Politics is being marketed as a product for stereotyped ‘consumers’

The BBC Sunday Politics show recently featured the firm Populus. Their software works by assessing people’s class, personalities and voting behaviour and divides them up into different categories.

This process is called ‘segmentation’  and has been used by Obama’s team in the  US Presidential Elections who employed a very similar software model. Populus themselves have also provided information and statistics to the Conservative party.

Sasha Issenberg wrote about how segmentation was used by the Bush and Obama campaigns for his book The Victory Lab”

“It works at the front end of the campaign and helps the politicians and their staff visualize who their voters are.  It means they can craft TV ads, speeches and photo ops that appeal to the groups they need to win over.”

Here’s how their managing director Rick Nye (contact him on twitter @Nye_Rick and tag me in @cherryred335) describes the groups:

1. Comfortable Nostalgia: “They tend to be older, more traditional voters who dislike the social and cultural changes they see as altering Britain for the worse.”

2. Optimistic Contentment: “Confident, comfortable & usually on higher incomes they are prudent & tolerant but think Britain is a soft touch.”

3. Calm Persistence: “Often coping rather than comfortable, they hope rather than expect things to get better.”

4. Hard-pressed Anxiety: “Pessimistic & insecure, these people want more help from government and resent competition for that help particularly from new-comers.”

5. Long-term Despair: “Many are serial strugglers; angry & alienated they feel little or no stake in the country or that anyone stands up for them.”

6. Cosmopolitan Critics: “Generally younger, more secular and urban-based, worried about growing inequality & the general direction the country is going in.”

Populus will be working with the BBC to identify trends in each category and from the point of view of television analysis of the public’s opinions these results willl be interesting.

But in terms of how parties approach their electorate, this is everything that is wrong with mainstream politics in the UK and the USA. Reduced to focus groups and the ‘big sell’.  Far from laying out clear ideologies, the main parties are carrying out marketing campaigns. The sands of their policies shift with the wind in order to capture as many of the electorate as possible. The categories irritate and patronise too; can all of the electorate really be defined with six different personality types?   This is what happens when parties forget the social and philosophical importance of politics and instead adopt a corporate approach, treating the public like ‘consumers’.

George Galloway said in a recent interview with this site that mainstream politicians are ‘speak your weight’ machines, ie. they tell you everything that you already know and that they think you need to hear.   Politicians and their parties should be confident and clear in their policy making, based. What we have is a shameless clustering of centre-right policies aimed at staying in power and a depressing reliance on big business marketing practices.

You can take the test here and see which categorical box you neatly fit into.

You can also view the associated piece on the BBC website.

© Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile, 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Local Newspapers! Flashers, pocket fluff and advertising for local people!

OAP

This evening I put a status on Facebook that read:

‘The Sentinel newspaper. Murdering grammar and syntax since God Knows When.’

Rather pithy, I thought.

I was inspired by a friend’s post about our local newspaper in the sprawling metropolis of Stoke-on-Trent.  It consists of about thirty pages of advertising, stories about pocket fluff and angry people.

I once had the pleasure of doing’work experience’ for this titillating local tabloid, which the news editor had granted me as a form of pitying kindness. ‘Work experience’ or an ‘internship’ is an inherently enriching enterprise: for the company involved that is, who get all the tedious jobs nobody wants done for free.

The highlights of my time as  local journo were being sent to Westport Lake in Stoke-on-Trent, whereupon I was asked to interview the ice-cream vendor about the whereabouts of the local flasher. We never did quite ascertain the ruddy-buttocked one’s location but i’m sure with the advent of GPS smartphone technology today, we would have done.

I was also despatched to a broken glass- carpeted street to door- knock ‘local residents’ and record their ‘anger’ at the rowdy pub nearby. I did get these stories published, which means my writing reached an audience of 253 people. Probably.

You may find me a tad cynical, so here are some excellent examples of local newspaper journalism. Consider this horrifying crime involving disposable kitchen ware.

