right ahead but it’s not likely to work. When was the last time you decided to change doing something important to you, because someone told you that you were stupid, immoral or unethical ? And instead, that you should be like them, and do what they do ? Being attacked not just for what we do but why we do it, tends to be very unpersuasive.


No 75 November 2011: Getting More Resources For Your Campaign


Extract: It surprised me this year when a major campaign group I was running a few days training for (they have been around almost 40 years) declared that the most useful thing we’d covered in two days was the basic ‘Campaign Planning Star’. You can find it online here http://bit.ly/d3JEmy and in my book How To Win Campaigns: Communications for Change, at http://amzn.to/v9wXB7 along with more examples of each of the ‘points’.

The Star ‘points’ are the point of the thing. It’s a way to think about a concept – the rough idea for a campaign – without getting stuck in any one way of thinking. The five points can all be starting points but they always need to be factored into a concept before trying to turn it into a plan.

No 74 October 2011: 99% and Books Issue

Extract: 99% and the “Occupy” protests [1] aimed at financial centres have sprung up all across the world. As I’ve noted in these Newsletters before (e.g. #16), at times like this it is hard to judge the significance of an event – does it denote a deep seated current of change, a storm wave that will leave a lasting impact, or is it only a short term squall sustained by media attention or political squabbling ? Right now, plenty of explanations [2] are being offered for these protests in the media and blogosphere and their real significance will only become apparent later.

Yet even if it’s hard to judge the significance right now, maybe we can identify some of the conditions required if the protests are to become significant.


No 73 September 2011: Fish TV, Age, Values and Cairo Taxis


Extract: “Television made by fish, for fish, about fish”, Eurofish.tv shows the activities of Europe’s politicians, as observed by the Eurofish TV Anchor Lobster and his friends.

Eurofish.tv is the animated adventures of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reforms. Widely regarded as one of the most tangled and intractable international negotiations, Fish TV looks at its impact as a social, economic and environmental disaster – in a simple, light-hearted way.

Animator Leo Murray says, “We hope future episodes will feature news and views about how to make the politics work to save fishermen and the fish – we invite you to get in touch with video or words at info@eurofish.tv”


No 72 August 2011: Angela Merkel’s Fish Hut


Extract: This weekend [1], a German fishing hut makes its solo political debut at the Hanse Sail tall ship and marine festival event [2] in Rostock, on the Baltic Sea. It’s there because it’s part of Angela Merkel’s political heritage and because, while she’s Europe’s most important politician, she’s largely absent from the crucial politics surrounding reform of the CFP, or Common Fisheries Policy.

I don’t often write about projects I’ve been working on but in this case I thought you might be interested in the back story. I’ll try and draw out the campaign design principles behind it. I’m taking a bit of a risk as the whole thing may sink without trace but that’s always the case with campaigns.


No 71 July 2011: Holiday Reading


Extract: For those readers in the Northern Hemisphere the holiday season is upon us, so if you are looking for something to read while waiting for someone to bring the bar-b-q under control, here’s a sample of what you may have missed – some content from previous Newsletters 43 – 70.

A number of these also link to longer reports at the website. You can also use the document index to locate articles and Newsletters by topic. (Issues 1 – 42 are contained in a single PDF at the website).


No 70 July 2011: Campaign Lessons From Murdoch


Extract: In this issue:

Campaign Lessons From the Murdoch’s.

Close Up and Far Away Campaigning

The Need To Change Biodiversity Communication

The Lesson of Hugh’s Fish Fight


No 69 May 2011: The Power Behind the ‘Arab Spring’ – Possible Implications for Human Rights Campaigns


Extract: What lies behind the so-called ‘Arab Spring’? The honest answer is that I don’t know, and I don’t suppose anyone does, Arab or otherwise. But one enormous factor could be the shifting balance of unconscious motivational values in those countries.


No 68 March 2011: The Emotional Case for Nuclear Power, And the Rational Response to Climate Change


Extract: A strange thing has happened in the response to the nuclear crisis triggered by the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake. The nuclear industry, long used to trying to marginalise its critics by claiming ‘rational’ high ground and trying to frame opponents as ‘emotional’, has ended up making a case which is more emotionally driven than rational. This, more than anything else, indicates a change in the balance of the debate over the future of the nuclear power.


No 67 February 2011: Clicktivism By-passes Inside Track To Harry Potter Forest


Extract: It may be nothing new to many readers of this Newsletter but ‘online campaigning’ is eating into the political space until now dominated by ‘traditional’ campaign groups. Until recently, solely online campaign groups have tended to focus on different (often newer) issues from large established groups, and/or have serviced more activist, often younger communities with a more ‘radical’ agenda.

The strategies of many of these groups, using the internet primarily for ‘independent’ media communication channels, and as an organising tool, have often been rather naive – and hence they have often been viewed by those they seek to change, such as governments and large corporations, as less seriously threatening than the more established groups which have multiple channels of influence, and deeply embedded connections within the ‘policy communities’.



No 66 November 2010: Change Outcomes


Extract: On October 18 New York Times reported [1] a remarkable success in cutting carbon in the USA. Under the heading ‘In Kansas Climate Sceptics Embrace Cleaner Energy’ it succinctly describes a major achievement in getting cities and communities to cut carbon by saving energy and using renewables. Not through advocating ‘action on climate change’ or by trying to change people or their values but through propositions that start from where people already are – in this case clearly Security Driven Settlers*, safety-oriented, authoritarian, mainly right wing, traditionalist and identity seeking.


No 65 October 2010: Fixing Campaigns


Extract: Most campaigners love starting things. Most of the tools in my book How To Win Campaigns: Communications for Change [1], in others like it, and at campaign websites such as www.thechangeagency.org, are about planning or organising campaigns, and tend to assume that you are starting from scratch. In reality many of the problems campaigners and campaign directors face are about existing campaigns, which have got problems.

This Newsletter captures a few ideas to help you think about how to identify and fix those problems, taken from the sections ‘Fixing a Campaign’, and ‘Staying on the Side of the Victims’, and elsewhere, in How To Win Campaigns.


No 64 September 2010:From DADA To Values: Consultations Issue


Extract: Campaigners and those who are the targets of campaigns will often meet over ‘consultations’. Community activists, NGOs or even these days, campaign groups themselves, may be authors of consultations, and in a country like the UK, thousands of consultation exercises are held by public bodies every year. All these are intended to be exercises in communication, although they often have unintended effects, and don’t produce the results hoped for. Nowhere are these trickier than in ‘scientific’ fields, where knowledge is often incomplete or indeterminate, and people often resort to ‘reflexive’ unconscious decision making, based on heuristics, framing or values, rather than the analytic reasoning which is normally pre-supposed in a consultation exercise.


No 63 September 2010: Online Campaigning Issue


Extract: “I think most people would agree”, a campaigner from a large NGO said at a meeting I was at last week, “that organisations like 38 Degrees are a bit annoying”. By ‘people’ he meant campaigners in large NGOs, although the annoyance was certainly shared by UK Member of Parliament Dominic Raab, who in August had his email address removed from the British House of Commons website and tried to intimidate 38 Degrees into no longer getting its supporters to email him on 38 Degrees campaign topics. For his troubles, Mr Raab ended up the subject of considerable public and media attention: after all, he was refusing to do what the electorate generally expects an MP to do, which is to hear the views of the voters and to represent them.


No 62 July 2010: Why Do Qualitative Research


Extract: Readers of this Newsletter will know that I am a consistent advocate of the need to do qualitative research if you want to make your campaigns work. There are numerous examples in previous Newsletters and a simple summary at http://www.campaignstrategy.org/advanced_1.html . In essence qualitative research gets at what people really think and how they might really react, whereas quantitative tells you how many people responded to a question you posed to them.

In this Newsletter I have pulled together a few examples of why. In other words, things we wouldn’t have known without research – but which were important for getting communications right. Not all of these are from campaigning but the principles apply.


No 61 June 2010: Evolution of the Gulf Oil Spill Scandal


Extract: To imagine what it’s like if you are (or were) a fish in large areas of the Gulf of Mexico right now, read this graphic account of a dive into the ‘water’: http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/3794450/Diver-sees-only-oil-in-Gulf. A good example of ‘taking you there’.

Even before the oil spill, the Gulf suffered huge undersea dead zones caused by massive run off of nitrogen compounds and other pollutants, mainly caused by effluent from American intensive agriculture (e.g. hog/pig farming for cheap meat production), flowing down the Mississippi. These zones [1] lack oxygen and already extended to 6-7,000 square miles from the Mississippi Delta to the coast of Texas. Nobody yet knows the extent of the impact of the oil although it is said by some scientists to have created ‘dead zones’ and a submerged oil plume 15 miles long, five miles wide and 300 feet thick [2].


No 60 May 2010: Basic campaign questions, VBCOP potential & ‘Concern For The State of the UK Environment 2000 – 2010’


Extract: Have you ever had someone come to you with a campaign idea and had to try and find out what it really entails? Or had to find out whether an existing ‘campaign’ really is a campaign at all? Or been in the position where you want to quickly attempt to help someone develop a campaign without demotivating them? If you’re a campaign consultant this happens all the time (for demotivate, read “annoy the client”) but if you work in any sort of campaign organisation, after a while it will happen to you, if it doesn’t every day.


No 59 April 2010: Thoughts on a volcano, UK electoral politics and values


Extract: Having cut back on flying from at least one flight a month to less than one a year, I could be sitting at home feeling smug about all those frequent fliers stranded by ash from the the Icelandic volcano. So irony of ironies, a week or so ago I reluctantly broke my self-imposed no-fly rule and succumbed to the entreaties of a NGO who really, really wanted me at a face to face meeting in New York, and as as result I am writing this Newsletter while stranded in the Big Apple. Make of that what you will.

However this turns out – whether it’s ‘all over’ in days or whether it creates a Northern Hemisphere dust cloud that upsets the climate and disrupts air travel for a year or more – a few things seem certain about the Icelandic ash saga.


No 58 March 2010: ‘How to Win Campaigns’; Homer Simpson School of Communications and more


Extract: It’s (a long title but worth reading): ‘Homer Simpson for nonprofits: The Truth About How People Really Think & What It Means for Promoting Your Cause. A Guide to Behavioral Economics for Nonprofit Leaders’ by Katya Andresen, Alia McKee, and Mark Rovner, at NetworkforGood-http://web.networkforgood.org/201002ebook/. Here are three of the findings, based on many of the same studies captured in ‘heuristics’ and other tools reported in these newsletters:

  • ‘Small, not big – The bigger the scale of what you’re communicating, the smaller the impact on your audience
  • Hopeful, not hopeless – People tend to act on what they believe they can change – If your problem seems intractable, enormous and endless, people won’t be motivated to help [see also the Credibility Triangle pp 27 – 30 in How To Win Campaigns, Chris Rose, Earthscan]
  • Peer pressure still works (Nope, it doesn’t end after high school) – People are more likely to do something if they know other people like them are doing it.’


No 57 February 2010: Climate Change Campaigns: Keep Calm But Don’t Carry On


Extract: This month I’ve posted a new paper at www.campaignstrategy.org ‘Climate Change Campaigns: Keep Calm But Don’t Carry On’ which looks at strategies for climate campaigners in the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate talks. The paper argues against that strategies which primarily focus on the formal international UN climate talks are now out of date because like the talks themselves, they are being overtaken by events.

Millions of people, businesses and organisations are now taking action consistent with cutting climate change pollution, and this creates potential political space because – through the VBCOP principles (described in Newsletter 49, http://campaignstrategy.org/newsletters/campaignstrategy_newsletter_49.pdf) – opinions adjust to be consistent with behaviours. Yet this plays little or no role in the UNFCCC process which is still umbilically linked to the IPCC as if we were still at the stage where politics depended on resolving major scientific uncertainties.


No 56 January 2010: Epics Issue


Extract: Perhaps the best piece of advice in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is to adopt a ‘strategy of tactical positioning’. So how should the rest of the world now apply the advice of this ancient Chinese strategic genius to the case of China and the climate ?


To state the obvious, I would not try to coerce China into a more progressive stance on climate. I guess this is why so many NGOs seem intent on blaming anyone but China – the US, Australia, the EU for example, for what happened in Copenhagen. Many in China no doubt feel they have gone quite as far as they ought to at this time but the planet – that is everyone on it and future generations- clearly need them to go further. Professor Ron Inglehart has shown[8]that because of values shifts he expects China to become a democracy within twenty years but we cannot wait for that, which in any case might only produce something as progressive as the US but much bigger.


No 55 September 2009: Climate Change, Warnings And The Car Alarm Problem


Extract: Most campaigns focus on a problem. Those that promote a solution, need the problem to create a dialectic for ‘news’ or a psychological fulcrum for action. The ‘alignment stage’ of the Motivational Sequence – awareness > alignment > engagement> action – needs to get the sender and receiver ‘on the same page’ about the problem and the solution before you can move along towards action. And a solution without a problem is not a solution. Meanwhile, whereas a problem without a solution is a tragedy: one with a solution is a scandal, as it is avoidable. Finally, problem and solution need to be specific, they need to fit together like lock and key [1].


No 54 September 2009: Maslow Goes To War: Terrorism, Strategies, Values and Democracy


Extract: Campaign strategists of different stripes have long learnt from one another. The ancient Chinese Art of War by Sun Tzu remains probably the greatest book on pure strategy. The Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote: “rather than comparing [war] to art we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still closer to politics,which in turn may be considered as a kind of commerce on a larger scale.” This is often paraphrased as ‘business is war by another means’. In concepts, theories and in practice, the boundaries between social cause campaigns, business, advertising and marketing campaigns, political campaigns and military campaigns, are fluid and when not fluid, porous.


No 53 July 2009: Resolving Koo’s Paradox


Extract: Economist Richard Koo of Nomura has made waves with his case that this is a ‘Balance Sheet Recession’ – in which textbook economics does not apply because individuals, banks and potential commercial borrowers flip from trying to maximise profits, to ‘repairing their balance sheets’ and paying off debt. Depression follows, argues Koo, unless governments borrow and spend until the balance sheets are repaired.


No 52 June 2009: The Gurkhas Campaign – Lessons From Lumley


Extract: Last month UK readers might have noticed the successful conclusion of a campaign started in 2003 to give UK rights of residence to retired “Gurkhas”, a famous regiment of the British Army recruited exclusively from Nepal. Led by a local Councillor from the regiment’s base town in England, and with the support of a rich businessman and former military colleagues, the Gurkha Justice Campaign [1] scored the highest profile campaign success in Britain for some years.

This was however, presented to a one woman campaign and was largely down to media interest in their telegenic champion, actress Joanna Lumley. The turning point so far as the public saw it, came in an extraordinary series of twists and turns in negotiations between the campaign team led by Lumley, and Government Ministers, even the Prime Minister, in early May. At one point Lumley intercepted an unfortunate immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, in the BBC Westminster studios and forced him into an impromptu televised press conference [2].


