Tuesday, January 23, 2018


There's something really poignant about these comments from people who regret their vote to leave the EU. They come from wider focus group research on attitudes, mainly among older people.
"To be perfectly honest, I don’t think there should have been a referendum anyway on a subject as complex as that. I don’t think the public had enough knowledge of for and against."
"I thought we voted for politicians to actually make these decisions on our behalf!"
"We were absolutely not in a position where we should have been given the vote in the first place."
"They asked us to vote on something which, the majority of us, had no real knowledge on what we were signing. I wanted to just to come out of Europe because I thought Europe had too much control over our cards, over our system. But, I for one, didn’t fully understand the implications of coming out of Europe. And I think there are a lot of people who likewise."
Admitting that we got things wrong is rare. Normally we double down on our original judgement, rationalise it away, and slowly forget it. But, if we do recognise that we were in error, it helps to have someone to blame, and they did. It was the fault of politicians for putting it to the vote. They're right. This points to one of the many flaws in referendums. Not only are they a way of by-passing democratic institutions and giving no additional weight to expertise as against ignorance, but they are a way of passing the buck. Politicians avoid taking responsibility for their own decisions. Instead, they hide behind "the will of the people." The recriminations are then levelled at the voters, even within families. Young people accuse older ones of "having stolen their future."

You can feel the distress in these answers. They were asked to vote and did their duty to the best of their limited knowledge, sensing that the mere fact of the referendum indicated that there was a problem. Now they are shouldering the guilt they feel for a wrong decision. The referendum put responsibility on people who neither wanted it, nor were qualified to exercise it, all in a failed attempt to placate the right wing of the Conservative Party. It was cruel to put them in that position.

Which brings me round to the question being raised about another referendum (not a second one, it will be the third). Paul Evans is against. Chris Dillow makes excellent points as well.
Nigel Farage and Arron Banks are starting to agree with many Remainers that there should be a second referendum. Both sides, of course, do so for the same motive – the belief they would win.
What this misses is that the first referendum was, as Robert Harris said, “the most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime.” It was dominated by lies and by ignorance of basic facts. The result in effect went simply to the highest bidder. There’s no reason to suppose that a second referendum will be any better.
There would be one difference of course, a fresh referendum would be better informed because of the experience and consequences of the first. Otherwise, it's a dismal prospect.

The problem that those of us who think that Brexit is wholly mistaken face is a different one. However rotten a decision making process a referendum is, it might be our only chance. I don't mean this is because of a Parliamentary or governmental decision being a challenge to the supposed legitimacy of the referendum, far from it. I don't think that many outside the tiny ranks of the Brexit partisans really care about the issue. It would be mainly greeted with a shrug or a sigh of relief. Brexiters are convulsed with hysterical hatreds and denunciations of treachery when winning anyway, so who would deny them the intense, orgasmic pleasure of an ultimate betrayal? No, the problem we face is that politicians are showing every sign of cowardice. They are determined to avoid the responsibility bestowed by their office. So, it isn't that Brexit shouldn't be halted by anything other than another referendum, it is that it won't be.

A referendum is a way out, but is still a risk. It will have many of the same flaws as the previous one. It could go either way. So while I would prefer politicians to actually do their job as representatives, I fear that we are stuck with the prospect of another poll. I would welcome it only in so far as it would be the only chance of revisiting the decision. One thing I do know though, I hope to hell we never have another one of the damnable things.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Questions without answers

Jeremy Corbyn has set out his position on the EU single market to the PLP. If this report is correct, his thinking raises a number of questions. He said:

1. It is impossible to be outside the EU and stay in the single market. (This is untrue, as pointed out repeatedly).

Q. Is he lying or is he thick?

2. He wants a 'jobs first Brexit.'

Q. WTF does that mean?

3. He wants to retain all the benefits of membership through negotiation with the EU. (Despite the EU making it perfectly clear that no such deal is possible).

Q. Can he name any other organisation that would grant the full benefits of membership to non-members without them having to meet the obligations of membership?


Around 65% of Labour voters voted remain. 87% of Labour members voted remain. The overwhelming majority of voters and members want Britain to stay in the single market. Why then is Corbyn supporting the Tories against Labour? 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Myths and legends

Wales is full of them. The whole point of a myth is that it is a compelling story that isn't true. Mythology also sells books. For example, David Goodhart got a lot of attention for his book, The Road to Somewhere. He followed a proven recipe. Take a complex subject and simplify it down to a couple of categories and give them catchy names. Once you have done that, cherry-pick the evidence to make your argument seem credible. Goodhart divided the British into Somewheres and Anywheres. Somewheres are rooted in their locality and community. Anywheres are - well, you can't avoid the phrase - a cosmopolitan elite. The former tend to be socially conservative, the latter more liberal. Somewheres voted for Brexit. Remainers were Anywheres - classic "citizens of nowhere." It's very neat and is often rolled out to explain the Brexit vote. Convincing, until you look closer.

