Category Archives: Thinking Aloud
As long-time readers of this old blog will know, I do occasionally like to offer sound advice to folks who might need it. Of course, my advice is just based on personal experience and so can probably be safely ignored by those who know much better than I about such things. But here it is, nonetheless.
Imagine you are a Councillor who occasionally gets elected mostly on the back of stoking up grievance. And that when you occasionally win your way back onto a council you use that space to just attack everything, spew petty remarks and, in your OWN words, “try to cause problems.” The cycle could continue forever couldn’t it? You failing to deliver anything, for anybody, because your main reason for being there is just try and be an obstacle to everything.
But then along comes a real chance to actually deliver something decent for your area. A real chance to make a difference. And better still the work is already all done for you by your predecessor so its a slam dunk, all you need to do is shut up, work hard and not do anything stupid. What could be easier?
So how – given such a simple, easy, obvious win, could you manage to completely muck it up?
Well, you could snigger cynically along with your colleagues in an attempt to score cheap vacuous political points with motions of zero value that you just hope will give you an opportunity for doing what you love – sneering.
But the trouble with putting things like this in motion is that they have consequences. Local politics may seem like a game to you, but real people are affected by your ridiculous and petty plots. So the thing you and your group thought was so so clever, which you didn’t even attempt to think through, comes back and bites you. And suddenly you realise that you have really, really, really messed up. That you have demanded answers and the answers are actually unhelpful to what you might want to achieve. You’ve shot yourself in the foot with your infantile scheming.
Suddenly, but too late, it occurs to you that this was a really really stupid approach.
So what should somebody do in this hypothetical situation?
Well, i’d advise not getting into it in the first place. It’s stupid. But if you’ve gotten there then your best bet would simply be to say: “Okay, I see I messed up. This isn’t what I intended. Is there something we can do to resolve it?”
That would be a good approach.
What would be a bad approach?
Blaming everybody else for your own mistake.
Trying to pretend the situation you entirely created is nothing to do with you.
Outright lying about what you have done and trying to present others as the villains when all you need to do is look in the mirror to identify the culprit.
If you genuinely care about your constituents, try to think before playing the petty political cards. Then you might not score such spectacular own goals, at your constituents expense.
Anyway, that’s my advice, for what its worth, honestly given and earnestly presented.
What I Think Might Happen
I know that nobody knows. But in the past when I’ve guessed things that might happen I’ve gotten a fair few things right. Of course I’ve also got some wrong. But just for fun, this is my guess for the national political outcomes of this year and next year.
(1) Boris Johnson will be our new Prime Minister
– Not a massively controversial statement. It’s patently clear he’s going to win and I predict a very comfortable win.
(2) The Press will do to Boris what the American and World Press do to Trump.
Boris is going to be played by the media and constantly attacked on every level. He might not get it as bad as Trump does, but the huge divisions which mostly come down to attacks on the individual dressed up as attacks on policy will be very familiar.
(3) Parliament will do everything it can to stop Brexit at the end of November and Boris will have to force it through using some method that will be called “undemocratic” but it actually the only truly democratic way to honour the Brexit vote.
At this point one of two things will happen. Either Boris will win and we’ll leave with no deal, or Parliament will win and prevent us leaving. Of the two I think the latter is marginally more likely.
(4) Parliament will win by forcing a vote of no confidence in the Government and winning it, as their attempt to prevent Brexit.
(5) We will then have a general election. If the public blame Boris for the failure to leave then we will have a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party and a significant representation from the Brexit Party. If the public don’t blame Boris then we will have a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party and significantly less representation from the Brexit Party.
(5) Labour will form a Government with the SNP, the Lib Dems, or both.
(6) People will find out what real left-wing Government madness is like.
(7) In America, Trump will win a second term in 2020.
Of course, things are so crazy, all this could well be completely wrong. We shall see.
Well, 2019 started well. I was away over Christmas and New Year with my Son and have returned to the usual post-holiday mountain of work.
