Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

15241400_10154227620278869_1594286058828515718_nUnder the pressure from the relentless pro-Brexit propagandists (which we view with some concern given the American Presidential election experience where literally hundreds of pro-Trump websites were set up by the Russians, and when countless anti-Clinton memes were generated from “invisible” overseas sites that might very well be funded by Putin as well, or by his big money backers in the extreme right in America, both of whom would love to weaken the EC) we have been giving some thought to the concept of a mandate in politics.

And it is simply this.

If a mandate is gained through what can clearly be shown to be a deliberate and oft-repeated lie – in other words, a deliberate con – is it actually a mandate at all? In a world where we blindly talk about “post truth” politics, is the concept of a mandate obsolete as well?

In deciding such a question, it is surely instructive to look at some of the other “estates” of the modern democratic society, and see how they deal with lying.

In the courts, for example, being caught lying brings with it swingeing penalties, even jail time.

In the media, uncovered lying can result in civil damages, or worse.

Yet suddenly we seem not only prepared to countenance a world where politicians are held to (much lower) standards, but where when their calumnies are discovered, no one seems to really care.

“Ah well, all politicians lie!” is the stock response, as in “You can’t trust any of them, so give it up.” As if this is somehow an adequate substitute for holding them to account and demanding they treat us with the minimal respect due to anyone whose support they are demanding, that is, to tell us the truth.

We are not naive. We know that all politicians have lied from time to time. But that is a world of difference from a situation where any attempt top tell the truth is overwhelmed by deliberate falsehoods, often promulgated through social media, which become part of the zeitgeist before any official denial or rebuttal can be issued.

brexit-busThe most egregious example of this in the UK during the Brexit campaign was the so-called Brexit bus, promising to return to the UK the funds that it devotes to the EU budget.

Only two things were wrong with this very prominent promise, which was repeated in tens of thousands (at least) of targeted leaflets issued in official-looking jargonese immediately prior to the Leave-Remain poll.

One, it was a barefaced lie. It virtually doubled the amount the UK donates to the European project.

Two, it was a barefaced lie. As conceded by arch-Brexit campaigner the very day after the Brexit vote, such a compact (to devote the money to the NHS instead) was unworkable, a fact confirmed by others like fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson, and later the incoming Prime Minister, Mrs May.

If there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, though, it’s this one from the website of the Advertising Standards Agency. “For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. You can’t claim that a herbal diet drink will make customers thinner, but you can claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union.

The money was “an extrapolation . . . never total”, said Iain Duncan Smith on the BBC. It was merely part of a “series of possibilities of what you could do”.

Does that picture look like “a series of possibilities” or a simple, cast-iron commitment, to you?

brexitMore (slightly more nuanced) rubbish has been pouring out of the Brexit camp which has been trying to tell people that they can keep access to a single market without agreeing to the EU’s freedom of movement. That there is not the slightest possibility of such a deal being agreed to by Junkers, Merkel, Hollande and all the rest is clear and has been stated repeatedly by the Europeans – the impossibility of such an outcome is perfetly obvious to Blind Freddie. Yet the Brexiteers continue to repeat it, albeit increasingly desperately.

And what about the Turkey lie? The fact that staying in the EU means Britain will be flooded with Turkish migrants when that country accedes to the EU. Apart from the again certain fact that accession to the EU by Turkey looks increasingly like a pipe dream, and a decade or more off at the very earliest, on leaving the EU, we, of course, have no vote as to whether Turkey becomes part of it.

The very next day after the Brexit vote, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan told Newsnight that “taking back control” of immigration didn’t necessarily mean cutting it. That would come as something of a shock to millions who voted for Brexit egged on by spurious talk of “taking back control” of Britain’s borders, clear code for “cut immigration”. He also advocated joining the single market: meaning that if Turkey does join the EU, Britain will be obliged to accept freedom of movement for its citizens anyway.

When Britain leaves the EU, it will also lose automatic access to the scheme by which failed asylum-seekers are returned to the country in which they first claimed sanctuary.

