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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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?
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Experiment, test, learn, improve
Apply the learnings of others about what works
Do both of the above
Create a body of practice that works for your group or for you
Build a campaign around a Critical Path and ground-truth test it
Define your communications strategy (audiences, ac-ons) from the Critical Path
Find your critical path by issue mapping to locate a single significant change
Create a relationship of trust so people can support the campaign ‘on trust’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
Extract: 99% and the “Occupy” protests  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  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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org”
Extract: This weekend , a German fishing hut makes its solo political debut at the Hanse Sail tall ship and marine festival event  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.
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).
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.
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.
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’.
Extract: On October 18 New York Times reported  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.
Extract: Most campaigners love starting things. Most of the tools in my book How To Win Campaigns: Communications for Change , 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.
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.
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.
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.
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  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 .
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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 shownthat 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.
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 .
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.
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.
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  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 .
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’.
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
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
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  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.
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” .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
Chartshowing 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
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).
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.
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.
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’.
‘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 Guardian ‘decoded’ 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
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).
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.
‘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’.
‘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
‘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’.
‘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.
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.
Also on 17 July The Guardianreported 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?
I strongly feel that the UK should remain in the E.U. 34%
I think the UK should remain in the E.U. but don’t feel that strongly about it 12%
I am open minded on whether Britain remains in the E.U. or leaves 8%
I think the UK should leave the E.U. but don’t feel that strongly about it 8%
I strongly feel that the UK should leave the E.U. 33%
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
Unconscious motivational values are largely missing from most discussions about what happened in the EU Referendum vote for ‘Brexit’ and the Trump election. Many people have asked me what ‘values’ may have played and this post is my view of the most probable values dynamic, based on the available evidence from CDSM and other sources. In ‘Part 2’ I’ll look at what it means now and next.
If you are very familiar with the CDSM values model, you can jump to slide 13, then maybe slide 21. Otherwise it only makes any sense if you take a look at them all from the beginning. My thanks to Pat Dade and Les Higgins at CDSM for allowing me to use some of their data and materials. See some of more previous blogs for more detail on the Brexit campaign (links here).
If you’d like to discuss this further you can post a comment or contact me.
In 2016 voters in both the EU referendum in the UK and (very likely) the US Presidential election appear to have strongly divided along values lines which split the values map across the middle, as they sorted along the ‘power v universalism’ axis. This left (most) Pioneers and Now People Prospectors on one (the losing) side and the Settlers and Golden Dreamer Prospectors on the other.
The social, political, economic and technological factors which combined to facilitate this split were decades in the making but came together in a ‘perfect storm’ or ‘black swan’ event only in 2016.
After WW2 the ‘normal’ operation of the values ‘conveyor’ led to a gradual increase in the number of Prospectors and then Pioneers in society and improving social conditions led to new opportunities and experiences, enabling more people each generation to meet the sequence of dominant needs from security, safety and identity (Settler, Security Driven) to esteem of others and self-esteem through ‘success’ (Prospector, Outer Directed) and then Pioneer needs (universalism, innovation, ethical clarity and ethical complexity, self-choice).
The change-averse Settlers tolerated this, often reluctantly, as life overall seemed to be otherwise getting better, as for example the family benefitted as children led better lives than their parents. Mobility allowed more people to lead different lifestyles.
Meanwhile politics began to decouple from people through factors such as privatisation, globalisation, professionalization, convergence of ‘offers’ on the ‘centre’, replacement of face-to-face with media and then social media channels, and hollowing out of political parties. Settlers, by the 1980s and 1990s a minority, began to feel increasingly forgotten by ‘them’. Socially minded Pioneers largely deserted formal political activism for NGO campaigns. Prospectors went shopping and into business. Political participation withered.
Technological, social change and globalisation combined to ‘stretch’ the social elastic keeping these groups together, as common experiences dwindled, lives separated and ‘living in bubbles’ was boosted by social media.
Then around 2008 UK values surveys showed the first rise in Settlers in decades, as some Prospectors ‘fell back’ during the economic crash and recession.
At the same time in Britain, the EU was being vilified and UKIP rose as a party paying attention to Settler needs and fears (security, safety, identity), and powerlessness (Settlers but also Golden Dreamers). Immigration from the EU rose dramatically and was magnified by media attention and political campaigns, triggering an authoritarian reaction as Settlers feared being culturally overwhelmed. This was reinforced by the EU Migration crisis and ‘foreign’ terrorism. Most Pioneers and the more confident Now People Prospectors nevertheless remained on balance positive about the EU. Society was values-primed for a split.
The UK EU referendum posed a simpler, clearer format of choice than normal UK elections. This reduced the barrier to participation for Settlers and Golden Dreamers at the same time as the existential threat, portrayed in the Leave campaigns as posed by EU Membership, reached a new high. The Remain side failed to engage Now People Prospectors and Pioneers with an emotionally powerful optimistic, positive campaign about what was good about ‘Europe’ in human terms. Some Pioneers will have voted Leave on Libertarian or anti-capitalist lines (ie splintered), and some Now People probably did not vote because they felt confused and had no positive, optimistic figure to follow. We don’t know for sure but it is likely that turnout for all Leave-leaning people was higher than for Remain.
UK (Leave.EU) and US (Trump) campaigns both used big data psychographic message targeting and gamed the media with controversialism, whereas their opponents did not use such techniques.