 

Or this shattering expose’ into the horrors of public transportation.

Or finally this headline, of which Oscar Wilde would read, nod his head knowingly and proclaim: “you’ve outdone me there, son.”(Oscar Wilde speaks like Billy Connolly in my subconscious).

 

Tomorrow’s chip paper? Not even tomorrow’s shit paper.

That was the news.

Goodnight.

Godfrey Bloom on media ridicule, ‘fake’ Ian Hislop and UKIP success

bloom

“I don’t want people who work for the Civil Service earning £130,000 per year coming on the television, telling me that I’m too fat, I shouldn’t eat chips, I shouldn’t slap my children when they’re naughty.”

Godfrey Bloom has had an eventful year: the women are ‘sluts’ scandal, aiming a rolled-up magazine at journalist Michael Cricks’ head, comments about foreign aid going to ‘bongo bongo land’ and he had the UKIP party whip withdrawn. And that’s not even all of it.

Quite the ‘pantomime villain’, of the media, Bloom is also a respected economist, with a previous career as a trust-fund manager.  As his term in office draws to a close in May,  I interviewed the MEP  for Selby from his constituency office.  Animated yet perfectly amiable, we discussed the rise in UKIP,  the European Union and the glare of the media.  Interestingly, although technically classed as an ‘independent’ MEP, Bloom still refers to UKIP as ‘we’ throughout the interview.

I won’t dredge up all of the stuff that has been in the media about you in the last year, which would be a predictable thing to do. However, do you think that you went a bit too far with some of your comments? Also,  do you think that the media are particularly hard on individuals and smaller parties that are outside the ‘mainstream’ of British politics? 

I’m not sure if it’s a question of the size of our party.  If you are anti-establishment, what happens is that everybody closes ranks against you.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative; The Times, Telegraph, or Daily Mirror; they are all establishment, and what they do is close ranks against you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Ian Hislop or Private Eye: he is an establishment figure, he is a fake iconoclast.  He’s fake because he as deeply rooted in the system as anybody else.  People like him appear to be radical, but they’re not at all. They’re deeply imbued with the establishment system, so what they do is either try and crowd you out, bad mouth you, ridicule you.  I’ve won international prizes for fund management and a graduate of the Royal College of Defence studies and strategy but you’ll always find me referring to as ‘potty’, ‘batty’ or ‘mad’ or something.

Is that a just a tabloid cliché of you, do you think?

Yes, and if you actually look me up in ‘Who’s Who’ and see what I’ve done, you’ll see my life has been moderately successful, in some fairly competitive fields (sounds indignant and slightly upset). But they have to portray me as being mad or bad, because they are so frightened of me.

Do you think you can comment on why UKIP have risen in popularity so much over the last few years?

My view is, and I was a founder member of UKIP back in the nineties,  the strongest reason of all that it has grown into the top party in the European elections is because of Proportional Representation.  When people vote negatively, they vote for David Cameron because they didn’t like Gordon Brown, and they’ll do the same again, they’ll vote on the basis that they don’t like  Cameron or Miliband. It’ll be a negative-type vote. That’s the nature of First Past the Post party politics. Whereas with proportional representation people vote positively.

If you vote UKIP at a Westminster election, there is an argument that it is a wasted vote because you know that it’ll be either red or blue that forms the government. This was a bit of a glitch this time around with the coalition because Cameron couldn’t win outright against Gordon Brown for some reason that nobody can fully understand. But the reason I think for UKIP’s success is that PR has given us a platform, the fact that we came second in 2009 on the European vote.  But I think the real reason is that this administration is so bad, led by David Cameron.  It’s so poor that people are beginning to scratch their heads and say surely we can do better than this, there must be some form of alternative.  If you look at the whole point of this government when it came in they were going to deal with the national debt.  Next year the national debt will be 50% higher than the debt that they inherited. They have alienated their support base by not being ‘conservative’ and a lot of their votes have either stayed at home or switched to UKIP.

