Monday, November 12, 2018

Diary of a Mature MSc Student - Week 7

It was easy to get a space in the student refectory at lunchtime this week. It is normally busy and bustling with students but this week was reading week. One of our tutors had earlier opined that LSE really stood for 'Let's See Europe' and that seems to be the case during reading week. For myself, it meant getting my head down and completing two more formative essays and thinking about my dissertation.

I found writing the two essays this week really enjoyable. One was on political campaigns and the other was on truth and journalism. These are areas I have read about extensively and the real challenge, given the short form nature of formative essays (1,500 words), was focus. Many of the business blog posts I have previously written are well over 2,000 words. The challenge reminded me of Blaise Pascal's famous quote “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”

In my view writing a short essay takes as much work and time as longer essays. It takes considerable time and skill to be able to craft an argument with limited words. I was tempted, and probably did, fall into the trap of including too much information, too many theories and too many concepts in my short essays. The real skill is knowing what to leave out. It is something I have to master. Still the useful thing about formative essays is that while they are graded, they don't count towards your final grade, thus you can learn and improve.

I also spent a lot of time this week thinking about dissertation ideas. We have to provide a topic for our dissertation over the next few weeks which we can refine down to a specific research question. My difficulty is that I am interested in very different topics. Currently I have three broad areas of interest.

The first is understanding working class or middle England voters. The Blue Labour thesis that voters are left economically, supporting more redistributive tax and nationalisation, but more conservative culturally, on matters such as crime and immigration, intrigues me. It is linked to Goodhart's notion of a somewhere/anywhere divide. Somewheres being rooted in their community and anywheres being university educated, progressive and very comfortable with change. I think it is also interesting politically as populist politicians also appear to have a Blue Labour thesis as they increasingly appeal to workers on an economic, anti-globalisation basis combined with a nationalist, conservative set of policies on immigration and crime.

This is Steve Banon at the Economist conference recently “I see what globalism did to the workers”, “we are trying to make this a workers based economy”, “We need to protect citizens, particularly workers”, “The elites, the party of Davos took care of themselves”, and we want a “society where workers can get a piece of the action.”

My second area of interest is smartphone repertoires, how do people use smartphones and how are they changing behaviours. I am fascinated by the new iPhone screen time data and have a madcap idea that I could persuade thousands of people to screenshot and upload their data for me to analyse. Below is my recent data.

Many surveys are based on self-reporting which has severe limitations. The screen time data is actual data and hence it would be really interesting to explore patterns in usage and being able to cut this by age, sex and political views e.g. Leavers and Remainers. Would people be willing to screenshot and share their data to be included in an anonymised report? I would be interested to know your views.

My final area of interest is political branding. I have built and sold a number of companies and my view, for what it is worth, is that when building a company you are really building a brand. Thus you really need to focus on this aspect. Branding as a concept is relatively new in political communication and has the advantage that it brings together rational voter choice theory and emotional or affective behaviour. I am interested in the branding of campaigns such as the current People's Vote campaign and how the brands of both the current political parties in the UK are changing, both in what they want to portray and in people's experience of the brands. I am also interested in how a new centrist party may be branded. The People's Vote campaign could be seen as a stalking horse for a new centrist party.

As I said these are quite different areas of interest. This week my task is to refine my thoughts a little further and talk to my tutors about these ideas. Do let me know if you have any thoughts on these ideas.