No 51 May 2009: Values & The Politics Of Aid


Extract: Can values explain why some countries give more generously to overseas aid than others? Rhetorically the answer is obviously’ yes ’but can we actually measure this effect? Although Ifearto enter this rather controversial area of ODA (Overseas Development Assistance), in which I am no expert, the answer also seems to be ‘yes’.


No 50 April 2009: “It’s The Children Stupid!” & Free International Values Campaign Planner


Extract: There are two articles in this newsletter. First, thoughts on what can be done when the future of the planet does not ‘tick the box’- last throws of the dice for climate campaigners in the year that time runs out for saving the climate as we know it – and second, a free International Values Campaign Planner pulling together work by leading values researchers and applicable to any subject, also posted at www.campaignstrategy.org/articles/int_values_campaign.pdf


No 49 March 2009: A New Campaign Strategy – VBCOP


Extract: This newsletter summarises a new campaign strategy which attempts to bring together the influence of politics through public opinion, and the use of values to generate behaviour, linked by the consistency heuristic. The strategy is described in an 11 page report


No 48 January 2009: Campaigns by ‘Now People’, And Polls


Extract: Two articles in this Newsletter – first two Now People campaign offers, second two polls on biodiversity.

Readers of this newsletter will remember articles about Values Modes [1] and the Mode “Now People”. This is a critical group in public conversation, being the defining owners of ‘fashion’, the most favoured readers of mid-market media, and amongst the most sought after consumer targets for many retail brands. Now People live in the corner of the Values Map which is home to hedonism: “we want the world and we want it now”, is a thought that Now People can easily identify with. They have succeeded in leaving behind their Settler roots – having satisfied their needs for belonging, safety and security – and partly achieved the esteem of others. They are now in full-on pursuit of self-esteem and feeling quite confident about getting it.


No 47 December 2008: Re-Framing Tax: Why It’s A Strategic Target For Campaigners


Extract: Tax is a bad thing. That is the conventional dominant frame now used by politicians, media and the public. Or at best it is a necessary evil, a constraint on our aspirations, a corrective to our instincts, a burden which must be shared, and so on. Framing maestro George Lakoff uses tax as the most obvious example of the power of a ‘frame’ in his elegant little essay “Simple Framing” [1].

Investment, in contrast, is a ‘good thing’, and so although you could be talking about the same policy issue (eg public spending on education), it can be approached from two directions with opposite results. More investment is generally better. Start a discussion from there and more spending is the likely result. More tax is bad so start from there and the conclusion is likely to be less spending.


No 46 November 2008: Learning From The Obama Campaign


Extract: What can campaigners learn from Obama’s campaign strategy? Amongst the torrent of comment, one useful article to read is from the ever insightful Duane Raymond at FairSay.

Duane points out that it was not ‘the internet wot dunnit’ but networking. Given that almost every organisation trying to run campaigns seems convinced that it needs to “make better use of the internet”, Raymond’s piece is a helpful thing to put in front of managers who espouse this point of view but then don’t resource networking. Theirs is the same thinking that used to say “we need more publicity” on the assumption that if you appeared in the media, you’d somehow generate results in terms of real change. But publishing, sending out ‘messages’ or even getting a lot of hits online has no more guarantee of a result that counts than featuring in the newspapers or on tv.


No 45 October 2008: Special Edition: The Spartans Strategy For Making Politics Deliver On Climate


Extract: This Special Edition brings you an unusual article in the form of a blueprint for a campaign strategy to change UK politics at the next General Election, in favour of the climate. It’s not often that a former high ranking official from a mainstream political party shares his views on how NGOs might campaign to force political parties to change their policies, let alone a former director of an international Public Affairs company but Simon Bryceson is both and he does just that in the report How to Make Politics Work For Climate, posted at www.campaignstrategy.org/makepoliticsworkforclimate.pdf.


No 44 October 2008: Campaigning Your Way Out Of Recession / Who Cares About The Environment


Extract: There are two main articles in this newsletter – one on the financial crisis and one on a new report posted at the website, on who cares about environment/climate in values terms.

Now that the financial crisis is turning into an economic one, what opportunities does this offer to campaigns? Below are some ideas based around renewable energy. The principles though could be applied to other sectors where campaigners and advocates have objectives which could be met by economic growth – for the central opportunity is to harness them to the political need of the moment, which will be stimulating growth, employment and confidence.

To achieve this, campaigners will need to…


No 43 September 2008: Wetter But Not Better


Extract: Summary: a large project of qualitative and quantitative research1 conducted for Natural England shows ways to engage – and not to engage – the English public in a positive appreciation of the undersea landscape. The research suggests that most conventional campaigns to promote Marine Protected Areas are unlikely to ‘work’ for 60% of the population and this will probably undermine attempts to create a political constituency for the same. Less than1% of the population can name a real undersea landscape feature and there is no sense of place for the undersea in England in the way there is for terrestrial landscapes, despite a high affinity for the sea as the coast. Lacking real knowledge, responses to conventional polling are determined by values and transposed views about actors and issues taken from other experiences. The common positive denominator is dramatic topography. The Natural England research has been used to design communications that should work across all main psychological groups.

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A Beautiful If Evil Strategy

As the planet fills up with plastic and the EU ponders its new ‘plastics strategy’, is the great re-framing and concern co-option strategy of the plastics industry finally going to run out of road?  The threat of invisible omnipresent micro-plastics may force policy-makers to rethink plastic entirely.



It is said that the world’s most viewed image is Microsoft’s ‘bliss’, that unreal looking green hill, blue sky XP background which personally I always found unlikeable and repellent because it shows such complete subjugation of nature.  Anyway, according to Seventh Light Studio, by 2017 it was ‘safe to say’ it has been seen over a billion times.

But probably the greatest actual communications dis-service ever done to nature was by a 1970s TV advertising campaign which is said to have been viewed 14 billion times: the ‘Crying Indian’ by Keep America Beautiful.

The pure genius of this highly emotive campaign was that it bought a social licence for mass production of disposable packaging, by championing action to clean up the pollution it led to.

The story is legendary in the annals of advertising and now that hundreds of NGOs are joining forces to try and head off the tsunami of plastic waste invading our environment and our bodies, campaigners should have a good look at it.  Try this brilliant article from Orion Magazine by Ginger Strand.

The exact same strategy still sustains the plastics industry and is being used by groups like http://www.plasticseurope.org/ (100+ plastics manufacturers), and the ‘69 plastics organizations and allied industry association in 35 countries’ behind https://www.marinelittersolutions.com/

It is a beautiful, if evil strategy, simple and elegant: once underway it is even cheap to run, as it is powered not simply by petro-dollars but by the active voluntary participation of people who care about environmental pollution.  This is true genius.  It co-opts the energy, goodwill and emotional commitment of those people, especially the young, who care enough about birds choked on plastic and beaches littered in plastic waste, to spend their own time, at their own expense, picking up the industrial detritus that the plastic industry creates.

The dark charm of this strategy is that it operates in plain sight, indeed it is intended to be very visible.  www.marinelittersolutions.com explains that it has 260 projects ‘planned, underway or completed’ since 2011, such as Waste Free Environment, which started with school children cleaning up plastic in the Arabian Gulf and  has now been ‘successfully exported to Shanghai, China; Mumbai in India; Singapore; and Sittard/Geleen and The Hague in the Netherlands’.

Such projects provide something more valuable even than children happily wearing shirts emblazoned with petrochemical logos:  they frame and visualise the problem as litter not plastic production, and they suck environmentalist energy into picking it up.

“People start pollution. People can stop it”


Above: the original tv ad, featuring actor ‘Iron Eyes Cody’, not actually an Indian although he adopted an alter ego as one and has been much written about.  It was launched on Earth Day 1971, one year after the first Earth Day in 1970,  seen by many as the start of the ‘modern’ environmental movement.

The framing is obvious but it has served the manufacturers of packaging well for nearly sixty years.  ‘Crying Indian’ made individual consumers responsible, not the manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers.  It then motivated individuals to accept and act on that responsibility for ‘littering’.  Its success is measured in the many millions who take part in litter clean-ups without challenging plastic production, and in the framing, for example, of marine plastic pollution as ‘marine litter’ in the research, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and now the plans for its ‘Plastics Strategy’, by the European Commission.  Like a spreading ‘meme’, when a strategic frame colonises our thinking ranging from the European Commission’s ‘Circular Economy’ down to community beach cleans, it simply has to be judged a brilliant success.

Consequently NGO initiatives like #Breakfreefromplastic and #Rethinkplastic which want to challenge the growing production of plastic, have their work cut out.

Roots in the 1950s

Ginger Strand describes better than I can, how this strategy goes back even further than 1971.  She points out that in the 1950s, it became US Government policy to stimulate consumer purchasing to boost the economy, and that could be encouraged by replacing reusable things with throw-away things.

Led by beer manufacturers, refillable bottles started to be replaced by ‘throwaway containers’ and ‘many of them were ending up as roadside trash’.  Ginger Strand records:

In 1953, Vermont’s state legislature had a brain wave: beer companies start pollution, legislation can stop it. They passed a statute banning the sale of beer and ale in one-way bottles. It wasn’t a deposit law — it declared that beer could only be sold in returnable, reusable bottles. Anchor-Hocking, a glass manufacturer, immediately filed suit, calling the law unconstitutional. The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed in May 1954, and the law took effect. That October, Keep America Beautiful was born, declaring its intention to “break Americans of the habit of tossing litter into streets and out of car windows.” The New York Times noted that the group’s leaders included “executives of concerns manufacturing beer, beer cans, bottles, soft drinks, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes and other products.” These disciples of disposability, led by William C. Stolk, president of the American Can Company, set about changing the terms in the conversation about litter.

By 1957 Vermont was pressured into dropping its reusable bottle law and disposable drinks containers grew rapidly throughout the 1960s.  Strand writes:

In 1962, Michigan considered a ban on no-return bottles. Keep America Beautiful openly opposed it. Throughout the sixties, Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council battled a growing demand for legislation with an increasing vilification of the individual. They spawned the slogan “Every litter bit hurts” and popularized the term “litterbug.” In 1967, meeting at the Yale Club, they decided to go negative. “There seemed to be mutual agreement,” wrote campaign coordinator David Hart, “that our ‘soft sell’ used in previous years could now be replaced by a more emphatic approach to the problem by saying that those who litter are ‘slobs.’” The next year, planners upped the ante, calling litterers “pigs.” The South Texas Pork Producers Council wrote in to complain.


At the same time, KAB’s corporate sponsors made sure their own glass containers and cans never appeared as litter in the ads

Then non-corporate members of the Ad Council (an industry foundation organising pro-bono public service ads) revolted and threatened to pull support from littering campaigns.   ‘Backed into a corner, KAB directors agreed to expand their work to address “the serious menace of all pollutants to the nation’s health and welfare’.

The result was that an executive from the American Can Company, ‘volunteering’ for Keep America Beautiful, brought in his own company’s agency, Burson Marsteller, who created the seminal Crying Indian ad.

Today, in terms of what we know of human health and ecological threats,  the can industry seems a relatively benign influence compared to plastics but  www.marinelittersolutions.com is still using the tried and tested tropes, for example with a ‘Don’t Be A Litterbug’ campaign.

The Plastics Story Now

In 2017 scientists from several US institutions calculated that since the 1950s ‘humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics …  and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment’.  The biggest use of plastics is packaging. Roland Geyer, lead author of the study and associate professor in University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management said:  “Half of all plastics become waste after four or fewer years of use.”

Ellen McArthur Foundation: The New Plastics Economy

Global plastic production still increases rapidly.  Most heads to the environment in landfill or as pollution of seas, freshwater or soils. In 2012 only 9% of plastic was recycled in the US, and 27% in Europe, while it is estimated that globally, 32% is “leakage” (environmental plastic pollution to air, sea, freshwater, soils), 40% is landfilled (from which some of it may still escape), and only 14% is “collected for recycling” of which just 2% is ‘closed loop’ (the European Commission’s vision for a Circular Economy).  Clearly there is a vast gap between generation of plastic pollution and recovery for recycling, and almost nowhere (except possibly Finland?) is it being brought under control.

End of the Road?

What may be ending the hegemony of that Burson Marsteller strategy is the demise of ‘litter’ as the main focus of concern.  In the last ten years but particularly in the last few years, studies have shown that vast quantities of ‘micro’ and even ‘nano’ plastics are entering the environment  and the food chain.  All the big bits of visible (macro) plastic break down into microplastic, and then become invisible.  Everything from car tyres (made of plastic not rubber) to clothes (nylon, polyester etc) to more obvious types of plastic: bags, bottles etc, is breaking down into invisible tiny fibres and fragments.  Deliberate ‘microplastics’ such as abrasives in toothpastes and cosmetics is just a drop in the plastic ocean (less than 4% of microplastics).

Wikipedia states: ‘Microplastics could contribute up to 30% of the ‘plastic soup’ polluting the world’s oceans and – in many developed countries – are a bigger source of marine plastic pollution than the more visible larger pieces of marine litter, according to a 2017 IUCN report’.

It’s only in the last two years that scientists have discovered that most of the plastic entering the oceans is probably ‘disappearing’ because it is ending up in the food chain.

This is not just an aesthetic or wildlife-harming disaster but potentially an economic and sustainability catastrophe.  If it also turns out for example that new and hazardous chemical reactions take place on the surface of micro plastics, or they otherwise affect human health, we are in big trouble.  The UK CIWEM, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (not exactly an alarmist organisation) recently published a report entitled  ‘Addicted to Plastic’ which pointed out that half of all microplastic pollution remains on land, and large amounts of microplastics removed at sewage treatment works end up back on farmland as they are spread in fertiliser ‘sludge’.

The little-reported CIWEM paper says Circular Economy measures ‘should include improved product design and substitution, extended producer responsibility and deposit return schemes’.  Back to the future then.

We know that micro and nano-plastics can get into human bodies because they are sometimes put there for therapeutic purposes, such as carrying drugs.


Above: possible routes across gut to body for plastics.

Image from https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-3-319-16510-3_13.pdf

Tamara S. Galloway in book: Marine Anthropogenic Litter, Edition: 1, Chapter: Micro and nanoplastics and human health, Publisher: Springer Open, Editors: Melanie Bergmann, lars Gutow, Michael Klages, pp.343-366, July 2015?


With multiplying trillions of invisible microplastic particles circulating in our environment, getting into air, food and water, this is not a problem we can escape from.  The only answer is for policy-makers to adopt a sea-change in their approach to plastics and reduce it to essential uses and those which can be guaranteed to be 100% recovered and recycled.   Plastic campaigns will need to adapt too.  And what of the industry ?  Given what we now know, it has to be evil to continue with that beautiful strategy of reframing, deception and misdirection.

Above: small fragments of plastic ‘rubber’ from recycled tyres used in an artificial football pitch, found near a stream.  Ironically Burson Marsteller (see above) also invented the “astro-turf” (fake protest) strategy.












