Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Brexit: The Uncivil War: a window on the UK soul.

Brexit the Uncivil War was an eye-opening and very well made bit of TV, which, if you missed the agenda, reminded the viewer of the various sets of criminal and malpractice charges against the Leave campaign at the end (good piece here on how the Remain agenda was pushed throughout the whole piece). The central performance was a compelling turn from Benedict Cumberbatch, and despite a large degree of dramatic license, most of the central facts and plot of the piece seem to be based on reality. This, if you've got 30m spare, is the first hand account by Dominic Cummins of what they did and why;

There are all sorts of bits of the programme which gave pause for thought:
 - the repeated refrain about sections of society whom nobody listens to (great joke about Cummings taking Douglas Carswell to a place where he had no idea where he was 'but its in your constituency Douglas'. Carswells take on the show is here. ). The political machine relies on population profiling, and pitches messages to the groups it needs to win over in order to win votes. If that's how the 'democratic' system works, then it simply leaves out all those who a) the vote machine can take for granted or b) it doesn't need. Vote Leave won because it connected with many people in that category, and made the emotional connection of lost control whilst Remain was stuck on facts about economics.

- niche advertising, and the control of the algorhythm over what we see online. Are you less likely to see this blog if you're unlikely to agree with it? Just about every day on Facebook (my main social media medium) there's a post about how FB only lets a small fraction of your 'friends' see your posts and how to hack out of that. We end up trapped in the feedback loop of social media - every bit of data we post feeds into the equation which decides what data we're allowed to see. This both traps people within a particular bubble (unless they intentionally navigate out of it), and does the same for decision makers and politicians. A medium which proclaims, in the words of the Nokia slogan, that is is 'connecting people', is actually disconnecting us.

The current Brexit turmoil is making this worse - because (as Cummings states above) Brexit is an issue which cuts across parties, no single major party supports it or can deliver on it. The normal delivery mechanism of politics has broken down, so voters are left with politicians who are fundamentally disconnected from the things they voted for. Remainer politicians cannot deliver because they lost, and Brexiteer politicians cannot deliver because they are (still) not on the front benches, or framing the negotiations and deals.

 - truth has always been rationed in politics, but the focus in the Brexit campaign (as in most political campaigns) was not about truth or facts, but about which messages 'cut through'. Not what is real, but what do people relate to. Trump has taken this even further. A previous generation mixed ideology and passion - there was a way of seeing the world, and a passionate commitment to a vision of how it could be set straight. Modern politics, and political coverage, in the main bypasses ideology and heads directly for the passions. BBC news, for example, has decided that the detail of Brexit, policy etc. is far too difficult for its viewers to understand, and has given us the last 3 years almost entirely through the lens of internal power plays in the Conservative party. Just about every major news reporter on the Beeb buys into this soap opera perspective. ITV news at least makes some attempt to brief and inform viewers what issues are at stake. And it has Tom Bradby, who is great.

I'd recommend either watching the programme, or watching the clip above, it's an interesting window on the soul of the UK. For me its a reminder that listening well to people takes more time than preaching at them, but can be 100x more effective. And ironically, for a Brexit campain which made so much capital out of people's sense of being ignored, the social media they relied upon actually increases our alienation and feelings of disempowerment. I quit Twitter last year because, amongst the 2500-odd people I was following, so many of them seemed to be angry with each other. On an almost daily basis I logged off feeling more emotionally disturbed than when I logged on. If the genie of anger is out of the bottle, then (as Brexit: An Uncivil War observed observed) thats not a force anyone can control.

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