The Lib Dems, who have always been a party of protest are now a party in government and exposed for the lack of direction and rather shallow thinking that the Liberal Democrats have always had. People  say ‘my protest vote is going to be for the Liberal Democrats’ and nobody actually voted for them because they had any policies that they agreed with. Nobody could actually tell you what their policies were.  We’ve got a problem with Ed Miliband in so far as he does look unelectable. He looks and sounds all wrong. Now, I’m not saying that’s good or bad, that’s just how the electorate perceive him.

When you say, ‘all wrong’, what do you mean? That he doesn’t come across as the most charismatic?

I think we had this problem back in the middle 1980s with Neil Kinnock. When the chips were down and the television was over and people got into the ballot booth they just felt that Kinnock wasn’t Prime Ministerial material. Miliband has that same problem; it’s difficult for the electorate to imagine him being Prime Minister.

He’s got more of the air of a middle-manager or of an administrator, but aren’t his policies the important thing? 

I’m new to politics and I’m an economist, by profession and I remember an old campaigner, a Tory, telling me: “you mustn’t ever think that policies have got anything to do with politics” and they haven’t.

I drove some blue-rinse tory ladies to a charity do a few years ago. I said: “what do you think about Cameron, why are you voting for Cameron?”  These ladies were not stupid, relatively well-heeled, elderly perhaps, and they said, ‘well he’s got such a nice face’.  And I thought, you are electing a prime minister on that basis. This is what people do, he’s got such a nice face, or a nice family, or we like his wife, or they like the hat she wears or doesn’t wear. People don’t think like you and I.

You’ve been an active participant in the EU system as an MEP, you attend a lot.  Some critics would say, isn’t you contributing to the EU parliament a bit like an atheist walking into a church and heckling the congregation? What is the point of the whole exercise?

Exactly. You’re quite right in that analogy, in that this is a form of religious conviction; although the European parliament is secular, and deliberately and determinedly secular, you find that it is treated like a religion, the ethos of the EU. They try and sell it to the UK, this is economically sound, which is totally ridiculous.  The European project is treated as a religious concept in the EU, you’re quite right.  (Bloom seems to have taken my analogy as a compliment)

I’m an atheist heckling which is why they became incandescent with rage, because they react in the same way that if you were a Roman Catholic and you were sitting in mass, and somebody came in and heckled the priest. This is the reason they get so very angry because it is a deep-rooted religious feeling with them.

Why do I go and why do i do it? Well, many years ago, we decided, would we take our seats in the parliament or should we stand for election and not take our seats like the IRA did?  Sinn Fein did that. But we then decided that it would be better to have a platform to use it as a platform to expound our point of view and indeed point out the frailties and the foibles of the European project. Has that been successful? From a personal perspective I have had more views for my speeches than any other politician of any country in the history of the parliament, so i regard that as vindicating my position on taking a seat. I get emails from all over the world, over two million views from France alone, I’ve been invited to speak at conferences in america so I have used the platform to good effect. So, in my particularly personal case I would say that is vindicated.

Having said all that, do you not think that preserving the rights of the individual worker mean that the EU is still an endeavour worth pursuing?

My creed is that government is the problem, not the solution and we have too much government and I think the reason is that we have, for example 30% youth unemployment in my constituency in Yorkshire.

Let me give you an example, just with young people. And employment legislation of course is driven by Brussels.  If i wanted to employ a young person, the state tells me the minimum wage i can pay him, the state tells me that i have to pay an employment tax which they call National Insurance, they also tell me how much leave  I must give him, they tell me what hours he may work, there’s maternity leave, paternity leave, and what actually happens, certainly with small businesses, which are something in the region of 70% of our GDP,  what people actually do is they say, ‘I just don’t bother to employ young people, I outsource wherever i can, and this of course leaves you with very significant youth unemployment particularly in the UK, France and southern Italy.  So in answer to your question I think that government is the problem not the solution and i think that if we have less government it would free employers up to employ under the liberty of contract in a free society.  I believe that if i wanted to employ you in my business, as a young man, that should be a  liberty of contract between you and me i don’t believe a politician should have anything to do with the relationship between you and me and if i offer you a free contract under a free society.

