Sack the spads, finish the focus groups and stick to your guns, Jeremy!

One focus group member said Mr Corbyn’s appearance would make the UK a laughing-stock abroad. Does he look bad to you?

He is a man who has just won an election – overwhelmingly – with no tie and with his vest showing. Putting on a suit is the last thing Jeremy Corbyn needs to do.

But already, only two weeks into his leadership of the Labour Party, people are trying to change him. They voiced concern about his unwillingness to sing the National Anthem or bend the knee to the Queen, for example.

He’s a Republican and an Atheist, so these things are against his principles. We all knew this before he was elected, and he was elected anyway. It’s a little late to complain about them now!

His attitude to terrorist organisations has also been called into question, even though it is the same attitude that brought peace to Northern Ireland when Tony Blair tried it out.

And then there’s the question of his dress sense. The Graun had a go in an article today: “‘I find him exciting in some ways but then I have other thoughts on the national anthem and not dressing appropriately. There is a time and a place to fight those fights,’ said a woman, not the only one to link notions of being ‘scruffy’ with credibility (‘We’d be a laughing stock abroad,’ said another).”

Is Yanis Varoufakis a laughing stock around here? Of course not. But his dress sense is far from conventional.

Yanis Varoufakis (left) with George Osborne. The trustworthy one isn't wearing a tie.

Yanis Varoufakis (left) with George Osborne. The trustworthy one isn’t wearing a tie.

What we’re seeing is the typical hypocrisy of the Middle Class, which can be summed up as: “He can do the job but we don’t want him if he won’t keep up appearances.” These are the people who want Hyacinth Bucket (remember her?) running the country.

But what people in these focus groups say isn’t nearly as influential as what is said by those who organise them and interpret their comments – usually in line with the wishes of whoever is paying.

So Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks, the organiser of the focus groups quoted in the Graun, tells us: “They already know quite a bit about him and they are worried about what they regard as ‘extreme’ policies.

“They’re worried, for example, that he does not speak to their concerns about the economy and immigration, that he won’t unite the Labour party and that under his leadership it will become divided and weak.”

That is not what the people themselves said. You can feel the influence of the paymasters bleeding through – or so it seems to This Writer.

Mrs Mike feels the same way. A few days ago, she asked me to write an article supporting Mr Corbyn’s position on clothing, the economy (anti-austerity), foreign affairs (negotiation rather than aggression), and – very strongly – his own personal beliefs.

Her belief – and I agree with it – is that it is these unique qualities that lifted Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party.

The voters who put him there will be angry if he lets the spads and focus groups mould him into something they don’t support – and rightly so.

The message could not be clearer: Sack the spads, Jeremy. Put away the focus groups. They’re not focusing on anything you need to worry about.

Don’t you go changing.

Source: Focus groups give Jeremy Corbyn catch-22: stick to his guns but change his values | Politics | The Guardian

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28 thoughts on “Sack the spads, finish the focus groups and stick to your guns, Jeremy!

  1. AndyH

    A tie is a noose of material, worn around the larynx that can cause headaches. It is ridiculous and impractical. One day men wearing ties will seem as old-fashioned as men wearing high heels or make up.

  2. Bookworm

    Its what he says and does that counts. I couldn’t care less what he wears or sings. Who wants yet another clone?

  3. Joan Edington

    I don’t care what Corbyn wears, as long as he acts like the principled man I always thought he was. However, he didn’t win friends up here in Scotland with his performance on Andrew Marr’s show yesterday. The other day he was saying that he would work with the SNP, or vice versa, yet yesterday he goes on live TV telling blatant lies about them. I had thought better of him and hope that he apologises.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Would this be the comments that the SNP voted against the living wage, etc?
      He was perfectly correct; these were Labour amendments to legislation in the Scottish Parliament, attached to quite lengthy lists of SNP failures in Scotland. The SNP voted down the amendments (it is impossible to accept only part of an amendment; all must be included) because they would have required that party to admit its failures.
      Some commenters have claimed that this is low behaviour by Labour, but these fail to acknowledge that the criticisms of the SNP that were made as part of the amendments is accurate. If the SNP had any honesty about it, it would have accepted the amendments, and the criticism implied in them. Otherwise: pot, kettle, black.

      1. Joan Edington

        No Mike. It was his statements that the SNP privatised Scotrail and Caledonian Macbrayne.

        Scotrail was privatised, along with all the UK railways by the Tories, long before Scotland had a parliament, let alone an SNP-led one. The railways are a reserved matter and cannot be re-nationalised by the Scottish Government. The Scotrail franchise is run by a private company, yes, but so are virtually all railways in the UK.