This superb article does just that. Richard Wyn Jones examines the impact of Brexit on one of the poorest communities in Wales, Holyhead. The future outside the EU doesn't look promising for the town, even though it voted narrowly to leave. But when you break down that vote, you can see something else.
The island’s Remain vote will have relied heavily on Welsh speakers. Indeed, fully 84 per cent of fluent Welsh-speaking, strong Welsh-identifying voters supported Remain. That itself is a statistic that should be enough to puncture the vacuous argument that “people from somewhere” voted Leave while more cosmopolitan, better-educated “people from anywhere” voted to Remain in the UK. 
Such an explanation has been offered frequently since the referendum result by English metropolitan circles. Believe me, it is difficult to be more local in outlook than to be brought up as a native Welsh speaker in Anglesey.
84%. That is a stunning figure. National identity clearly played a critical role in the vote, but not the one Goodhart would have expected.

This is a warning to avoid glib, but commercially viable, explanations and look at the vote as a complex response to an ill-framed question in a diverse, multi-national country. And when you do that, the spurious slogan, "the will of the people," melts away and trickles into the sewer labelled 'bollocks.'

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Facts and figures

Commentary on the EU referendum in the press is coalescing around one narrative, let's call it the deprivation thesis. Brexit was delivered by the economically deprived and socially marginalised. It's a convenient explanation for the following reasons.

1. For leavers, it bolsters the narrative that Brexit was a revolt of the people against the elite.

2. For the Labour Party leadership, it provides cover for their Brexit policy of non-committal triangulation.

3. It excuses and obscures the racism inherent in sections of the vote.

4. It bolsters the strange argument that although Brexit is a disaster it must be carried through because of the anger and alienation overturning it would generate. For variations on this theme see here (£) and here.

There is one problem with the deprivation thesis. It isn't true. Or at least, even if there was a broad tendency towards voting leave in some deprived areas and plenty of anecdotal examples, there are so many anomalies it would be hard to see it as a sole, valid explanation.

This Twitter thread has a go at presenting the data in a way that shows the weakness of the correlation. It isn't authoritative and the author is tentative about his findings, yet it asks a good question. If the deprivation thesis is true, why did some of the most deprived constituencies of the UK vote remain and some of the more affluent ones vote leave?

The conclusion drawn is:
... it was not the North, the Left Behinds or anything like that which lost the referendum. It was the Home Counties and the prosperous agricultural districts. "Why did Aylesbury vote Leave?" should be asked a lot more than why did, say, Stoke. ... So can a journalist please travel the Home Counties looking for Leavers, please?
I agree. This refutes the first two arguments, and those who don't think that racism played a part should read this other thread too. It's the fourth that needs the most unpacking.

Leaving aside the inherent absurdity of insisting that we are compelled to hurt you because you asked us to even if you didn't think it would hurt at all, there are two elements that I find dubious. The first is that it mistakes the fact of a vote with the strength of feeling behind it. Until the referendum, the EU was a low salience issue. Outside a small band of believers, most were indifferent. Even though it's a much more salient issue now, I can't see that much change in passion. Remainers have managed to call out tens of thousands of people for mass demonstrations agains Brexit, but leavers have only been able to pull together a few dozen flag wavers at best. Where is that mass anger?

The second is pure class condescension. It is based on fear of the mob. When the referendum was held the majority of voters were rationally ignorant. There was no reason for them to learn about the complexities of an organisation that they took for granted. I was much the same. I refuse to believe that working class people are incapable of learning and understanding, especially when faced with stark alternatives.

But then again, as well as the bulk of leavers being affluent suburbanites, there is one set of statistics that is robust. There was no majority for leave amongst those under the age of forty-four. Somehow I can't see bands of elderly rioters flooding out of deepest Surrey to wreak havoc as they have been thwarted in their deep desire for blue passports and, in the latest mad campaign, the return of the crown stamp on pint beer glasses.

What matters is not fear of popular reaction, but the consequences of Brexit. Our consideration should be for the national interest in maintaining our international standing and economic strength, for the stability of a democratic Europe, and for the protection of citizens' rights and liberties that the wealthy, tax evading leaders of the Brexit campaign are itching to strip from us.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


New Year in Greece. Cats, oranges, blue skies, and the European Union.