The case for connectedness and influence – our view on the European referendum

First published on the ClearScore blog on 1st June 2016

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to publish this blog. It represents my personal view of the upcoming EU Referendum. However, and this is the aspect that gave me pause for thought, it also represents the view of the corporate body that is ClearScore.

I think it is incredibly important that employees and users understand both sides of the argument and have clarity on the views of the people and businesses that they rely on. To this end, the ClearScore position on the EU referendum is that on balance, an exit vote would cause significant cost increases and risk to our business and its future. This mirrors my own personal view.

Free movement of talent

The ClearScore business and team is a great reflection of the advantages of being in Europe with the free movement of talent, lowering of barriers to entry and harmonising of regulation.

Klaus Thorup our CTO is half Danish, Frank Sedivy who works with me to create our product is Czech. Matt our lead designer is a Pole. One of our front end developers is from the south of France. Our marketing executive is Polish, but grew up in Wales. We have a Hungarian tester, and a Spanish devops engineer. We even have a member of the team from Luxembourg.

These Europeans are combined with many talented Brits plus representation from India and New Zealand. And these are just people who weren’t born in Britain. I was born in London but my Mum is from Poland and my Dad was Welsh-Italian. In fact most of the team have some European connection.

The point here is that Britain has always had, and massively benefited from, an attitude that welcomed people from all over the world to contribute to our nation both economically and culturally. I am English, British and European. This connected attitude has created the 4th biggest economy in the world and a place where people of all backgrounds can use their talent and hard work to get on and build a good life. If barriers were established to this free movement of talent then the ClearScore business, our economy and our nation would be damaged.

Access to European markets

We want ClearScore to be a global company and we are looking at how we can serve users across Europe and the world. As we look at the global opportunities the fact that regulation is largely harmonised across Europe results in a significant lowering in the barriers to entry and this means that moving into Europe is cheaper and easier. Out of Europe we would lose these advantages.

That’s not to say that more doesn’t need to be done to improve access to other European markets – it does. The massive advantage US tech companies have is the size of their home market. Technology ideas from start ups across Europe should have easy and free access to the whole of the European Union -and its 500m consumers -as easily as the US.

The fact that this doesn’t exist is a major reason why companies like Facebook or Google did not come out of Europe. However does anyone really think that enabling the next major technology goliath to come out of the UK is better achieved by leaving the European Union?

A global signal

I don’t believe a vote to leave would result in the sky falling in on our heads. We are a resilient nation and resourceful people, immigrants to our country as much as anyone. We would survive but something would die. And that would be the perception of Britain as a nation that is proud of our long and glorious history, of taking our values, people and products into the world and welcoming people from around the world to our country.

Leaving the EU would be a signal, in a troubled and dangerous world, that we are less willing to engage, influence and connect with other nations. Once done this can’t be undone – it will irretrievably damage our global reputation, our economy and our ability to be a significant player in a globally connected world.

Everything going on in the world at the moment, from climate change to conflict and terrorism, to technological developments, require interconnected and multi-country systemic change. This is not a time, despite frustrations and difficulties, to become a nation who signals that unity is the wrong course for the world.

Therefore I will be voting, and I would urge anyone connected to ClearScore, employee or user, to vote on the 23rd June to stay in the European Union.

The fight for the future of the Labour Party is obsessed with the past

For nearly two decades I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party. I was attracted by the values and intent of a political party that could challenge the status quo and seek to balance benefit for all sides of society. A party with a caring, empowering and not paternalistic attitude to those less able and more vulnerable in society. I was inspired by the humble, kind and strong vision of John Smith and found Tony Blair’s New Labour electability seducing.