I can’t say i’m particularly looking forward to the year as its an Election Year and those are always painful. Opposition in Wisbech, such as it is, only seem to have one playbook and its an inevitably nasty one. It’s started already with the fake-name letters to the newspaper and the use of pseudonyms and stooges to make unpleasant slurs on social media. This stuff never really works for them, but since its the only thing they seem to know it’s no surprise its their technique of choice. Roll on May to get the whole thing out of the way, whatever the outcome.
On the other hand, it also stands to be an exciting year. Wisbech Castle gets its first full year to shine, now that most of the renovation and repairs are out of the way. Capitalising on several very successful events the team hope the term “onwards and upwards” applies. Town Council is my favourite Council at the moment and I’m excited by how much we are getting done and how well the team works together.
Elsewhere I have a few new business projects on the go and some ideas for later in the year. I am quite excited about a proposal for a new political podcast which I am talking to some others about. Maybe that will move forwards?
As a Councillor my intention is simply to continue doing what I always do; helping people, volunteering for projects which benefit the Town, putting out my monthly newsletter and organising my monthly surgery, doing the job I was elected to do to the best of my ability.
Happy new year!
Why is it that so often when people lose elections, it can’t just be because they weren’t the best candidate? It can’t just be because they weren’t very good. Increasingly it always has to be some grand conspiracy or other. It’s always somebody else’s fault, or something happened that shouldn’t have happened. Never the slightest chance that they lost, fair and square?
I am often surprised, amused and intrigued to hear pronouncements from sources which make the most outlandish claims. Anybody with a little intelligence can simply do the math, apply a little logic and see that it simply cannot be what they say it is that caused them to lose. The numbers don’t add up. But they don’t want to do the math, because that would mean acknowledging and admitting the truth – that the loss that has so outraged them was entirely fair and reasonable and nobody’s fault but their own.
We see this in International Politics and we see it at a very local level too. Don’t want to admit you were beaten? Make some silly claims, stick your head in the sand and pretend it was in some way crooked. Anything appears to be better than just graciously accepting you lost.
It particularly tickles me when an election result goes a different way to what some people think it should and they cry “foul” saying “democracy is broken.” They might blame the Russians, or London, or the “Wisbech Mafia” or whatever, the truth remains the truth. Democracy is only “broken” if the complainers get to revisit the result in order to have another crack at winning. And sometimes even then, they lose again.
One of the things I’ve learnt, from personal experience too, is that things just don’t always go the way you would like. It’s not the Illuminati at work, it’s just the way things go sometimes. Get over it.
Ten Pieces Of Advice For Candidates
In my usual helpful way I thought I’d run through some tips I’ve picked up over many years of volunteering in and running election campaigns. These are just my anecdotes and are targeted at nobody and nothing specific.
(1) It’s a good idea if you live in the area you are standing for
You can stand somewhere you don’t live, for sure, but you will have to do extra work to cover the natural disadvantage this brings. If you are well-known, popular, or live very close by, you may be okay. If you have very strong ties to the area, you may be okay. But if you are an unpopular character with an uncertain history – you are going to find it an uphill struggle.
(2) Stop whining
People hate whiny candidates. It makes for a terrible campaign. If all you do is whine and whine some more, your campaign will never gain steam.
(3) Don’t get stuck in your bubble
If you have a small group of friends who all keeping telling you that you are definitely going to win, its easy to believe them. If they tell you they are going to vote for you, this is only of use if they do actually live in the area you want to be elected in. Otherwise, their promises of support will simply end in an embarrassing trip to a polling station they can’t vote at. in politics, we call this a “bubble.” It is a self-sustaining miniature community of the like-minded. It may feel comforting, but it’s false comfort. If you just keep losing and losing, over and over again, it may be because you think your bubble is representative of the real world, when it really isn’t.