All this monument of untruths is not lying on the scale of a few convenient fibs or quibbles over minor details, of being “economical with the truth”. There is a reason that calling someone a “liar” in the House of Commons is forbidden. It is that Members of the House are considered to have reached the pinnacle of social advancement, to be honourable people, dedicated to “doing the right thing”, on a par with judges, bishops, captains of industry, and others. To accept a British Parliament that is “post truth” is to throw away any semblance of what Britain and its parliament represent.

Brexiteers argue that the incredibly narrow advisory referendum win for Leave mandates the British Parliament to support “the will of the people”, and implement withdrawal from the EU post-haste. But leaving aside that this assertion is based on the highly morally dubious conduct of the Leave campaign – reason enough on its own to ignore it in our opinion – this argument fails to understand the British constitution in any way or shape at all. It is another entirely despicable lie that is intended to stick through being continually repeated.

Firstly, let us be crystal clear, the referendum was never, and never could be, legally binding on Parliament. In the British constitution, Parliament is sovereign. It is entirely up to a vote in Parliament as to whether any negotiation on Brexit should be agreed to. There is no way round this very obvious fact, recently confirmed by the High Court in a damningly unanimous decision.

“Ah!” cry the Brexiteers, “but Parliament is morally obliged to follow the will of the people! You are anti-democratic!”

Not so. If we are to debate on the basis of morality, let us consider (a) the vote was never legally binding – this is not an opinion, it is undisputed fact and presenting it as otherwise is another lie (b) the victory was secured by lying on a scale never seen before, (c) the outcome was very close, and in a previous speech Nigel Farage has argued that a 52-48 vote in favour of staying in the EU should trigger a second referendum – but not, perhaps, when the vote goes his way? –  (d) in other democratic exercises such as elections there will be OTHER elections coming along down the line when a decision can be reversed, if desired – but that opportunity does not exist in this situation, hence the vital need for both Houses of Parliament to consider their next step with great care. As what looks like a “once and for all decision”, Parliament is morally obliged to consider the timing and terms of any Brexit extremely carefully. Quite apart from the also oft-measured and very obvious – if inconvenient – fact that the mood in Britain has now swung badly against the Leave camp.

Let us now, though, consider the single biggest argument in favour of Parliament retaining a perfect right to vote against the terms of Brexit, or of Brexit itself, if it so wishes.

One might have to be a member of the derided “intellectual liberal elite” to understand this incredibly simple point, but Parliament is sovereign, and in Britain at least, the Westminster system is that of a Representative democracy, not a Delegated one.

The difference being that our system allows – nay, demands – that our MPs vote according to their best deliberations, and not merely at the whim of how they perceive the electorate’s bidding, however that bidding is delivered to them.

For centuries, our MPs have been held to a higher standard.

As Edmund Burke put it back on the 1700s, in the “trustee model” of democracy, Burke argued that his behaviour in Parliament should be informed by his knowledge and experience, allowing him to serve the public interest above all. Of an MP he said that in giving “his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living … Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion“.

Essentially, in the British model of democracy, a trustee considers an issue and, after hearing all sides of the debate, exercises their own judgment in making decisions about what should be done. He added, “You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament“. (Burke, 1774). Burke made these statements immediately after being elected in Bristol, and after his colleague had spoken in favour of coercive instructions being given to representatives.

J.S. Mill also championed this model. He stated that while all individuals have a right to be represented, not all political opinions are of equal value.

This is why, for example, Britain has no death penalty, despite it frequently receiving 80% or more support amongst the population.  It is why homosexuality was de-criminalised long before the public would have voted for it, ditto the legalisation of abortion. In short, MPs think they know better. And sometimes, frankly, they do. Pointing this out enrages members of the public who cynically choose to denigrate all politicians. Nevertheless, it is true. This principle lies at the very heart of British democracy. If we discard it, we discard the entire box and dice.

It’s this simple: despite what rabble rousers and Brexit-bots sound off endlessly about, the referendum result does not have equal value to the will of Parliament. That is why MPs, of any party, are not obliged to slavishly follow the referendum result, and are, in fact, quite to contrary, obliged to consider the matter on its merit.

Opposing a blind Brexit with closer consideration is not, in any sense, anti-democratic. In fact, it is the epitome of British democracy.

