2021v10, Monday: Put yourself in the picture.

No-one gets elected unless they can tell a story enough people want to be part of. Will Labour ever learn that lesson again?

Short thought: Those bored to tears with me banging on about stories should look away now. Because in the wake of last week’s local elections in the UK, here we go again.

I don’t know what a Labour-run country would look like. They haven’t told me. Or if they have, I’ve missed it. And I’m really not oblivious enough to news to have overlooked it.

I know what the Tories want me to think a Tory-run country (which is what we currently have) looks like. I don’t believe they’re either willing or (more importantly) capable of producing the levelled-up, non-London-centric future they’re describing. I think an administration based on flagrant lying, gaslighting and corruption will probably get found out one day.*

But I at least see the picture they’re painting. And I can understand, particularly in areas which have been so much at the back of the queue for decades that the front is only visible with a telescope (and having grown up partly in Stoke-on-Trent, this isn’t just theoretical to me), how it seems far better than any alternative.

That’s the thing. Yes, there’s the vaccine bounce. Yes, there’s the relief of re-opening – and incumbents (let’s not forget that many Labour and other incumbent administrations actually did quite well) almost always benefit when there’s an economic or social upswing.

But political parties are social engines. They’re powered by human attention and (to some extent) trust. And trust and attention are – yes, here we go again – narrative-driven.

Put simply: you vote for someone when they tell a story that enough people feel they either want, or need, to be a part of. And to do that, you need to act, not just react; and you need to find ways of telling your own story, on your own turf; not the turf the other parties define.

Labour has forgotten this. It forgot in 2010-2015, when it allowed the “Labour spent all the money, so austerity is inevitable” lie to take root. It forgot between 2015 and 2019, when Corbynmania had a story of sorts – but one which seemed explicitly to discard or disdain large numbers of people whose votes, to be frank, Labour needed if it was to win power.

And national Labour, at least, seems to have forgotten it now. It focuses on the stories it tells itself (bring back Corbynism! No, Blairism for the win!) instead of the stories it needs to tell the rest of us. And that’s disastrous.

I want to know how we free up the country outside London. I want to know how a post-pandemic UK could find ways of making sure a kid growing up in Southend, or Wigan, or Warwick, or their Scots or Welsh equivalents, doesn’t have to move to London to have the life they deserve, keeping their cash local and their community thriving. I want to know how workers can be protected and their employers encouraged and incentivised to avoid zero-sum games. I want to know how we can integrate facing down the climate threat into this new model. I want to know how despite all this London can remain the thriving, bubbling, economic and social wonder that it is – but not at the cost of elsewhere. (Other countries manage to be truly multi-centred nations; why not us?) I want to know how we can see the rest of the world and its peoples as opportunities, not threats, and love difference as the vital ingredient of life that it is, without using it as a weapon. How we can stop using the EU as a bogeyman, stop pretending that other trade arrangements will wholly replace the ones we’ve shut the door on, and start making Britain after Brexit work without constantly lying about it.

(For the climate in particular: I warmly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future, a new book telling – as if in retrospect – one story of how the world dealt with impending climate catastrophe. It’s fiction, sure; but it’s an example of how to paint a word picture that one wants to climb into. As Todd Tucker puts it: it should be “required reading for anyone that writes white papers for a living”.)

All this can fit into a grand narrative. One which is doable, so long as you’re in power. And almost none of this is going to come from this government, which prefers pork-barrel to policy.

Here’s a picture I want to paint myself into. A story I want to be a character in. A future I’d like to believe in.

But I’m not hearing it. Not from anyone. And that makes me cry.

*Although I always bear in mind the investing dictum that the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. The same can apply to the electability of incompetent narcissist populists, I fear.


Someone is right on the internet: I’ve been sleeping appallingly recently. Insomnia’s been a plague for years, but the past few months? Worse than I can remember. It’s left me often incapable of functioning after about 4pm. And then I wake up before 4 the following morning… and the cycle continues.

There are things I can and should do. Meditate more. Eat better. Talk things through. Exercise. Read rather than rely on devices. I’ll be working on them all.

And on the subject of reading, having something thought-provoking about sleep may not help, but it sure feels as though it might. So this, from Wired on how octopuses seem to dream, is perfect.

The answer appears to be: they have REM sleep, but only for a fraction of the period that we do. Could it be because, as they seem to dream, it affects their skin colouration – normally an expression of mood and a defensive tool for camouflage? Is the evolutionary risk of a long REM period just too high?

No idea. But it’s great to think about. And in any case: sleep study and cephalopods, all in one. Two absorbing interests covered at the same time. What’s not to like?


(If you’d like to read more like this, and would prefer it simply landing in your inbox three or so times a week, please go ahead and subscribe at https://remoteaccessbar.substack.com/.)

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