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Brexit Values Story Part 2.1

Research from surveys conducted before and after the 2017 General Election shows that Leave/ Remain voters split along values lines more than party lines, or indeed by age, class or sex.   Brexit Values Story Part 2.1 explores the data and implications, for example for the Labour party which has recently changed position on Brexit. It shows that the Labour ‘heartland’ is not now ‘traditional working class’ but far more defined by being Pioneer and like most of Britain, ‘middle class’. It argues that ‘on these data, Labour has the potential to gain majority support if it continues to reposition away from Brexit but only if now also attracts more Prospector support’.

This blog may be mainly of interest to UK and EU readers with an interest in ‘Brexit’ and values but the way a society can split along values lines has far wider significance for campaigners, as well as politicians and others concerned with social cohesion.  One lesson may even be campaigns themselves risk creating counter-productive values divides if they are values-projectors rather than behaviour-generators.  This will be discussed in a follow-up blog, Brexit Values Story Part 2.2.

[This blog is long – you can download it as a pdf here]


Brexit Values Story Part 1’ (February 2017) presented some evidence as to how an unprecedented values split divided British society over a major political issue – ‘Brexit’.   The underlying reasons for this have huge implications for campaigns in many countries (as it could happen elsewhere), and for cohesion or lack of in any society, especially given the bubble-making role of social media.  ‘Brexit Values Story Part 1’ had to rely on tangential evidence (although there was lots of it) as we had no before and after values survey.  That’s now changed as values-researchers CDSM have started publishing data from April and June 2017 surveys run before and after the UK General Election, in which they also asked about voting in the election and the 2016 EU Referendum.

Post-Referendum British Values Surveys

After the June 8th 2017 UK General Election, CSDM (‘Cultural Dynamics’) conducted a nationally representative survey of 2000 people aged 18 – 85, which asked questions including which parties they had voted for on 8th June 2017, and how they had voted in the June EU 2016 Referendum on membership of the EU (aka ‘Brexit’).  The survey was segmented by values, as well as class (Socio Economic Group), age, sex etc..

Pat Dade and Les Higgins from CDSM have been posting detailed articles at the CDSM website about this survey and a similarly segmented survey in March 2017, a week after the General Election was called.  This showed that the Registered Electorate (England, Wales and Scotland) has a different values profile from the population as a whole.  The Electorate is 40% Pioneer, 30% Prospector and 30% Settler whereas the population is 38% Pioneer, 37% Prospector and 25% Settler.  This is partly due to the greater representation of Settlers amongst older age groups, and that in turn will have made some difference to the results of both the General Election and the EU Referendum, for which the Electoral Roll was used to determine who could take part.

Serious followers of British politics or values may be interested in an article posted by Les Higgins in which he compares the values of those who were pleased or upset with the result of the General Election (a ‘hung Parliament’ in which Conservative Prime Minister Mrs May lost her majority) and the deal she then did with the Ulster (Northern Ireland) party the DUP, in order to form a government.

Since then Pat Dade has written a piece about the values profile of those registered and not registered to vote, the role of Kahneman’s ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’ in political decision-making, the representativeness of the surveys, and other issues, as well as interesting articles on who voted Conservative and Labour, including the difference between actual voting and declared intention.  [Conservative support was strongly skewed to over 55, upmarket (AB), male, and ‘Settler with a fringe of Prospectors’ – a ‘voter profile’ says Dade, ‘that would seem to have a ‘sell-by date’ all over it’.  Labour base support was strongly skewed Pioneer and younger, having lost most of its traditional Settler base and failing, as Ed Miliband did, to capitalise on Prospector ‘intent’ to vote Labour, when it came to the actual vote].

Some of these results are summarised below, along with values maps for LibDems and UKIP which Dade has yet to publish on, plus also previously unpublished data on how voting Leave or Remain related to values, and voting at the 2017 General Election.

Basic Data*

Voted Conservative and voted Leave             21.4%

Voted Conservative and voted Remain          11.9%

Voted Labour and voted Leave                        12.2%

Voted Labour and voted Remain                    20.4%

Voted Lib Dem and voted Leave                      1.5%

Voted LibDem and voted Remain                   4.8%

Voted UKIP and voted Leave                            2.5%

Voted UKIP and voted Remain                        0.2%

Voted Leave                                                         44.2%

Voted Remain                                                     43.5%

Did not vote EU Referendum                           12.3%

[other parties not shown]

* Voted by party at General Election 2017 and Leave/Remain at UK EU Referendum 2016 (all data from June 2017 CDSM survey, base 2000)

Key to colours used in the main diagrams:

Index colour codes in the values tables only:

‘Skews’ or over and under-indexes are calculated for each values group, against each question option, so that the size differences of each values group are taken into account when assessing significance.  These are shown in the coloured cells of values tables.  100 indicates average (i.e. in line with the population as a whole, taking into account the size of the group in the population), and anything above 100 is an over index and anything under is an under index.

Skews are identified at three confidence levels.  Red, orange and pale orange mean the option is chosen more than would be expected by the number of Pioneers or prospectors or Settlers (or Values Modes) in the total sample.  Pale green, dark green or blue mean the option is chosen less than would be expected by the number of Pioneers or Prospectors or Settlers (or Values Modes) in the total sample.

Survey Results

The post-election June 2017 CDSM survey asked people how they voted at the Referendum.  The results (above) of 44.2% Leave and 43.5% Remain are similar to the actual Referendum result of 51.9% Leave and 48.1% Remain.

Here’s how the Referendum vote differed in terms of values:

The key data about values differences at the ‘Maslow Group’ level (Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers) is all contained in this table.  The raw sample numbers are in the first row of each option. The second row shows the percentage within each values group taking that option (columns total 100% vertically).  The third row shows the % values make up of that option (sum to 100% horizontally).  The far right column indicates the total number of people and the percentage of the whole they represent, taking each option.

This 2000 person sample of the electoral roll population (England, Scotland and Wales) is 40.5% Pioneer, 28.7% Prospector and 30.8% Settler [bottom row].  As noted earlier, this is somewhat different from the wider national population because some people are not registered to vote.   The population is 38% Pioneer, 37% Prospector and 25% Settler, meaning that Settlers are significantly over-represented in the electoral population compared to the national population, and Prospectors are under-represented.   Prospectors are also more likely not to vote than Pioneers or Settlers even when registered to do so, and this will have made a small but possibly critical difference to the Referendum result.

The coloured indexes in the fourth row of each option show that, as was expected from previous studies reported in Brexit Values Story Part 1, Pioneers skewed strongly towards voting Remain, and Settlers even more strongly towards voting Leave, while Prospectors were more divided and over indexed on not voting.

The index figures show that Pioneers were 25% more likely and Prospectors 8% than the population average to vote Remain and Settlers 40% less likely than the average to do so.  In contrast Pioneers were 25% and Prospectors 14% less likely than the average to vote Leave whereas Settlers were 46% more likely than average to vote Leave.  Pioneers were average on not voting, Prospectors over-indexed on not voting by 21% and Settlers were 24% less likely than the average to not vote in the Referendum.

Above: ‘terrain map’ of the Leave vote by values.  (Top right segment: Settler, left segment, Prospector, bottom right, Pioneer).  It is very strongly matched to the Settler values group.  This is very similar to those previously measured as critical of the EU (see Brexit Values Story Part 1).  45.1% of the Leave vote was Settler whereas only 30.8% of the electorate were Settlers.  30.3% were Pioneers and 24.6% were Prospectors.  Golden Dreamer Prospectors (next to the Settlers upper left) more voted Leave than the Now People Prospectors (lower left).

Above: the Remain vote by values.  Strongly concentrated in Pioneers, with wide support amongst Prospectors but not many Settlers. [50.4% Pioneer,  31.1% Prospector,  18.4% Settler].

Above: those (12.3% in total) who voted in the 2017 General Election but who did not vote in the EU Referendum: 41.8% are Pioneers.  These people are most concentrated in the ‘Transcender’ Pioneer Values Mode. This supports previous surveys which found that those who failed to vote in the Referendum would, had they voted, probably have voted Remain.  Only 9.3% of registered Settlers failed to vote.

Chart showing various surveys on how people who did not vote at the Referendum say they would have voted

A higher overall turnout would therefore most likely have resulted in a Remain decision, and goes some way to explain why ‘the country’ still feels divided over ‘Brexit’ and many see it as unfinished business.

Those who did not vote in the Referendum but who went on to vote in the General Election were three times as likely as the average to be young (18-20, index 330) while 35-44 year olds were also 61% more likely than average to do this.  Over 65s on the other hand were under-represented in this group by 63 points.

Turnout campaigns were aimed at young people before the Referendum and (more so) the General Election and this seems to have had an effect, although too late for those who wanted to avoid a vote for Brexit.

As Pat Dade’s annotation (above) says, it seems that complacent Transcenders (index 156) formed the core of this group, perhaps being so incredulous at the claims of the Leave side, so unexcited by the Remain camp and so fed up with the whole Referendum campaign, that they did not turn out.  Perhaps instead, they then turned out at the General Election, where they mostly voted Labour (see below).  These are the highest self-agency group of all the Values Modes, posing a potential problem for Jeremy Corbyn (see this recent blog), as well as for Brexit.

The Settlers however were gripped by the (Leave) Referendum Campaign, many seeing it as a ‘patriotic duty’ and an opportunity to reassert national identity against ‘foreigners’: as a ‘defence of us’ issue it was tailor made to activate the Brave New World Values Mode which (see above) under-indexed on failing to turn out by 90% (index 10).

Only 3.3% of the Leave voters did not go on to vote in the 2017 General Election. (above)  These are strongly concentrated in the ‘Roots’ Settler Values Mode (red area), the group with lowest self-agency and typically not very engaged in politics or civic issues.  It may be that having done their bit to turn back the clock on unwelcome change at the Referendum and having got a result, they saw little need to engage with the subsequent election.

Nobody knows what would happen if events turn out so as to create another ‘referendum’ on Brexit, formal or de facto but my guess is that these results suggest that the Leave vote would be both smaller and less solid than it was at the time of the Referendum.  The main risks for any ‘Remain’ campaign would again be distraction, disorganisation and complacency.

Failing more detailed qualitative work with those who voted Leave, we can’t say why 30.3% of the Leave vote came from Pioneers (made up of 33.1% of all Pioneers) but as suggested in Values Story of Brexit Part 1, this is probably a more fractured group than the Remainers and might include:

  • Anti-capitalist Leavers who (like Jeremy Corbyn in the past) saw the EU as a corporate pro-business club
  • Anti-TTIP campaigners with a similar outlook (identified as a mainly left-wing group available to Leave campaigns, by Arron Banks and Nigel Farage)
  • Libertarians opposed to the EU as a higher, extra level of governance
  • Intellectual free-marketeers
  • Contrarians

Values By Party at the 2017 General Election and Referendum

[Outside-edge Values Modes shown on LAB 13: RT = Roots, BNW = Brave New World, GD = Golden Dreamer, NP = Now People, TX = Transcender, CE = Concerned Ethical].

There is now a general tendency for Labour to pick up more votes from Pioneers and Prospectors, and for the Conservatives to pick up more from Settlers and Prospectors, but as the maps above show, these major party allegiances are quite labile.  (UKIP and the Liberal Democrats have much more stable and narrower areas of values support).  [The 2017 maps are for actual voting, the 2013 maps for affinity.  For a definitive case study of how Labour attracted, and then lost the Prospector vote in 2015, drawing on values surveys commissioned by John Cruddas MP, see this blog].

The Prospector vote regularly swings and switches between parties and between voting and not voting at all, often dependent on what happens right up to ‘the day’ and in particular, whether there is a ‘right side’ to pick (ie to vote with and be part of the winning team).  Prospectors also like to vote for something with a bit of ‘star quality’, a property which was sorely lacking from the Remain campaign.  [These dynamics are discussed in much more detail in Pat Dade’s blogs at www.cultdyn.co.uk]

The maps below show the values of the 2017 Labour and Conservative voters in relation to the 2016 Referendum.

The core Conservative 2017 vote [top] and the core Conservative Leave vote [middle] are very similar: both Settler centred, although with less support from Conservative Golden Dreamer Prospectors for Leave.  The core Labour 2017 vote [top] and the core Labour Remain vote [bottom] are also very similar: Pioneer centred with some support from Prospectors, especially the Now People.

The Conservative Remain vote includes more Prospectors, some Pioneers and very few Settlers. Pat Dade’s annotations are shown below, matched against typical values-driven attitudes of these groups (ie same behaviour, different reasons):


The Labour Leave vote is split in two centres: Golden Dreamer/Brave New World and Roots.  Pat Dade shorthands these as ‘dark nationalism’ (power over others, rejection of foreigners), and ‘romanticised past’ respectively.

As other surveys have found, the Labour Remain vote was much bigger than the Labour leave vote, and for Conservatives it was the other way around [see table above].

The Shifting Position of Labour

The Labour vote is especially topical in the UK given the very recent change in Labour’s position, shifting from effective acceptance of Brexit in line with the Conservative Government’s position, to saying that it wants to remain in both the EU Single Market and Customs Union in a ‘transition period’ lasting up to four years, with an option for this to be a permanent arrangement.  As I noted in this July blog, the latter is in line with the official Labour position endorsed by it’s Conference.

That blog was entitled “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” – Will You Chose The Old or The Young” ?: it now seems that lots of internal wrangling and argument, Corbyn has chosen the young.  After I wrote that blog, a Labour insider from the Remain campaign told me to expect that Corbyn to manoeuvere into a position where he could criticise the government for failing to protect jobs (a ‘jobs-first-Brexit’) as the negotiations developed in the autumn (negotiations re-start this week).

Following the Labour re-positioning, which is slight but important as it detaches Labour from the Conservative position and opens the way for a new political divide over Brexit, numerous media commentators warned of a possible ‘backlash’ from pro-Leave Labour voters, against the officially new ‘softer’ position on Brexit.  The CDSM survey however suggests that at least in terms of the national vote, this risk may be relatively slight.

12.2% of the national sample (243) said they voted Labour at the 2017 General election and voted Leave at the Referendum but 20.4% (409) voted Remain and Labour.  In values terms the Labour 2017 + 2016 Leave vote over-indexed amongst the 44-54, female, DE (153), and the Values Mode Happy Followers (165) and Roots (147).   Happy Followers are an ‘inside’ VM on the values map, less ‘bothered’ by life in general than the ‘outside edge’ VMs and consistently less likely to play an active part in social issues of any kind.  Plus they are, as the name suggests, most likely to follow the lead of their ‘outside edge’ VM, in this case the Golden Dreamers who did not over-index on Leave or Remain.  Which way they go on ‘Brexit’ in future may depend very much on what others do and say, and for them, that will probably depend very much on self-interest, for example in terms of jobs and their personal economy.

The Roots VM is that with lowest self-agency, and the one which appears to have most tended to vote in the Referendum and then not vote in the Election.  It’s just an informed guess but it may be that this group will decide that they’ve made their point, and had their say, and now it’s up to others to ‘get on with it’.