“What’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment is a disgrace and disastrous for our country.” 
What’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment is a disgrace and disastrous for our country. The over characterisation, the lack of debate, the absence of any real clarity of thinking or new ideas and so little belief being displayed is – all playing out on embarrassing public display. The choice between the different candidates is presented, even by themselves, in the most puerile of ways: back to a pre-free market economy with Jeremy Corbyn or back to “Blair-lite”. Why is there no forward just back?
“The Labour Party has over decades delivered a huge contribution to our nation. Much of what is best in our nation has been achieved by The Labour Party and its leadership over the years.” 
The Labour Party has over decades delivered a huge contribution to our nation. Much of what is best in our nation has been achieved by The Labour Party and its leadership over the years.  They achieved it by doing something which almost no current politician, and none of the current Labour leadership candidates do, which is lead us on a truly new path. Pensions, mass house building, the NHS, minimum wages, better working conditions, first female cabinet minister, creating the conditions for female MPs to succeed, gender equality, greater rights for gay couples, greater regulation, and free public schooling are all significant achievements of the Labour Party. When at its best the Labour Party brings new ideas and concepts to the table and wins the national argument. For example the concept of an “ethical commonwealth” powered the progress of the socially radical post war Attlee government and gave hope to the nation.
“What is needed now, desperately, both for the survival of the Labour Party and the good of our democracy, is a compelling vision of how both sides of our society can be reconciled and enjoy growth equally and together.”
What is needed now, desperately, both for the survival of the Labour Party and the good of our democracy, is a compelling vision of how both sides of our society can be reconciled and enjoy growth equally and together. The British people are inherently fair and they want a government that balances outcomes for all. The only route to this is radical leadership.
Those supporting Jeremy Corbyn are on a mission to reclaim what they see as their party. They are being successful because their position comes, not from a compelling new vision, but from guilt and fear: guilt because they feel they sold out to Blair’s electability in a desperate grab for power, and fear because they don’t have the experience or insight to understand and work with a radically changed world order and disrupted working world. At least Corbyn has a deep passion, although misguided, for his proposed policies. The fact that they are out of date and won’t work in today’s interconnected and market driven world is tragic, but at least he is going for it.

The others – Kendall, Burnham, Cooper – are again seemingly devoid of new ideas and the ability to argue for anything. Their lack of ability and passion are a major reason Corbyn is doing so well. They can’t even argue against a set of policies which would take our economy back 30 years. Perhaps, despite their many years in politics, they haven’t thought about the arguments for and against ideas like nationalisation or uncontrolled public sector investment through printing money. If that’s true its rather disappointing given that none, yes none, of them have any ‘real world’ experience having been in politics almost all their working lives.

“How ironic and shameful that the only brake on austerity at the moment is George Osborne?”
Finally the lack of leadership and belief in the Labour Party goes deeper than just these four candidates and is profoundly disappointing and disheartening. Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis who perhaps could have provided the required leadership are surely positioning – cynically betting that this next leader will be a “transition” guy with no chance of election success. They conclude therefore better to stand back and let party division play out using failure to drive necessary cohesiveness rather than radical ideas and passionate argument. This leaves the country, and the millions who are desperately struggling with austerity and inequality, alone and without an effective voice representing them. How ironic and shameful that the only brake on austerity at the moment is George Osborne?

It’s been said that The Labour Party is facing an existential crisis. But that’s not true: no one is fighting for the future just the past.

UK General election Brand Analysis WEEK 1: The brand challenges


Over the coming month I am going to be reporting on the UK General election analysing the week by week action from a brand strategy perspective. If you would like to receive these thoughts and get involved in the debate  then sign up NOW! (It’s free and easy).

As Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, made his way to Buckingham Palace yesterday, with camera helicopters chasing his every move, the official starters gun fired on the UK General Election. Two main parties are in the race – Labour led by Gordon Brown and David Cameron‘s Conservatives with a third smaller party The Liberal Democrats making up the roster whose leader is Nick Clegg.

Some are billing this as the “closest” election for years. Actually from an opinion poll perspective the Conservatives have what historically is an almost unassailable lead ranging from 5-9% over Labour. However boundary changes and Labour’s strength in urban areas means that in order to win power The Conservatives need a major 10%+ swing to gain power. The prospect of a hung parliament is a real one.

But where are the main brands and their strategies as we go into this exciting and important election.

The Conservatives haven’t made enough progress on repositioning
Despite David Cameron and George Osbornes’ (Shadow Chancellor) best efforts to reposition the Conservative party it hasn’t been as successful as it should have been. When Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson undertook the repositioning of the Labour party in order to win power in 1997 after 18 years in opposition they tackled both the strategic and the symbolic.

