The yellowhammer dossier

August 21, 2019
Possibly the biggest story so far in the Brexit drama. The Sunday Times of August 18th obtains and publishes the government’s classified ‘yellowhammer’ report in full.
The headline reads ‘Operation Chaos: Whitehall’s secret no-deal plan leaked’. Across pages 2-3 is a quote from ‘a cabinet office source’: ‘This is not project fear it’s what we face after no-deal’.
The credibility of the leaked materials is reinforced by its appearance, hastily composed sheets, each page of which is replicated and emblazoned with a red OFFICIAL SENSITIVE stamp. The pages are surrounded with synoptic analyses of each of its fifteen points, by a team led by the investigative journalists Rosamund Urwin and Caroline Wheeler.
The consequences of a no-deal Brexit are chillingly outlined in a base scenario, and fifteen key planning assumptions. The journalists emphasise that the documents ‘set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than worse-case scenarios’.
This has not prevented government spokespersons from referring it as a worse-case and highly unlikely scenario. Among them, James Cleverley has been in broken-record mode since.
Five critical areas
In essence the report highlight five critical areas to be addressed in the event of a no-deal Brexit:
‘types of fresh food supply will decrease’
‘Traffic caused by border delays could affect fuel distribution’
‘Medical supplies will be vulnerable to severe delays’
‘Channel port disruptions worse for 3 months before improving to around 50-70 percent’
‘N Ireland disruption is likely to result in protests’.
The significance of the report
Prior to the boisterous age of Social Media, The Sunday Times was accepted as a highly distinguished investigative newspaper. Recently, the credibility of such reports are dismissed, along with those of ‘so-called experts’ . One such dismissive voice Michael Gove is now the chair of the committee with ‘full control over Operation Yellowhammer chairing the Brexit war cabinet from No 10 Downing Street.
However, the authenticity of the report has not been denied. It has added credibility as coming from a newspaper not among the flag-bearers for opposition to the Government. If The Guardian, The Mirror or The Huffington Post had obtained the scoop it could be more easily dismissed.
In one way there is some comfort in the fact that the report has become public knowledge. it is in the nature of social science that awareness permits action and change. The tireless efforts of Michael Gove and the Brexit war cabinet will no doubt be redoubled to do what remains possible in the few months available to them.
Where does Boris Johnson come into all this? 
Curiously, it is hard to see what any leader can do regardless of charisma, insight, or credibility to influence the short-term consequences of a ‘no ifs no buts Brexit’ he has committed to.
To be continued …

Catch-up Part Two: The campaign to become Prime Minister

August 3, 2016

David Cameron ListeningIn Part One I looked at the developing stories from June 23rd 2016, the date of the European Referendum in the UK. To deal with the next part of the story, I have to go back to February, to the start of the months of national campaigning. 

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Catch up: Unedited notes for an unedifying time

July 21, 2016

I believe

 

For the last four weeks [Tuesday June 21- July 19] the political news in the UK has been changing so quickly that drafts of an unpublished post became outdated at least four times. Publication was then hindered for technical reasons. I have attempted to make  some retrspective sense out of my unposted notes

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The EU Referendum: Fate knocks on the door

June 23, 2016

June 23rd 2016. After a fractious period of debate, the voters of Great Britain head for the ballot boxes. Some for various reasons have already recorded a postal vote

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And the leader of the week was …

June 14, 2016

Chosen from the eight candidates battling for votes in the ITV referendum debates

The debates were two hours long with a similar format. The leaders had a brief chance to outline positions, then faced well-thought out questions from what appeared to be audiences representing the main demographics (gender, and political persuasion were particularly well balanced).

The moderator Mary Nightingale would have been a strong contender, managing as well as any to have ‘control over the borders’ of time permitted to the panellists obviously not used to such a treatment. (I was reminded of the approach of the horse whisperer Monty Roberts, which has a well-constructed but unobtrusive approach to keeping critters moving where he would like them to go).

How to rate the leaders

I decided on a context-specific rating approach as found in such reputable scientific journals as Which, Ryan’s Air best deals, Delia’s dozen best flans, Celebrity hottest oboists.

Three factors of performance

After some thought I decided that the key measure of the leadership performance was on the influence or impact achieved by the performance on three groups of votes.

IOU: Impact on undecided (to swing to his or her side or the other side)

IOS: Impact on supporters (to stay as supporters, become unsettled, or switch)

IOO: Impact on opponents (to stay, become unsettled or switch)

Given time and a research budget I would arrive at a reasonable set of scales for each of these three factors. As I have neither, I resorted to another approach sometimes known as first impressions to help me fill in the matrix.

I read as many articles as I could find about the two debates may have been influenced by them, or (more likely) my own bias which is more strongly towards remain than it is towards the politicians and their advocacy of their cause.

