There’s a simple personality profiling test called the Pig Test. You draw a doodle of a pig, and the way you do so is used to give a sketch outline of your personality type. (If you want to take the test yourself, please draw a pig now, because the details in the rest of this post will otherwise influence your results). It’s not perfect, but it’s an amusing little way to give a broadbrush insight into what you or your friends are like.
So according to the rules of the Pig Test, what does it tell us about Ed Balls’ personality?
First, the doodle is located at the top of the page, which apparently should mean “you are perceived as a positive
and optimistic person by others.” (I did say it wasn’t perfect).
Next, we look at the direction the pig is facing – Ed’s piggywig is looking out of the page directly at us, indicating “you are a direct person; [you] neither fear nor avoid discussion and enjoy “stirring the pot” to promote change.”
The doodle also has more detail than you would normally expect in a picture of a cartoon pig, which means “you see yourself as analytical and cautious. Others must work hard to earn your trust and to keep it.”
The fact the pig has two rather than four legs indicates a sense of insecurity, that “you are living through a period of major change in your life”.
The pig’s ears aren’t unusually large or unusually small, so far as I can see that means Ed is a fairly good listener.
Finally, and most tellingly, there’s the tail. According to the rules of the Pig Test, “the longer the pig’s tail that you have drawn (including loops) the more satisfied you are with the quality of your personal relationships”.
It speaks for itself that Ed Balls’ pig has no tail at all.
There’s a typically perceptive piece out today by the BBC’s Brian Wheeler – one of the nice guys in political media – about the Barnsley by-election.
One of the background bits of colour he reports brought a smile to my face; the slightly unusual codename the Labour candidate has chosen for his campaign. It is called “Operation Honey Badger”.
The name has quite a few undertones. For a start, the Honey Badger sounds like a lovely creature but is actually notoriously vicious (find out more from the engrossing HoneyBadger.com) with a sweet name, but packing a nasty punch if you get too close.
The thing that it particularly brought to mind, though, was one of the weirdest incidents in the history of war reporting.
Considering that the Labour candidate in Barnsley, Dan Jarvis, recently left the Parachute Regiment, you may not be too surprised to learn that the Honey Badger’s most recent brush with notoriety was in relation to the British operation in Iraq.
Back in 2007, the Army was forced to go the remarkable length of publicly denying a rumour sweeping Basra “that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic”. What one Basra housewife referred to as a creature “as swift as a deer…the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey” later turned out to be – you guessed it – a Honey Badger. Presumably Mr Jarvis heard the story at the time and it’s stayed with him.
It’s an odd little tale, but whatever his other political sins Dan Jarvis certainly can’t be accused of lacking a sense of humour. Presumably he is hoping that his campaign spokesmen won’t end up having to put out a statement as weird as that the British Army released last time a Honey Badger graced the media:
UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: “We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.
James Frayne, a predecessor of mine as Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, has been blogging for some time now at the excellent Campaign War Room. He mused over the weekend about celebrity endorsements in political campaigns and whether they actually bring any benefits. He concludes:
Sometimes celebrities can make a campaign look normal and mainstream by having celebrity establishment endorsement, and in such circumstances then why not. But I don’t think it substantially changes the way a campaign is perceived. More often than not, in Britain at least, you’re probably better off focusing on sorting out your message and developing case studies / endorsements from real people who genuinely do amplify the message you’re pushing out.
By and large I agree. As I see it there are four possible outcomes that a celebrity endorsement can bring for your campaign, which are worth pondering:
1) The “Eh? Who?”
Smaller parties and campaigns who are frustrated that the mainstream media are neglecting them can often fall into a state of clutching at straws. This means that when a so-called “celebrity” turns up on their doorstep, they will grab them and shout it to the rooftops – even if they are either unheard of or completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Or both.
The outcome is normally that your campaign will suffer from the embarrassment of being visibly proud of the dubious endorsement of someone a bit random – causing harm rather than the supposed gilded benefits of having a celeb on board.
The classic example in this category is Rustie Lee. I know, I hadn’t heard of her either. Rustie Lee is – apparently – a TV presenter and chef, who enjoyed her heyday in the ’80s. In 2004 it was announced with great fanfare that she was joining UKIP, and she’s since stood for them in one General and one European election. She’s not a bad candidate so far as I can judge, she’s just a bit random. When UKIP sing about her as a celebrity, it just exacerbates their key problem of people assuming they are small fish in a big pond.
