Very loud, very noisy. Of UKIP and Tesla.

Back again. Been cooking up something new – more of which later.

In the meantime there is much to talk about – like a resurgence of nationalism and how to create really disruptive change. Not the kind of ripples that comes from lobbing stones from the side (or the pub), but the serious “world will never be the same again” kind of change that defines the way we live.

Which is why I’ve been ruminating on Nigel Farage and Elon Musk – both want to change the world, but are going about it in different ways. Kind of.

UKIP: serious disruptive force or just a protest party?

I have been bewildered by UKIP (not quite the FN but the UK’s most mainstream “get out of Europe” mob) who have done very well in the Euro and local elections here.

Anyone who spends anytime out of the bubble that is London will have seen for themselves just how present UKIP has been – not just in media but on buses, trains, and bars. For the past 3 months they have been everywhere. It’s only when you get into London that the noise dies away. But – as seems clearer every day – London ain’t Britain.

Bizarrely – on my ballot paper at least – UKIP were just one of many nationalist “keep Britain British” parties. In a weird way UKIP were the least bonkers. It’s kind of surprising to see especially given the centenary of WW1 – Ukraine, UKIP, FN – too many parallels for comfort

UKIP have tapped into something for sure – 27% of the vote. But what exactly? Are they just another example of a disruptive brand? The Wonga of politics maybe? And how disruptive are they?

Disruptive force or loud man in a pub?
Disruptive force or loud man in a pub?

“Them”

We shouldn’t believe that every vote for UKIP is a vote for UKIP.

Check out this “why I voted UKIP” piece.  There are 3 sides to it:

“I am a lifelong Labour supporter but voted UKIP in the European election because it was a way to encourage the main parties to offer an in or out vote on Europe. Strangely if offered this I would vote to stay in, hence opposing UKIP’s position” (I’m still not sure I follow this logic…)

“Farage seems to be an ordinary geezer that you can have a conversation with in the pub”

And of course there’s this: “uncontrolled immigration is depressing the working class standard of living in this country”

So a vote for UKIP is variously a stick to beat up the mainstream parties, a vote for ordinary blokes in the pub and a vote against “them”

If you get a chance to look at Chris Rose and Pat Dade’s work on Cultural Dynamics have a good look at the “Settlers” and think about UKIP. “Settlers” form a good chunk of the population and they worry about change, are anxious about the future and yearn for the past. They worry about things they often can’t see on their doorstep – mass immigration (“though of course not here”); the decline of the health service (“but of course our hospital is wonderful”).

UKIP have super successfully tapped into this fear of dark unseen forces.

But a fear of the unseen, and a yearning to return to the 1970s does not add up to real change.

A vote for UKIP may be a vote against the prevailing political status quo but equally it’s not really a vote for anything tangible other than “fewer Romanians”.

(The manifestos are here although it appears that Nigel F hasn’t actually read them too closely).

Create a new model – don’t fight the existing reality

I’m lucky enough to work with new upstart businesses seeking to disrupt incredibly well established, ultra mature sectors which often resemble oligarchies. It is no small thing to break into such a well established mainstream and create a credible alternative. And it’s much,much harder to disrupt a system that’s not changed much for decades (a century or more for auto and politics) than one that is relatively youthful and dynamic (mobile phones say).

Aldi have done it in food, Zipcar have done it in ‘mobility’ and Tesla are trying it in traditional automotive.

(Zipcar has grown its membership 34% every year for the past 7 years or so. And 40% of its members have given up their cars. That’s not a small thorn in the side of the auto industry, that’s a movement.)

What these businesses do is not only to protest against the prevailing oligarchy – they reengineer the model to create a new, viable, alternative that rewrites the rules for everyone.

Aldi is the new normal in grocery – once more than 50% of the population start shopping there regularly it’s no longer a niche. They aren’t a “discounter” any more, they’re the benchmark. By stripping down ranges they strip down cost – a choice of 3 mayonnaise rather than 20.

They’ve chucked out one of the core principles of the modern grocery model – abundant choice all under one roof. And guess what? Consumers don’t mind at all.

UKIP’s not Tesla, but Nigel might be Elon

Which is why I find Tesla both thrilling and disappointing. What they’ve achieved is fabulous but  the opportunities they have missed are just too numerous.

The car industry is seriously broken – overcapacity, tiny margins, horrific resource inefficiency. Cars are one of the least resource efficient things on the planet:

  • 86% of journeys are single driver yet most cars have 5 seats
  • cars are utilised just 4% of the time – the rest of the time they are idle
  • only 1% of the fuel in the tank actually moves the driver
  • the average car is now 1.8 tonnes
  • and improvements in environmental performance are tiny and too slow.
horrifically inefficient
horrifically inefficient

It is – in every sense of the word – unsustainable.

All this requires a root and branch radical rethink – a model that transforms the economics of the mobility industry and changes its rules for ever.

Tesla have made some inroads. Battery technology, direct sales without dealers, superchargers.

But the car is 2.1 tonnes. The showrooms feel like any other. And they are still selling cars. Cars that depreciate faster than a piano thrown out of a skyscraper. It’s the old model with slightly new technology.

Google's cutesy car - it knows where the parking spaces are
Google’s cutesy car – it knows where the parking spaces are

For real automotive innovation look at Google’s driverless cars, or Zipcar, and a whole host of new players that are about to emerge. More of this later.

Tesla are bold in a small way. They’ve changed some of the auto industry. So they’ve done a whole load more than UKIP ever will.

UKIP aren’t out to change the system for the better just turn back the clock. It’s not a new model, it’s the same old one. My hunch is that they’ve had their best moment. No great shame.

But Tesla could do so much more. Both Nigel Farage and Elon Musk are noisy folk with great rhetoric. What Elon Musk has in his head is breathtaking – gigafactories, hyper loops, space travel.

By contrast what Tesla is doing is but a fraction of Musk’s ambition, and a fraction of what they could or should be doing.

And that’s a real shame.

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2 thoughts on “Very loud, very noisy. Of UKIP and Tesla.

  1. Very good. The other thing about cars is that, in the states at least, massive amounts of the time they actually spend not being parked is on journeys to workplaces where nobody needs to work any more. (20% of carbon associated with workplaces now). So they’re actually even less efficient than they seem – almost impossible to conceive.

    I think you’re right about Farage, he’s the negative answer to an awful lot of questions, rather than the positive answer to any single question. But he will move the world of more mainstream politics in the UK further away from toleration, because Milliband and Cameron are so frightened.

    London is now so different economically and culturally from the rest of the UK that it’s like another country, and only when you leave it and head north or west do you really see what the economic crisis did to our country.

    But that does not mean that leaders of mainstream parties have to determine their policies by focus group or buzz analytics Sometimes a leader needs to lead, rather than follow…

    BTW, there’s a way of looking at the EU as a consciously anti-democratic institution. The rise of Nazism in Germany and extreme right wing anti semitism in France in the 30s were actually part of a democratic process. Perhaps the founding fathers wanted to make sure that democracy could never derail the project…

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