And every day they chip away more at our civil liberties, government remove our individual liberties more and more by the week and they spend more of our money, we’re over 50% of our GDP on government spending in the UK, 60% in France,.  (now in full flow) i don’t want people who earn £130,000 per year coming on the TV and who work for the civil service, telling me that I’m too fat, I shouldn’t eat chips, i shouldn’t slap my children when they’re naughty. I don’t want all these people on these huge salaries poking their nose into every aspect of my family’s lives.

Is there any reason you’re not standing for re election as an independent (in the forthcoming May European elections, 2014)? Do you plan to make a re-emergence under the UKIP banner in the future?

No , i don’t. I’ve thought about it. I’m under pressure in Yorkshire, having been here for ten years  I’ve put some political roots down.  I’m under a lot of pressure to stand as an independent and under proportional representation i would almost certainly win the seat. This is the result of many years of work. However, as tempting as it is,  I believe all parliamentarians should be independent; i don’t like the party political system at all. I don’t believe in sticking blue, red or yellow rosettes on people, that’s why we have such appalling politicians. They are very poor quality because they can hide behind a blue or red badge.

Your views on the main parties are quite similar to George Galloway’s, whom I spoke with last week.

I have a lot in common.  It’s funny, George always gives me a good slagging whenever he gets the opportunity but actually if you check in the cold light of day, we agree on many, many points.

We agreed five minutes for the interview, we’ve stretched to twenty-five and I appreciate all your time.  I don’t think politically we’re aligned on a lot of things however, i enjoyed the conversation with you and I found it very interesting.

It’s a great pleasure and best of luck with the article.”

http://www.godfreybloommep.com

© Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile, 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The violence, beauty and originality of Scandinavian cinema

‘Can I flick your face?’ asks the icily sociopathic Charles Augustus Magnussen, played by Lars Mikkelsen.  It’s one of the oddest, most compelling scenes of the Sherlock season 3 finale.  Mikkelsen is an actor of unusual presence, appearing in Scandinavian TV show The Killing, and is the brother of Mads.  He steals the screen. A sweaty-palmed, manipulative genius, urinating in 221B Baker Street’s fireplace; his performance but a mere  drop in the river of Danish and Swedish film-making talent.

Such actors are the reason I have recently found fascination in the frosty, fairisle-strewn atmosphere of Scandinavian cinema. Add to that the beautiful, otherworldly locations and a sense of realism absent from most Hollywood fare. I’ve compiled a small list of my recent favourite discoveries in Scandinavian film.  Even if you have no love for subtitles, I urge you to at least try one.

The Hunt (2012)

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, who was breaker of Bond’s balls, literally, in Casino Royale and likes to sup chianti with spleen in Hannibal the TV Series.  Mikkelsen plays a primary school teacher accused of a terrible crime of sexual abuse and its subsequent effect on the community.  Nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars (2014).  A powerful, unflinching look at a subject that makes Hollywood’s blood run cold (save for a few films, such The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon, that take on this subject matter).  The film explores accusations of paedophilia and the ensuing witch hunts that occur in our media and communities at near hysterical levels in these modern times. Despite the subject matter, incredibly watchable, touching and a magnetic main performance.

Ondskan (2003)

A fantastically brutal, unrelenting study into the nature of violence, both physical and psychological,and the abuse of power. Set in a boys’ boarding school, this is like Dead Poets Society with a knuckleduster. Blood splatters the camera frequently and the levels of violence involving children go harder than most would dare.  The real horror, however is the controlled abuse of the protagonist’s stepfather and the school prefects who give out punishments and the wilful ignorance of this by the teachers.