In contrast, the much larger Remain+Labour vote is over-indexed to Transcender and 21-34 year olds and ABs.  These are the ‘campaign leaders’ on most social issues with the greatest self-agency.  There is no sign in this data of a solid Labour ‘working class’ or ‘Middle England’ pro-Brexit constituency although there is evidence of a split between what Pat Dade has called ‘True Labour’ (now, pro-Remain) and Blue Labour (more pro-Leave but smaller).  What is largely unknown and missing in terms of clarity is his ‘New Labour’ (mainly Prospectors).

Above: Labour by Values Modes, Leave and Remain, 2016-2017 (raw nos from sample)

In short, if the pro-Remain Labour campaign now energises the Prospectors, there may be a politically critical surge to keep Britain in the Single Market and EU, and that could carry Corbyn to a staying-in-the-(reformed/adjusted)-EU.  If not, Labour could watch from the sidelines as the Conservative Government, also divided, slides to wherever it ends up, taking the country with it.  There is probably little electoral risk to Labour from this, as most ex-UKIP and older voters already went Conservative.

On these data, Labour has the potential to gain majority support if it continues to reposition away from Brexit but only if now also attracts more Prospector support.   For Corbyn the dilemma is probably less between party and country (the Conservative problem) as choosing between doing what is best for the country, and either certainty of being able to totally blame the Conservatives for doing what is worst, or, having a real say in the outcome.

Some more charts:

Above: proportions of Maslow Groups within Referendum options.

Above: distribution of options within Maslow Groups (same as raw nos).

Above: Indexes only showing the departures from average – the only option where there was no significant values effect was for Pioneers not voting, which they did in line with the population as a whole, although as we have seen there was a strong tendency for this to be younger and Transcender Pioneers. [This takes into account the different sizes of the groups in the population].

Above: make up of the three main values groups within the Referendum options.

What about Other Factors ?

As many other surveys have showed, age played a part but especially among those voting Leave and not voting.  This is large part down to the values distribution across age groups in the UK (values-age effects are not universal but result from past social effects, so this is not necessarily a model for other countries).

The table above shows that the age group 25-34 over indexed on Remain, while four other age classes were average, and over 55 were below average.  So not all the remain voters were ‘young’.  These data show 50.8% of the Remain voters were 18-44.   The Leave vote was much more skewed, with only 33.9% of under 44s voting Leave, and those over 65 being 33% more likely than the average to vote Leave.  Non-voters showed the opposite effect: 51% were under 34, and 18-20 year olds indexed 269 on not voting, or more than two and a half times as likely as the average person in the electorate.

Sex on the other hand played effectively no part in the Referendum.

No significant differences with respect to sex.

There is some correlation between class as defined by occupation (Socio Economic Group) and values in the UK (below).  The Remain vote was proportionately highest in AB, followed by C1, with C2 and DE under indexing.  Leave was under indexed among ABs and over indexed in C2s but not DEs.  Not-voting was over indexed amongst C2 and DE.  As many psephologists and pollsters have said since the Referendum, this type of class segmentation no longer provides a good yardstick for social issues such as politics and ‘Brexit’.

Above: UK Population, SEG and values

Data at Values Modes Level

As students of motivational values will know, the CDSM model breaks out the three big values groups of Settler, Prospector and Pioneer into twelve smaller Values Modes which are more distinctive, and with practice, more recognizable as ‘real people’.  For those interested, here are the VM (Values Mode) results on the Referendum (in values transition order – explanation and more on VMs here).

Below I have extracted just the significant skew indexes:

All the Settler VMs (four left) under index on Remain, and all over index on Leave.  The highest single over-index on Leave is BNW or Brave New World, the VM with the strongest unmet need to assert group identity.  At its simplest, many BNWs may see the EU as ‘us’ being controlled by ‘them’.

The strongest proponents of Remain in contrast, are the Transcenders (TX), the highest agency VM and typically the leaders of change, both socially and individually.  Transcenders will tend to see the EU as valuable for all its faults, as a rare working example of inter-government cooperation, and the best bet in tackling major global problems like climate change, while also upholding freedoms and fostering innovation.

The only Pioneer VM to under-index on Remain and over index on Leave is the Transitionals (TS), the VM which has just transitioned from Prospector World.  TS tend not to have very strong political views but are very sure that they, and thus ‘everyone’, need to “live differently”.  Leaving the EU might be just such an adventure.

Two VMs over index on not voting, and probably for very different reasons.  The stand-out is NP, the Now People.  These are the most socially influential (with other Prospectors in particular) Prospector VM, and the party-people and fashionistas of the values worlds, as well as being more confident aspiring achievers than other Prospectors.  They want politics like the rest of life to be fun and to give definite choices.  As was anticipated in a previous blog before the Referendum, the failure to get the NPs out is probably one reason (along with some Pioneers not voting) why Remain scraped a loss (the campaign lacked stars, positivity, fun and a positive vision about how the EU gave them a better life).

The other VM over indexing on not voting is the Flexible Individualists or FIs, Pioneers lying to the inside of the TX on the map, and the most out-there, anti-traditionalist and reflexive of all Pioneers.  Fis frequently adopt iconoclastic positions and may challenge every received wisdom.  Their watchword is ‘do you own thing’.  Quite possibly, the Referendum with its simplistic binary format, did not appeal.  (Reinventing the EU however might have appealed a lot, although they would have all wanted to take part individually).

The only VM to score as average across the options was the Golden Dreamers (GD), identified by Pat Dade before the Referendum as the likely swing group or bellwether.  Like the country, they were split down the middle.

Only detailed qualitative work could confirm this but the GDs, constantly on the look-out for a rapid route to success (especially Material Wealth – see a detailed explanation here), probably found the claims of the two camps hard to reconcile, or chose between.

Like BNWs, GDs are also sensitive to the concern that others might be exerting ‘power over us’.  In this case these two factors could have been in conflict.  On balance the EU may have looked a better bet economically (Kahneman’s System 2), whereas an offer to ‘take back control’ by leaving the EU (more System 1) might also have felt attractive in the GD way of looking at things.  GDs can often be seen in Brexit vox-ops on UK TV, expressing two mutually contradictory views about immigrants, with the dividing line between good and bad immigration being drawn according to economic necessity (and possible competition), though not necessarily decided by analysis so much as intuition.

Above, raw numbers from the sample showing the huge pile of Settler Leave votes.

Above: raw numbers from the sample showing the dominance of the TX vote and low Settler support (note different scales).


Above: raw numbers from the sample showing relatively high numbers of NP and GD who, along with many Fis and TXs did not vote, for different reasons discussed in the text.

UKIP and the Liberal Democrats

Both UKIP and the LibDems were squeezed, along with the Greens, at the General Election.  Numerous other analyses have discussed why this happened (eg YouGov).  Essentially the UKIP vote went mostly to the Conservatives (although some RT voters seem to have not bothered, above), while Labour attracted many Pioneers, some of whom might otherwise have voted for the LibDems.  This general picture of course fails to represent the political significance of local voting, for example where I live, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb MP was re-elected despite being in an area which mainly voted Leave.

Very few LibDems voted to leave the EU: it is a staunchly pro-EU party.

The LibDem Remain vote reflects the general Pioneer orientation of the party – currently reduced to a fringe of less than 10%, and very concentrated in the TX and CE (Concerned Ethical) Pioneer VMs.  The LibDems have a new leader (Vince Cable) and past experience suggests that this could increase their appeal but the same track record suggests it is unlikely to reach much beyond 20% without a significant change in policies, or a change in the electoral system in the UK (it reached 23% in 2010).

Above: the UKIP Leave vote.  UKIP is the party which launched the Brexit campaign, and as its leaders have said, it can claim to credit for the ‘Brexit’ result, albeit thanks to a series of miscalculations by others, particularly the Conservatives.  It’s vote however collapsed at the 2017 election.

The remaining 2017 UKIP vote is centred in the BNWs VM but at 2.5% (this survey) and 1.8% (national result) is much reduced from its high point of 13% at the 2015 UK General election.  (The UKIP Remain vote was infinitesimal – 0.2% in this survey).

Above: share of vote at UK General Elections showing squeeze of other parties vote by Labour and Conservative at the 2017 election.







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What Could You Do With £36 billion ?

The Vote Leave campaign converted questionable economic statistics into powerful but ultimately false promises about funding the UK NHS in the 2016 EU Referendum campaign.  Now, as Britain faces a £36bn bill for the first item on the Brexit menu, Brexiteers may face a hospital-cost blowback.

“I would go mad if this money doesn’t go into the NHS, I will go mad. I want to be assured that this money – because that’s why I voted to come out” – Shirley in Sunderland (see below). From The Guardian

Measuring Policies in Terms of Hospitals

Campaigners and politicians know that if you want to add some emotional oomph to a statistic to support your case, then convert it into something tangible which people care about.  In the UK that’s certainly health, and the state of National Health Service is consistently number one public concern.

In the EU Referendum campaign the Leave campaign made effective use of a claim that Brexit would liberate huge sums (£350m a week) to spend on the NHS.


That same statistical translation could now come back to bite them, as Brexiteers grapple with how to communicate the fact that Britain may have to pay £36bn to the EU to meet its liabilities, just in order to get the Brexit negotiations properly underway.

Mail Online 6 August 2017

Brexiteers obviously see this as a political liability because they immediately started denouncing it as an outrage.  ‘Tory Eurosceptics reject move to pay £36bn EU `divorce´ bill’ ran a Mail Online headline on 6 August.  Arch Brexit campaigner, Conservative MP Peter Bone even claimed that the EU should be paying the UK, not the other way around.

So £36bn is a lot but what does it mean in ‘real terms’ ?  In terms of hospitals for instance.  BBC journalist Jonathan Dunbar investigated this in a September 2016 post entitled Is a hospital a useful unit of spending?  He wrote:

Politicians and commentators appear to have settled on a new unit of measuring public spending – the hospital. So how much does a hospital actually cost?

… The Vote Leave campaign, for instance, declared during the referendum on European Union membership: “The EU costs us £350 million a week. That’s enough to build a new NHS hospital every week of the year.”

MEP Daniel Hannan tweeted: “According to the European Court of Auditors, €7 billion of the 2013 budget was misspent. Enough to build 10 state-of-the-art NHS hospitals.”

The £350m a week turned out to be a bit of ‘Fake News’ and was abandoned by the Leave campaign after the Referendum but it has stuck in the public mind, so it might be a useful way of breaking down that new number, £36bn.

What About £36bn of Hospitals For The NHS ?

As Dunbar points out, the actual cost of a NHS hospital is hard to nail down, as they range from much less to much more than £350m.  One thing that the NHS does buy, and for which the BBC found the figures were in general agreement is MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) ‘Scanners’.  It turns out that these useful diagnostic tools cost the NHS about £895,000 each.

The cash-strapped NHS could certainly do with a lot more MRI scanners.

Mail Online/ Daily Mail, June 2014

In 2014 the Mail Online, partner website to the right-wing Daily Mail, was outraged to discover from an OECD study that even Turkey and Slovakia have more MRI scanners per head than the UK.   Headlining its report: ‘Deadly shortage of cancer scanners shames the UK’. The Mail added:  ‘Nations record on cancer survival is among the worst in Europe’.  What made this state of affairs even more galling, as the Mail noted glumly, is that the scanner was a British invention (or our scientists were at least ‘instrumental’ in inventing it).

OECD – the UK has only 7.2 scanners per million people

OECD – Japan has 51.7 scanners per million people

UK Could Top The Global Scanner Rankings

So for £36bn we could get a lot of MRI scanners.  By my calculation the NHS could in fact buy 40,223 MRI scanners.  Seeing as in 2014 we had only 467 of them, the UK could increase its scanner quotient 861-fold !  With a current UK population of about 65.1m, we’d have at least 40,690 MRI scanners, or one scanner per 1600 people.  That translates into 625 scanners per one million people, putting Britain where it rightly belongs, at the top of the global scanner table, beating Japan 12 times over.

Or Have 102 New NHS Hospitals

On Vote Leave’s figure of £350m per hospital, we’d get 102 new UK NHS hospitals for £36bn.  Or rather the NHS isn’t going to get 102 new hospitals, instead the rest of the EU is going to get enough UK taxpayers money to build 102 new NHS hospitals.

Good news that newspapers like the Daily Mail could celebrate.  Except that there’s a catch: to get at that £36bn for the NHS, we’d have to not leave the EU.  The Daily Mail of course, is a fervently pro-Brexit newspaper.

Stage 1 of Brexit To Cost the UK 102 Hospitals or 40,690 Scanners

To put it in Vote Leave terms, maybe ‘on the side of a bus’, this first stage of Brexit is going to cost the UK over 100 (102 at £350m each) new NHS hospitals.  Or if you favour the greater certainty of the BBC’s preferred NHS unit of measurement, it will rob the NHS of over 40,000 MRI scanners and leave us languishing near the bottom of the international cancer- scanner ranking among developed economies.

Makes you think doesn’t it ?

Shirley of Sunderland

It’s easy for professional communicators and politicians to regard fast-and-loose use of statistics and framing in a cynical ‘worldly-wise’ manner, as simply ‘par for the course’.  But the tragic thing is that it has had profound real world consequences, and some people were cruelly deceived by the promises of the Leave campaign.

So the other thing it makes me think, is what do all those decent people who voted Leave with the best of intentions because they wanted the NHS to have that £350m a week, make of the £36bn cost of the first course on the Brexit menu ?  People like the lovely Shirley of Sunderland who was interviewed by Sky News reporter Faisal Islam in August 2016.  She told him:

“I would go mad if this money doesn’t go into the NHS, I will go mad. I want to be assured that this money – because that’s why I voted to come out”

You can watch Faisal Islam’s brilliant report here:

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“Oh Jeremy Corbyn” – Will You Chose The Old or The Young ?


Photo: ParisMatch, Jeremy Corbyn à Glastonbury. Dylan Martinez/Reuters

[download this blog as a pdf]

Can the UK avoid Brexit ?  While nearly all attention focuses on Britain’s beleagured Prime Minister Theresa May, the person who could most easily swing it is the newly popular Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  Whether he does or not, may come down to making a choice he’d rather not make, between the old and the young, between the past and the future.

Why so ?  Because any of the more plausible routes to Brexit Exit require a significant shift in public opinion, dignified by many MPs after the 2016 EU Referendum, as ‘the Will of the People’.  Corbyn is in a position to deliver that shift in mood, whereas May is not.  This blog explores why Corbyn probably does not want to do that but he might have to.


The Public Mood Is the Will Of The People


Mood is pivotal because political credibility increasingly demands staying on the right side of it.  Mood captured in opinion polling (see more later) is an expression of the public will.  It’s affected by perceptions of events and options on offer, and politicians still have some power to shape those options.  As all pollsters and politicians know, people tend not to back options that do not look credible, for instance if nobody in a position of influence seems to back them (‘value expectancy’ theory), and cannot back options that are not put to them.

