Core! Focus on this sample of key policy group garbage

Tony Blair believes that if you say you are doing a thing enough, people will think you've done it

"WHAT ARE these focus groups, then?" said the man at the bar with the bow tie. "When I was young we didn't have focus groups. Now they're all over the place and nobody will tell me what they are."

"We've got all sorts of groups these days," said a young man with a pint that hadn't diminished in an hour. "We've got focus groups, and core groups and pressure groups, and lobby groups, and rock groups, and study groups and..."

"...And what do they all do?" said the woman with the ginger wig.

"Nothing," said the young man with the pint. "If a group ever achieved its object, it would fade away. A successful group is a group that has ceased to exist. Therefore all existing groups are, by definition, unsuccessful."

"That's too clever for me," said the man with the bow tie, and I think he spoke for the rest of us. "What I want to know is, what are these focus groups, then?"

"I think they tell Tony Blair what to do," said a man with a dog. "I think Tony Blair likes to test his policy on small groups of voters to see if they go down well, then he implements them."

"What's that to do with focus?" asked the man with the bow tie.

"The way it works is this," said the man with the dog, ignoring the question. "Tony Blair wants to know what people want changed in Britain. He finds out from a cross-section of focus groups that what they most want reformed is the welfare system. But he also finds out from his backroom boys that it would cost too much to reform."

"So what does he do?"

"He announces non-stop that he is going to reform the welfare set-up, to please the voter, and he does nothing about it, to please the backroom boys. Tony Blair believes that if you say you are doing a thing often enough, people will believe you have done it. Now a sizeable minority thinks Blair has reformed the welfare system, even though he hasn't lifted a finger."

There was a pause.

"We have had them all along," I said.

"Had what?" said the man with the bow tie.

"Focus groups," I said. "You said they didn't have them when you were young. But they did. They were just called different things then. Consumer groups. Sample groups. The kind of group that was got together when a toothpaste manufacturer had to decide whether people would prefer green toothpaste or blue toothpaste. They'd test both kinds on focus groups. Then they'd decide whether to make their toothpaste green or blue."

"And which did they decide?"

"Whichever colour was cheaper to make," said the man with the non-shrinking pint.

"Do you think Tony Blair chooses his mannerisms according to focus group demand?" said Bow Tie. "I mean, does he test his speaking tricks in front of a sample?"

"Core sample," I said.

"Core sample," said Bow Tie, grudgingly.

"Core focus sample," said the lady with the ginger wig.

"Oh, stuff it," said Bow Tie. "This is a serious point. Does he let his eyes go moist for one lot, and not for another? Does he do a lot of pauses for one lot, and not another? Then add up the scores? And change his act accordingly?"

"Why not?" said the man with the dog. "Why shouldn't he? After all, a comedian changes his jokes if they don't go down well, doesn't he? If three audiences in a row sit stony-faced through the same gag, he will drop it. But what is an audience but a focus group by another name? The comedian who drops a gag from his act is reacting to consumer research."

"Yes, but a politician can't change his act that much. You can drop your voice a few semitones like Thatcher, or change your hair-do like Tony Blair, but you can't change a lot. Tony Blair can't really change his voice now. It will always be a minor public school voice."

"Fettes is not a minor public school," said a Scottish voice. "Whether you like private education or not, it is a major Scottish school."

"Any Scottish school is, by definition, minor," said Bow Tie.

There was a small scuffle between Bow Tie and the Scot at this point, and when it had been snuffed out the man with the dog said: "Yes, but you might easily say that we here in the pub are also a focus group. A spontaneous focus group, but nonetheless a focus group."

"And what have we been focusing on?" asked the ginger-wigged lady.

"On focus groups."

"And what have we decided?"

"That focus groups are a load of bollocks."

There was general agreement on this point, and the conversation then passed on to last night's TV.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam