#Election 2017: The same, but shitter

It’s had some time to sink in now but like an over-zealous application of cheap moisturiser, it’s still refusing to budge and smearing greasy stains on pretty much everything it touches.

A strong and stable PM whose election campaign has resulted in her being too weak to rearrange her cabinet and pick her own advisors and left her forced to arrange a coalition with people who sound an awful lot like what she said Jeremy Corbyn was.

A Europe united further against us through collective laughter is willing to start talks with know-it-all England ‘whenever we’re ready’.

And Jeremy Corbyn. He was never going anywhere anyway whatever happened on 8 June, but losing the election has proved his critics, who said he’d lose the election, wrong and now he’s here forever. Vindicated by an absolutely huge vote for socialism or a vote against whatever the other chaps wanted, at least. Either way, a victory which will no doubt strengthen his and his supporter’s hand – and, I guess, mean more protests and demos about stuff too.

Teresa May activated the Queen yesterday, but this whole process may just have activated the young people finally and it turns out it’s social media wot won it.

And while you can criticise The Daily Mail and the others, whose power it seems has been proven massively diminished, the power of the alternative one-sided story on the Internet (see this for a summary) is probably not much better.

True balance is an aim that, like perfection, is never actually achieved but the excitable headlines that spread on social media are no better than the right-wing traditional media’s stories.

But to all of this there is a communications angle: a Tory campaign which poorly communicated bad plans, and a Labour campaign that sought to interest people with a list of (perhaps) unattainable nice stuff, framed as “it doesn’t have to be like that.”

PR is not only about ‘doing comms’ as it so often seems to be seen, not only about digging an organisation out of the shitbucket, but also about advising how decisions might be seen.

Effective communications is in effect a negotiation and the tight-nit Team May top-down approach seems to have proved the consultative, research-based approach of the Crobyn team right for our times.

Labour’s policies may have been grounded in populist opinion rather than attainability – such as profit being an evil that harms us, corporation tax being a progressive way of taxing and improved public services paid for by someone else – but an effective dose of that is what’s needed in any political campaign.

Letting candidates go out and pitch local campaigns, on local issues, while basking in the relevant bits of the manifesto as showing a commitment to improving things for everyone, has been proven more effective than the ‘standing with Teresa May’ strict ‘lines to take’ approach of the Tories.

I read my local Tory’s campaign promises and I’m not sure what, other than Teresa May, he was promising to do for us locally. On the other hand, Labour and the Lib Dems both told me they’d save the local tip and fight against parking charge increases. Both things that matter.

There are lessons to be learnt here for future campaigns – positivity, hope and all that are essential ingredients of any campaign but keeping people involved, on board and feeling they have some power and will ‘get something’ for their vote is also a big part of framing yourself as the one people want to pick.

That and many other things, including the now-certainty that certainty in any public vote is nothing of the sort.

But this result has produced some questions: is, as some have suggested, a hung parliament the electorate saying ‘none of the above’, or is it more like ‘all of the above’.

What comes next is going to need to be very different indeed to the campaign and what went before if it is to have any sort of legitimacy and risk causing anger against the Tories which won’t subside even if – as seems improbable – the next election isn’t until 2022.

May cannot do what she appeared to be doing yesterday: pursuing ‘business as usual’ on Brexit and her stability.

Even without details of what Brexit with May was, the electorate has not given her a mandate for her interpretation of “yes, we would like to leave the European Union” and that means BAU isn’t an option.

She must now consider her next move, and – as well as becoming more open about her leadership – become more open with us too. Mirroring the EU’s approach wouldn’t hurt her reputation, nor her hand – as she is so adamant it would but doing the opposite absolutely will.

This election was all about May’s strong and stable leadership, strengthening her hand for her negotiations and – although we did enough that she could remain Prime Minister, we haven’t given her free-reign.

When we were shafted by the EU 27 before, the foundations of the narrative for it being Remain and Johnny Foreigner’s fault were there to be built up into a skyscraper slowly and steadily over the course of two years.

