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.’

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