The Great Brexit Betrayal

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I voted to leave the European Union. To some, that will immediately identify me as nasty, narrow-minded, racist, knuckle-dragging thicko, gullible, easily-led by simple-answers-to-hard-questions, nostalgia freak and little Englander. 

I am none of those things. But hey – if lazy stereotyping is your bag, then go enjoy yourself.

Two of my nearest and dearest friends voted Remain. And we are all still near and dear friends. A couple of main reasons for this:

  1. It would be dumb to fall out with your besties over a cross in a box on a piece of paper
  2. I understand and accept they voted with consideration and sincerity of what they thought was the best thing for the future of our country. And they know and accept that I did the same.

They don’t question my liberality and I don’t question their patriotism. We had some passionate discussions at the time of the referendum. We disagreed and to a point still do, but that’s the point of exercising your democratic right and civic duty. Everyone gets an equal vote. And nobody is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it is the majority that carries the day.

There were several whoppers told on both sides. I don’t think anyone could claim with a straight face that it was an entirely fact-based national conversation. But that’s all in the past. The referendum was called, held and the result announced. 52/48 in favour of leaving.

The debacle that has followed over the last almost-three years is a testament to our political class. I recall a Newsthump spoof headline that Theresa May was aiming for a Brexit deal that pleased absolutely nobody. You have to feel for satirists as real life reaches beyond their wildest parody.

The ongoing conflict between both sides (and indeed splinters within each side) means the social fractures are as bitter as ever. I don’t know if this genuinely goes through the lanes, valleys and streets of the nation. Maybe it’s the media and shouty voices that continue to regurgitate the arguments and divisions, whilst great swathes of the country have moved on and are frankly bored. One of the clever types within May’s circle planted the line that ‘the British people just want us to get on with it’ in that perennial politician’s plump for the popular parlance.

As a Leave voter, the blizzard of statistics showing how remaining within the EU would have financial benefits for the foreseeable future are noted. These do not change my mind. Not many of my fellow Leave voters. Not because we are dumb. Nor that we have a deathwish for the British economy. It’s because for us, this was never simply a financial/trade decision.

This was also an emotional decision. Alan Johnson, former Labour minister and prominent Remain campaigner said, “We never had an answer for ‘Take Back Control’ – it was a powerful message”. Well put. And we can be played the financial/trade case forever – like the friends warning expectant parents about the mountainous cost of a child – and it will bounce off.

Note – ‘also’ an emotional one. Not exclusively. We know that there will be disruption. There will be stock market and currency turbulence. Why? Not because of Brexit. Because of uncertainty. Markets and currencies will always swoop and soar on the basis of uncertainty, followed by the new norm. The real world of personal, social, community and business activities will adapt, adjust, update and carry on after we leave the EU.

If the slow, firstly quiet now very loud campaign to reverse Brexit – with the complicity of a Prime Minister of such incompetence that the EU could not have asked for a better stooge – wins the day, what then?

If this happens – if the United Kingdom does not leave the EU – then what is the point in ever voting again? If there is only one acceptable result – if that pre-determined result is achieved by duplicity, mendacity and basically the vested interests riding rough-shot over the verdict of the populace – how can we have faith in our supposedly democratic process again?

It does appear that the United Kingdom has been brought to heel. Not by its masters in Brussels (for masters they are). It’s by a Vichy parliament that has been only too willing to do its bidding. And I fear that once the people realise they have been robbed of their ability to express themselves via the ballot box, other options will gain credence. I abhor violence and will only ever advocate peaceful protest. But it’s not beyond anyone’s imagination that civil unrest could follow.

I know how fiendishly difficult all this is. The Leave voices who said it would be “the easiest deal in history” were pretty wide of the mark. The concerns about the peace process on the island of Ireland are genuine and deeply held. And whilst I do believe that prosperity will come our way once outside the EU, I do not imagine this will be quick or without risk.

My wish for 2019 is that we leave the EU. As per the referendum result. And not forgetting this will be in line with the manifesto pledges of both Conservative and Labour parties in the general election of 2017.