(4) Stop attacking your opponents
You may think that spending most of your time running down your opponents is a powerful tactic because you heard once that “negative campaign works.” But the people giving you that advice were only telling you half the story. First of all, for negative campaigning to work, it helps if it is actually true. You also need to be very clean yourself to pull it off or you’ll just look like a hypocrite or worse. Just making up some negative attack lines will play well to the audience in your bubble (see (3) above) but will fall flat outside that. You are much better to talk about the positive things you would like to achieve – be somebody with ideas and energy, not just a skinful of bile and regret.
(5) Saying “I wont attack my opponents” and then going on to attack your opponents is a disastrous strategy.
People aren’t stupid. If you treat them like they are stupid, they will not thank you for it.
(6) Beware the Guru
Running an election campaign is like managing a football team – everybody has an opinion on it, and everybody thinks they can do it. There are no prizes for second place (usually) and listening to bad advice is often worse than not taking any advice at all.
(7) Stop blaming everybody else
When you lose, you lose. It’s not the fault of the other candidates. They ran their campaigns, you ran yours, you lost. It’s certainly not the fault of the electorate – and moaning endlessly about them is a sure way to make sure you lose next time too. Voters get irritated by you telling them how they “should have” voted.
(8) Beware your endorsements
If you are going to be endorsed by somebody, make it somebody with some standing in the community. Not somebody who has failed the community.
(9) Don’t underestimate your opponents
You may think you are the big fish in the pond but election night is a harsh reality check and you may find yourself gaping in surprise and horror as the votes stack up against you.
(10) Have fun!
If your team are a miserable, moody, sullen, resentful bunch that will rub off on your campaign. And you’ll probably lose.
I hope this is helpful. But remember, it’s just one opinion. There are almost certainly others.
Classic opposition tactic:
If you do a thing:
Attack you for doing it. Say you should not have done it, or don’t have the experience to do it, or can’t afford to do it, or are doing it for the wrong reasons.
If you don’t do a thing:
Attack you for not doing it. Say you should have done it, or you were scared to do it, or you are too worried about money and not about value, or decided not to do it for the wrong reasons.
A few times recently I’ve had people say I “love foreigners.” I think its quite an interesting comment and one that says something about our world that they would think this is an insult.
But I disagree with the analysis.
I think that I just try and treat everybody the same. I believe in innocence until proven guilty. I believe that there are two sides to every story. And I believe that most people are inherently decent, and a minority of people are not. But that minority, in every nation and group, is often treated as though they are representative of the whole group.
This is something we all hate when it is done to us.
If a woman says “all Men are rapists”, the vast majority of decent men are horrified. If a Man says: “All women are docile” (somebody really did say this today!) the many fiery and confident women can’t believe what they are hearing. If a French person says: “All English are hooligans” the very many English who are not that way inclined feel aggrieved. If an older person says: “Young people are all disrespectful” the many polite young people are offended.
So to a person who just plain hates anybody who isn’t from our country, somebody who tries to treat everybody the same appears to “love them.”
In fact – when somebody acts illegally or harmfully I’ll condemn them wherever they are from, whatever language they speak and whatever Gods their worship.
What I wont do is join in a witchhunt based on a scare story and a pack of lies – something we’ve seen happen and then unravel quite a few times on Facebook, in public and in the local media.
But please be assured that in the same way I wont join a witchhunt against a foreign person, neither would I join one against an English person. Because any of us can find ourselves “the minority” in the right situation. And when that happens to you, God forbid, you will be glad that not everybody buys immediately into it.
Observations On Teamwork
There are many hundreds of books and schools of thought about how to work in a team and be a positive addition. The comments herein are just my own thoughts, which I do not claim are in any way authoritative – just a personal opinion from somebody who has worked in many teams. The comments below do not relate to any group or individual in any way and are just my generic ideas. I hope people who have recently joined new teams find it useful.
Toeing The Line
Unless the definition of “team” being used is: “One person holds a view and everybody else does as they are told” then automatically agreeing with everything the rest of the team say does not represent being a useful part of the team. If the team is such that it is considering solutions, problems or policy – failing to be a “critical friend” is, in fact, the opposite of being a useful part of the team. Inanely nodding through every proposal regardless of content is useless, adding nothing whatsoever to the team beyond some vague capacity as a cheerleader. (Not that I have anything against cheerleaders, in a sports environment.)