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“Yes, We Can!”

barack-obama-yes-we-canIt seems like just yesterday that Obama came to the fore of world politics with this optimistic and energising slogan, shouted back at him excitedly by hugely enthusiastic crowds.

Eight years later, despite Obama winning a second election and ending his Presidency with quite high approval ratings, (reflecting a generalised opinion that he’s a likeable guy), that promise frankly seemed to many people more like “No, We Couldn’t.”

Whilst there were some successes in Obama’s presidency, too many people felt left behind. From Florida to Michigan via Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, people came out in their droves in yesterday’s election to register their discontent.

Trump’s victory is going to be spun – everywhere, endlessly – as a great uprising against the elites, a sort of Western “Arab Spring”, and a repudiation of Obama (and by implication, Clinton), a generalised push back against left-of-centre liberal intellectualism, against feminism, against so many isms that people will be frothing at the mouth to get them out. And Brexit, we will be told constantly, was a similar rejection of the ruling European elite, and Trump, as he famously predicted the night before the election, was just Brexit plus plus – surely the only time a political event in another country has been quoted the night before an American election.

The problem is that this analysis of what’s going on in world elections at the moment is actually wrong. Too shallow. Too simplistic.

Not because people aren’t reacting against elites. They are. Blind Freddie can see that. But that’s really not the point. The real issue here is that people are scared, frightened, confused and casting about for someone to blame for what ails them, and the elites are merely the most obvious and useful target. After all, they’re in charge, so it must all be their fault, right?

“What must be their fault?” “This shit we’re in.” “So what do we do?” “Chuck the elites out.” “Yay! Pass the pitchforks.”

"Who's to blame?" "Dunno, but he'll do."

“Who’s to blame?” “Dunno, but he’ll do.”

The problem is that that analysis is skin deep, and chucking out the elites, if that’s going to be the solution, is only step one of a change, anyway. After all, if you’re going to chuck out the elites, you have to replace them with new administrators. Who are they going to be?

So before we assume we know what’s going on, let’s roll back a bit. WHY are people so scared and angry?

The answer is actually very simple. Breathtakingly simple.

The world has been going through a massive structural change – a fundamental change to free-er trade, and integrated global markets, fuelled by the freest and fastest movement of capital in human history. Massive movements of money wreak chaos in the world’s economic systems. Businesses get blown up overnight. Currencies wobble and slide alarmingly, with the knock on effect on future orders, travel, banking and a dozen other areas.

At the same time, new manufacturing bases like China, India, and elsewhere have sprung up to feed products and services into older, more established economies.

All this has cut the guts out of many key industries in America in particular, and because they have a Government which is periodically ideologically opposed to interfering in the economy, the people affected by the changes are often left to fend pretty much for themselves.

(Layered on top of this is a generalised concern about terrorism and conflict which keeps people permanently unsettled. The obvious fact that hardly anybody, in statistical terms, ever gets hurt by terrorism, is no compensation for those watching lurid pictures of those unfortunates that do, and especially when irresponsible politicians take every opportunity to talk up the threat instead of cutting it down to size.)

But back to economics. Because “it’s the economy, stupid”, right?

The only solution is for economies to be quicker, more flexible, and more innovative. The world might not want your eight cylinder Detroit-built gas guzzler any more, but it seems to want a super-fast electric Tesla, not just because it’s cheap to run, and environmentally friendly, but because it’s a bloody good car, chock full of driver goodness.

But for every Tesla there are dozens of clunky, slow-moving businesses, frantically trying to build firewalls around their markets, and failing.

Many of the people running these companies are more focused on merging with another company and making a quick buck out of stock options, and while they talk a good story about the need to expand and innovate it’s not really their focus. Otherwise they would, yeah? So sooner or later, the hungry and the fast eat the slow and the complacent, as they always do, and the hungry and the fast are increasingly somewhere else, not in our old, established economies. They are in places with fewer restraints on business – especially on labour issues and environmental protection – and they are frequently quasi-command economies where decisions are taken very fast, and without opposition. It’s a potent mixture.

The real problem has been that the political elites are locked into a zero sum game.

