Sunday, 1 January 2017

Another comment of mine in the FT.


A commentor called lastchance responded to my criticism of his views in this weekend’s FT.   He gave a link to natcen report which provided some evidence for the reasons for the ‘Leave’ vote in the June EU referendum.  In my reply I also suggested that Britain was now a politically failed state. He thought that idea too nebulous.  Here is my commentary on the reasons for the Leave vote and justification for my (partly tongue in cheek) opinion that the UK is failing politically.
‘Many thanks for the link to the natcen report, much appreciated and which I had not picked up yet.   It gives some clues about the motivation for the Leave vote but also suffers from severe methodological problems.  But, one thing it does show is the differential turnout figures which I believe point to an unspoken problem in polling and a large reason why the vote went counter-trend.  it wasn't, in my view, down to the failure of the Remain camp to get their vote out.
If you look at any of the 'polls of polls' the stochastic process appears to have a zero trend around 52-54% Remain with a noise component showing movement up or down by +/- 5%.   This suggests that the underlying opinion was stable in favour of Remain with the noise down to some movement in the population but predominantly down to sampling errors.    In the last few days of the campaign - particularly towards its close, the polls were showing quite sizeable swings in favour of Remain.   As I am sure you know, if you intervene in any system you change it and that is what happened.   This data strongly suggests that Remainers were reassured by the polls and at the margin did not turn out (on what was a pretty foul day for weather in the South particularly) and the reverse would have been true for Leavers.  This is a reasonable proposition but pollsters and those who pay them do not want it publicised.  So, if the hypothesis has merit - and casual evidence from recent elections here and in the US suggests it has - then ironically the polls may have got the opinion of the population correct but their publication altered the propensity to vote. 
My point is that the vote on both sides was driven by many different factors and much has been made of the freedom of movement argument.  If you turn up the Treaty of Rome you will note that freedom of movement of people was set as an objective in the original treaty (Art3(c)) - passed into law in 1972 and supported by an overwhelming referendum result in 1975.  Huge policy errors in the UK have led to it becoming a major problem for us but those are issues we should be fixing internally and not by walking away from the EU.
My point about political failure is straightforward:  Britain developed a model of Parliamentary democracy that became a model for political stability based upon rational debate and evidence.  Referenda have been a subversive addition to our political system - as the evidence from the 30's in Italy, Spain and particularly Germany demonstrate they are a tool for autocrats and dictators to undermine parliament and achieve power.  We have seen the whiff of such autocracy in the Government's use of the referendum result to justify the exercise of executive power through the Royal prerogative.  In my view,  the referendum result was largely down to UK policy failures over the last twenty years leading to the resurgence of an extreme policy agenda on the right.  This put the result within the reach of the Leave campaign.  The campaign demonstrated that politics in the UK is no longer evidence based but is driven by meta-narratives, conspiracy ideation, paranoia, and myths.  The result was further distorted, in my view, by polls that were aggressively exploited by a pro-Leave tabloid press who, I am sure, well understand how they can be used to manipulate propensity to vote.   We are in a period of political failure and as evidence from other countries show, economic failure will not be far behind.’


Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Big Lie and how it got found out.

There is no doubt that the British public was lied to during the Referendum campaign.  It wasn’t just the threat of millions of Turkish immigrants or the £350 million a week that would be saved.  The great lie started with David Cameron and has now been repeated by Theresa May and her band of over-excited Brexiteers.  The great lie was that the result of the vote would be the definitive decision about whether we stayed or left the EU.

 What was obvious to anyone who bothered to look, was that the referendum result was not intended to mandate government to declare Art50 without further recourse to Parliament.  In the forums of this paper and the Times I, and many others, before the Referendum and since have made this point and been loudly rubbished.  But three of the most senior judges in the land agreed. The decision to leave the EU is down to Parliament not the Executive.

Before they voted, MP’s were briefed about the status of the Referendum 2015 bill as follows:

'It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced.'

