Mourning David Amess – and yearning for a kinder politics

Britain was horrified by yesterday’s murder of Sir David Amess – the second member of parliament to be killed in five years, after the tragic loss of Jo Cox in 2016. Police are treating Sir David’s killing as an act of terrorism.

In the meantime, I yearn for an end of the climate of hatred that has developed in British politics in recent years. As I blogged a week ago after the death from cancer of James Brokenshire MP politics has always been a rough trade. But calling your political rivals scum (as Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner did recently in referring to Tories) and enemies of the people and traitors (as populist right wing papers labelled the judiciary and MPs who didn’t support Brexit) is undermining democracy and the rule of law. All amplified by the poisonous echo chamber of social media, which circulates hate speech and lies.

This rancid mix may not have been the spur to the person who ended David Amess’s life. But it makes reasonable debate on crucial but sensitive topics almost impossible.

Britain’s parliamentarians – in Westminster, Cardiff Bay and Holyrood – serve the people tirelessly. A friend recently praised the new MP for Chesham and Amersham, Sarah Green, for her superb support on a family matter. Our friend is not a natural Lib Deb voter – but Sarah, like all MPs, is dedicated to serve and help all her constituents, no matter how they voted. MPs, MSs and MSPs have become a social service, far removed to their predecessors years 60 years ago who had far less contact with their constituents. They deserve our support especially when they live in fear after two of their peers have been struck down in the service of the people.

‘Didn’t agree with his politics but…’

The saddest news

I was sad to read that James Brokenshire MP had died. He was an effective and thoughtful minister, and a role model for anyone wanting to serve their country through politics. I once took part in an event alongside him in the early days of the coalition government.

It was no surprise to see a flood of tributes on social media, but many people struck a jarring note by prefacing their remarks ‘I didn’t agree with his politics but…’ This is crass. It is as if they think people will think badly of them for praising a political opponent. They are hardly risking the opprobrium heaped on Irish leader Eamon de Valera who visited Germany’s representative in Dublin in 1945 to express Ireland’s condolences on Hitler’s death.

Labour’s leaders were much more sensible, paying unreserved tributes to James. Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner were eloquent and generous. Rayner’s comments were far better judged than her vitriol a few days earlier when she described Tories as scum. That was ill judged – Labour needs to win back voters who have switched to the Conservatives, and calling them scum isn’t likely to help.

Politics is a tough trade. Its disciples have been exchanging insults for centuries. But in an age when death threats are regularly made against politicians on social media (and just five years after the murder of Jo Cox MP), let’s be more respectful and choose our words with care.

British Airways outrages Wales by backing England rugby in Llanelli clash

British Airways lost a lot of goodwill in Wales today by tweeting support for England in the autumn nations cup rugby international at Llanelli.

The airline may be a sponsor of the England team but a moment’s thought should have revealed that such a tweet would upset a lot of Welsh supporters – like me.

Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething put it well: “Good way to annoy 3m potential customers. BBC News at Ten presenter Huw Edwards tweeted, “I love @EasyJet.” The super-active YesCymru independence campaign was quick to draw attention to BA’s blunder.

Some have countered, saying that BA’s tweet was understandable as the airline sponsors England rugby. But that misses the point. For a UK brand to choose one nation over the others is ill-judged, especially today, when the union is under pressure and national consciousness is stronger than ever in Scotland and Wales. Nationwide Building Society was wiser, sponsoring all four UK football nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, earlier this century.

Other brands have been less sensible. I got so annoyed by emails from O2 urging me to cheer on England’s rugby team that I blocked all marketing emails and then moved to EE. I should add that I have nothing against others supporting England rugby – just that brands need to understand national identity.

To end on a positive note. To its credit, British Airways quickly deleted its tweet and apologised, saying it had strayed offside. Let’s hope that it has learned its lesson.

PS: Wales lost – but it’s unlikely that BA’s support for England made any difference.

Ertblog: 10 years a blogger

TypePad 2005

Ten years ago tonight, I became a blogger. I’ve always loved writing, and on New Year’s Eve 2005 took the plunge with TypePad. Within minutes, I had a blog, which I called Ertblog, and as Big Ben sounded the start of 2006 I published my first post, Welcome to 2006.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 22.08.59

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Paris, Facebook and the fight for humanity

Paris 2014

Paris 2014: the city and people we love

Bravo to family and friends who have turned their Facebook profile photos into a tricolour in respect for the victims of Friday’s appalling murders in Paris.

I love France and the French, and grieve for them and everyone else who died in this assault on humanity. But I won’t be changing my profile photo. I feel equally sad for those who have been savagely killed in Beirut, on the Russian airliner, on the beaches of Tunisia and across the Middle East. And those who have perished fleeing the death cults of the Middle East.

I just wish we could find some way to combat such brutal, medieval tribes that wish to defeat those who hold different values. The sad truth is that the western powers will most likely respond in a way that makes things worse, not better.

It’s easy to change your profile photo. That’s not to say that doing so has no meaning. I’m sure it will bring some comfort to the people of France, a country that millions of us love and cherish. But I’d rather see brilliant minds across Europe thinking how we can turn the tide of hatred. The west has a grim record of intervening in the Middle East without thinking or caring about the consequences, from Britain, France and Israel’s 1956 Suez adventure through to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Please prove me wrong.