They can’t get elected, or re-elected, without saying they know how to fix things. But in reality, they don’t really know how to fix things.

The changes that are going on are so fundamental that they aren’t actually amenable to “being fixed”. Certainly not quickly, and certainly not just by saying it. Many of the changes taking place now are “forever” changes – the clock simply can’t get turned back. People are going to have to adjust, and no amount  of overblown rhetoric from the elite is going to smooth over or resolve the problems.

So if a business in America, for example, (or any old economy market), wants to continue to compete in low-tech commodity marketplaces that they once previously dominated, what are they going to do? Slash the wages of their workers to those of workers in China? India? Mexico? Vietnam? Indonesia? And increasingly – Africa, too? Install better (and more expensive) automation? And anyway, where’s the money going to come from?

What happens to the worker voters then? Longer hours for smaller pay – or being replaced by some whizz-bang new production line – isn’t going to go down well with a workforce that has been cosseted for generations by the terms won by pro-active and powerful unions.

So here is our fear.

The real terror we have is that Brexit will have little or no effect on whether or not Britain can compete on the world stage in the way that it used to when the country had preferential access to cheap colonial resources, and technological leadership in areas like car manufacture, aircraft design, heavy engineering, added value food manufacture, and much more. Brexit may, indeed, happen – or some version of it – but when it fails to produce some magical re-ordering of the state of Britain’s economy, and vast swathes of the country continue to be over-crowded and under-employed, where will electors turn next?

And what about America?

greatagainWhat if “Make America Great Again” turns out to be just so much more polly-waffle. Because America actually can’t be made great again, because it’s hopelessly under-capitalised (seen the deficit recently?) with a shrinking tax take, too turgid, not innovative enough, and rapidly being muscled out by new, cheaper more agile competitors.

And America’s too political. Just too damn political. So when someone calls for huge investment in “green energy” for example, sensible, laudable forward-thinking initiatives are killed by a bunch of old-economy oil barons protecting their turf, aided and abetted by politicians who are either in their pocket, or who would rather deliver a smart soundbite about how alternative energy sources will never match up to our needs, and anyway, “who believes all that global warming stuff anyhow?” rather than take on the task of educating the public as to why such investment isn’t just a good idea, it’s mandatory.

The very obvious point is that moving to alternative energy sources will simply make the planet cleaner, anyhow, and wouldn’t that be nice, even if global warming isn’t happening and 99% of the scientists in the world are wrong? And anyway, old-style energy sources are running out whether or not the planet is warming. One day we will run out of gas, oil, coal, and uranium, or it will simply be too expensive to extract what’s left. What then?

Doesn’t it seem to make sense to have a fall back solution?

Of course it makes sense, but we are idolising politicians who could care less if it makes sense. Look at Trump’s insistence that he will wind back support for solar energy and expand the coal industry. It plays well amongst unemployed coal miners, it played well in key swing states like Pennsylvania, and the owners of coal companies will be delighted. Not so much the future-focused industries. Among solar-power installers, SolarCity Corp. which Tesla Motors Corp. is currently trying to acquire, closed down 4% on Wednesday. Rival Vivint Solar Inc. was among the biggest decliners, ending the day off 6.3%, while SunRun Inc. tumbled 4%. Solar-panel makers and solar-power developers fared no better. SunPower skidded 14% and First Solar Inc. lost 4.2%. The American depositary receipts of China-based solar-panel manufacturer JA Solar Holdings Co. Ltd. fell 8.4%; Trina Solar Ltd. ADRs closed 2.3% down for the day. The Guggenhim Solar ETF  was off 5.6%.

This is just one industry sector out of dozens we could consider. We’re going to make America great again by massacring an industry of the future and pumping up a tired old industry of increasing irrelevance. Irrelevance, we say? Yup. Coal prices have fallen more than 50% since 2011 as it has faced stiff competition from plentiful natural gas which is easier to extract and transport, cleaner to use, and cheaper. That isn’t going to change.