Given its status, even those MP’s who had a real concern about the wisdom of a vote such as this, were prepared to give their consent.  But Cameron, for his own political purposes, maintained that the result would be definitive as far as the Government was concerned he, of course, was presuming a vote to Remain.   After losing the vote the ‘Brexiteers’ had their hands around his delicate parts and it is said that when you grab a man by his delicate parts, his heart will surely follow.  To hold his party together Cameron had to make the claim it was a done deal and Parliament had no further role in the decision to leave.  He and his successor were wrong, the basis of the original vote was clear and the courts have reaffirmed that the execution of Article 50 is the province of Parliament and not the Executive. 

There is only one reason, in my view, why the Supreme Court will not uphold the decision of the Crown Court.  The judges may well address the question whether Article 50 is irrevocable and seek a ruling from the European Court.  This is the big-money question.  If it is irrevocable then it must be Parliament’s decision. through a legislative act, when and whether to commence the process of leaving the EU.  If it is revocable, and the evidence taken by the House of Lords and indeed, the comments made by Lord Kerr suggests that it is, then Parliament can wait until it knows how the EU will respond to the proposals put to it by the UK Government.  Those proposals will need to be argued out in Parliament but, if Article 50 is revocable, then the Government’s negotiating position is immeasurably stronger.  The only ones who do not want this issue tested are the hard-line Brexiteers – they do not want any deal with the EU.  They want out, completely and irrevocably.  

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If Article 50 is revocable then a decision point will come:  do we stay in the EU on negotiated terms or do we leave on negotiated terms?  That would be the point at which a clear and definitive question could be put to the British people in a second referendum.  We would then know what the stakes are and this time Parliament, could decide to make the Referendum result binding.   If those who voted for Brexit are convinced of the strength of their case, then what is there to be afraid of? 

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The Big Lie and how it got found out.

There is no doubt that the British public was lied to during the Referendum campaign.  It wasn’t just the threat of millions of Turkish immigrants or the £350 million a week that would be saved.  The great lie started with David Cameron and has now been repeated by Theresa May and her band of over-excited Brexiteers.  The great lie was that the result of the vote would be the definitive decision about whether we stayed or left the EU.

 What was obvious to anyone who bothered to look, was that the referendum result was not intended to mandate government to declare Art50 without further recourse to Parliament.  In the forums of this paper and the Times I, and many others, before the Referendum and since have made this point and been loudly rubbished.  But three of the most senior judges in the land agreed. The decision to leave the EU is down to Parliament not the Executive.

Before they voted, MP’s were briefed about the status of the Referendum 2015 bill as follows:

'It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced.'

Given its status, even those MP’s who had a real concern about the wisdom of a vote such as this, were prepared to give their consent.  But Cameron, for his own political purposes, maintained that the result would be definitive as far as the Government was concerned he, of course, was presuming a vote to Remain.   After losing the vote the ‘Brexiteers’ had their hands around his delicate parts and it is said that when you grab a man by his delicate parts, his heart will surely follow.  To hold his party together Cameron had to make the claim it was a done deal and Parliament had no further role in the decision to leave.  He and his successor were wrong, the basis of the original vote was clear and the courts have reaffirmed that the execution of Article 50 is the province of Parliament and not the Executive. 

There is only one reason, in my view, why the Supreme Court will not uphold the decision of the High Court.  The judges may well address the question whether Article 50 is irrevocable and seek a ruling from the European Court.  This is the big-money question.  If it is irrevocable then it must be Parliament’s decision. through a legislative act, when and whether to commence the process of leaving the EU.  If it is revocable, and the evidence taken by the House of Lords and indeed, the comments made by Lord Kerr suggests that it is, then Parliament can wait until it knows how the EU will respond to the proposals put to it by the UK Government.  Those proposals will need to be argued out in Parliament but, if Article 50 is revocable, then the Government’s negotiating position is immeasurably stronger.  The only ones who do not want this issue tested are the hard-line Brexiteers – they do not want any deal with the EU.  They want out, completely and irrevocably.  

-->
If Article 50 is revocable then a decision point will come:  do we stay in the EU on negotiated terms or do we leave on negotiated terms?  That would be the point at which a clear and definitive question could be put to the British people in a second referendum.  We would then know what the stakes are and this time Parliament, could decide to make the Referendum result binding.   If those who voted for Brexit are convinced of the strength of their case, then what is there to be afraid of? 

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