There are quite a few possible variants of ‘Brexit’, such as whether it involves breaking all ties with the EU, or remaining somehow ‘inside’ the Single Market, the Customs Union, within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and within arrangements on freedom of movement, and to what extent, after otherwise ‘leaving’ the EU, the UK accepts EU rules in order to get trade benefits.

Since the June 2016 Referendum, and especially since the June 2017 General Election, UK public opinion has moved steadily towards the more connected, ‘softer’ forms of Brexit.  May’s enfeebled government has started giving way on its negotiating ‘red lines’, and is internally split over a range of harder-softer Brexit issues, and the period of any ‘transitional arrangements’ after ‘Brexit’.  Brexit no longer just means Brexit but degrees of Brexit.

It is not political ‘rocket science’ to see that this unbundling could lead to Brexit never happening at all, something which outsiders like LibDem Vince Cable and ex PM Tony Blair have talked about but which the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet have avoided mentioning.  Perhaps most importantly, a majority now favour a new referendum (Second Referendum) to give the public a final say on whether or not to accept any ‘deal’ that results from the talks with Brussels.  That would of course be a second formalised measure of the ‘Will of the People’.

Corbyn could greatly influence all that but the one option which is hardly mentioned, is exiting Brexit, and he is in a uniquely powerful position to create that option, which is probably one reason why he never talks about it.


Why Is Corbyn so Silent on Brexit ?


The most obvious reasons for Corbyn’s carefully studied ambiguity over Brexit are that his heart was never really in staying in the EU, his own party is split over the EU, and that his political base is split between Leave and Remain (see more, later).

He and his advisers may also fear that raising the possibility of staying in the EU would enrage the Brexiteers, and might revitalise UKIP.  Far better, they may reason, to lie low,  let May sail on to become entangled in impossible politics, hit the sands of intractable negotiations, and take the cannon fire from Brexiteers, as she is forced to jettison one part of their project after another.  To be, as one writer put it, ‘Brexit Bystanders’.

Even when launching his General Election campaign, Corbyn dismissed Brexit as ‘settled’.  Yet this may not be a strategy which stands much exposure.  The problem for Corbyn is that his new found political success, popularity and credibility is substantially built on the votes of Remainers, and especially, for they are one and the same, the young.  He faces many “what-if’s”.

  • What if, as is quite possible, May resigns ? If she is then replaced by someone who has ‘read the runes’ and sees that Brexit looks terminally disastrous, she or he might opt to ‘revisit’ it, perhaps arguing that as the EU has now in some way reformed, it is no longer the same beast we rejected so narrowly in 2016.    A suitable chastened and newly sensible Boris Johnson for instance ?


  • What if, as is also possible, something happens to erode support for Brexit among those who voted Leave ? If a crisis in the NHS for instance, comes to be seen as caused by the Brexit process (eg involving recruitment from the EU).  This only seems impossibly unlikely because it is not being talked about and a crystallising event has not happened.   Recent values-segmented research by Pat Dade from CDSM shows that the Conservative vote in 2016 became spectacularly entrenched within the Settlers, the self same people who formed the core support for Leave.  Few of these people voted Labour in 2017 (see more below) but they may have been crucial in some of Labour’s ‘traditional’ seats.   The NHS is a high priority for these security driven folk.


  • Then what if, the many Remainer Pioneers who voted for Corbyn, were to wake up to the fact that he could lead the country away from Brexit but he is not ? That he seems to have taken the young for granted as ‘useful idiots’ ?  As Lord Ashcroft found after the election, some 43% of 2017 Labour voters still wanted Britain never to leave the EU, and that’s without any public ‘narrative’ on the option. Corbyn’s star could fall on social media and in the press as quickly as it rose.  Corbyn-mania could prove as short-lived as Clegg-mania.


“Oh Jeremy Corbyn”, they sang at Glastonbury.  Oh Jeremy Corbyn, will you chose the old or the young ?


Corbyn Mania, Corbyn Fashion

The thing about fashion is that it is a powerful but fickle beast.  In CDSM’s values model terms, what’s fashionable is determined by the Prospector Now People, well represented at Glastonbury, along with their friends the Pioneer Transcenders (of whom more later).

I didn’t get a very positive response from most readers when I wrote in a blog in September 2015 (Jeremy Corbyn: What The Media and Political Classes Don’t Get)  that: ‘I think that Corbynism could do real damage to the Conservatives’ … ‘he could reverse the ‘hollowing out’ of British politics’ and ‘lots of people, especially young people too young to remember the politics of say the 1960s – 1980s, are hearing such political ideas for the first time. This is generating an air of excitement and youthful energy around a political leader in his sixties whose views the Labour Party had long buried as political suicide’.

I got no reaction at all a month earlier when in a previous blog (August 2015, Labour Lost the Prospectors, so Labour Lost the Election) I suggested that Corbyn could become fashionable:

‘So could Jeremy Corbyn ever appeal to Prospectors ?  Not likely on rational analysis … But what if fashion changes ? (The test of which is the opinions of the Now People).  Could Corbyn yet become a sort of political grunge retro fashion icon ?  Possibly if he looks popular enough.

He’s got a yawning gulf to cross from universalist ethical land to appeal to the power and material wealth brigade, and in the middle of that divide lies ground such as ‘showhome’, which at first sight looks impossible to traverse.

If he does become Labour leader, their best hope of winning back the Prospector middle ground probably lies in making the Labour Party fun and fashionable around him.  It seems unlikely that will be by design.  Unite and the other unions are not that sort of Party People.  But what if the surge of younger people attracted to Corbyn’s Labour, not all of whom are tactical Tories, Trots or other entryists, are themselves part of a social change that could float Corbyn’s boat even despite all the conventional Labour ballast ?  A tide of New Political Beatniks ?

So don’t try to be the trendy vicar Jeremy.  Remain authentically unreconstructed and just hope that vicars become trendy.  If an interest in radical policy becomes de rigeur post-hipster, Corbyn could yet prove to be an electoral asset.  But maybe that’s too radical’.

I didn’t think it would happen but it did. On June 24 this year, Hannah Marriott, fashion editor of The Guardiandecoded’ Corbyn’s ‘sartorial choices’ for the Glastonburyites in an article entitled ‘Corbyn fashion: the new face of Balenciaga?’ [I had to look up Balenciaga: apparently it is a French luxury fashion house founded by a designer from the Basque country in Spain, which makes nice shoes, handbags and other things].  She wrote:

“Undoubtedly, Jeremy Corbyn is far too busy with politics to be paying attention to the trends emerging from the men’s fashion shows in Paris this weekend. And yet, spookily enough, his outfit today closely mirrors some of the strongest spring/summer 2018 men’s looks.

His beaten-up brown lace-up shoes are uncannily similar to those worn by male models on the Balenciaga catwalk a few days ago, in a show inspired by the off-duty looks adopted by office workers taking their kids to the park at the weekend. Balenciaga’s design team would appreciate the normcore appeal of his unbuttoned, creased denim shirt, too, while his white trousers are a brave choice for Britain’s most filthy festival. This isn’t the first time Corbyn has accidentally adopted a high-fashion look. Vogue recently described his aesthetic a “very Vetements”, while one of London’s hottest designers, Martine Rose, recently used a picture of Corbs in his grey cycling shellsuit as the invitation for her show. Clearly, Corbyn has the fashion vote.”

Why am I going on about this ?  It is actually important because when fashion coincides with more earnest political currents it is what can carry your boat, message or movement (pick your metaphor), up and out of the usual channel, on a bigger wave.  It may not last but it can make a bigger splash.

At any event, probably because Corbyn excited young Pioneers, his brand attracted some Now People and his brand became fashionable, for least one Glastonbury, and with a vengeance.

Corbyn took to the world-famous Glastonbury Pyramid stage and attracted a mainly youthful crowd as big as any rock star has ever managed.  All over the site, even in the ‘Silent Disco’, audiences burst into spontaneous renditions of the song/chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”,  adapted, football crowd style, to the tune of White Stripes song ‘Seven Nation Army’.


Labour’s new Anthem sung at Glastonbury

Corbyn is popular with the young.  The young overwhelmingly reject Brexit.

Emotionally, it was a fitting reversal of 2016.  Then, when the UK EU Referendum coincided with the Festival, organiser Michael Eavis had urged festival-goers to register, use their vote, and vote Remain.

When news broke that Britain had narrowly voted to Leave, shock and gloom spread over the site.   A Glastonbury-veteran friend who was there, remembers:

“everybody was shocked really, crestfallen, the atmosphere … it was mostly like somebody had died.  Terrible.  Thoughtful, quiet, not a happy day”.

Showing what an artsy sort of gathering it is, Glastonbury Free Press, the official organ of the Festival …. quickly published a poem, a sort of requiem to Britain in Europe, and posted it up on signs around the camp sites:

Glastonbury 2016: Requiem for the EU relationship

Corbyn’s endorsement by the Glastonbury young is the sort of approval which few modern politicians achieve, and still fewer retain. The political choice he now faces, is whether to side with the young Remainers, or with the old Leavers.


What Happened At The Election

Theresa May called the June 2017 General Election to ‘make a success of Brexit’ by ‘uniting’ Westminster.  She claimed “The country is coming together but Westminster is not.”  In reality, neither was true.

In practice, Brexit did not much feature in the election because May thought she already had it in the bag, and Corbyn deliberately avoided it.  Remainers nevertheless did vote ‘for Corbyn’ in large numbers, resulting in Labour winning an unexpectedly large numbers of seats in university towns (such as Canterbury) and urban areas, especially in the South of England and Wales.

Analysts tend to agree that Labour picked up votes because people rejected Conservative economic ‘austerity’, because of social issues (such as social care, the NHS) and because the more they saw of Theresa May, saw her dodging media questions and avoiding the public while repeating a robotic mantra of Brexit Means Brexit and ‘Strong and stable government’, the less they liked her. May’s personality played a huge role because the Conservatives made her the centrepiece of their election campaign, calling for a ‘vote for Theresa May’ not for ‘the Conservatives’.

Corbyn’s campaign focused on social issues, public services, opposing austerity, renationalising the railways and ending tuition fees for students.  The Labour communications strategy side-stepped the hostile print press, and created live events based in Labour seats where enthusiastic crowds could be gathered, near to target seats held by other parties, and covered live on TV.  They made effective use of this content in video on social media (a lesson for many campaigns).

Corbyn grew in confidence and gave far more polished public performances than he had at the EU Referendum campaign in 2016 (which certainly suggested some media training).  May’s few faltering steps in the public domain resulted in gaffes such as when confronted on a rare walkabout in Oxfordshire by Kathy Mohan, who had been denied her disability benefits and had to live on £100 a week.  On TV she told a nurse who’d had no pay rise in eight years, “there is no magic money tree”.  Corbyn in contrast appeared far more empathetic.

Floating off on the ebb tide, morning after the election.  June 9th 2016

Pro-European Players

The only two parties campaigning in England which were pro-European and did try to criticize Brexit, were the Greens and Liberal Democrats.  Following the 2016 Referendum, the LibDems had made a commitment to campaign to stay in or rejoin Europe.

I’m told the LibDem strategy was already in place but it had been designed to run after a long period of Brexit talks in which events would have educated the public about the realities of the UK extricating itself from the EU. As it was, only elite audiences and a small minority really understood anything about factors such as the Single Market or Customs Union before the June 2017 Election, although almost everyone has heard about them now.

LibDem leader Tim Farron never excited the electorate, and when the LibDems launched their manifesto with a ‘Second Referendum’ as its centrepiece, few people understood that it referred to them having a say on the final outcome of the negotiations, rather than being a re-run of the June 2016 referendum.

The Greens, led by their only MP Carolyn Lucas, nobly tried to launch a ‘progressive alliance’ through tactical voting against pro Brexit Tories but in practice, the influence of tribal activists in other parties meant that nearly all the concessions in terms of standing aside to allow ‘their’ votes to go to a candidate with a  better chance of winning, were made by the Greens.  Along with other smaller parties, their vote was squeezed and Lucas remained their only MP, despite proving herself a brilliant communicator.

(For the Best For Britain campaign, see later).

The Result

On June 8, the Conservatives won the most seats but Theresa May lost her majority.  (Of 650 seats: 318 Conservative, 262 Labour, 35 SNP (only Scotland), 12 LibDem, 10 DUP (only Northern Ireland) 13 others).

Amongst the main parties the UK vote was split 42.4% Conservative, 40% Labour, 7.4% Lib Dems, 3% SNP, 1.8% UKIP (whose vote had collaspsed) and 1.6% Green.  Most of the previous UKIP vote went to the Conservatives.

Leavers and Remainers

Based on a survey of people made on election day but after they had voted, pollster Lord Ashcroft reported:

‘Six in ten of those who said they had voted Leave in the EU referendum backed the Conservatives in the general election; a quarter of leavers voted Labour. Only a quarter of Remain voters voted Conservative; just over half (51%) voted Labour, and a quarter of remainers voted Liberal Democrat.

To look at this question the other way round, just over two thirds (68%) of those who voted Conservative said they had voted Leave in the referendum. Just under two thirds (64%) of those who voted Labour said they had voted to remain in the EU, as did nearly eight in ten Liberal Democrats’.

After the election, IPSOS MORI made a very similar estimate that Remainers had voted 54% for Labour and 26% for the Conservatives, while Leavers voted 65% for the Conservatives and 24% for Labour.

Surveys also found that the younger people were, the more likely they were to vote Labour.  Ashcroft’s survey ‘found two thirds of those aged 18 to 24 saying they voted Labour, as did more than half of those aged 25 to 34. Voters aged over 55 broke for the Tories’.

A YouGov post election survey of 50,000 people showed the same thing:

‘In electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics. The starkest way to show this is to note that, amongst first time voters (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was forty seven percentage points ahead. Amongst those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of fifty percentage points’.

‘In fact, for every 10 years older a voter is, their chance of voting Tory increases by around nine points and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by nine points. The tipping point, that is the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour, is now 47 – up from 34 at the start of the campaign’.

YouGov found that ‘alongside age, education has become one of the key electoral demographic dividing lines’.  As in the EU Referendum, ‘while the Conservatives’ support decreases the more educated a voter is, the opposite was true for Labour and the Lib Dems’.



A recently published values-segmented survey conducted for CDSM shows that Conservative support at GE2017 was strongly concentrated in the Settler values group, along with some Golden Dreamer Prospectors.  This is the self-same profile as those with a high disregard for the EU, and a conviction that there are ‘too many foreigners in the country’, illustrated in pre-Referendum CDSM surveys and reported in previous blogs including ‘The Values Story of the Brexit Split, Part 1’.

Pat Dade of CDSM reports that the Conservative vote was ‘concentrated in older age groups – more than 54% of them were aged 55 or over’. Over 44% were ABs (25% more than the voter population average) skewed to male.


Above: values of the Conservative vote, 2017 General Election

As can be seen from the above ‘heat map’ of the Tory vote, it was concentrated in the Settler ‘Maslow Group’, which accounted for 41% of all Conservative supporters.  But also in the Values Mode Brave New World (BNW), with an index of 156 compared to a (voting) population average of 100. BNWs are the Values Mode with the strongest unmet need for identity, and are the most assertive Settlers.  This region of the values map was, before their mass desertion at the 2017 election, also where UKIP support was concentrated.