Candidate Impact on undecided voters Impact on supporting voters Impact on opposing voters Notes
Cameron 4-5 5-6 3-4 12-15 Same old same old
Farage 2-3 7-8 2-3 11-13 Same old same old
Johnson 4 5 4 13 Needed plan B
Stuart 5 6 4 15 Bit bland
Leadsom 5-6 4-5 4-5 13-16 OK but forgettable
Sturgeon 6-7 6 3-4 15-17 Most authoritative
Eagle 3-7 5-6 3-4 11-17 ‘Marmite?’
Rudd 4-7 6-7 3-5 13-19 ‘Marmite?’
Range 2-7 4-8 2-5 11-19

What if anything does all this mean?

It’s just one of the thousands of ways you can set up your own thought engine, to help you get underneath the surface of arguments. These matrix methods do not give answers so much as suggest new possibilities.

My interpretation of the debates is that we have no game-changing speaker out there at present. And, of course my judgement about the impact of a speaker is unlikely to capture the views of the voters be they decided or undecided.


George Osborne and Joe Root strengthen their cases as future national leaders

July 12, 2015

This week two leaders and their possible successors were tested. Alistair Cook opened the batting for England in Cardiff, and David Cameron started for the Government at Westminster

Here are my notes made at the time, [8th July 2015] which have been slightly edited for clarity purposes.

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Nicola Sturgeon named as the most dangerous woman in Britain

April 21, 2015

The leader of the Scottish National Party (SDP) has become the most targeted politician in the General Election Campaign. She must be doing something rightNest of vipers

The Guardian captured the awakening mood in the mainline UK political parties to the danger coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership of the SNP:

According to Boris Johnson she’s King Herod. She’s Lady Macbeth. She’s Attila the Hun.

Piers Morgan in the Mail is more circumspect. For him, Sturgeon is merely “the most dangerous woman in Britain”. This, says Sturgeon, is “possibly one of the nicest things the Mail has ever said about me”.

The newspapers that carried these gentlemanly hysterics, agree that Sturgeon is a kidnapper, warning the UK on their pages that she is holding the country “to ransom”. The Times eschews such hyperbole, suggesting only that she is only going to hold the UK’s defence to ransom.

Gosh. Even if the SNP takes every seat in Scotland – and that’s not beyond the bounds of possibility – it will still only have one in every 13 Commons votes. If Westminster really is this vulnerable, then, really, it’s brought its troubles on itself.

The Evidence from the Manifesto launch

Your editor settled down to review the launch of the SNP manifesto [20th April 2015]. As there would be many reports of the manifesto, I decided to concentrate on the style of the new political star of the Election Campaign. What follows is my unexpurgated notes, (minor corrections for clarity only).

Style.  

Strong, clear, uncluttered content.  Unusually easy to understand.   Compared with other high profile figures in the GE, least evasive. Not shackled by the need to stay on message.

Dilemmas

Like all public speakers, had to speak both to supporters, and a wider constituency at the same time.   How to please the former yet deal with different possibly conflicting views of the important ‘distal’ audience?

Not either or, but both and

As I have argued elsewhere, effective dealing with dilemmas is often a matter of seeing through a block imposed by either or thinking.  Sturgeon demonstrated to process frequently, both in her prepared address, and in the subsequent Q & A.

The launch of the manifesto is taking place before an audience of her supporters, plus a regiment of journalists.  The supporters are there to provide the evidence of their own unconditional commitment to leader and what she had to say about the manifesto.  The journalists want good ‘exclusive’ copy, revealing something suited to their own ends about the leader and her party.

As indicated above, the SNP has been increasingly been presented by opponents including most of the press, as a fifth column, intent on winning seats to gain power in Westminster by propping up a minority Labour government and dishing the Tories. This in turn is intended to achieve another Referendum for Scottish Independence, and to a break-up of the United Kingdom.

It would have been a popular move to say to the faithful, ‘you bet your last bawbee  I’m goin’ta stuff it to ’em.’ (‘Hell, yes’ as Ed Miliband put it).  She also needed to reassure those who were paying attention to Boris and The voters that her opponents wanted to scare off enough to turn away from the SNP needed to hear quite the opposite message.  ‘We won’t cause any trouble and only vote on Scottish matters.

There are various ways of dealing with the dilemma.  Nicola Sturgeon neatly put emphasis on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Ceasar’s and unto the Scotland their entitlement.  The effect was to suggest a win-win process helping Scotland and the entire UK towards a socially acceptable and prosperous future.

 More Yes Anding

A second example of Yes And framing came at the start of the Q & A.

Sturgeon introduced the session by saying in effect: These journalists have their job to do. (Pause, as if to calm an easy-to-arouse border terrier sniffing out an intruder). They should not be badly mauled if you don’t like the questions…  Then a neat punch-line.  Of course, feel free to applaud my answers as loudly as you like. (They did).

The Q&A went well.  The press vipers were pretty much defanged.

Beyond the style

I refocused on the substance behind a pretty impressive presentation style.  Overall, it seemed to occupy the policy space Labour would like to have found itself in, but had chosen to retreat from.

 Her answers for the most part remained clear and convincing. Her dealing with the costing of her fiscal measures was perhaps less sure-footed.

Her emphasis on opposing and even ending austerity was obviously hugely popular for her supporters.

For all the clear victory in this battle, leaving the enemy in some disarray, the war is far from over.