Extinction Rebellion (XR) is all about ideas. Not all of them new, but some executed in a novel manner. Like it or not, the small-but-organised grouping is managing to get a lot of media attention by doing things a little differently.
In London, the group started off with a kind of arty soft launch (a parade and nudity in the Commons) before moving on to blocking major junctions and then public transport. Yesterday, they glued themselves to a DLR train and promised more disruption on the Tube and the Overground. Today, they have moved to block Vauxhall Bridge.
The group are largely millennial, white and middle class, which has brought some criticism from other activist groupings. Although the same facts have been used as a form of dismissal from the white, middle class media. Often without a sense of irony.
Its interactions with police and propensity for godawful folk dancing have (quite rightly) been jumped on. But they have also attracted a good number of lectures about ideas and how to use them from older activists. “Don’t do it like this, do it like this.” Although many fail to mention that their tactics are tried, tested and doomed to fail. It’s dad-dancing for the world of activism. Time moves on.
Many criticisms of XR hinge upon the idea of the group being to influence and grow support amongst the public. This assumption is where most people’s thinking on the topic breaks down. Influencing the public in a positive way is not high on their list of concerns. Instead, they are seeking to cause chaos as a means to an end. This is to highlight the collapse of infrastructure in a climate disaster, but also to act as enablers for more mainstream debate and politics.
With their star rising high, it is easier for politicians to raise their concerns. This is partly why the group glued themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s Holloway home, rather than Theresa May’s. One, this is seemingly a counter-intuitive move, as the environmentalist groups are seen (often wrongly) as exclusively left-leaning and two, it gives the tabloids a story they like: “Even the hippies hate Corbyn…”.
What XR are saying is that this emergency trumps public comfort, but by doing so they have escalated their profile to the point that they can now demand a meeting with the relevant Minister. Sadly for them, this is Michael Gove.
Further to this call for debate with Gove, they have put the fact that they are set to disrupt Heathrow Airport on one of its busiest weekends. If they hadn’t already alienated half of the public, then they can be sure that this is the straw that will break the camel’s back. But it simply adds to the pressure on politicians to act and allows them to be seen to act for the public without necessarily appeasing the activists.
It’s quite clever. XR are thinking more than one move ahead, having raised a somewhat middle class army of willing arrestees (most without a criminal record) and work-shopped their way around the UK via village hall meetings.
They have today leaked statements saying that they care about the impact on holidaymakers (leaking and feeding information to the media ahead of actions is a key part of their campaign and the pressure they exert), but they don’t really. That is not in their tactical bag of tricks. They especially see air travel as fair game, but any disruption is either a side-effect or the intended outcome of XR actions. This IS the means to the end.
Whether XR has the energy and thinking to maintain their momentum while alienating the public remains to be seen. But it is an interesting play to watch. Few can dismiss their broader aims without seeming mean-spirited and there are so many distractions (eg dancing policemen) that they can throw up as flak.
A deeper look at the activism tactics of XR is here. Well worth a read if you want to study the ideas further, or even steal some of them.
I’m not naturally hostile. Honest.
But having a shaven head creates certain reactions. As does having a working class accent. So, when you have both, people make certain assumptions. Sometimes I like to play up to them. After all, it gets me work.
But, accent and haircut or not, I have spent the past few years developing a skill that is becoming more and more desirable. What is more, I enjoy it. I’m hostile for cash. Although this is not the sort of service one finds on a badly-Photoshopped card in a phone box. It is not work that I can talk about often, however. So it does sometimes seem like a dirty secret.
The skill in question is in hostile interviewing. I find that it is a must for any politician starting a career or campaign, or even developing a new idea. It is also becoming more and more relevant for campaigners and charity groups who want to put their views up for debate or use the media to spread their message. Previously, most people would have been given an easy ride to express their views and get a message across. But, in the age of Brexit and falling media sales, news is no longer like that.
As you may have noticed, even the most genteel of Radio 4 shows will seek out an opposing view when none is really required. Sky News or Newsnight can be a bear pit. Hostile interviewing is sometimes called a ‘Paxo-ing’, after the Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and implies shouting at a politician until they cry or submit.
