Red Teams at the Ready

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Quite a few people over the past three years have admitted to me that the only reason they voted remain in the referendum was that they felt that those in Westminster and Whitehall were too useless to actually be able to carry a leave vote out.

I always felt this was a slightly pessimistic view of life in SW1, but after reading Dominic Cummings’ latest magnum opus of a blog post, you have to wonder if they didn’t have a point.

Dominic’s post is in equal measure inspiring, irritating and downright jaw-dropping (and for varying reasons, as well). His essential argument is that the Civil Service is so far behind the curve in terms of the latest ideas in analysis and prediction, and that the cabinet are so woefully under informed, that they might as well just plunge billions of pounds straight down the plughole and go home.

He goes into enormous, but very interesting detail, about the latest movements in data modelling and analysis and how it can be used well to drive the country forward with top-class decision making. It’s long (his argument for being so open and giving the ‘competition’ too much information is that they wouldn’t possibly read a 10,000 word blog post to find out anyway), but it’s worth a read if you are at all interested in just how poor the government processes are, and how good they could be if anyone there could be bothered.

What’s most fascinating, I find, is that ultimately what Dominic is advocating is looking for ways to map parts, if not all, of the extended order in unique an interesting ways. It would probably be meaningless to try to create a wholistic view of everything, even the summary would be incomprehensibly complex, but if we could focus on certain areas that are still vast (economics, climate change etc.) and try to tame those in a sensible way, we could make some amazing advances.

I’m still not entirely convinced this isn’t a fools errand, but it’s certainly fascinating, and it’s not like we don’t have the computational power to start breaking into these things and making them comprehensible enough to base decisions on. It’s an area that I will be looking into quite closely in the next few weeks and months. Funnily enough, I might know a fair few people who could help Dominic out, but more on that later.

Kicking your can

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I see Labour have kicked the can, as is the general rule of thumb with all things Brexit these days, a little further down the road in terms of coming out as the anti-Brexit party.

It still feels like Tom Watson and his gang are hedging their bets on an early autumn general election. The first thing that Boris or Jeremy will face as PM will almost certainly be a vote of no-confidence in the Government, and the remainer Conservatives, at least vocally, seem happy to bring down their own government rather than face the possibility of a No Deal Brexit (AKA the Boris Brexit, despite his protestations that it’s his plan C).

Whether these rebel Tories will vote with Labour or not, I guess depends on who wins, although I’d be amazed if Boris didn’t win, and that Labour didn’t immediately carry out the no-confidence trick (or shortly after the Brecon by-election).

Labour really must think that by alienating a big chunk of their electorate, they stand a chance of regaining the votes lost to the Lib Dems to make up for it. I don’t see it personally, I see that as more ‘suicidal’ than a No-Deal Brexit (not that either is particularly what anyone wants).

Labour would only be able to regain those they perceive to have lost to the Lib Dems in the EU elections, and I doubt many of them would seriously consider voting Lib Dem in a General Election anyway. I can’t see many Lib Dems jumping ship and switching over to a Marxist-led Labour party, just because they decided to become anti-Brexit.

What makes the logic even more spurious, is that a recent poll split people roughly 28% leave with no deal, 29% leave with a deal and just 43% revoke Article 50. By my reckoning that indicates a growth somewhere in the region of 5% for the pro-Brexit camp (compared to the Referendum).

I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn in senses that the keys to No. 10 are only just out of his reach; making a stand against Brexit may just snatch them away from him. It will also encourage the Tory membership to be more inclined to vote for Boris, and usher in more chance of a No-Deal Brexit, the one thing Labour are trying to stop.

What the Dickens?

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Along with a colleague today, we took a small group of people from our office around the Hatton Garden and Smithfields area on a ‘Wellbeing Walk’ (as part of our Wellbeing Week activities). The walk had a Dickensian theme, with lots of fun facts about the area, and a good time was had by all.

One thing that came clear to me was that Dickens was a man with a passion for campaigning. He fought for justice in the ‘cruel and harsh’ magistrates courts that operated in the Hatton Garden area, fought to improve the lot of the poor children growing up in the slums around Saffron Hill, campaigned for public executions at Newgate Prison to be carried out behind the prison walls, contributed to the debate around the closure of Smithsfields Market (for live animal slaughter, anyway), and campaigned against the Yorkshire Schools (which he wrote about in Nicholas Nickleby). I suspect this was just scratching the surface of what he got up too.

It got me thinking that I really do need to be doing more in this regard. I must confess to feeling somewhat impotent at times; ‘why would anyone listed to me?’ But then, going back to my post recently about extreme ownership, is not the right attitude at all. It isn’t a case of why would anyone listed, it should be a case of ‘why aren’t you listening to me’? It’s an important realisation to make.

Harms and Risks?