Of course, criticisms can be harmful if they aren’t handled politely and respectfully. Therefore, its important to present such things reasonably, sticking to logical arguments and presenting them in the proper way. If you feel very strongly that your team is on the wrong track then metaphors and allegories are your friend. Humour is also your friend. They can be used without giving direct offense to individuals, no matter how misguided or poor you may think their actions.
Finally, it is important to remember that even in a situation of group responsibility – you are not bound to agree with the team in areas where the team has not yet taken a decision. Those used to trying to bully their way to the result they favor may suggest that your criticisms – no matter how logical or sensible – should not be made. They are wrong. It is absolutely vital that ideas are aired, challenged and debated. Failure to do so leads to bad decisions, weak policy and stagnant teams.
Analyse, consider, Speak up! Stay polite.
You will occasionally encounter backstabbers. There are lots of reasons why these people exist. Sometimes they feel threatened by you. Sometimes they just can’t bear the idea that anybody might not agree with them. Sometimes they just want to get their way, but have struggled to counter the logic in your arguments. In almost all cases they will be too cowardly to say anything to your face and will be nice as pie when they meet you, but will constantly try and run you down to everybody else behind your back. Although this might seem counter-productive within the team and although it can be irritating, you should not rise to it. It is, in fact, an accidental compliment you are being paid. Your duty, as part of a productive team, is to do continue to do your best to help the team realise its aims. And if possible, to help that individual realise their aims too – where that is not counterproductive to the team. The old adage of “two wrongs don’t make a right” is true here, the team is bigger than the petty comments of this rather sad individual.
Understand The Teams Makeup
A team that you are assigned to in a work environment, with a clearly defined Leader and structure, is quite different to a team of volunteers in a Community Group. And both are quite different to a Council, where each Councillor is elected by the constituents of their own area and has their own mandate in their own right. Understanding what your role is, and how it works alongside the roles of all the other team members will help avoid you over-stepping your mark.
Know The Rules
Every team has some kind of ethos or constitution behind it. Sometimes that’s as simple as “common courtesy” and other times there are hundreds of pages of guidance. Whatever the case, know the rules. Know them well. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It will serve you well.
Never Stop Being Creative
There is no such thing as a “settled idea.” There is no such thing as “perfect.” Always keep looking, examining and rethinking the Team’s makeup, its purpose, its decisions and its future. Most particularly its policies and ideas. The day you stop trying to challenge, improve and evolve is the day you should think about joining a different group. If you have reached the point where all you are doing is “going through the motions” it is time to move on. If you have reached the point where you don’t even think about the team’s proposals anymore, but simple raise your hand and then ask when the coffee is being served, it is time to move on. If you have reached the point where you are infuriated when somebody challenges your idea, or are unable to respond their challenges, or both, it really is time to buck up, or move on. Never think you have nothing useful to add. You do. Everybody has unique experiences and skills – some of the greatest solutions come from left field, the last place from which you might expect their arrival.
A team is at its best when it is a dynamic and varied group of individuals, questioning everything, debating everything, in a friendly and supportive way. Empowered, where appropriate, by a Chairman who understands their role is to facilitate and pace discussion, not control it. Empowered, where appropriate, by a Leader who values the expertise, knowledge, passion and input of the whole team, rather than just forcing their own will, or the will of another. A strong team is not a battle of wills. It is not one will. It is co-operation and creativity and work from the whole group.
On The Wagon
Once Upon A Time, there was a group of men at the top of a mountain. They all wanted to get different places on the mountain, but the one thing they all had in common was that all the places they wanted to be were lower than the top.
The mountain was dangerous. There were thieves and highwaymen lurking in the shadows. The roads were treacherous and poorly-kept. There were sudden and frightening vast ravines and crumbling cliff faces. You could die.