2) The Liability
Far worse than a little-known celebrity is one who you initially welcome on board but who then proceeds to become an embarrassing liability. The famous are particularly prone to this because by definition they tend to be unusual, driven characters and because they are normally quite naive and unpracticed when it comes to how politics actually works.
There are quite a few examples of this phenomenon, ranging from Jim Davidson speaking at the 2000 Conservative Party Conference, through David Icke acting as co-leader of the Green Party before discovering the “truth” about how giant lizards run the world and announcing he was the new Jesus, to Frank Maloney refusing to bring his UKIP campaign to Camden because there were “too many gays” there.
Even Sir Michael Caine, with long experience of learning scripts, managed to fluff his lines last year by praising the Government rather than the Opposition when he was supposed to be endorsing the Conservatives.
3) The Backlash
The other risk you take on board when you given prominence and importance to the political views of a celebrity is that they will later change sides – slamming you with the Backlash. It’s difficult to shrug such a change of heart off – after all, if the voters were meant to listen to them when they were on your side, why shouldn’t people pay attention now your pet star has decided you’re actually rotten to the core/personally rude/a massive let-down/a danger to the nation?
This is exacerbated by the, shall we say, flighty nature of a lot of celebrities. What little benefit the Lib Dems got from Colin Firth’s backing swiftly evaporated when he withdrew it over tuition fees. Labour got a flush of embarrassment when D:Ream-star-turned-celebrity-physicist Brian Cox announced that while he had hoped things could “only get better” in 1997, he would in 2010 be voting Lib Dem due to Labour’s “cock-up” on science funding. In 2009 UKIP learned the danger of getting a newspaper columnist on board when the Telegraph’s Robin Page used the paper to denounce them and announce his resignation after a personal spat with Nigel Farage.
4) The Smooth Runner
Sometimes, of course, celebrity endorsements do go well – or at least don’t go badly.
Plenty of celebrities are uncontroversial political players – Tony Robinson has played a prominent role in the Labour Party since the 1980s, Daniel Radcliffe announced his support for the Lib Dems but hasn’t apparently done much for them and William “Ken Barlow” Roache is apparently a lifelong Tory. The thing that really stands out about those celebrities who aren’t actively bad news for their chosen cause, though, is that none of them really stand out as stunning successes either.
Best of all was probably Joanna Lumley as an advocate for the Gurkhas. As well as being articulate and media-savvy, she had a genuine reason to be interested in the issue at hand and stuck with it throughout the campaign. It’s telling as to the value of celebrity support that she is notable mainly for having been pretty good at it – an almost unique example of a successful endorsement that didn’t backfire.
Of course, these four categories are slightly artificial distinctions – things get really tricky with celebs when they appear to be one of these categories and then turn out to be another (or even several of the others). Most dramatic was Robert Kilroy-Silk, who when he joined UKIP at first appeared to be a bit of an “Eh? Who?“. He swiftly shifted to the appearance of a Smooth Runner, giving UKIP a poll boost and romping home in the European Election. Unfortunately he then almost immediately became a Liability, jumped quickly into Backlash mode by slagging off the party and then left – to become a Liability for his own ill-fated outfit, Veritas. Let that be a warning to all others who are tempted by the siren call of a celebrity saying “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Finally – after years of arguments, promises and u-turns on the part of both Labour and the Conservatives – the Government has introduced crime mapping right across the country at www.police.uk.
Anyone who doubted that there was an interest among the public in finding out what crimes are committed in their neighbourhoods was immediately given a firm slap round the chops by the fact that the site received so much traffic it has at times struggled to deal with it all. At its peak it was getting 18 million hits an hour – a remarkable number.
Obviously, the Guardian chose to lead on the fact it crashed without reflecting on the fact that this proved what huge demand there is out there for this kind of transparency.
I’m personally delighted about crime mapping coming to the UK because it has been a massive hobby horse of mine in recent years. I first wrote about it for the TPA almost 3 years ago and since then I’ve met ministers, spoken at the Police Federation conference, addressed the Association of Chief Police Officers and generally banged the drum for this idea endlessly – not always making myself popular, it must be said.