The adjacent Prospector Values Mode ‘Golden Dreamer’ (GDs) also ‘over-indexed’ on voting Conservative but at a lower level of 109.  The GDs are power-seeking, and looking for immediate opportunities for a better life but retain a Settlerish commitment to rules and conventional routes to success.  Conservative support was much lower (index 84) amongst the Prospector Now People Values Mode, a psycho-demographic which as this previous blog showed, David Cameron attracted and helped him win in 2015.  May’s dour, fun-free and unemotional style, commitment to Brexit and her austere proposition is unlikely to have gone down well with Now People. Amongst Pioneers (also the Maslow Group with overall the highest educational levels and skewed towards AB), Conservative support was even lower.

[This is why, as YouGov noted, ‘the class divide in British politics seems to have closed and it is no longer a very good indicator of voting intention’**].

Conservative Support at the 2015 General Election

Dade commented:

‘Settlers as a whole represent only 31% of registered voters and slightly less than 25% of the population. Over the last 40 years the Settler segment has steadily declined as a proportion of the population and has gone from being the largest Maslow Group to being the smallest. This is a voter profile that would seem to have a ‘sell-by date’ all over it’.

Finally, Lord Ashcroft (who does ask a few values-related questions), found that

‘Seven in ten Conservative voters said they wanted Brexit to happen as soon as possible. Only 33% of Labour voters said the same; 43% said they would still like to prevent Brexit from happening if possible, as did more than half (56%) of Liberal Democrat voters’.

He added:

‘Asked unprompted which issues had been the most important in their voting decision, Conservatives were most likely to name Brexit (as were Liberal Democrats), followed by having the right leadership. Labour voters, meanwhile, were most likely to name the NHS and spending cuts. Only 8% of Labour voters named Brexit as the most important issue in their decision, compared to 48% of those who voted Conservative’.


Corbyn’s Success Is Built on Remainer Support

So, overall most Remainers voted Labour, and over two thirds of Labour voters were Remainers.  Corbyn’s overall success depended on Remain voters.  A large part of Corbyn’s success was also down to the young voting Labour, and the young were strongly pro-Remain.  Unlike Conservative voters who were also mostly older, more than 4 in 10 of those voting Labour in 2017 still wanted Brexit never to happen, even without Corbyn ever talking about that.

If Corbyn knows about values groups (the Labour Party certainly does as TCC, The Campaign Company, co-sponsors political surveys using the CDSM model and has close links to Labour), he will also know that his recent growth in support has come mostly from the Pioneers, and especially the Transcender Pioneers.

Pat Dade of CDSM hasn’t yet published his analysis of the Labour vote but he tells me that the Transcenders were 44% more likely than the average to have voted Labour in 2017.  At the 2017 General Election, the biggest element of the Conservative vote was Settler (40.4%), and the biggest element of the Labour vote was Pioneer (47.3%).

Labour support has shrunk amongst the Settlers compared to its historic base. The Settlers are the most pro-Brexit group, and overall stewed to older.  As Pat Dade says, this values-demographic is quite literally dying out, and it’s currently more of a problem for the Conservatives than for Labour.

The old left may still instinctively focus on dreams of rebuilding a working class small-c conservative base but that is not who voted for Corbyn Labour in such numbers at the election.  Indeed it appears that most of those voters went for the Conservatives.

Finally, as votes do not directly translate into MPs (seats) in the UK’s first-past-the-post system, Corbyn’s Labour may still worry about losing seats in the more pro-Brexit ‘north’ (the uber-simplified conventional wisdom).  After the Referendum much effort went into correlating constituencies (and the attitudes of MPs to Europe), with areas (as Referendum data did not coincide with constituencies).  As with the percentage Leave/Remain national Referendum results, this showed that the ‘electorate’ was often more pro-Brexit than MPs, which panicked many pro-European MPs. One such exercise was by UEA political scientist Chris Hanretty.  I asked Chris about the 2017 cohort of Labour MPs but he said that “Given the difference in turnout between 2016 and either 2015 or 2017, I’m not sure a good estimate of that quantity can be produced” and he also pointed out that it has now become more difficult to get a clear indication of where Labour MPs stand on Brexit.

Public Opinion

UK public opinion is moving steadily away from Project Brexit as launched by Theresa May and effectively endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn, yet responses to simple binary ‘right or wrong’ questions about Brexit still hover around a 50:50 result, not far from the 48:52 ratio. For example the long-running YouGov question ‘In hindsight do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU ?’.

Opinion on a binary question still sticks stubbornly close to 50:50, even in July 2017

There is a relatively simple explanation for this.

First, such a question effectively asks of those who voted (over 70% of those registered), “were you right or wrong?”.  The intuitive (System 1) response to that is “I was right of course”, because to answer otherwise either requires questioning my own rationality when I made that choice, or, it requires use of System 2 to re-analyse the issue (harder to do).

Second, the Brexit ‘problematique’ remains confusing and complex, and voters will now be more aware of its complexity than they were at the Referendum in June 2016.  So it’s got harder, not easier to analyse.

Third, it does not reframe the question, even though reality has changed.  We can therefore expect this polling question to be a lagging, not a leading indicator of shifts in public opinion.

Fourth, qualitative research in the run up to the 2017 General Election showed that much of the public simply did not want to have to think about the Referendum again (see below).


How People Felt in May 2017


In May 2017 I did some work* for the Best for Britain (B4B) campaign fronted by Gina Miller, the businesswoman who had earlier successfully campaigned to give Parliament a say in the triggering of Article 50 (the mechanism by which the UK could start the process of leaving the EU).  This campaign encouraged tactical voting to return pro-European candidates.  I was trying to understand what the public understood about the choices around Brexit.

‘Strong and Stable’

Talking to people running focus groups where Brexit came up (almost everywhere it seemed), and looking at research commissioned by B4B, it became clear why the Conservatives had launched with their slogan ‘strong and stable government’, and why the LibDems and Greens faced an uphill struggle.

First, there was a general downbeat mood of anxiety and despondency, even amongst many Leavers. I was told, people are “cross, cheated, frightened, wrong and wronged, anxious, unempowered, fatalistic and helpless’ – one man summed it up with “the word is despondent”.

Many had a sense of scarcely suppressed horror at the divisiveness of the Referendum, and how it had pitched friends, relatives and neighbours against one another.  They had blithely voted on many previous occasions confident that whatever they did, it ‘really didn’t make much difference’, and were now horrified to find that something they not given much thought to, really had made a huge difference, although one they still did not understand.  Even more worrying, those supposedly ‘in charge’ were also saying they didn’t really know what was going to happen and ‘Brexit’ was already being blamed for higher food prices and uncertainty over credit.

One consequence of this, felt by both sides, was what one moderator called a “rush to the parochial” a desire to focus on smaller, seemingly more tractable issues such as numbers of police.  There was a pervasive reluctance to re-engage with any more ‘big issues’, even to express a view, in case as with the Referendum, it also led to ‘the sky falling in’.

What united them, was a desire for a sensible, strict adult to take away the problem and sort it out, without them having to re-engage.  Not many had great enthusiasm for Theresa May but even as a distress-purchase, most agreed she seemed like the best bet.  She appeared stronger and more definitive than Corbyn, and the LibDems were ‘fringe’.   (At that time there were also real worries even amongst lifelong Labour voters, that Corbyn might mean “nutters on the loose”).

Second, as you might expect, they also found that the ‘public’ could be broadly divided into four groups: strong Leavers, weaker more doubtful Leavers, strong Remainers and weaker or more resigned Remainers.   The strong Remainers took a “told you so” view.  The ‘weaker’ Remainers were resigned or largely reconciled, not seeing any real opposition to Brexit, and some so wanted to see it all settled that they might vote ‘Leave’ if there was a next time, even though they still thought it was wrong, just to ‘get it over with’.

The Leavers felt unfairly ‘blamed’ for the social disaster of the Referendum.  The strong conviction Leavers responded with defiance, quickly reaching for dismissives such as ‘remoaner’ and ‘bad losers’ to explain the ongoing division.  The ‘weaker’ Leavers opted for withdrawal, fervently hoping that it would all ‘go away’.

If pushed to justify their votes, both sides but particularly the Leavers, solidified into two camps.   Weak and strong Leavers simply became “Leavers” (Brexit means Brexit).  Moreover, those who had doubts about Brexit (including Leave voters), and instinctively didn’t like the sound of a hard Brexit as it was something UKIP wanted, did not know enough about what it really entailed, to be able to map out alternative options.  Only a very few for instance, were even slightly aware that the EU Referendum question had failed to specify what Brexit might mean in terms of the Single Market or Customs Union.

Lacking any way to talk analytically about it (System 2) and identify systematic choices, people deployed a classic ‘substitution’ and reverted to the easier answer offered by the intuitive System 1, which in this case was, “you were right the first time” (the consistency effect).

So anyone trying to raise the question of whether or not it really was wise to leave the EU, faced three hurdles.  First, many people did not want to engage with it, they simply wanted someone to sort out ‘the mess’.  Second, few even realised that there could be an opportunity for another say in the outcome. Third, both Labour and the Conservatives, who between them dominated the media, did not talk about it in any detail and did not present options.

The Missed Opportunity

For a moment, take a step back in time to late spring 2016.

Before the EU Referendum, when polls showed Remain would win, UKIP leader Nigel Farage laid the ground for challenging the legitimacy of the result if was narrowly in favour of Remain.  Farage specifically anticipated a 48:52 result, although in favour of Remain.  On 16 May 2016 he told The Daily Mirror:

“In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

Next day Conservative Boris Johnson echoed Farage and told the Daily Mail that if there was a narrow Remain win, the result would not be ‘settled’.

In the event, Leave won 48:52.  At that point, the Remain camp could have pivoted on Farage’s threat, and declared the result indecisive.  To paraphrase that maestro of leadership-by-opportunity, Captain Jack Sparrow: “if you were waiting for the opportune moment that was it” but in practice the moment passed.

Remainer in Chief David Cameron fell on his sword, the official Remain campaign was poleaxed and in shock, and the politicians started fighting amongst themselves.

The Tory leadership competition soon turned bloody.  Boris Johnson, a leading Leave campaigner who many suspected had been banking on a Remain result unpopular in the Conservative Party so he could oust Cameron and become PM, was one of the few who raised the 48:52 issue: the result was, he said, “not entirely overwhelming”.

48:52% “not entirely overwhelming”

Johnson also hinted at the possibility of an eventual rethink, emphasising the importance of listening to those who had voted Remain but Boris was on the wrong side to make proper use of this point, and almost immediately afterwards, he was stabbed in the political back by his running mate Michael Gove, and he withdrew from the race to become PM.

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, Labour was also swamped by political expediency of the most basic kind: not concerned about the country, or the political opposition but real enemies: political rivals.  Plus Corbyn was not really committed to staying in the EU, and both the official Leave and Remain campaigns were creatures of the main political parties and were immediately wound down.  There was no game plan for what to do in the event of a Leave result as nobody expected it.  And nobody to point out that the Referendum was unrealistically limited, misleading, mis-sold (with lies such as the notorious £350m a week for the NHS) and a national mistake.

Many MPs were terrified that there would be civil unrest and violence if the Leavers were denied or questioned, although they usually referred to this by the euphemism of ‘a constitutional crisis’, which was nonsense as the Referendum had no constitutional standing.  Resistance to Brexit would have to be built up from outside the political establishment (as it turned out, by Gina Miller).

Opinion Since The Election

The unbundling of May’s Project Brexit after the 2017 General Election has fractured ‘Brexit’ into a series of specific debates which people can have views on, without having to confront the question of whether they were ‘right or wrong’ at the Referendum. Questions framed this way get very different responses.

For instance on June 18, a poll by Survation for Mail on Sunday found a majority wanted to stay in the Customs Union, supported a Second Referendum, and did not support Theresa May’s ‘no deal’ option.

On 15 July the Mail on Sunday reported a Survation Poll finding that voters were now split 50:50 over whether or not the UK should leave the EU,  while only 18% expected to be better off and 39% worse off if Brexit happened, and most thought Mrs May should resign.  Asked if Brexit had been more ‘problematic’ than they had expected, 43 per cent agreed and just 12 per cent disagreed.

On 17 July a time series of polls for Opinium showed views progressively tilting in favour of a Second referendum.

Also on 17 July The Guardian reported that a YouGov poll conducted three weeks after the election had found Leavers and Remainer strongly divided over the importance of limiting immigration.  However when asked in a later YouGov poll to consider a trade-off between limits on immigration and access to the Single Market, opinion started to converge.

Leave voters would be evenly split if the government tried to keep full access to the single market in exchange for allowing a version of free movement that limited welfare benefits for new arrivals …

But support for a trade-off soars when voters are offered the option of other limitations on free movement that are used by some countries in the single market. Asked to consider a system where EU migrants were sent home if they did not find work, 55% of leave voters said they would be satisfied with this, versus only 25% who would be unhappy. There was only slightly less support for an “emergency brake” option to control surges in immigration.

Such findings clearly show that opinion is not firmly behind the ‘hard Brexit’ and ‘no-deal is better than a bad deal’ proposed by Theresa May.  But as The Guardian notes, the ‘trade off’ option can be achieved without leaving the EU.  Likewise the option Leavers were evenly split on, was the deal already negotiated by David Cameron before the Referendum.

The newspaper also cited a Kings College/Rand study which tested multiple preferences. It reported:

“While our results do show a desire to control movement of people to some extent, we find that this stems from a concern about managing demand for public services, rather than from wanting to limit freedom of movement per se”

Charlene Rohr of Rand said:

“Our analysis indicated that, on average, respondents would prefer a future relationship in which the UK is able to make and interpret all laws itself, but this was considered less important than maintaining free trade or being able to negotiate new trade deals independently.”

Eloise Todd of Best for Britain commented: “a huge majority of people across the country support freedom of movement if they too can keep their own rights to live, work and study abroad … The picture is much more nuanced than the government has portrayed, with clear support for some limitations on freedom of movement that are already within the government’s control.”

Such polling reflects the true range of views over Brexit, not captured  in binary polls.  For example the July 17 Opinium poll also asked how strongly people felt:

Which of the following statements best describes your view on Brexit?

  1. I strongly feel that the UK should remain in the E.U. 34%
  2. I think the UK should remain in the E.U. but don’t feel that strongly about it 12%
  3. I am open minded on whether Britain remains in the E.U. or leaves 8%
  4. I think the UK should leave the E.U. but don’t feel that strongly about it 8%
  5. I strongly feel that the UK should leave the E.U. 33%
  6. Don’t know 6%

‘What we can see’ said political blogger Keiran Pedley ‘is that the public appear to be split into thirds. 34% strongly feel that the UK should remain in the E.U., 33% strongly feel the UK should leave and the rest are either lukewarm in their commitment to either side, don’t know or are open minded. Far from there being a ‘52%’ and a ‘48%’, there is in fact a large chunk of people in the middle waiting to see what will happen’.