The men decided there was safety in numbers and so when two of them, Kurt and Pierre, suggested travelling together the others agreed. It took a little work to get them to agree though. After all, the men were all quite different to one another. They had different mannerisms and personalities, they didn’t always get along, sometimes they were downright grumpy with one another. But they did all share the goal of being lower on the mountain and that was enough to bind them together.
The men built a huge wooden cart. It was an impressive vehicle. Vast wheels would eat up the downward miles easily and cling to the narrow roads, heavy construction would protect from external threats, clever suspension would cushion the bumps on the mountain passes. Almost everybody was impressed and climbed in. But one of the men, John, hung back. An Independent fellow who had long lived on a part of the mountain quite separate from the others and learnt self-sufficiency (and was, frankly, a little more suspicious of the others because he had fallen out with them so many times), was not quite ready to commit to the unknown. Instead, he trotted along behind the wagon as it began to roll.
Things went well, the wagon began to roll ponderously along the paths and around the corners. John kept pace okay, he was fit and healthy and didn’t mind the exercise. But he could see his fellows up front, whooping with joy at the ride, safe from the rain and the robbers, and he remained unsure about his decisions. He wasn’t lonely because his old friends Dafydd, Patrick and Hamish had stuck by him and were trotting behind too – even though they were less sure than he that this was ideal.
Hamish, Dafydd and Patrick were urging him to rethink, and often Pierre or Kurt would call back: “Come on John! Join us. This is a grand adventure.” Eventually, John became convinced that he was being a fool. His fears about the enterprise were groundless. He agreed to take part and his little group caught up with the wagon and pulled themselves inside.
Perhaps things could have continued like that forever, with the cart rumbling in the right direction and everybody feeling safer together? But some of the people inside were convinced that the exciting endeavor could be improved. Whenever they rolled past somebody they would invite them inside – even if they were nothing like the individuals who had began to journey. Inside the wagon, in an attempt to prevent minor squabbles some of the men began telling the others when they could look out of the windows, which bits of the mountain they could or could not visit in future. Rules began to be made about everything – what they should wear, what they could carry, when they could be active and when they should rest. Many of the individuals inside were used to deciding these things for themselves and balked at being told what to do like children.
At some point, somebody added extra paneling. A few robbers arrows had penetrated the hull and the response was to thicken the shell and seal the exits. They were safer now. It was a bit darker without windows and getting out for some fresh air was more difficult with so many locks and bolts on the doors. But security was important.
As the mountain roads descended they grew steeper and the wagon gathered pace. Corners were taken at speed rather than use unnecessary energy to slow down. This meant that when sharp corners were navigated everybody had to be instructed to lean inwards, towards the mountain, to prevent the wagon falling over an edge and crashing to the rocks below. During these regular scary twists and turns all the men were on top of one another, leaning inwards, pressed close and frightened. Even though they managed each time, somehow, to stay on the road, they became tetchy and surly with one another. Partly due to the unwelcome proximity and invasion of personal space, and partly to cover how terrified they were.
Some time later the wagon reached breakneck pace. It was now barreling down the road, screaming around the corners, everybody was clinging to their seats and making small talk – pretending there was nothing to fear. Pierre and Kurt had declared that slowing down was no longer even an option. They proposed that the most important thing was the continuing mutual journey, which had been taken with the best of intentions and was still the best option for them all. Their solution was to remove the brakes entirely. This would discourage anybody silly enough to even consider a slower pace. From now on, the route down the mountain was going to be an ever faster journey.
John had tried his best. He didn’t want to be a bad companion. But he had spent his life as a self-sufficient independent man. Being cooped up in here, being unable to change the way things were done, having Kurt and Pierre tell him how much they liked him being there but overrule most of what he suggested was really irritating. And he really really didn’t like the speeds they were at. He worried that sooner or later they would take a corner too fast, or hit an obstacle they couldn’t avoid. So one day he announced he was thinking about getting off the wagon.