King Of Devils’s Island (2010)

Based on a true story,  a ‘borstal’ style boys island prison in the 1930s is home to beatings, humiliation and forced labour.  Powerfully touches on the themes of sailing, escapism and the class system.

The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)

Based on the Department Q novels by Jussi Adler-Olsen, this is a thrilling and nasty police procedural thriller. Detective Carl Mørck and his assistant take up the ‘cold case’ of a politician’s disappearance – a case that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.  Featuring a truly unpleasant nemesis with a gruesomely inventive ‘method’ that involves the worst use of diving equipment imaginable,  this is really compelling  and the ending points towards further film adaptions of the novels.

Of the ‘remade for America’ Scandinavian movies, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is far superior in its original, TV movie extended form, despite David Fincher’s slick remake: Naomi Rapace defines the role of Lisbeth Salander and the full depth of the trilogy can be appreciated. The trilogy is currently around £12 on Amazon, a great package for about 10 hours of drama.  Let The Right One In is also far superior in its original form, retaining more of a sense of innocence and otherworldliness, which suits the melodic twists of the Swedish language perfectly.

The increased success of its actors and directors in Hollwood, particularly Nicolas Winding Refyn, who brings an art-house mentality to mainstream cinema, shows that Scandinavian cinema is becoming more interesting to us and to studios who are prepared to experiment a little more. This can only be a good thing. Watch some of the trailers above, see if any capture your interest, comment below.

George Galloway on ‘joker’ Clegg, robotic politicians and the ‘Killings of Tony Blair’

For our first major article, The Painted Smile has an audience with George Galloway, Respect MP for Bradford West, film maker and prominent media figure. Through the fizz of the phone line, Rolling his ‘R’s’ with the flair of a Shakespearian actor, Galloway lays waste to mainstream politics, the media and a certain former Labour Prime Minister.

I’d like to firstly discuss the theme of disenfranchisement with politics in the UK. The thing that really piqued interest in this debate was Russell Brand’s recent Newsnight interview.  He said: “i’m not voting because of absolute indifference because of the lies, treachery of the political class”. He’s basically validating the idea of the no vote. Even though you’re a member of ‘the political class’ do you find yourself agreeing with that view?

I don’t agree with it no but I wholly understand it and I completely understand the reaction that it got. As I put it in my victory speech in the Bradford bi-election, “people are not apathetic, they are apoplectic”.  They are apoplectic with the pathetic quality and standards of our political class.  It’s one of the reasons which explains my bi-election victory which was fairly unprecedented in British political history: someone from the left of Labour storming to a ten thousand vote majority over Labour whilst the Tories were in power and deeply unpopular.  So nothing like that has actually ever happened in this country before and that’s part of the explanation for it. So although you say, although I won’t take offence, that I am a member of ‘the political class’ i’m very much on the flank of that political class.

You certainly don’t come across like one of those very..robotic politicians.

That was the word I hoped you were searching for.  The political class are ‘speak your weight machines’ (archaic amusement device: see below link) who robotically intone a message which has been given to them by others and a message which has been distilled through focus groups in an attempt to divine what public opinion actually is. But I don’t believe that politics is about finding out what the public think and offering it.  Politics is about working out what needs to be done and seeking to persuade people to follow it. That’s a qualitatively different thing.

The thing is, the electorate had a chance by referendum, to change the voting system  a couple of years ago, to the alternative vote.  It wasn’t the proportional representation that some would have liked.  Arguably, it was a bit of a fudge.  In any case, why did we not vote for the change? Wouldn’t we have had more diversity  as a result of that voting system?