#putoutyourbats in tribute to Phillip Hughes

Tribiute to Australian cricketer Philip Hughes

#putoutyourbats for Philip Hughes

People around the world were deeply shocked by the tragic death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes. He was struck on the neck by a ball on Tuesday and died two days later.

We’ve grown used to seeing batsmen wearing helmets – but Hughes’ helmet didn’t protect him from this freak accident.

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Two years blogging at WordPress.com

Wordpress.com

Moving to WordPress

I’ve been blogging at WordPress.com for two years now. I set up Ertblog 2.0 there after becoming frustrated by Typepad, my blog’s original home. I couldn’t believe that Typepad didn’t have an iPad app. I tried Blogsy but it wasn’t the answer.

In a couple of hours on an April Sunday morning, I bought my domain name and set up Ertblog on it with WordPress.com. I had great fun browsing the huge array of themes, but went for Twenty Eleven as I liked its clean appearance.

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Flickr and Yahoo : why is it so hard to recover your password?

I used to love Flickr. I didn’t use it regularly, but I liked being able to see great photos of my favourite places. And it was nice to share my own photos, although I wasn’t a regular photo sharer.

Then Facebook came along. I gave up on Flickr, and started sharing my photos on Facebook. It shared far more images – after all, most of my family and friends were already there, so sharing photos on Facebook made more sense. Especially when it was so easy to do this on the go on my iPhone and iPad.

But Flickr still has many strengths. As Wired pointed out, Flickr is great for keeping high resolution copies of your photo collection. And with a new Flickr iPhone app, it has finally recognised we’re living mobile lives.

So when I saw the Wired article (via a friend’s Facebook link…), I downloaded the app straight away.

That’s when the problems started. It’s almost two years since I last used Flickr – I couldn’t remember my user name. The app has an account recovery process, but it’s horribly badly thought out. It kept asking for an alternate email address. It rejected my correct secret answer. After finally resetting my password, it rejected it the first time I tried to log in.  Oh, and Yahoo added a new twist to the usual Captcha frustration: on my Mac: the pop up screen was cut off at the edge (below), with no apparent way to resize it.

Yahoo's captcha confusion

Yahoo’s captcha confusion

To be fair, when I got through this frustration, I found the app was excellent. It’s very easy to share and search for photos. It’s much nicer than Facebook’s app for photography. Recommended – but don’t forget your user name or password…

Social Brands: Lego and Chiltern Railways

I love Lego. So it’s no surprise that Lego’s Lars Silberbauer was the star of today’s Brand Republic Social Brands event in London.

Lars started on a high: his business card is a Lego character. But his most compelling message was the way the brand has inspired its fans to share their creations and suggest new products.

Lars showed this brilliant video telling the story of Lego. It’s 17 minutes long, yet it’s been viewed by almost four million people. Over half have watched over 15 minutes, showing its appeal. I watched it with my four year old son Owen tonight, and he was enthralled. It shows the timeless truth: great content is compelling. It’s not a corporate video, but a magical story, beautifully told and animated.

I also enjoyed the story of how Lego rode to the rescue when an 11 year old American boy, James Groccia, found the Lego Emerald Night train set he had saved up for had been withdrawn. Lego sent James the precious set. It’s a great example of how delighting a customer can spread goodwill. (The home video showing his delight has been viewed over 1.6 million times.)

The other highlight of the day for me was meeting Nicola Clark, head of marketing and communications at Chiltern Railways. I’ve blogged many times about Chiltern’s excellent use of social media, so it was nice to hear more at first hand. Nicola said that social allowed Chiltern to become the brand it always wanted to be: human, caring about the customer, with real personality. She explained how the company started its social presence after seeing it as a great way to keep customers informed after the snows of 2009.

As Nicola said, passengers often just want an explanation when things go wrong. Tweeting photos of a line blocked by a tree shows us that there’s a good reason why the 0721 is late. By coincidence, Will McInness from Nixon McInnes made the same point, citing client First Capital Connect getting drivers to take photos of flooded tracks.

I took part in a panel discussion with Simon Nicholson from Honda and event chair Andrew Smith, co-author of Share This. I explained how PayPal is growing its social presence and how the company’s president, David Marcus, instinctively understands social as a way of engaging with customers and learning from their feedback. I added that the debate about who ‘owns’ social – PR, marketing or customer service – is meaningless. It should be a partnership with the needs of the audience centre stage. ‘Don’t ask what the customer can do for you. Ask what you can do for the customer.”

I’ll end with a personal story about Chiltern Railways. On Tuesday morning, I told Owen about the famous Pontcysyllte canal aqueduct in North Wales. I added that there was a railway locomotive named after it. I showed him photos from the internet of the aqueduct and the engine. That morning, I saw the engine racing through Gerrards Cross as I waited for my train. When I got to Marylebone, I took a photo (below) to show Owen later. We agreed we’d go on a train pulled by the engine one day…

Pont Cysyllte at Marylebone

Dyfrbont Pontcysyllte at Marylebone

Disclosure: I am Head of PR & Social Media for PayPal UK

Ertblog: 2012 in review

I was intrigued to get an email from WordPress with a 2012 annual report for this blog. It was fun to find which posts had got the most reaction. (Although I guessed as much.)

You can find a link to the report below.

Tonight marks the seventh anniversary of the start of my blogging ‘career’. On New Year’s Eve 2005, I wrote this brief post on the original Typepad Ertblog. It refers to a remarkable and poignant letter home from one of my ancestors from the Australian goldrush of the 1880s.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 7,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.