Python was too sensible


Do you remember the Monty Python Election Night Special sketch?
In it, as I recall, the Silly Party makes inroads at the expense of the Sensible Party. Well imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and it was real. What actually happened was that I opened my postal voting instructions for the forthcoming European elections. It’s a nutter’s charter.
See if you can guess which of these are the real candidates and which are ones I made up:

  • The Roman Party.AVE
  • Harmony Party (Zero Immigration, Anti-EU, Pro-Jobs)
  • English Democrats ((I’m English, not British, not European)
  • Christian Peoples Alliance
  • An Independence from Europe (UK Independence Now)
  • British National Party (Because we can make Britain Better)
  • Liberty Great Britain (Faithful to tradition, revolutionary in outlook)
  • The Peace Party – Non-violence, Justice, Environment
  • YOUR voice
  • UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • The Socialist Party of Great Britain (World Socialist Movement)

(Trick question, they’re all real, I couldn’t think of anything sillier than UKIP). And, of course, there are all the mainstream parties, the Greens and so on.

It’s tempting to focus on the sheer volume of hate represented by the various anti-everyone-but-me-and-my-white-english-mates parties.  Harmony?  Don’t think so. I assume the Christian Peoples Alliance are an evangelical group and I’ll forgive them their inability to use apostrophes properly.  As for the Romans, YOUR voice (not mine I don’t think, even though they live just around the corner), Liberty blah blah blah and all the rest; who knows?
I know we’re supposed to be making politics more accessible but surely not by turning it into a comedy routine. If we’re voting for these people, it emphasises the contempt we have for our proper politicians. But that’s not a good reason to put the swivel-eyed loons into positions of authority.

As so often, the Pythons saw it more clearly than most.  But their prediction simply wasn’t silly enough.

Some of my best friends are UKIP voters


In ‘Thinking Fast and slow’ Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman identifies two modes of thinking.  System one is the intuitive, cave-man thinking, which evolved over millions of years.  It works fast, based on experience and survival instincts. It’s deeply ingrained.  It’s biology.  Being scared of the dark is system 1.  System two is the kind of cognitive, intelligent discourse, which we use to deliberate and debate.  It’s slow but sometimes clever. We think we use this all the time, but actually we mostly use it to post-rationalise decisions and opinions we made in System 1 mode.  Writing essays is System 2.  Mental maths is probably System 1.

Lots of examples and experiments illustrate this.  Economics and marketing are full of cases where System 1 looks and feels like system 2.  Our supposed utility-maximising behaviour doesn’t really maximise utility at all.  It’s also supported by modern neuroscience (e.g. brain scanning).  Sophisticated deliberation and language activity is located in the frontal lobes while gut-feel responses are seen at the top of the spinal column – some call it the reptilian brain because it’s to do with lower order transactions we share with lower mammals.

There are some nice analogies.  Rory Sutherland (former President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) likens it to a man riding an elephant.  The man (System 2) thinks he’s in control, but actually the elephant (System 1) decides where he wants to go.  System 1 is like the screen of a PC – what we see on the surface – while System 2 is the working memory behind it.

Kahneman explains how most of our immediate opinions are gut-feel system 1, not considered thought system 2.  “If we think we have reasons for what we believe, that’s often a mistake.” He explains.

The politics of immigration are a perfect example of System 1 masquerading as System 2.  Everyone has their opinion but it almost certainly came before the facts.  Hence the YouGov poll in the spring, in which people said they’re worried about benefits tourism (people think 25% of immigrants are claimants), even though benefit tourism is almost non-existent (real figure 3%).  Who knows any of these data?  Virtually nobody – but we still hold the opinions.

UKIP takes most of its support from the right of the Tory party and disproportionately from working class conservatives.  Why?  Probably because they are the people who feel threatened by an influx of competitors for jobs (threatened feels like a System 1 response).

I spoke the other day to some friends who are planning to vote UKIP in the Euro elections.  They started off talking about jobs and houses and the health service.  They said we simply can’t support the number of people coming into the country.  But when asked, they didn’t actually know any of these numbers – not even whether it was in the thousands or in the millions. Separately, also recounted how they feel uncomfortable if they get on a bus where large numbers of people are speaking foreign languages.  Now we’re getting somewhere (no pun intended).  Nigel Farage effectively did the same thing at the weekend, when he let slip that he’d be unhappy if Romanians moved in next door.  Doh.

It’s not about the numbers.  It’s not about facts at all.  Unfortunately that means supporting the far right is a bit nearer to (let’s call it “low level”) racism than we’d like to admit.  I imagine lots of similar conversations were going on in Germany in the late 1920s

Banks and bondage

The-new-Metro-Bank-openin-001 Oops

The other day I used Metro Bank as an example of a challenger brand in a presentation. So partly in the name of research and partly through idle curiosity, I went to visit my local Metro Bank to find out more.
The initial experience was a bit like going to your local Italian restaurant where they try so hard to make you feel comfortable, it becomes, well, a bit uncomfortable.
On entry, I’m greeted by a teenager in a suit, who shakes my hand and asks which name I’d prefer him to use. The temptation to be facetious here is almost but not quite overwhelming. He gets me a cup of coffee and introduces me to an advisor at one of the desks situated around the edges of the large open space. The advisor is well-drilled, friendly, competent and he knows his products inside out. I’m impressed. After chatting about this and that, he introduces me to the Manager, who is friendly too. It’s all very nice.
So why am I sounding a bit sniffy about the whole thing? Surely, this customer-first friendly approach backed by competent, knowledgeable staff is just what we’ve been asking for.
Well yes and no.

First, there’s a certain night-club bouncer quality to the polite young men who aren’t quite themselves in pin-stripes.

Secondly, going back to the restaurant analogy, I remember reading recently that we secretly enjoy being intimidated by the sommelier and the arrogant Maitre D’. It’s a peculiarly British thing, apparently bound up with  self loathing and desire to be dominated. So on that basis, my instinctive suspicion of the good service I was offered at Metro Bank is because I want my relationship with my bank to be one of Dominated and Dominatrix.
That explains everything. I fully expect my next brand workshop to include exercises like ‘what kind of sex do you want with this brand?’