Now, the narrative for it being May’s fault has not only got foundations but – in Grand Designs style – has arrived as a pre-built wooden structure which could be put up in just a couple of weeks, even by Jeremy Corbyn.

So everything is pretty much as it was before, but a bit shitter.

#Election2017: If the chat hasn’t moved on…

As the General Election trundles on, my fear is only increasing that once again I’m going to have to watch an all-night programme which would make great drama, but makes me fear for the future of the planet.

I can recall knowing that from the moment I heard David Cameron would be holding an in-out referendum on the European Union that we’d end up voting out (I can recall the exact conversation where I said it, months before, and considered whether I wanted to do something about it) just the same as I didn’t bother staying up for the US election coverage because I was resigned to a Trump victory.

This time it’s different of course: both of those victories, as someone I was expressing my fears to noted, because the ‘oh god no’ results were both right wing and the result I fear this time is staunchly not.

But without wanting to sound like a column from immediately post-Brexit, I’m still not entirely confident we’re working in a left-right world at the moment. Brexit and Trump were both tails of the unattainable, but nice, outcomes.

A vote for Brexit was a vote to have our cake and eat it (according to the polls) and would be simple to do, the reality perhaps not so much. A vote for Trump was a vote to Make America Great Again – and I’d recommend a listen to the Pessimist’s Archive podcast on exactly when the ‘great’ times were for a precis of how realistic that might be.

This time we’ve got two dreamy stories set against one another: a magic money tree of nationalisation and a free owl for everyone, or a dull, strong and stable Brexit which will somehow deliver us into the Utopia Brexiteers imagined when bus liveries were but a twinkle.

What this election should have been about was honest conversations, but it hasn’t been. We’ve continued the great traditions of kicking difficult conversations and decisions down the road while the media have reported more on the management of the election and the polls than on what each of the parties promises to do (or what they’ve done before).

With a conversation that’s not moved on much since 2015, should we be surprised if the result hasn’t either?

It’ll be a First

I’m a South West Trains commuter. Less often than I used to, but still several times a week I head from Alton to London Waterloo on the train that’s named 10th busiest in the UK.

All in all, I’m probably a ‘not-unhappy’ customer.

The journey’s OK, the train is sometimes late, it’s sometimes early and when there’s problems they make us change at Woking.

My ticket is no more expensive than it was when I commuted from Brighton to London, the WiFi only occasionally works, and the seats arrangement on the blue class 450 trains was clearly not designed with the current human form in mind.

Stagecoach have held the franchise since it was privatised many years ago, and they’re pretty confident at making it work how it does. When things go wrong, they say sorry (awfully, usually, but still) and when things don’t they just get on with reminding us from time to time that they operate the UK’s busiest and most congested bit of railway and hope we’re all impressed.

Most of us are, but with that attitude, it’s not unsurprising that the ‘new boy’ bidder First-MTR were more creative with their bid and ended up being picked by the DfT to run the service from soon.

They’ve promised a load of new trains, replacing the bitty non-siemens fleet with a consistent one, and to cut down journey times as well as introducing new journeys.

The bit I’m most excited about is a commitment to introduce part-time season tickets for those of us who don’t go to London every day, and a plan to put power sockets in every single train.

If I’m honest, and I know you’ll want me to be, I’ll be impressed if they manage to pull it all off and keep their ability to get themselves out of bother when one of the ‘newly refurbished’ (30ish year old) plastic pigs they introduce on the Portsmouth line conks out in the middle of the peak.

I don’t want you to get me wrong – I live in the world of promising and delivering myself, and I know how it can go – but the fact they’re already negotiating over changing the start date isn’t a good sign.

You might not have noticed, but Waterloo is having some pretty major work done during August (it’s been planned since before the tender process began) to increase capacity for longer trains, meaning most trains won’t run to Waterloo for the month.

SWT have been warning us all to take the whole of August off for months, but rumour has it the new guys have only just realised that taking over the network half way through that might not be a good idea and – it would seem – the contract at the moment remains unsigned while that gets figured out.

And that wasn’t a problem for anyone until Teresa May ‘snapped’ earlier in the week. Oh well.

