Political turmoil in the UK and Prosumers

A British prime minister of the 1960s, Harold Wilson, is famous for saying once that “A week is a long time in politics”. Frankly, in my home country of the UK, a day seems a long time at the moment.

As I said last week, I generally try to avoid politics in my editorials as our readership is very widely drawn and I don’t want to put off readers who might not agree with me. However, last week I made the point, in an editorial that was written before the result of the Brexit vote was known, that I was very keen for the UK to stay in the EU. Unfortunately, that view didn’t win the vote. Personally, I’m not prepared to simply ‘roll over’ on this and will do whatever I can to try to ensure that the vote (which was only advisory to the UK government and not legally binding) doesn’t make it to law.

The EU has a good record on repeatedly asking the same question until ‘voters get it right’. However, the Conservative party, which is in government at the moment in the UK is looking for a new leader and it’s likely to go to someone that doesn’t want a second referendum, although Theresa May and Angela Merkel might make a good pair of practical leaders that might delay and delay.

The ‘official opposition’ that is the Labour party is in the middle of a vicious civil war and is currently completely ineffective. My longer term hope is that a third force in politics might emerge that can force a general election that might favour a decision to remain in the EU.

Many of my friends and colleagues from around the world have asked what is happening in the UK and why would so many vote for something that is so obviously damaging? It seems to me that those that voted for Brexit were simply fed up that the apparent benefits of growth and globalisation had passed them by. The same feeling is seen in the huge support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the US. There is a huge part of those populations that feel that ‘the establishment’ is just looking after itself and so the more the voters heard that experts were recommending ‘remain’, the more they were determined to do the opposite.

It seems to me that, although some of the same is happening in a number of countries, the fact that the UK and the US are seeing the strongest effect is no coincidence, in my view. These countries are among the most unequal and have seen a drop in social mobility in recent years and little or no progress for those that are towards the bottom of the economic pile. My feeling is that unless more is done to balance the inequality, we will simply see more of this kind of discontent.

Anyway, I can’t finish this article without commenting on the death this week of Alvin Toffler. I read ‘Future Shock’ and ‘The Third Wave’ and was very influenced in my thinking by him. I remember quoting him in the keynote speech I gave at the European press launch of Panasonic’s VieraCast service. Despite his global fame, I alway felt slightly sorry for him. Why is that?

Toffler came up with the idea that rather than simply being passive consumers of products and services, increasingly those who consumed products would create them. (think custom Nike designs, YouTube and Twitter/Facebook for news). He called this new kind of person a ‘prosumer’ – an amalgamation of producer and consumer. However, the word got ‘hijacked’ by electronics companies that wanted to describe a consumer that likes to buy professional equipment, so, now, I suspect I am one of very few that would think of his original meaning. That’s a shame. Introducing a new word that is widely adopted is something of a legacy!