Nowadays, the same can be used to elicit responses that make for viral clips your friends can share on Twitter or Facebook to back up their own political views. So, you want to be prepared.
All over bar the shouting
Despite this reputation for being preparation for interrogation under fire, hostile interviewing is not simply about squeezing ideas until they hurt and raised voices. Yes, that can be useful. But real hostile interviewing can also interrogate the person behind the ideas.
A thorough hostile interview can ask the interviewee to think several moves ahead, defend the CEO’s private jet, talk about their husband’s affair and explain that Tweet from 2013. It is about looking at your client as a hostile interviewee. Someone you want to get at or needle. They should not know what is coming, when and where from. It helps if the interviewer is from outside the organisation or circle to which the interviewee belongs.
Kidnapping interviewee’s dogs
I tend not to kidnap an interviewee’s pet dog and show them pictures of it holed up in a cage in a lock up, but in many cases the impact of some of the questions should be similar. You need to put them off balance and even (metaphorically) dangle them over a cliff. Especially if they are surrounded by yes men or fans who think they are great. I have even done hostile interviews where the interviewee has not been told it is a mock interview, so those around them can see how they react.
I tend to record the interview as I would any interview I carry out as a journalist. I sometimes even write up the interview as a feature or a news piece, to give an idea of what that would look like for real. Headlines and all.
Sometimes campaign teams video these interviews, so that they can analyse body language as well. We all have tics and tells, and these can become heightened under pressure. But you don’t want to be biting your nails or scratching your nose if you intend to run as Parliamentary candidate or raise money from the public.
If you are interested in this service then simply contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
The new Gillette ad is not an advert. It is a PR campaign.
The advertisement/movie entitled We Believe has been viewed over 3 million times in a couple of days. Far more views than the brand would get for some dad foaming up, or a celebrity combining sports skills with a quick shave. With appointment to view TV dead in the water, the brands need to find new ways to grab an audience. Pissing people off is just one way to achieve that.
The ad jumps into the #MeToo debate, tackles masculinity (toxic or paraben-free) and was always guaranteed to annoy everyone from Piers Morgan to, erm, Piers Morgan. It’s like a vegan sausage roll doused in soy. So, the snowflake cry-babies in the men’s movement and the type of cellar-dwelling mummy’s boxy who uses ‘cuck’ as supposedly a really hurtful insult are bound to get upset.
I’m standing up and applauding here. Calling your mates out on harassing women seems a good idea. But shifting your ad spend to PR seems an even better one.
I wrote this post about betting way back in the summer and thought it sounded somewhat self-indulgent. But, as sometimes happens, my heart needed to allow time for my brain (and perhaps mass opinion) to catch up. So, here it is. Why I am eschewing one of the more lucrative markets for writers nowadays. I have now edited it to detail some of my work with those in debt and those who have gambling problems.
I like a bet. Although I have been doing it less of late.
There used to be a betting booth near my seat at White Hart Lane, and I would throw away whatever change I had – usually around £2 – on some unlikely outcome, like a full back scoring the first goal, or a 5-0 win. Very occasionally I would have a big win. I more or less broke even over the season. And if I didn’t, it didn’t matter. It was entertainment. I didn’t need to win. £2 was less than a Coke in the stadium. Certainly less than the coke that the dads on day release were doing in the loos.
Anyway, since Spurs have been playing at Wembley, I hardly bet any more. I don’t miss it. But I am not deliberately avoiding it. Sometimes the full backs score. Sometimes Serge Aurier even manages to take a throw-in properly.
Now, in the world of content, social media, copywriting and any other form of the written word that pays nowadays, the betting companies are the big payers. They sponsor the games, the teams, the media. They have Ray Winstone in a cage and make his enlarged head perform for them at half-time, imploring you to chuck a fiver on how many corners West Ham will get. The beautiful game.
But now I’m not taking that cash.