I’m not sure that we would and that’s the problem. There were two problems associated with it, the bigger of which is the most important and the most banal.  This was seen as the policy of the Liberal Democrats at the very nadir, I think it was the nadir, we might find out there’s a further nadir to come, the very nadir of their popularity, when they had just put the Tories in power, they had just reneged on their pledge, signed in blood, to avoid university tuition fees and instead tripled them.  Clegg had gone from the boy wonder to the joker and he was being punished by the public in this referendum.

Secondly, it was as dry as a stick, the whole campaign, proving that if you don’t have a popular way of expressing a political idea, you’re doomed. Thirdly, the system that they proposed wasn’t really proportional representation at all and might have led to less diversity rather than more. So, I’m not surprised that it went down. i was slightly surprised by the scale of the defeat. And it’s all a bit of a setback for those of us who believe in proportional representation.

Watching your interviews on YouTube (see below links), you’re one of the only politicians who will question editorial policy in a television news show and also its veracity. Television news is like a play that has already been scripted in my view and they are less interested in debate than entertainment. I’m not sure if i’m asking a question or applauding you for your approach.

The situation is that they have nothing that I want. I have nothing that they can take away from me and nothing that matters to me is able to be taken away by them. So when I go into media confrontations or frankly when i’m conducting my public life in general I conduct it with that freedom of being a man with an independent mind who doesn’t want anything from the establishment and that makes you quite dangerous to them.

So they set out to weaken you, damage you, kill you if they can. Not literally kill you, at least not yet.  I feel that the political class is rotten and utterly bankrupt and therefore it’s my job to puncture that and show people that.  That makes me dangerous as I say and explains why I don’t get many opportunities on the mainstream news.  I haven’t been on Sky News for a year.  I haven’t been on BBC news for a couple of years, maybe more.

Maybe they took it personally that you completely destroyed their editorial policy whilst you were being interviewed, I don’t know…

…yeah, which proves that their guff about Russian media or other people’s media is just that, guff.

I was reading this morning about your film, The Killings of Tony Blair. Is this coming out in 2015?

I hope it’ll be out this year. We’re working flat out on that and I think it’s going to be a widely anticipated film and I think it’ll be a big success.

Why did you go down the crowd funding route (via Kickstarter)? Did you try and get funding or a distributor initially?

No, I didn’t.  It was a policy decision for a democratically-funded film. I could’ve gone looking for a few rich people to give substantial sums or I could’ve gone to thousands of people and asked for lesser sums. I did the latter and I got it. Having said that, the money which we raised was more than three times what we asked for. We asked for £50, 000, we raised £163,000 and that made it the best crowd funded film in British film history. But it’s not enough: making a film is a very expensive business so I am having to meet someone this very evening, looking for further investment in return for which we’ll have to give away some equity i’m sure. That’s a pity, if it could’ve been wholly crowd funded then literally nobody would have any say on it other than me and my friends and that’s what we wanted. It’s not unfortunately what we’re going to have but i’ll make sure that in exchange for any investment there’s absolutely no control or influence over the editorial line of the film.

Is the tone of the film going to be an attempt to look at a balance of arguments or will it be very much, unashamedly, your own views?

No, it’s J’Accuse.  It’s very much my own editorial. J’accuse Tony Blair.’

Interview conducted on 5th March 2014.

Thanks to George Galloway.

Further Links:

http://www.respectparty.org

‘Speak your weight’ machine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A306712

© Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile, 2014. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Max Sarasini and The Painted Smile with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Painted Smile: A Beginning

The Painted Smile is a website dedicated to interviews, discussion and debate about Politics, Media, Culture and whatever else captures the imagination: there are no boundaries other than what is interesting, thought provoking and exceptional.  The overriding ethos is to peer behind the facade; the ‘painted smile’: the title of which is taken from an essay by Alan Moore on the origins of his (prescient?) V for Vendetta graphic novel.

Coming soon, the site begins with an article charged with the controversy, ferocity and strong opinion that you can expect from us and the people we seek out.

You can draw clues from the below image as to the identity of our first interviewee.

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