        Caledonian Macbrayne, the company that has run the west coast ferries in Scotland for decades, is publicly-owned and is currently still running the routes. A tender has been put out, as is decreed by the EU, for the renewal of the contract when it runs out. The government has had a tender put in by Serco, who are bidding against Macbrayne. No decision will be made until at least December. Public opinion is strongly on the side of Macbrayne and keeping the status quo.

        I don’t know whether he has been misled by Labour in Scotland, is really clueless about rail privatisation that was carried out while he was an MP or if he is simply carrying on the anti-SNP rhetoric used by previous Labour leaders. I sincerely hope it is not the latter, that he apologises and they can work together.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Okay, in that case I don’t have any information about it.
        Can anybody enlighten us about what happened on the Labour side of this argument? I don’t want SNP supporters giving their opinions; I want to know what actually happened.

      3. Joan Edington

        You’ve totally lost me now Mike. I know you said that SNP supporters shouldn’t comment. Is that what you mean? I am not aware of any Labour argument on either of these subjects. They were merely statements made by Corbyn in a TV interview.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        I want good information on why Corbyn made those comments. I’m not going to see that by watching the interview.

      5. Joan Edington

        OK Mike. That makes sense. An SNP MP has written to Corbyn asking him to explain his rematks, as well as asking for an apology. I will wait for his official response since the BBC certainly didn’t take him up on the remarks.

  4. John D Turner

    Hear! Hear!

    Jeremy can start by sacking John McDonnell’s new chief of staff, a 25 year old, middle class graduate from Cambridge University called Seb.

    Seb worked as a paid member of Corbyn’s leadership campaign and before that he was Mr McDonnell’s parliamentary aide. Seb will now be one of the most influential paid party officials outside of the leader’s office.

    Given Seb Corbyn his cards would show that New, New Labour is serious about rooting out nepotism and career politicians.

    By the way, my mother, working class to her fingertips and the same age as Corbyn, thinks Jeremy is a prize prat, partly because of the way he dresses. Luckily for Corbyn that, although we are not Islington Socialists or Corbynettes, we are tribal Labour.

    Pukka working class people have self respect. Only someone from Corbyn’s middle class background (and seemingly a lot of his fans) would think dressing like a scruff all the time is something to which working class people would relate.

    Corbyn and the Corbynettes need to get out more and meet potential Labour voters who are not part of their immediate social circle/focus group rather than carrying on high fiving each other on social media. You got Corbyn elected now the real work starts out there where the average voters live, the people whose votes decide elections and to whom those seeking office need to listen. Given you think you voted for the right guy then pressing the flesh should be a painless experience, should it not?

    Incidentally, the group of people whose opinions are used to compile an opinion poll are a focus group in that they are deemed to be a representative sub set of a larger group, for example the UK electorate. Those who rail against focus groups et al invariably show a predilection for ignoring facts and opinion not to their liking. No surprise then that Corbynettes are especially averse to any serious study as to why Labour lost last May?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I don’t think Corbyn thinks dressing like a scruff will help working class people relate to him; my impression is that he simply doesn’t think it’s worth wasting thinking-time on it.

      My problem with focus groups – probably not expressed well enough in the article – is that they tend to represent the opinions of whoever fronts up the cash for them. I don’t think a Labour-funded focus group would do the party any good and I think that the party’s experience in the last election demonstrates that.

      I agree with you that the only way to get genuine opinions is to go out and talk to real people – who haven’t been asked to take part in a survey.

      And I also agree that there shouldn’t be any nepotism.

      1. John D Turner

        51% of the electorate in 2020 will be over 55 and I expect his scruffiness will matter to them. If they perceive him to be casual about his appearance then they may wonder about what else he is casual about. In constituencies Labour needs to win then Corbyn will find more and more that clothes maketh the man and all that … And Farage definitely knows that!

        The problem with the unscientific approach you seem to be suggesting is that it is unscientific. There is nothing wrong with using surveys and focus groups alongside other inter-actions, including one to one interviews to build up a real picture of the views of groups of people.

        Corbyn’s Northern Future and Rural Policy consultations are certainly not exercises for which I would have paid money. Moreover, I would have set them aside, if presented as part of a bid for Government or European funding. Anyone citing such an exercise as conclusive proof of the need for funding would score poorly.

        The Corbynettes seem rather too quick to poor scorn on tried and tested methods of community consultation. Corbyn and McDonnell need to break out of the Islington/Westminster bubble. McDonnell might even discover that his 1970s ideas for worker participation are old hat too and that Total Quality Management delivers better outcomes for management and staff.

        I am not holding my breath though, given the number of Sebs in the Labour Party. I met some of them in the run up to 1997.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        The problem with the approach that you are suggesting is that it is also unscientific – whoever pays for the research will demand that the result conforms with their own opinions. We know this because it happened before the election. Labour under Miliband thought the Tories couldn’t win, and were wrong. If there was a way to ensure that this interference could be prevented, then I would agree with you but the evidence suggests there isn’t. As it is, you seem to be advocating that Corbyn remains in the Westminster bubble that you also say he needs to escape.