A general election was the right decision

Today Teresa May, the ‘unelected’ PM sent to rescue us all from the situation we were never supposed to be in anyway, finally ripped off the plaster and called a general election. We’ll be going to the polls on 8 June.

I can think of plenty of reasons why a general election is a bad decision. Not least that, just like the question ‘should I call a referendum about this?’ has been answered for a generation by the EU referendum, the last two years should have taught our political elite that asking the public things because you’re confident of the answer is a foolish thing to do.

But I can also think of plenty of reasons why it’s a good one; a general election will help to sort out our problems which, whether you agree with the government or not, you must agree need fixing.

We’ve a government operating with a slender majority, a leader it didn’t plan on having and on a manifesto which never considered that we’d actually be leaving the EU; an opposition which doesn’t; and a Scottish government with a (claimed) mandate to break up the Union.

A new Parliament will even allow the chancellor to raise whatever taxes he likes – whether to cope with more self-employment or to deal with the impact of Brexit, because the law Cameron put in place only lasts until the next election.

No doubt all of the parties will be fighting on simplified, hastily-composed manifestos but what will be most interesting to watch, despite the pointlessness of it all, is how Jezza decides to play it. Twitter videos to cultish followers, or a genuine hard-fought and valiant defeat with actual policies which ‘shift the debate’?

Regardless of the time to prepare and the nature of the fight, what’s clear is that as well as potentially giving May the opportunity to get on with Brexit, this is an opportunity for her to add some subtle meat of compromise to the hardened bones she’s spent the last few months building.

The EU referendum settled that we wanted control of immigration, but now’s the chance to define that it means keeping things pretty much the same; we said we wanted to set our own laws and regulation, but hey – we might just want to harmonise them with the EU.

The journalist in me loves an election, the communicator in me loves a campaign and the Remain-er in me loves the chance for the Lib Dems to lead the fightback against the hard brexit so beloved by ‘them’.

But my gosh, I’m glad it’s only a few weeks away.

What’s really damaging democracy?

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, has said that Teresa May and Phillip Hammond’s refusal to release their tax returns is bad for democracy.

While it’s a nice break from his creation of a silent coup plot linked with the Murdoch newspapers that could never be proved either to exist or not to, it’s another seemingly simple statement which seeks to create a narrative that, on the surface, does make sense.

Democracy is ultimately based on transparency. The electorate gets to look at the facts as they are and make decisions based up on them, or at least that’s something like the theory.

So at least on the surface the argument makes sense. Coupled with the oft-used defence of surveillance that if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear it’s almost logical.

Politicians releasing their tax returns allows the masses to scrutinise the affairs of the ‘elite’ and check that they’re following the rules. But what are we actually going to gain from seeing these returns?

Some people might get pleasure from looking at someone else’s affairs and that’s their business, but for the rest of us? Given there are only 350,000 or so registered accountants in the UK, probably not much.

The fact is, most of the public don’t know what a tax return should or shouldn’t look like according to the rules – and will, instead, be looking out for things they think are wrong, suspicious or for figures which – if I was feeling particularly cynical I might suggest they were jealous of.

Just look at what Jeremy Corbyn faced when he quietly released his professionally-prepared return last week: a furore that it was wrong.

I don’t know if it was or wasn’t wrong (although Corbyn-Trump has blamed the MSM for the whole thing), and I don’t much care either.

And that’s because thanks to democracy I don’t have to. Democracy means that I have outsourced individual decisions and specifics to my MP, and Parliament has – through the Government – set up a body to look after these kind of issues.

HMRC, as the organisation set up to collect tax and make sure we’re all paying what we should (under law, not arbitrary morals), is far better placed to decide whether people have got their tax returns right or wrong.

I know, as Mr Gove said during the EU referendum campaign, we’re all sick of experts but surely democracy is far healthier if we trust that the law is being applied by the experts, public discourse is on how to change laws and make things fairer, and we’re not relying on everyone applying arbitrary moral decisions on their political opponents’ affairs on Twitter?