We’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul – lose jobs and wealth in the solar industry to prop up jobs and profits in the coal sector. And in doing so, we will send the American ability to compete (against the Europeans, especially) backwards, again. And for what? So we can make it look like we are keeping in line with our hugely overblown promise. “Back to basics! None of this wanky new stuff! Let’s get those mines open again!” We’re in the process of doing exactly the same in Australia.

Politics, pure and simple.

But the stakes here are simply enormous. The howling, inchoate anger of the masses that saw Trump elected will absolutely not tolerate another failure. Trump has massively raised expectations of his (and by implication, the Republicans’) ability to fix things with a massive tranche of people who have lost all hope and trust in “the system’s” ability (or desire) to help them.

He’s their last throw of the dice.

He has blindly and repeatedly promised jobs, jobs, jobs with no plan as to how to create them, other than slashing taxes for business and for the well off, and vaguely “getting government off people’s backs”. Which is all well and good, except the evidence is that cutting taxes very often does not create jobs, because the “trickle down” effect of lower taxes for the rich is illusory, and there is no evidence that cutting corporate tax results in higher levels of investment in business, either.

And “getting government off people’s backs” is simply code for slashing the social credit: cutting money for hospitals, education, welfare, veterans, transport and more. Which are precisely the things that the disenfranchised people that vote for him need to survive. So in four Trump/Republican supporting areas in America last night electors voted to increase the basic wage – because they can’t live on what they’re getting now – an act which will now be opposed by the very people they voted for.

Sometimes, looking around can be instructive. This interesting little article about how constantly pumping up the electorate’s expectations has essentially wrecked the Icelandic economy and destroyed the trust of the voters is well worth reading.

Is there an alternative? Yes there is. We need politicians (and opinion leaders) who can explain the realities of the world in simple enough terms for people to understand. It is not a coincidence that Trump’s largest area of support drew from the under-educated. The same was true of Brexit. If the Legia Nord persuade Italy to leave the EU, or the National Front take power in France, the same will be true again.

That’s not a value judgement, it’s an indisputible fact that needs to be understood. If you haven’t finished high school, let alone done further education, you simply aren’t going to have the head skills to understand complex arguments. So what do we do in response? Do we work out how to make those arguments genuinely accessible? Do we re-examine our communications techniques to explain what’s going on to the widest possible number of people, to prevent an expectations bubble blowing up? No, we don’t – because we don’t think we can get elected that way. So we reduce our political messages to the mindlessly boiled down and un-achievably aspirational. We’re going to Make America Great Again. How? Sorry, I need to move on and talk about emails.

Trump has ratcheted the expectations for his incoming Presidency to impossibly high levels. If he crashes and burns, we genuinely fear for the very fabric of society. And we fear that effect appearing all over the world.

churchillOne of the most famous political speeches of all time was made by Winston Churchill when he took over Government in the most parlous situation in May, 1940. With Britain’s very existence at stake, he said:

“I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

The national unity that was engendered, and the national effort it produced, has never been exceeded before that time, or after. Indeed, many consider Britain’s War Cabinet from 1940-45 to be the most effective UK Government of any era.

Blood? Toil? Tears? Sweat? An Ordeal? Struggle? Suffering?

Didn’t hear a lot about that sort of stuff in recent years, did you? And yet now is exactly when the angry, bitter, betrayed working and middle classes desperately need our political leaders and our media to tell them the truth.

They won’t, so we will.

A lot of the next ten or twenty years are going to be shit, quite frankly, and there’s no real sign that we know what to do about it.

Our kids will probably be less well off than we are, at least some of them will, and some of us will be, too. Our kids are going to have a whole heap of challenges we can only guess at now.

Our world is changing faster than we can manage, the stars are realigning, and the very first thing we need to do is face up to it, because unless we do, there is not just a vanishingly small chance we’ll work it out, there is no chance whatsoever.

We need a massive effort, akin to being in a war against a tyrant. And we are going to make mistakes, there are going to be mis-steps, and if we try to slay our opponents or burn the house down every time there is, we’re never going to get anywhere.

The days of plentiful cheap resources and endlessly expanding markets are gone. Forever. And we can’t rely on population growth to take up the slack, because it creates as many problems as it solves.

How we handle the coming change, with its inherent difficulties, will be the measure of our shared humanity. Let’s start by facing up to the challenge, and taking the people with us.