Expect a lot more polling and a lot more arguing about what it means.  Beware of polls constructed in ways that guarantee a misleading result (whether by accident or design).  A now notorious example was a YouGov poll run before the election which was used to conjure up a category termed ‘re-leavers’.  According to YouGov it showed that a majority were now Brexiteers (ie opinion had consolidated behind Brexit as May claimed) and from this it ‘explained’ how the Conservatives had an election wining strategy. Of course the Conservatives did not achieve a majority.

YouGov’s poll committed several cardinal sins in the world of polling construction, most notably because it gave two options which split Remainers and only one for Leaver voters. They then added one of the Remain options to the Leaver response to create a ‘majority’ of over 60% for Brexit.   YouGov’s blog was headlined: ‘Forget 52%. The rise of the “Re-Leavers” mean the pro-Brexit electorate is 68%’, and this conclusion was widely repeated online and in the press.  This YouGov poll was taken apart by Helen DeCruz of Oxford University, who also criticised the loaded wording of the questions.   She remarked: ‘if you were a sociology student and designed a poll like this, your lecturer would be right to give you a failing mark’.

Why Is Corbyn a Brexit Bystander ?                   

Speculation abounds.  There is no doubt he avoided the subject in the election campaign.  What is more, he deliberately described the question of Brexit as ‘settled’.  At its the Manchester launch on May 9 2017, Corbyn devoted 44 seconds to Brexit, in a speech that lasted almost 18 minutes (video):

“This election isn’t about Brexit itself. That issue has been settled. The question now is what sort of Brexit do we want – and what sort of country do we want Britain to be after Brexit?

Labour wants a jobs-first Brexit. A Brexit that safeguards the future of Britain’s vital industries, a Brexit that paves the way to a genuinely fairer society, protecting human rights, and an upgraded economy.”

[my emphasis]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9UA5DsoVcA  VIDEO

Corbyn pounded the campaign trail talking about inequality, re-nationalisation, the NHS, public sector wages and other traditional issues of the Labour left.  Writing in a blog at The Conversation on 26 June, political scientist Matthew Goodwin and colleagues argued that ‘Corbyn’s Brexit strategy may have paid off after all in 2017 election’.  They drew on Hanretty’s analysis of the distribution of Leave and Remain voting in the 2016 Referendum to conclude that while benefitting from a flood of Remainer votes elsewhere, in some Leave-leaning seats, such as Derby North, Bolsover and Stoke North, Labour MPs ‘held on with reduced majorities’.  They point out that as well as a huge uplift in places where Remainers dominated, Labour achieved an increase of 7.4 points in seats where more than 65% had voted Leave.

Hanretty himself is more circumspect about using the data this way (above) but it seems reasonable to conclude that Corbyn’s strategy was more guileful than many believed.  Yes he was talking about the issues he really wanted to talk about but he avoided Brexit to try and maintain the Labour vote in Leave seats while appealing to other things Remainers liked where they lived.

This leaves unresolved the question of whether Corbyn actually wants Brexit to happen, or whether he was just being opportunistic and pragmatic.

Fighting for Brexit ?

If the former, and he is still the same Eurosceptic who voted for Britain to leave the EEC back in 1975, and against almost every significant piece European legislation ever since, then he was campaigning against his beliefs in the EU Referendum when he urged voters to accept the EU “warts and all”.  Plus he also now faces a new dilemma, as public sentiment moves away from Brexit.  As Goodwin et al pointed out,  “Corbyn’s strategy … [at the election] moved Labour towards the mildly Eurosceptic centre.”  Will Corbyn have to come out fighting for Brexit ?

If on the other hand, he was being authentic and honest about campaigning for Remain in 2016, and just never found his mojo, then he now faces the problem of migrating away from his declared position that Brexit is ‘settled’, if a significant part of Labour’s new electorate, the Remainers, start to demand that he listens to their desire for Brexit never to happen.

So long as nobody was really talking about Brexit Exit, he could avoid that but now people are, especially of course, in the media and blogosphere which most reflects Remain views.  For instance on 18 July over 60 leading public figures in Scotland called for Brexit to be halted.  It is stretching credulity to imagine that this idea will remain confined to Scotland.

The reason Corbyn went into the referendum campaign for Remain, is that it was official Labour Party policy, made by the Labour Party Conference.  In January 2016 Richard Johnson explained in a Kings College London blog:

The official position of the Labour Party is unqualified support for continued membership in the European Union. Regardless of the outcome of David Cameron’s renegotiation, even if it includes exemptions from EU social and labour laws,  the Labour Party ‘will be campaigning, and are campaigning now, for Britain to remain part of the EU…under all circumstances’, as Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn has vowed.

He noted that in ‘a YouGov poll taken in November 2015, 83% of Labour Party members wish to remain in the EU, while only 10% would vote to leave’…While only 10% of Labour members might wish to leave the EU, polling shows that 27-33% of people who voted Labour in 2015 want to leave. …It seems likely that the one-quarter to one-third of Labour voters who are Eurosceptic are disproportionately drawn from its historic (yet increasingly perilous) working-class base’.

On 30 June 2016, after the Referendum, another YouGov poll found 90% of paid up Labour Party members had voted Remain.

At this point, just after the EU Referendum Corbyn’s approval rating had also dropped from +45 to +3 and the majority of Party members did not think he was doing a good job.

Mixed Signals

Right now Labour is sending mixed signals.  Like the Tories, Labour is internally split. In June for example, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, told The Spectator magazine that Labour supported leaving the Single Market.

Then in July Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said the party must “respect the result of the referendum, respect the will of the people in terms of having greater control over our laws, greater control over our borders” and, “If we could negotiate an agreement on remaining within the single market that dealt with all of those issues  then that would be fantastic.” On the Customs Union, Long-Bailey said:

“Again, the position is very similar. We want to maintain the benefits that we currently have within the customs union – we want to have our cake and eat it, as do most parties in Westminster.”

This could be a strategy of remaining deliberately obscure and confusing while creeping along behind the opinion polls wherever they lead, trying all the while to maintain criticism of the Conservatives.  It risks sounding just like the Conservatives, who have tried to avoid spelling out where they stand on negotiations over key Brexit issues in Brussels.  It is hard to see how it could deal with a straight question about exiting Brexit, or whether Corbyn still regards Brexit as ‘settled’.  Corbyn could easily find himself once again unpopular with his own party.

Trying to discern what is going on inside Labour is like trying to ‘read the tea-leaves’ while the tea is still swirling round in the cup.  As journalist James Blitz pointed out at the end of June, although Corbyn has taken against membership of the single market and wants to impose immigration controls, ‘Labour has around 50 MPs, MEPs and peers, led by Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who have recently started calling for the UK to remain a member of the single market and the Customs Union … standing between Mr Corbyn and Mr Umunna is Sir Keir Starmer, the Brexit spokesman, who is widely respected, but tries to bridge the gap with sometimes impenetrable pronouncements’.

‘The central question for Labour is how long Mr Corbyn will maintain this stance …  unless he shifts in the direction championed by Mr Umunna, he will be unable to exploit the divisions over the Customs Union and single market within Tory ranks’. 

But it’s also the Members and new voters Corbyn has to contend with.  Never mind the sing-a-longers at Glastonbury, there are critics of his Brexit stance even in the Praetorian Guard of the left, including it seems, within Momentum as an article in Clarion points out.  In it, Sacha Ismail notes the national movement away from hard-Brexit or even Brexit-at-all, and comments:

‘All this is despite a lack of leadership from the Labour Party – and makes Labour’s stance even more objectionable’.

Also from the intellectual left, an article by Matt Bolton, a researcher, at the University of Roehampton takes Corbyn to task for Blair-like skills in ‘triangulation’ and heaps doubt upon his ‘purported authenticity’:

‘While Corbyn’s much derided ‘0% strategy’ on Brexit proved to a be a short-term electoral masterstroke, assuring Red Kippers that he was committed to pulling out of the single market and clamping down on immigration, while allowing Remainers to project their hopes for a softer landing onto him, at some point a decision has to be made’.  

‘ …Faith in Corbyn’s supposedly unshakeable core beliefs’ says Matt Bolton, ‘is such that his party’s policies on immigration barely register amongst people who would be incandescent with rage if another Labour leader even vaguely gestured towards them’.

There is plenty more discussion in a similar vein, although do not venture in unless you want to explore detail which soon get reminiscent of Monty Python’s ‘People’s Front of Judea’ parody of the Left, in Life of Brian.

If the young are paying attention – which maybe they are not, as the holidays approach – they certainly might ask questions of Mr Corbyn. In March 2017 a poll of students found

The overwhelming majority of students (84%) voted Remain and 99% of them have no ‘bregrets’ about doing so. By contrast, 9% of the 16% of students who voted Leave regret it. Among students who did not vote, two-thirds now say they would vote Remain, compared to just 13% who would vote to Leave

As a June YouGov survey showed, students have also given their overwhelming support to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, as have the young in work (many of them Prospectors).

‘The Conservatives are 39 points ahead amongst retirees and Labour are 45 points ahead amongst full-time students.

Labour is in fact ahead amongst those in work: 4 points ahead amongst those working part time and 6 points ahead amongst those working full time, illustrating how the Conservatives are increasingly relying on the grey retired vote.’

But far away from Glastonbury, those in the City who follow these things maybe more forensically, perceive a more cynical Corbyn operation.  Watch this video for instance from Bloomberg, featuring Simon Kennedy.

Bloomberg’s Thomas Penny and Alex Morales wrote on 5 July:

Rather than heed the calls of the pro-European young Britons who backed Labour at the ballot box and chanted at “Glasto,” Corbyn is sticking with a commitment to extract the U.K. from the bloc’s single market — something the Tories are doing too. In the end, there is not much separating his not-so-secret euroskepticism from the position of his rival.

“He’s ambiguous, he’s not an enthusiast for the EU and never has been,” said Steve Fielding, who teaches politics at the University of Nottingham. “The more clear Brexit becomes, the more clear Corbyn’s position becomes. Potentially it’s going to be more difficult for him than Theresa May.”

Clarity on Brexit is not something Corbyn is aiming for. A weakened May offers him a path to power and he has everything to gain from staying vague given that the 40 percent of support he drew in June came from both pro-remain London and leave-voting northeast England. Taking one side risks alienating the other.


I can’t say I like Jeremy Corbyn as I don’t know him but I’d like to able to like him.  So let’s settle for a positive explanation of his vacillating mood music and ambivalent position over the European Union and Brexit.

He became Labour Leader largely by accident, and finding himself in a pro-EU party, had to run for Remain in a referendum called by Cameron’s miscalculation, which he did badly.  When Remain unexpectedly lost to the shock of all concerned, he may have breathed a sigh of relief, only to have to fight off internal rivals, and unexpectedly, survived.

At the same time a Conservative leadership struggle produced the unexpected result of Theresa May as Leader and Prime Minister. Performing poorly in Parliament, Corbyn looked a no-hoper and trailed badly in the polls, while May rode high as the strong and stable adult who would sort out the post-Referendum mess that much of the public did not want to think about.  May then miscalculated and called an election on Brexit, only for Corbyn to do unexpectedly well in the election thanks to votes of Remainers, which ended with a hung Parliament, May as ‘a dead woman walking’, and ‘Europe’ as once again a divisive live issue within the Tories.

As a result Brexit, which Corbyn had declared ‘settled’ in order to placate Settler Leavers who turned out not to support Labour as much as the Tories, and are any way few in number, is unbundled and an increasingly open question.

Consequently, Mr Corbyn’s reluctant support of Remaining is now out of kilter with his new base, and his acceptance of Brexit as a ‘settled’ done deal may leave him stranded if the tide of support for Brexit falls any further, and alienated from his choir.

So far he has not really been called to account over Brexit. What is he to do ?

Corbyn The Great Reformer ?

One thread of consistency which may help him, if we take it at face value, is his desire to reform the EU.  In 2015 Corbyn wrote a piece in the Financial Times, entitled: ‘The orthodoxy has failed: Europe needs a new economic settlement’.

‘Our shadow cabinet’ he wrote ‘is [also] clear that the answer to any damaging changes that Mr Cameron brings back from his renegotiation is not to leave the EU but to pledge to reverse those changes with a Labour government elected in 2020.  Labour is clear that we should remain in the EU. But we too want to see reform’.

Likewise in June 2016, Corbyn said in a Sky TV leaders debate during the Referendum campaign: “I am not a lover of the European Union. I think it’s a rational decision – we should stay to try to improve it.”   John McTernan of The Telegraph wrote at the time, ‘Jeremy Corbyn wants Labour voters to reluctantly Remain – has he finally captured the mood of the nation?’

It is not too much of a stretch for Mr Corbyn to now fall in line with the changing mood, and argue that given the mess the Tories have made of Brexit, we should maybe put it to the people: should we leave or should we after all stay in, which looks economically and socially the more sensible option, and reform the EU ?   If he is looking for a threshold test for such a decision, perhaps he could take a cue from Nigel Farage: two thirds should do it.

Should Mr Corbyn walk away from the hopeful young Remainers, and the future they represent, when they have rescued him from political ignominy, the word which springs to mind, is ‘betrayal’.


(minor updates 21 July)

*In the interests of disclosure this was after I had written my previous blog, which was before I had met anyone from B4B or Gina Miller, who by the way, I think did a great job

** Beats me why the polling companies don’t use CDSM’s values model seeing as it explains the results somewhat better than the questions they keep asking. But there you are.

Chris Rose chris@campaignstrategy.co.uk  July 2017


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The Most Interesting Campaign in the UK General Election

On June 8th the UK goes to back to the polling booths for a General Election.  The political campaigns do not look very interesting, and the most interesting political figure in the Election is not a politician but a campaigning business woman: Gina Miller, who took the government to court over the way they tried to begin ‘Brexit’ without involving Parliament.

Last week Miller launched a crowd-funding appeal ‘Best for Britain’ at https://www.gofundme.com/whats-best-for-britain.  In a few days it has raised nearly £300,000, and more important than the money – for Miller is herself reportedly rich and no doubt has many wealthy sympathetic friends – it has generated a lot of media attention, in newspapers which are pro-Brexit but which focus on how successful her fundraising has been.   This of course adds credibility to her project as it’s a success.

Tactical Voting

Miller aims to organize Britain’s biggest ever campaign for ‘tactical voting’ against (a hard) Brexit.  Her GoFundMe page says:

So far there are (sensibly) few details about Miller’s campaign but there are a number of reasons why it ought to give politicians pause for thought.  Here are four.