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The Open Rights Group sent an interesting email today around the Government’s plan to regulate the platforms and services we use across the web to communicate.

It seems the The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) want to base their regulation of such websites on the somewhat nebulous concept of ‘harms’ and ‘risks’, rather than, as the ORG argue, a rights-based approach that ‘supports basic principles of accountability and transparency while protecting personal data from exploitative algorithms and targeted advertising’.

You can read the proposal from the Government here: Online Harms White Paper, and ORG’s response to the proposal here: A new rights-based approach.

Both are worth a careful read (I’m still ploughing through the fine detail), but I do agree with ORG that there appears to be an irony that the Government’s approach appears to fail to address threats to freedom of expression, and could end up catching up all sorts of user generated content under it’s vague ‘legal, but harmful’ catch-all, without really addressing the core issues.

The DCMS are accepting public feedback until July 1st, so if you have an opinion on this, it’s worth getting your voice heard while you can.

Write to the Government via ORG

A challenge

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A few months ago, MP Sam Gyimah posted a short piece on Medium arguing for a second referendum. Yet the article, while it waxed lyrical about the disaster of Brexit and the calamity of No Deal, was very thin on the ground on facts and figures. I posted a reply, which surprisingly garnered a few claps (or whatever they are on there), asking him to elaborate and back up his assertions with some cold, hard facts.

He didn’t.

Even when the likes of Mark Carney and Philip Hammond and various people at the CBI keep peddling the same old warnings, the substance still feels very thin on the ground (which it really shouldn’t for these people). Now, I know I’ve gone on at length about the fact that Brexit is a choice made by our subconscious minds and we don’t always know precisely why we believe these things to be true for us, but people like the head of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the exchequer, should really be able to back up these nebulous assertions with some kind of evidence.

Indeed, I think that if they did and they were presented in a straightforward, no-nonsense way, most sensible people would go, ‘Oh dear, we made a mistake, look at those terrible facts and figures, what were we thinking?’ And yet nothing is generally forthcoming, and so far the rather thin offerings of doom and dispair amount to little more than speculation and opinion.

So, here’s a challenge to everyone who wants to discuss Brexit, both Leavers and Remainers. When you get into a debate about it, or express an opinion, try to at least offer some kind of rational, evidence based argument. I would be more than happy to be wrong, if the evidence was presented to me. Yet, I’ve just not seen it.

Perhaps those clever boffins in London keep it all hidden away; no point showing to the ignorant masses, they wouldn’t understand it. Try us! We’re not as daft as you think.

Whuff

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A few years ago I read ‘Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom’ by Cory Doctorow, and I was very taken at the time with concept of Whuffie, a form of social economy that appears the book.

It got my brain whirring, how would that work in reality? So I knocked up a little proof of concept website, which I then didn’t really push as much as I should have to test the concept. I think my lack of enthusiasm for the project was due to the fact that it felt incomplete, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

Since then, I’ve made several other websites, but my mind has always returned sooner or later to Whuff, and it’s lack of completeness. Then on the train home from work last week, I finally figured out the missing piece, the idea of interest (as in capital, rather than attention), and ‘rewarding’ people for using the site.

I’ve spent the past few evenings digging out the code (which I’d archived off) and prettying it up with a bit of mobile jQuery. The results can be seen at https://whuff.org. But I can’t test out my new theory until I get a few more people on the site, so if you have a few minutes to spare, please head over and create a profile and spend a few whuffies on people. There are a few demo accounts on there you can use if you don’t want to invite people at this stage.

It’s very much Minimum Viable Product at the moment, but until a few people use it, there’s no way to best figure out how to take it forward. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated!

And then there were four

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Looks like I was a little closer to the mark than I realised last night as the BBC are ‘plunged’ into acrimony over the lack of vetting around the hustings show last night. I found their explanations a little hard to follow, particularly in the Imam’s case of making comments on Twitter and then somehow hiding them from scrutiny (how – did he make the account private?), before they came public again. It’s all a bit odd, and only reinforces my gut feeling that the show was too staged and rigged to try to embarrass Boris for its own good.

It hasn’t gone so well for Rory Stewart either today, though, ejected from proceedings after going backwards with the progress he’d made yesterday. I’m not sure his performance last night did him too many favours, along with the slightly strange body language and posture that he adopted for much of proceedings. He looked like he was being buffeted in slow motion by a wind machine. Still, the whole venture has probably done him no end of good and certainly planted him firmly on the political landscape.

I was also confused by his flip-flopping over whether he would be willing to serve in a Johnson led cabinet. No doubt the media caused confusion here too, but it did seem a bit strange that the guy posing as the unity candidate was so equivocal about actually working with the others. And even though I didn’t really agree with a lot of what he said, I have to say he’s generally played a blinder. I suspect this is not the last we’ve seen of him by a long way.