They didn’t want him to get off the wagon. Partly because John was a useful guy to have around and they liked making use of his many skills. Partly because John was well-known and respected and they needed him there. But mostly because they had convinced everybody else that you simply couldn’t get off the wagon. It was going too fast now. Leaving a moving vehicle on a steep mountain road was suicide. Was he crazy? And if John managed to do it – others might think they could do it too. Kurt and Pierre didn’t always agree on everything, but they did agree that a huge wagon like this needed lots of people to keep it rolling.
“Listen,” said John, “You give me some changes and then maybe I won’t get off. I don’t want much. If you guys don’t want a brake, fine. But I’d like one put in for emergencies, even if its only me that pulls it. Also, maybe I could choose a different colour coat when you all agree to wear green ones? And I’d quite like to still be able to sell the wooden ornaments I carve to peaceful folk on the road as we pass them. Oh, and in the night, I don’t want everybody laying all over me, I’m getting almost no rest at all with so many people trying to share my sleeping space. It’s cramped and I don’t love garlic as much as some of you. No offence intended, old chaps.”
John had meetings with Oto and with Leon, with Daan and with Alfons. He tried to get them all to see that in order for him to stay he just needed them to be reasonable and a bit less bossy. He wanted to sell stuff when he could and sleep in his own bed, undisturbed. Was this so much to ask? They listened politely. They agreed that instead of a green coat, John could wear a light green coat on Thursdays, in the afternoon, sometimes. He could sell his wooden widgets, but only if he could conduct the transaction with the person on the road as the wagon passed by at fifty kilometres per hour. And only if he could get the goods to the buyer in one accurate, careful throw. (And as long as he didn’t mind paying a tariff.) They even promised not to be so bossy – on the condition that he did as he was told afterwards. The bed thing was a no go though. Being in the wagon meant sharing beds and that was that.
John pondered what to do. Hamish was absolutely refusing to leave and John was worried about their friendship. The others had agreed to some reforms, so that was good. But he couldn’t ignore the fact that the wagon was still getting faster and the mountain roads were not getting any safer. They had nearly lost Alexandros earlier in the week in a particularly nerve-racking maneuver. John looked at the mountain wall, flashing by in the late afternoon sun. He looked at the vast cliff on the other side of the wagon. He wondered if, as he leaped off, he would be dashed on the rocks or plummet over the edge. His friends wouldn’t be there to help him – they’d be rolling off ahead and into the sunset.
“What to do, what to do,” John wondered. It was a stay of execution, or a leap of faith. The familiarity of the known versus the fear of the unknown. “I didn’t used to be so scared,” He said to himself. “When did I become so dependent?” The wagon had changed everything. John just had to decide whether to stay on and see where the ride ended. Or throw himself off the back and take the fall and its consequences. Anybody who said there was an easy answer simply wasn’t paying attention.
Not The End.
The Limitations Of Surveys
A survey is a tool. A method of gaining information. Like all tools, it is useful for the purpose it was intended. Like all tools, it can be used correctly and it can be used incorrectly.
The problem with surveys is that the way the questions are phrased can both lead (push people towards a desired response) and mislead (confuse people over the nature of the question). This can be accidental, as a result of poor design. Or deliberate, as a result of a wilful attempt to rig the responses given. The results can be deliberately misinterpreted in order to support one side of an argument or another.
Another problem with a survey is that it seldom allows for any variation in response. If you are asked whether you would be willing to pay £10.00 for an ice cream and the boxes allow a “yes” or a “no” answer, you can’t say: “It depends on how wonderful the ice-cream is” or “it depends on how large the ice cream is” or even “it depends on how much £10.00 buys at that given point it time. This risks missing the nuance, and sometimes the entire meaning of the response given. A space at the bottom of the survey for comments does not count as providing space to vary your answers, since those answers will still be quantified by the box you ticked and the comments become a (mostly ignored) footnote.
None of this matters very much as long as the survey is simply used as a tool. After all, an intelligent person can weed out the invalid or misled responses simply by examining the methodology of the survey. But if the survey is used to actually determine a set result, then that is bad news.
You can’t do democratic decision-making with tick boxes and you can’t make sensible decisions with limited or invalid information. There is simply no substitute for proper and open debate.