When the fun stops, stop, Chris Kamara tells us. But, for some, the fun never starts. The troubles of footballers and betting is well-documented. For some, the thousands they earn is barely enough to keep up with the bookies’ bills. They’re chasing their losses with wages earned chasing lost causes at the Riverside or Craven Cottage.
For those who don’t have the income of a small former-Soviet state, the problems are even worse. For them, the gambling represents both addiction and escape. The endorphin rush accompanied by the dream of a new winter coat, ticket for the match or the kids’ shoes. The lottery you can win, every day. Only you don’t.
Living in Newham, I have seen the Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) fallout up close and personal. The borough has over 80 high street bookmakers, most of which contain a FOBT or two, on which punters can throw away £100 a spin on games that are fixed against them. The dream is that they can beat the odds and the system. But you can’t beat a machine that is programmed to make you lose.
Is it class war? Maybe not. But it’s not benign. Bullets are being fired. Some of them hit.
Newham Council has been waging a campaign against the terminals (albeit a council who let this happen and championed a super casino in the borough), and this is perhaps the one thing I agreed with recently-ousted Mayor Sir Robin Wales on.
The betting authorities and betting companies seem to be either unable or unwilling to tackle the problems caused by FOBTs. They can stop any time they like. The betting companies that is. Some of the punters don’t have that choice.
That misery makes money. So, working class men (and it is always men I see) in Newham will keep throwing away money they cannot afford to keep the shareholders happy as they make their own lives more miserable.
So, I’m not taking that money. I know where it has come from. Sure, it’s not all of it. Some of it was even mine. Paid in at £2 a fortnight at White Hart Lane. But I can’t be a part of encouraging it. Just like I (cue Don Draper voice) don’t work for cigarette companies. Gambling ads can be funny and innovative. Their website copy, too. Just the kind of thing I like to get my teeth into. But no.
Sure, I have my fingers in dirty pies, from the media conglomerates and investment funds that have owned the publishers I have worked with and the newspapers funded by who knows what. I’ve worked for property developers, airlines and banks. I’d probably be working in a public-facing role in any of those if I hadn’t discovered I can write. Working class lad, no media contacts. I made my own path and take a living where I can.
Since I started to write this I have found myself working more and more with those in debt. I wrote the website for the Debt Hacker campaign, interviewing people like Danny, who had his early life ruined by betting. But that all led to helping people claim back money on over £2.6m-worth of payday loans. Far better work than encouraging people to bet on Huddersfield drawing a blank or Neil Warnock being a pillock (actually, I don’t know if you can get odds on that).
Others have already started to take action. Much-respected football magazine When Saturday Comes has dropped gambling ads from their publication. There are also proposals from within the industry to initiate a ban on betting ads during the games on TV. It is a small help. But it is a help. Sure, it won’t stop those who are happy to gamble on animations of Canadian third division games at 3am. But it is a step in the right direction.
Part of having ideas for a living is rejecting what can initially seem like good ones. Maybe even the best ideas.
That may sound hard, but it’s not. You’ve already had five others that morning and, even though this initially seemed like the best one, you can just let it go. But not everyone can work like this. Those who struggle with ideas can see any idea as a sunk cost. They’ve struggled with it, agonised over it and obsessed about it. They’ve decided that a fast food truck selling hot apples will really fly and no one can persuade them otherwise now. Well, maybe their bank manager.
Sometimes, these ideas have genuine legs. They can run. But only so far. But that same, mistaken concept of sunk cost – whether it be financial or emotional – still applies. People find it hard to let go, whether it be Brexit or the London Garden Bridge. They’ve put their money, soul and whole belief system into it, so much that it now identifies them. To walk away would be to admit huge personal failure. It would be humiliating.
To this end, it makes sense to hire external agents to have ideas for your company. They can quickly learn about your business, look at it without emotion and assess the lie of the land internally or globally. You get fresh ideas with fresh eyes. And no one is going to scream if you kill their babies. You don’t have to worry about valuing Paul from the ad department’s views over Mary from the board room or Raj from despatch. You’ve paid for these ideas and you will use them.
Apart from the ones you abandon, of course.