And so the whole roadshow trundles on for another day. At least there’ll just be two left tomorrow, if some kind of coronation doesn’t take place instead.

Inconsequential words

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Well, I just watched the hustings show on the BBC and quite frankly I think it was a huge waste of time.

Emily Maitlis seemed to spend most of the limited time Boris Johnson was given talking over him trying to remind him of things he said. Indeed, most of the questions seemed deliberately worded to allow Emily to go on the BoJo offensive – she had all her embarrassing Boris quotes lined up ready – although in fairness she did once do the same to Jeremy Hunt. Both Jeremy and Boris did a great job of ignoring her, although Boris realised this and his apology to her was one of the lighter moments of the show.

I’m not sure any of them came out of it particularly well. Rory Stewart seemed a bit vague and waffly at times (but did talk some sense), and Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt were competent, but in the most part didn’t say much of consequence. Michael Gove seemed to have a lot of air-time, and as a result may stick more in people’s minds, but his heart-felt thanks to each person who asked a question (when perhaps he should have just been answering the question) made me cringe.

I don’t think any of them said anything we didn’t already know, and none of them really properly answered any of the questions, or for that matter, really interacted with the people asking questions. None of them, for example, had the courage to tell the young lady who asked them to commit to cutting carbon to Net 0 by 2025 that it just isn’t economically possible. The poor Imam who asked the question about ‘words having consequences’ just looked like he’d been set up by the BBC to have a poke at Boris. The woman from Southampton mentioned that her husband’s job was at threat from a No Deal Brexit, but no-one asked exactly how that would happen (I couldn’t figure it out, and presumably neither could they from their answers).

I’m not sure what was worse, the BBC’s efforts to make them look daft, or their own inability to add anything useful to the ongoing debate. Either way, as I’m not a member of the Conservative Party, so don’t get to vote, it’s just an hour of my life I won’t get back…

Too late to change?

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Interesting to see Tom Watson argue today for Labour to come out in full as the anti-Brexit party. My suspicions are that is is driven more by a fear of the ‘resurgent’ Lib Dems and recently quiet, but still potent Brexit party, rather than really trying to shore up the inconsistent stance Labour has taken on Brexit (although that does deal with that too). The combined Lib Dem/Brexit Party threat must be perceived as more potent than the fact that they might stand to lose a lot of voters of a leave variety.

On this weekend’s Coffee House Shots Podcast (and in the Spectator), Katy Balls was musing about a potential early general election, possibly in the autumn. Given that short time scale, it would make sense that Labour want to shore up their stance in the anti-Brexit direction to regain those they think they’ve lost in recent weeks to the parties that have a definite stance.

To me, Jeremy Corbyn’s somewhat indistinct stance on Brexit makes perfect sense. Brexit is not a strict political decision, you can vote left or right and leave or remain, depending on what is important to you. It looks like someone has got wind of something in the offing and decided that something has to be done sooner rather than later about the voters they had obviously lost to both the Lib Dems and Brexit Party, although to me it seems a little late for them to join to the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ movement.

If there is an autumn election, the feelings that drove people to move away from Labour (and the Conservatives for that matter) to one of the smaller, but definite stance, parties will still be fresh in people’s memories and I rather think that they may well be tempted to keep voting that way, no matter Tom Watson wants.

Come together

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There’s some depressing stats in the Guardian today around how little faith the UK has in the government and generally how pessimistic we are at the moment, with lots of people thinking that recriminations between Remainers and Leavers will get worse in the next year, that the Tories are generally useless and that Britain is the laughing stock of Europe.

Not sure they really needed to poll of 2000 people in London and Leicester to mine those gems of wisdom, (or maybe I’m just more prescient than your usually pundit – highly unlikely), but it’s good to see someone trying to get a good representative poll going, even if the results, particularly among the under 30’s, are fairly grim.

What did surprise me was the upbeat conclusion drawn in the article. Rather than wallowing in misery and gloom, it picked out the fact that many people think (as I do) that we Brits are pretty resourceful and that with the right leadership and the usual British resilience, we will get on with things whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit may be.

But it we do need leadership, and not just from the new PM, but from the whole government. The article ended on a comment from a remain voter who said he wanted to see us leave the EU to regain some national pride.

This also means Labour not trying to turn everything into a political stunt to oust the Conservatives at any opportunity. They have to take notice of this poll and realise that we will only get through this if we pull together. It may be painful for them, but they have to try, at least in the short term.

Whoever wins the the PM role will quickly need to recapture the spirit of 2012 and, preferably, somehow get the cost of housing and living down, while getting us out of the EU. I sense that all the candidates to some degree get this, as well as most of the Conservative MPs, given the number of votes cast this week in Boris’ direction. Let’s just hope they all deliver quickly.