I also wish to hear less from the sanctimonious ones that present their opinions as facts, the hysterical accusers (“Oh, so you’re happy for millions of people to lose their jobs…etc”) and the pity-smile merchants who simply don’t understand why everyone doesn’t agree with them.

I’d also like to think that people who comment will actually read this blog, before launching into keyboard warrior mode – but that might be a wish too far…

Bring on the Spring!

The death of customer service

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“The customer is always right”. How quaint. I’m not sure it was ever sincere, but it did at least point to the idea that service and product providers had an awareness of the source of their prosperity.

There are two principles that make this real:

  • The accessibility of the person giving the service – can you actually talk to them?
  • The individuality of the service provided – do they listen and respond to what you actually want?

Let’s talk about accessibility. Can you actually talk to someone? Well in these days of online 24/7 “service” there is of course no need to talk to anyone. You can find answers to most questions on our website. Which means we can employ fewer people, which cuts costs and boosts profits. As long as enough people stay with it, we’ll keep reducing the chances of ever having to actually deal with you.

OK – those pesky people that still want to talk to someone. We’ll give them a telephone number. And dozens of options. Press [1] for this, press [2] for that, press [3] for the other and press [4] for a myriad of yet more options. They actually pay people to create “decision trees” that cover almost every eventuality to send callers through to pre-recorded ‘answers’. I say almost, because even the greediest company has to leave that final option for the determined person that had held on for 20 minutes plus – to finally speak with someone.

And who do they get? Some sap thousands of miles away. Sitting with a script at a cost of 20% of their UK counterpart. It’s easy to justify in cost terms, which overrides any consideration of the customer experience, as well as passing the burden of complaints over to the offshore workers to get it in the ear.

The public sector isn’t much better. I went as usual to Charles Dickens Festival in Rochester recently. I had my change ready for the car park. This of course is because they replaced staff many years ago with machines to take your money and issue tickets. Well – they discovered that you still have to pay someone a wage to go and empty the machines. So instead, you now have to register for the app and pay online.

Fine for me, as I punched in the details. But the bewildered look on the faces of senior citizens who stood with their coins next to the three ‘out of service’ ticket machines spoke volumes. Intriguingly enough, Medway Council were still able to employ wardens to issue penalty notices…

The point is – put as much distance as you can between you and your customers. If you can, remove the accessibility altogether. Make is so hard for them to contact you, that they just give up. And if you are a sole provider of a service and they can’t go anywhere else, well you’ve got it made. As long as the numbers stack up with profit, that’s all you need.

Next – individuality of service. If accessibility has loosened the ties, then this is where customer service has been completely killed off. We are in fact, not customers. We are consumers. We are to be plugged into a churning mush of outputs that are designed to meet our lowest expectations and be grateful.

The consumer is expected to adapt their taste and wishes to what is on offer. Not what they want. One sadly silly instance I recall was watching a Burger King ad in America. A very macho voice was growling You’re the boss, You’re in charge – because you could choose whether to have onions in your burger. I felt so empowered.

The rigidity of service and products – and the accompany script for the staff to use to sell them – charts the course of decision-making to what the company wants you to buy. It is never about what you may actually want. Some might say t’was ever thus. But I’m not so sure.

I hear people nervously working in sales continually using the word ‘obviously’. Listen out next time you go to buy something. It’s a pejorative word that is designed to shut down any dissent. When they say ‘obviously’ they mean that this is not open for discussion. I will not offer any variation. I have my script and I am sticking to it. You will not win. You will take what you are offered and be grateful. Obviously.

When I call people out on this, their eyes narrow. They look at me as a blatant trouble maker. How dare I challenge their right to sell me what they want me to buy instead of what I actually want. Their training has taught them how to manage sales and ‘difficult’ customers and they become very tetchy if I do not play along. Good. I’m spending my money and I expect some individual consideration.

So – what’s to be done? Shall we lie down and accept the inevitable victory of the providers versus the brow-beaten consumers? Or shall we make a fight of it and score the occasional victory ourselves?

I am an optimist. I see hope where others often see none. Personally, I do as much business as I can with small companies. Those that know their livelihood really does depend on that person walking back through the door again. Those who know they have to fight to gain a customer and keep them. Being local helps. Both from the point of view of accessibility (see above) but also that you will knock on their door if you are not completely happy.