1.It’s Understandable and Not Boring

Conventional analysis has it that the Conservative Party should win by a landslide, as Labour is divided and has a hugely unpopular ‘hard-left’ leader massively out of tune with most of the electorate.  By the same token the SNP will dominate Scotland but have no head-room to do any better and Britain’s ‘third party’ the Liberal Democrats, with a pro-European policy, are generally expected to win back some of the many seats they lost at the last General Election but voter-geography and the UK’s ‘first-past-the-post’ system means they will still struggle to make much of an impact in most Tory-dominated areas.   The same factors bedevil UKIP, only they are also falling apart, and the Greens will do very well to add one or two MPs alongside their only charismatic figure, Brighton MP Caroline Lucas.

All this means that the election could look very much like a ‘done deal’, a ‘coronation’ rather than an election, and thus rather boring.  The political classes will anyway find it fascinating but Britain’s public are not very political: only 2-3% put ‘my politics’ in their top three factors defining ‘my identity’.  And that means that Miller’s ‘single issue’ campaign,  just might become something interesting that the press and public find it hard to ignore.

2. It’s Miller v. May

Theresa May took a gamble when she called the election last week by declaring that “The country is coming together but Westminster is not” and so Britain needs an election to ‘make a success’ of Brexit.  That could prove a hostage-to-fortune for May as many of the 48% who voted ‘Remain’, remain thoroughly unconvinced, and feel that the country was swindled and misled.  Even some of those who voted to leave the EU, acknowledge that the practical consequences are turning out to be a lot more ‘complicated’ than they imagined.

Miller is in effect the leader, the figurehead for ‘the 48%’, that the political classes have failed to provide.

3. Business Woman Glamour

Theresa May, or principally her shoes, have featured in numerous photographs in Vogue magazine.  Gina Miller on the other hand got an article explaining the launch of her campaign in Vogue last week, by Arts and Lifestyle editor Katie Berrington.

Miller obviously will draw a lot of her support from Pioneers, who as has been described in several previous blogs (for instance Brexit Values Story Part 1), seem certain to have voted overwhelmingly to Remain.  But she also has the potential to appeal to Prospectors, Britain’s archetypal swing-voter psychodemographic.  It was the Prospector support that Labour fatally lost before the last General Election.  Tony Blair appealed to Prospectors as well as drawing support from many Settlers and Pioneers.  Jeremy Corbyn has very little appeal to them, after all, “looking good” and “visible success” are two rather important Prospector criteria.

There is no doubt that being good-looking may cause resentment among peers and pundits but is an advantage when it comes to selling yourself as the purveyor of a political idea. In January a study by two German researchers found that conservative right-leaning politicians were generally more attractive than left-leaning ones in Europe, North America and Australia.  They offered a credible economic explanation, namely that more attractive people got on in life more easily and having become wealthier, tended to support political parties which favoured the rich.  As J K Galbraith said (something like) ‘Of all the things that can be said about redistribution of wealth, one thing is true, and that is that the rich have generally been against it’.

There is another equally simple explanation: Prospectors are success oriented and thus many are attracted to keeping the rewards of their efforts and thus supporting right-leaning parties, and all Prospectors tend to look their best, better groomed and presented, as it matters more to them than Settlers or Pioneers.

Unlike some other pro-European business people who ventured into the Referendum campaign, the glamorous Miller is also eloquent, calm under fire from aggressive interviewers, puts herself in the shoes of ‘thoughful’ members of the public, and is based in the UK.   She is seen outside the High Court in London rather than lending endorsement from a mansion in the Caribbean.

If Miller succeeds in convincing Prospectors, and especially Now People who were much more pro-EU, to now vote tactically, she will stand a much greater chance of success. A lot will depend upon who comes out to support her, and what they look like.

In contrast, Mrs May’s dour sense of duty will not cut much ice with Prospectors if they also sense that their own prospects of success look worse under a hard Brexit: she may be hoping that the election will come too soon for that to sink in.

4. Tactical Voting Comes out of the Closet ?

Tactical voting has long been a love-child of the geeks and nerds of the UK political classes.  They have been the only people to believe that uber-rationalist political calculation could overcome the political dopamines and serotonins of party tribalism, fear, ease, habit, complacency and wishful thinking.

The EU Referendum however may have changed that.  Friends of friends who have never taken any instrumental interest in politics all their lives, are now actively discussing tactical voting on Facebook and trying to understand such basics as the difference between Council Elections and General Elections.  Young people are also more political than they have been for generations.

The political problem with tactical voting in the British context (unlike for instance in France where there have long been de facto political agreements to shut out the FN), has always been that tribal hatreds between activists in parties such as Labour and the Liberal Democrats (and more lately the Greens) have prevented any sort of working agreements to let one or another party put up a candidate ‘unopposed’ in order to defeat a Conservative.  Hence the ‘left’ and ‘progressives’ have remained spilt, and ‘let the Tories in’.  I’m told this is exactly what happened after the Referendum when some mix of the Greens, the LibDems and the SNP tried to convince the Labour Party to start a new ‘progressive alliance’.  Corbyn and his people said ‘no’.

The difference with ‘Best for Britain’ is that it is not led by tribal politicians but by an outsider with no political baggage but a track record, unlike almost every MP except a handful like Conservative Ken Clarke and Green Caroline Lucas, of being seen to actually stand up to the government over Brexit. Miller came out swinging but MPs did not.

Most MPs may be pro-Remain but their commitment to party, their fear of political repercussions or their commitment to representing the views of the majority of their constituents (if not their voters), led them to do nothing that most of the public would have noticed as effective opposition to the May strategy of Brexit-means-Brexit.   Miller may now have given them a way, as a political friend of mine once put it, to “stand up without being counted”.

I do not know what Miller’s campaign will actually involve but she has given tactical voting a new purpose and a non-party-political figurehead.  It is possible that she could do the impossible but it will at least be very interesting to watch.

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The Bubble Print: A New CSR Frontier for Google and Facebook

Many commentators, pundits, politicians, journalists, NGOs, and even normal people, are talking about ‘bubbles’ and Brexit, and as my previous blog suggested, such ‘bubbles’ can easily form along values divides.

The way we now ‘living more separate lives’, aided and abetted by the digital echo-chambers of social media, may have helped cause ‘Brexit’ and helped make it unexpected.   So many of us have our Brexit story, and our own bubble story, and here’s mine.

23rd and 24th of June 2016

On the morning of 23rd June, I went along to my local Polling Station (see video) to vote in the EU Referendum.  I went quite early because I had a two-hour journey ahead.  I was due to join a couple of days of meetings in Cambridge, run by the ‘Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership’ (CISL) to which I make a minor contribution.

When I arrived at the Methodist Church Hall of Wells-Next-the-Sea I found it was busier than it usually is on polling days, and my heart sank.  As a ‘Remainer’ who had been writing blogs warning that a values driven split could tip Britain into leaving the EU, despite what most of the polls said.  What I saw confirmed my worst fears.  Here’s what I wrote the next day to an enquiring German friend:

‘Yesterday morning I went to vote in Wells next the Sea where I live and although I have lived here since 2000 and know a huge number of people having been involved in a lot of local community/ political activities, there were lots of people who were obviously Settlers and lots of them very old, who I had never seen before.  They were literally being brought in on wheelchairs and on walking aids.  It was not a good sign’.

What Did The Germans Ever Do For Us ?

A Cambridge friend told that the BBC had made a news report from the City just before June 23rd.  In the interests of ‘balance’ the reporter had tried to find a would-be Leave voter, and a would-be Remain voter to interview.  A Remainer was found immediately but it took another 71 people before they found the Leaver.

Little surprise then, that when I walked into town to join the ‘networking’ and ‘stocktaking’ meeting of the CISL, the day after the vote, people seemed unusually subdued despite the rush-hour activity and bright sunshine.  Arriving at the conference venue, I found many of the Cambridge-centric audience murmuring to one another in funereal tones.  Others paced about outside, mobile phones to their ears.  Distracted, dismayed and bewildered, they resembled a gathering of relatives who had all unexpectedly lost loved ones in a sudden disaster.

“I don’t understand it” boomed one participant, “How did this happen? I simply don’t know a single person who voted Leave, and nor do my friends”.  Exactly, I thought to myself but I do.  I know lots of them, because where I live we do not live in such separate bubbles, and no longer feeling any enthusiasm to discuss ‘rewiring the economy’ I went home early.

A couple of days later I wrote to another friend, this time a long-standing campaigner with a deep involvement in British politics who I had met up with in Cambridge on the evening of polling day.  Here’s a bit from my email:

“As I said to you in Cambridge, I thought the game was up the moment I went to the polling station in Wells and saw squadrons of Settlers and Golden Dreamers I’d never seen before, being literally wheeled out to vote.  For many of them it was a last chance to vote against a complex of stuff they never understood or liked, and had become a patriotic duty. 

Friday evening Sarah [my partner] and I went to the pub.  We met a friend who declared he was too ill informed (educated) to have voted.  His friend who he worked with (carpenters) declared he had voted leave because “I am a working man” and “I was a soldier”.  He “wanted his country back”.  “I’m a working woman” said Sarah.  He looked slightly baffled.  Our friend said he also thought ‘the whole system was wrong’. By way of explanation he offered: “they tell us to recycle our beer cans which is right and I do but then they make these cheap things that wear out, it doesn’t make sense”.  His friend agreed.  An example, they said, was washing machines that only lasted a year or so while the good ones went on for at least 7 years and could be repaired.  “So which type is best?” I asked.  “Miele” they said in unison.  “Only a numpty would buy anything else”.  “German then ?” I said – they laughed.  “Yes like my VW” said the Brexiteer.  So I asked, “should they have said that in the campaign ?” “Oh yeah that would have been a good idea, it might have made a difference” said the Leave voter. 

It was ‘what did the Germans ever do for us ?  Nothing.  Except the washing machines. And the cars, and making the EU work …’ ”

Outside the butchers, Wells-Next-the-Sea

Living in Less Separate Bubbles

The point being that Wells Next the Sea (population about 2,000 in winter, more like 10,000 with summer tourists) is an example of a sort of town now unusual in Britain.  In short, it has values groups but they are more mixed, still living less in separate bubbles than in many other areas.

Visitors and even locals recognize Wells as unusual, and ‘like something out of the 1950s’ (or 60s, 70s or … pick your reference point from the past).

Wells has about sixty local voluntary organizations, often makes its own entertainment, and is widely known for ‘community spirit’.  It’s friendly and has very little crime.  It’s the sort of place where if you walk down the street and people have seen you before a few times, they say hello.  Being a long-standing port it’s culturally a bit more open than inland Norfolk towns and villages and although it suffers badly from very high house prices and second homes, it still retains a fishing fleet and a lot of people live and work locally.  Wells Harbour Commissioners do their best to keep it a ‘working port’ and not let it just become a marina for recreational yachting.  Wells is almost entirely white, with many large families who have lived here for generations.

Although I’ve not run a survey, many of the residents and, although I’m a Pioneer many of my friends, are Settlers.  Of course there are Prospectors and Pioneers too (in What Makes People Tick: The Three Hidden Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers, although names have been changed, some of the stories are from Wells).   By English standards Wells is quite isolated with poor transport links, as local teenagers will attest.  It has limited choices for social activities, such as pubs but quite a lot of social activities which bring the population together, such as the RNLI (the voluntary lifeboat service), the voluntary fire crew, the summer Carnival, and the winter Christmas Tide.  People still mix here a lot more than they do in many other places: the ‘social elastic’ in Wells is still quite strong.

Yes, people in Wells self-select by values preferences and yes they have flat screen tv’s and broadband, go on foreign holidays and use social media but here at least it’s hard to overlook the reality that people who in many ways seem similar, are in fact quite different when it comes to ‘issues’, and politics and suchlike.  Sociologists might say it has a lot of ‘social capital’.  People in Wells might say that a lot of people know one another, which makes a difference.

It’s Changing

Before you get carried away with the idea that Wells is some sort of paradise, it isn’t.  For a start the majority in my area voted Brexit.  One friend of mine even hoisted his own ‘Leave EU’ banner on the fishing shed but we are still friends.

Wells still has two state schools meaning local children (at least up to 16) and their parents get to know one another.  But more of the teachers now seem to send their own children to fee-paying private schools (mainly favoured by Prospectors) and a few (mainly Pioneer) parents opt for unconventional new choices like ‘free schools’, Steiner Schools and home education.  These encourage ‘bubbling’ as they create separate experiences.

Plus, Wells is becoming ‘gentrified’.  The pub where we used to spend most Saturday nights with a drunken mixture of teachers, care-workers, fishermen, clerks, shop workers and owners, builders and artists, as rock bands played and local ladies danced on the tables and sometimes fought, is now Prospector ‘Norfolk Coastal style’.  It caters for tourist families not fishermen, and to add class, in the summer it pays a lady to sing opera from the outside balcony.  That I regret.  Deeply.

In The Values Story of the Brexit Split (Part 1) I listed some factors which enable people with different values to nevertheless get along (Brexit being an example of where they did not).  It’s a crude list but it was:

  • (Values) Differences are significant but rarely absolute
  • (There are) Many shared values eg ‘being a parent’
  • Attributes nearer the centre of the map are more in common (more of that in Part 2 of ‘The Values Story of the Brexit Split)
  • With free-choice groups tend to self-select by values activities, social networks, venues etc and so avoid conflict
  • Social bonds of family, friendship and culture & interests
  • Utility eg at work: Settlers perfect essential functions, Prospectors are the turbo-boosters, Pioneers the experimenters
  • Common experiences and interdependencies eg reliance on public services, common bonds formed in national or community wide efforts, common understanding eg from media
  • Human contact and expecting to see one another again and needing to get along

Places like Wells provide low-bubble, weak-bubble or pre-bubble examples of how people can, by and large, get along, and not just by avoiding one another.  OK it did not stop a vote for Brexit here but that’s not the point.  The Brexit vote happened but it has not created noticeable fear or rancour.

One strategy for fixing destructive bubble-ization is to reinforce factors that enable people from different values groups to get along, for example social contacts, common experiences, and real-life things that make them need one another.  Limiting choice for example, in education and health, even though that goes against generations of political assumption.

At the same time, as technology and lifestyles change, we will also need to take proactive steps to try and combat the creation of destructively separate bubble lifestyles, even in places like Wells.

Back to Cambridge, to CSR, Google and Facebook

This past week I went back to Cambridge to give a talk on values to a postgraduate CISL course on Sustainable Business.  Afterwards, I spoke to two young CSR (Corporate Socail Responsibility) executives working for large and well known multinationals.

What, they wanted to know, did I make of the use of big data collection using psychographic algorithms, such as the use of Cambridge Analytica’s version of the OCEAN ‘Big 5’ model by Leave.EU and the Trump campaign ?  Was CDSM’s values model being used like this ?  And did the downsides of allowing values-worlds to develop as ever more separate values bubbles mean that stopping or reducing this should be, as one put it, “the new CSR for online companies such as Facebook and Google ?”

I confess I had never actually joined those dots before but yes, it now seems obvious that this is exactly what must happen.

Companies like Facebook and Google have significantly cleaned up their act on issues such as their climate change Carbon Footprint, with solar powered server farms for instance.  It’s surely time they and others in the communications supply chain also took responsibility for their Bubble Print.

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