      3. John D Turner

        No, I am not suggesting that he stays within the bubble. Moreover, I have been involved with the use of focus groups as a civil servant as part of consultation exercises and they do produce useful results. I stress as a part not the whole of an exercise and quite often as the beginning of a process rather than its end. All sorts of people use them to help them establish baselines. Something Labour continues to shy away from, whoever is leader! Still working on that one locally. Not a left/centre/right thing, but just an attempt to build up a living document about say a ward that candidates and campaigners may use day in, day out whatever policies they are seeking to engage the voters with.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        Doesn’t that support what I’m saying, though – that these people struggle to establish a baseline without bias getting in the way?

      5. John D Turner

        I quite agree. You make a good case against jury trials! What is, after all, a jury of one’s peers, if not a variation on a focus group? Citizen’s juries are used a mechanism of participatory action research.

        One may reduce bias, but not eliminate it completely, because we are dealing with people like us. Accepting that (and guarding against the method changing opinions itself as the process is worked through) then one may use focus groups, amongst other methods of inter-action, to assist a in a consultation exercise. I stress assist not determine. Away from party politics, the use of focus groups is uncontroversial. All sorts of organisations (and academics) use them, quite often to obtain the views of people who are not heard from as much as they should be. A rather important outcome in a democracy where too often those who shout the loudest are most likely to be listened to and heeded. For those that do not vote to be heard then those who came out to vote for Corbyn may have to learn take a back seat from time to time and work on their listening skills. It is not easy as I know first hand, but it needs to be done more than ever, particularly given that social media has made reaching the too often ignored harder than ever before.

        There were serious, informed concerns expressed on Labour List the other day as to whether or not Jon Trickett understood that the consultation used to get the quotes for the Northern Future was not inclusive and not actually the result of any recognised method of consultation.

        No one, apart from the usual suspects on Labour List, questioned the intent, but many felt that those behind the Northern Future exercise did not understand that their approach and methodology were flawed, because they had done nothing to minimise bias and open up the exercise to a wide, representative sample of opinion.

        If you are familiar with the Shewhart Cycle of Plan, Do, Observe, Act then focus groups may help with the observe bit. Locally, we were discussing how to stop the only observation being when the ballots started cascading out of the boxes on polling night. A bit late then to discover that the campaign to get the change of a local bus route reversed has failed to put crosses in your candidate’s box on the ballots. Does not have to be a focus group, necessarily, but you need to know where people are starting from before you take them on any kind of journey and you need to know that you are keeping them with you as you progress. Alas, the Labour Party is a very conservative organisation and, in Birmingham, we are paying the price of some people not learning from their mistakes! I am afraid you will be hearing a lot about our local problems over the next 18 months, especially as they may become the focus of the local elections in 2017.

        My blog post about Benefits Street does outline the approach one might take and, in some cases, a focus group of one is perfectly acceptable, if that is the only way to get someone to tell you what concerns them and to counter bias.

        I spent a part of my career trying to help other people, too often drowned out by gobshites, to have their story heard where it would count. Not all the loudmouths were lacking in good intentions, but too many were too quick to speak for others. Some people still confuse being assertiveness with being aggressive which can be very intimidating in any forum. Sometimes keeping my own mouth shut was a good start!

      6. Mike Sivier Post author

        As a reporter, I’ve been to court more than 2,000 times and reported on many more times that number of trials. During that time, I have seen jury trials that have deviated a very – VERY – long way from justice. You’ll be familiar with the rule that a jury must find a defendant ‘not guilty’ if there is any doubt about the evidence against that person. I’ve seen prosecution cases ripped to shreds, yet the defendant has been convicted. My only theory regarding the reason is that the charge was serious and the jurors didn’t want to risk making a mistake. But that’s not justice.
        I would advocate a change in our courts, from the current adversarial system to a more European-style, investigative system. I think we’d be far more likely to get justice that way, and jurors would receive much better advice from case judges. That’s just my opinion, though.
        I find I can agree with you about good uses of social groups because you state that, apart from in politics, such uses are uncontroversial. Your comment about politicians honing their listening skills is apposite.
        I wasn’t familiar with the Shewhart Cycle (or at least, I don’t recall it) but it seems to me that you may be right about the ‘observe’ part – if the bias of funders can be removed. I would suggest that Labour’s problem before the election may be that focus groups were involved in the ‘plan’ part.

  5. David Bacon

    Am I alone in wishing that candidates from all parties had some kind of hinterland, had worked on the shop floor, taught, been doctors, and worked first hand with the public or in industry? I don’t think having been a lawyer or an accountant really counts, but I suppose those from such occupations with political honesty would be welcome.

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