They understood that the only way to really convince the electorate and win back trust was to truly give evidence that would lodge in people’s brains and persuade them of the changes. For Labour this wasn’t the addition of the eponymous “New” to their party name but actually the smashing of symbols of “old” Labour such as Clause IV – the pledge on the means of production being in state hands.

This combined with a series of clever tactics to neutralise doubt and allow middle class voters to think of Labour as a real option. They had lots of clever economic ideas but it was the promise to keep to the spending commitments of the Conservative government at the time which allowed people to get over their trust barrier since it allowed people to think “at least they can’t be worse”.

Unfortunately for The Conservatives their repositioning has been much less significant or impactful. Perhaps it is the consequence of too many people, including David Cameron himself, having a marketing and communications background but the electorate have, I think, a pretty good sense of the truth, that much of the change has been at the surface.

A new logo, a new leader, a new team, a greater focus on public services and a general move to the centre ground. But people still know that the Conservative party is still full of the old guard and the old links to privilege. David Cameron is an old Etonian – which shouldn’t matter – but from a brand perspective it does. It’s a symbol that the party hasn’t changed at its heart from the old ruling elites.

The question is can The Conservatives turn what they have to their advantage? I think there is an opportunity to return to some of their older, more deeply, held values such as lower regulation, more decentralisation and lower taxation to stimulate a commercial revival, and to say this with conviction presenting a more coherent and convincing story. This would integrate some of their new brand assets with their old.

Labour’s biggest weakness is Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown is also a potent symbol. Unfortunately for him both politically and personally his brand story is tragic. The “nearly man” who when he made it to power oversaw a crumbling of a government.

The struggle of Brown is monumental. He is battling on so many fronts: the history of New Labour and Tony Blair; not having a mandate; economic crisis; Union power; Cabinet disunity….

His personal “rebranding” attempted through a series of more informal interviews is too little too late. Again the electorate has a pretty good view of the truth that Gordon Brown is a left leaning passionate politician, who has given his life to politics, but is consequently mono-dimensional and difficult to get on with. Not a people person at all.

The trouble is that he seems tired, whether smiling or not, and as a symbol of a government 13 years old, this is not good. The challenge for Labour is to communicate freshness and new ideas which is why a new leader installed a year ago would have helped.

Despite what the media is saying – this election is not about trust
The media is obsessed, off the back of the MP’s expenses scandal, that this is an election about which political party brand or leader-brand to trust. It isn’t.

The expenses scandal was shameful but given the standing of politics in most people’s minds was just a confirmation that the “pigs” had their noses in the trough. This is a massive issue for the UK but this election will make not one jot of difference. By June everyone will still think that MPs are “on the take” and untrustworthy. The battle for trust will not be won in the next 6 weeks. Let’s remember that political power in the UK has been taken over almost completely by people with little experience away from Westminster. Brown and Cameron are prime examples, both have devoted their lives to the pursuit of political power. If the “political class” think they can regain trust in this time then more fool them – there needs to be serious reassessment of our political model, who and why people are involved and how our democracy works. This needs to be a national priority over years not weeks.

No, I believe that this election will be squarely about the economy and who will make the most progress the fastest on the deficit and creating economic, consumption based wealth again. Almost everything else, unfortunately, will be superfluous.

And here the brand battle lines are actually quite neatly drawn: Labour with an investment led approach, using Keynesian public sector interventions, and crucially not cutting in 2010; with The Conservatives advocating cutting sooner and deeper (although they won’t admit it) and enabling a free market recovery to pay down debt.

These are the same positions that have been held by the parties for decades. The brand and electoral challenge will be which party can communicate from their leadership, through their symbols, integrating their history, to their policies, in the most coherent and convincing way.

From that perspective this election is a classical brand challenge – how to use all your assets to surround the consumer with the right consistent cues to make them buy.

Tune in next week for further thinking on round two of this political brand bull fight! Remember you can sign up to receive this blog every week either in a reader or by email – it’s free and easy – click here NOW!

Justin

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