For some things, we have no alternative than to use the big corporates, or public service providers. That my friends is where we must fight the good fight for those occasional victories. There is a distinct joy in finding a rebel in the big chain, corporate or council who with a nod and a wink, will bend or ignore the script to give a great service.

On which note, there may be some life in customer service yet. And as a customer, I’m usually right…

[PS – I’m no Luddite. The genius of the internet and the devices that bring it to us are awesome! Like everything, it’s how you choose to use it that matters…]

Leadership Vacancy – Brexit Britain

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The United Kingdom standing at the brink. A weak prime minister no longer in control of events, trying desperately to keep cabinet, party and country together.

A maverick leader-in-waiting – popular among many, but distrusted by colleagues and with too colourful a past to be considered a statesman, let alone the nation’s next leader. His overarching ambition not at all disguised by the public bluster and populist tone. Could the nation gamble its future on this damaged, suspect character? Is this who we really should turn to in our hour of need?

I’m referring of course to the events of 1940, when the establishment decided that they could no longer prop up Neville Chamberlain. They needed a safe pair of hands to manage the decline and inevitable surrender to Nazi Germany. Lord Halifax was lined up – the rest is blood, sweat, tears, our finest hour and all that.

Is this too extreme a parallel for the modern Brexit drama? Well Theresa May is playing the hapless Chamberlain role to perfection. She has brilliantly captured his show of nonplussed oblivion to the parlous chaos exploding all around.

Boris of course fits the maverick leader-in-waiting to a ‘t’. His abortive attempt to seize the crown following Cameron’s departure does not seem to have killed his chance. In fairness, he has spent most of his public life defying political gravity, so this is not too surprising.

In these uncertain times, conventional wisdom, along with the political rule book has long been abandoned.

We are seeing perhaps a natural reaction against the homogenisation of politics in the 90s/00s where they really did look the same and sound the same.  Human nature abhors the vacuous, so the ground was ready for a polarisation. Just quite how polarised we couldn’t have foreseen.

How shall we categorise them? Well on one side we have the earnest, idealistic we-need-to-stick-together-come-what-may gang. Idealism is not a dirty word in my book, although the occasional smug, supercilious brand of liberalism is unwelcome. Keep the compassion and concern for social justice and the natural environment. Just drop the lecturing and belief that yours is the only wisdom.

On the other are those who have often felt overlooked, ignored and taken for granted. Patriotic, direct and old fashioned. Again, old fashioned is not a dirty phrase in my book, although using it to justify racism or other divisive attitudes is despicable. Pride without prejudice, a strong work ethic and conviction of self reliance is great. Just drop the lecturing and belief that yours is the only wisdom.

Orchestrating these large groups of people is a split traditional media, jostling with an unrelenting torrent of social media echo chambers. Politicians conspire and compete to alternately fan the flames or turn the tides. There is very little middle ground.

There is of course, another maverick leader waiting in the wings. A lifelong eurosceptic, who is desperate to get us out of the EU so that he can enact his agenda for social reform and industrial restructuring. Another one mistrusted by his own party, captive of his own supporters who do not share his view. Step forward, Jeremy Corbyn.

He owes his position as leader of the Labour party to an illiberal task force that has provided momentum in both leadership elections. His young supporters trust Uncle Jeremy to fight to keep them in the EU, despite his wish for the opposite. And his MPs despise him for leading a Thatcher-esque peasant’s revolt. Not to mention the millions of Labour voters demanding their vote to leave the EU be honoured.

One way or another, things will need to come to a head soon. Brexit is scheduled to happen on 29th March 2019. Is the time right for the UK to turn once again to a maverick to lead us into the next chapter of our history?

Theresa May’s fate will soon be sealed one way or another. The House of Commons will deliver its verdict on her efforts. If she should fall, the Conservative party will need to decide whether to look for another dull patsy to face off the almost inevitable general election. Or to turn with great reluctance as they did in 1940, to a genuine star – and strap themselves in for a racy ride to victory or oblivion.

Boris vs Jezza? If that’s the battle for 2019, then we’d all better strap ourselves in…