‘Progressives’ in both the UK, and the US (where something very similar happened) now live in countries where they are part of values-majority (more Pioneers + Now People than Golden Dreamers + Settlers) but where governments are in place with a programme based on playing to Settler and Golden Dreamer hopes and fears. ‘Conventional’ political explanations based solely on economics, geography and demographics and unstructured reference to ‘values’ offer inadequate insights into what to do next.
Meanwhile campaigners, upholders of standards of democracy, and those who did not vote for Trump in the US election or voted Remain in the UK’s Referendum on the EU, are alarmed at the methods used in the Trump and Leave campaigns to tailor (sometimes untrue) messages to what particular psychological groups wanted to hear, and the way they ‘got away with it’ by gaming the systems and reflexes of the conventional news media.
As Andrew Wigmore* who worked for UKIP and Leave funder Arron Banks, subsequently told Edward Stourton of the BBC:
“we actually were monitoring Trump, and he started sending out all these crazy messages, just to get attention. This was brilliant for Arron, he loved this, so we started sending out some of the most outrageously provocative tweets, and they were all immigration-led, so when it comes to the bad stuff we totally took the Trump rule book, and tried to apply it here. And we quickly discovered, it worked. And we got more and more fearless, you know, we would talk about who particularly we were going to pick on, whether it was an individual, a politician or a party, or a subject”
The old media assumption was essentially that there were consequences to actually lying, at least when it ‘mattered’ as when dealing with ‘serious’ things like politics, and that although spin and bias were unavoidable, ‘news’ was tested against the output of rival channels and standards of actuality, that is some form of objective truth. Trump and Leave demonstrated that this need no longer apply, and so the would-be fact-checking battlers against ‘fake news’ are now grappling with a new reality in the shape, particularly in the US, of a government which professes to believe in ‘alternative facts’.
This domain of believing anything you want to believe because it feels right has always existed but until now it was confined to gossip, cults, conspiracy theorists, unregulated advertising and marketing, totalitarian regimes, religions, the paparazzi, controversialists, drama, fiction, and arguably if intermittently, inter-personal relations. In public life it was suppressed and constrained by laws and media norms which are now limping after social media like a lame duck in the wake of a tsunami. That wave carried Trump into the Whitehouse and the UK into Brexit.
The cry ‘something must be done’ is one I agree with but the problem many of these projects face, and which may well undo them, is values differences. Some mainstream politicians for example, are seeing the current advantages of the Alt-Fact World, and using it to try and push further against their enemies. For instance on 6th February British MP John Redwood, rolled up the BBC, scientists and climate change into one example of why ‘alternative truth’ is needed. By treating political differences based on ideological belief, as equivalent to belief or not in what is established by scientific method, politicians legitimize and normalize any Alt-Fact, even how many people are or are not standing in front of the Whitehouse in a photograph.
The fact that John Redwood includes the BBC as an example of ‘bias’, shows the problem. No fact checking system produced by the BBC is likely to satisfy John Redwood. I don’t know but he might quite like one produced at the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph but certainly not The Guardian nor presumably New Scientist. [In Britain most national newspapers have quite distinct values-profiles. In the US it is more the TV channels that have distinct values-profiles].
For any sort of global fact-checking or Truth Rating system to work, it will need to be accepted across values differences, which to put it in contemporary terms, means across the Leave-Remain divide in the UK, and across the Democrat-Republican divide in the US. This means involving people from different values groups from the start, not fashioning something that one lot love and then trying to sell it to those who will hate it because of the predicates, language, reference points, source and assumptions, let alone the likely consequences.
It is pretty certain that the EU Referendum and the Trump election divided UK and US societies along the Power versus Universalism axis, just one but usually the most powerful one, of the many ‘values antagonisms’ found in all societies and mapped by Israeli professor Shalom Schwartz.
Converted into the Values Modes and Maslow Groups of CDSM, this looks like a horizontal cut across the ‘values map’, cleaving society along a line with Settlers on one side, together with Golden Dreamer Prospectors (pro Trump, pro Brexit), and Pioneers on the other, along with the Now People Prospectors (pro Clinton, pro EU/Remain). It won’t have been a 100% divide but it was a very strong sorting effect, of which more another time. (See also this previous blog).
This in turn means that to be effective, any ‘fact checking’ system will need to be supported by at least these two different (if huge) groups. There are ways to do this but right now all the initiatives I’ve seen appear to come from individuals and institutions on the Pioneer – Now People side (the losers in both polls). That’s not good.
Design Through Arbitration
With such recent polarisation in both the US and UK, some form of arbitration is going to be needed. In arbitration both sides agree that a third party will make the important decision, with that third party often picked by intermediaries, who are themselves trusted by the two conflicted parties. This may be much more complicated than just involving three individuals.
Not everyone will want to play ball but that’s not necessary. It might mean for example finding some senior Republicans or institutions that senior Republicans trust, to pick the intermediaries from their side, or maybe even Fox News, rather than expecting Messrs Bannon and Trump to be involved. On the other could be senior Democrats and maybe CNN. And something similar in other countries.
It would be possible to sell such a system after it is up and running, if it had sufficient utility value, for example if a critical mass of media and social media adopted it as the standard, and if businesses and stock markets started to do so and if it spread globally. But with the funds at their disposal, it would also be perfectly possible, if for example the Settler-Golden Dreamer-alt-right wanted, for them to launch and promulgate an Alt Fact Checker, thereby simply moving the values stand-off from one place to another, into an argument about fact checking and standards systems, rather than ‘facts’ and ‘news’.
* Mr Wigmore is pictured here in this Daily Mail photo, with Mr Farrage and others on a visit to Mr Trump in Trump Towers