This is a genuinely exciting reform. For the first time, everyone has the right to know what the real picture is of reported crime in a given area. That helps people moving house, scrutinising police performance and communicating with their MP.
It’s still just the start of the transparency and accountability revolution, though.
Giving people this information is a great start, but there’s plenty more to give. Other police forces are apparently experimenting with ways to provide even more data in greater accuracy and more informative formats. Yvette Cooper has called for full transparency on police numbers, which I can’t see a problem with. Ideally in my view each crime on the map would also be updated when it is either solved and prosecuted or shelved into a cold file. The possibilities are myriad.
Once you’ve given people information, you should also give them the power to do something with it, too. Now people are being given some data about how effective or ineffective their local police are, it is high time they were given the right to elect, scrutinise and – if necessary – sack the people in charge of the force.
The internet makes it possible for us to be given access to all that state data which our public employees compile about all of us in our name and at our expense. The digital revolution, if properly applied, can be a real revolution – handing power from hidden officials in back offices to the people. Crime mapping is an early and crucial step on that road to empowerment.
The AV referendum is incredibly important for British democracy – not so much because of the actual question on the table but because the way it runs will heavily influence the future of direct democracy in this country.
I, like many others, want to see a lot more referenda in Britain. We deserve votes on the EU, on any constitutional changes and on local tax rises, to name but a few. Ideally citizens should be able to initiate a referendum on any issue of their choosing via a right of initiative.
The chance of that happening rests largely, though unofficially, on the AV referendum. If it becomes a farce with a tiny turnout, then there is a risk that it will discredit the idea of asking the people about anything – the defenders of the Westminster elite will crow at any and every opportunity that people just aren’t bothered.
But if the AV vote does turn out to be an absurd waste of time, it will not be because the people aren’t interested in being consulted on things.
For a start, AV is in itself a boring and obscure system which is a peculiar choice of referendum topic. That puts this referendum at a disadvantage in terms of turnout.
To counteract that, campaigners and politicians have a serious responsibility. The Yes and No camps must run active, interesting and exciting campaigns to ensure that people are exercised about the topic (difficult as that may be). I think they have both got off to a pretty good start on that front.
The real weak link in the chain at the minute is in Parliament. The BBC today reports that Labour Peers are blocking the Bill to such an extent that it may not go through in time to actually hold the referendum on the planned date of May 5th.
If they persist in their delaying tactics and the date does have to be moved, it would be a disgraceful disservice to democracy. Allowing campaigns to get up and running only to delay the vote will turn this referendum into a farce and further confuse and alienate the public.
I don’t like AV, so I don’t think it would be a missed opportunity on that front, but if this harms the prospect of future referenda on things that actually do matter, there should be hell to pay.
I’m at an absolute loss as to how the appalling attack on Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents has somehow become a debate about political semantics. People suddenly seem to have noticed the existence of military metaphors – which are inevitably part of the English language, particularly in a combative (see, there’s the military creeeping in) environment like politics.
Obviously this is mainly a debate in the US, but now some in the UK have started posturing about it, too.
Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West tweeted this:
“Let’s all give our thoughts to #GabrielleGiffords and eliminate the crosshairs mentality from our democratic discourse online or anywhere”
That all sounds very nice, but perhaps Kevin should have given some thought to his own record before jumping on this bandwagon. He has used some pretty violent language himself:
“It is important to dispose of the ACT argument—the argument that the shortfall has been caused by the removal of advance corporation tax. I shall kill that stone dead once and for all” 25th March 2004
“I just reminded him that there were such creatures as Liberal Democrat special advisers and perhaps fired a shot across his bows” 8th May 2003
I don’t think that Kevin Brennan is a violent person, or that at any stage he intended to incite violence or even to create a hostile environment with these terms. Nor do I think these terms actually did contribute in any way to any violent culture. That’s because I think military terms and metaphors are an embedded element of our rich and beautiful language – like it or not we are a species which has been at war since time began and these terms have been around since time immemorial.
If you look at any politician’s record I am certain they will have used terms like “shot down in flames”, “blow up in your face”, “destroy the opposition”, “turn your fire”, “set your sights”, “strike a blow” and so on. Given that, it’s probably best that all of us resist any temptation to jump on bandwagons by criticising others for doing the same.