 

 

pinProvided even a reasonable percentage of her supporters turn out, as opposed to spending the day in a bar drowning their sorrows at what has become of America, then Hillary Clinton has already won the Presidential election.

Barring an opinion earthquake, of course. Of which, yes, there is always a tiny possibility – especially in this most unusual year – but we surely now know everything there is to know about Mrs Clinton after her much-touted thirty years in public life. The chances of anything truly dramatic coming out now is vanishingly low, especially after the Wikileaks big expose, which kept some right-wing Americans up all night with excitement waiting for the goss, turned out to be a complete fizzer.

How can we be so sure? Simple. The size of the mountain Trump has to climb.

This is famed statistician Nate Silver’s latest forecast of the likely result.

Likely election result

This takes into account a wide range of opinion polls, some traditionally favouring one side, some the other, but only some of which factor in opinions SINCE the Trump “groping” scandal broke. The CNN poll on “who won the debate” isn’t factored in, but that strongly favoured Clinton too, even though it generally overstates Clinton support slightly, a factor that CNN acknowledge.

In other words, if Trump’s scandalous remarks are not fully factored in yet, and the debate isn’t either, then this is a dire result for Trump. His position, already looking rocky, has declined further. And still has some downside to go.

This is how Trump has been faring recently:

Clinton creeps towards 50% in the popular vote.

Clinton creeps towards 50% in the popular vote.

 

The College starts to favour Clinton markedly.

The College starts to favour Clinton markedly.

 

Chance of winning

The “chance of winning” calculation looks insurmountable for Trump.

 

The “path to a win” problem

Most pointedly, when we look at the Electoral College likely result, Trump’s path to the White House now looks impossible, because the polls are predicting critical wins for the Democrats in Florida (up by more than three points) and Pennsylvania (up by nearly seven points), in North Carolina and Virginia by comfortable margins, and, indeed, in every other battleground state except Nevada and Arizona, and in Nevada Trump’s lead is just 4%, and in Arizona it’s “even stevens”, but then again we also know that the main newspaper in that state is now campaigning for Clinton.

Trump simply doesn’t have a route to win, on these figures. As things stand, Clinton will win 310-340 electoral college votes: more than enough for a very comfortable victory. Trump may well pile up votes in very conservative locations, but that doesn’t help him, no matter how much “singing to the choir” he does.

But the real killer for Trump is that things are going to get worse from here, not better. Blind Freddie can see that there will be some fallout from the recent furore that will be reflected in polls that will get reported by about Wednesday or Thursday, American time. How big a hit Trump will take is as yet unknown, but a hit there will be.

And as Silver argues:

Trump couldn’t really afford any negative shock to his numbers, given that he entered Friday in a bad position to begin with. Let’s say that the tape only hurts him by one percentage point, for instance, bringing him to a 6-point deficit from a 5-point deficit a week ago. Even that would be a pretty big deal. Before, Trump had to make up five points in five weeks — or one point per week. Now, he has to make up six points in four weeks instead (1.5 points per week).

In other words, Trump’s mountain is growing, not getting smaller. A gain of 1.5 points a week will require a massive sea change in opinion and there is no evidence whatsoever that is happening.

In addition, we see three more anti-Trump factors that will be starting to bite against him, given that is always a delay between things coming up and them affecting the opinion polls.

Trump’s “non payment of Federal tax for 20 years”

The expose over Trump’s tax situation is, we believe, much more telling than some people have realised. It’s simply too smug for Trump to dismiss it as “smart business” to use write offs to reduce tax seemingly forever. The idea that a billionaire doesn’t need to pay ANY tax, year after year, is a lousy atmospheric for the Republicans, especially for a party often condemned as being only interested in the big end of town. Trump’s natural support base is angry. Angry in an inchoate, unspecific way.

And they all pay their taxes, on much lower incomes. Sure, a few will say “good on him”, and a few will argue “he did nothing illegal”, but that is emphatically not the point. Most will say, “Well, f***.”

Trump’s stunt on Sunday with “the Bill Clinton women”.

No one would argue that Bill Clinton is anything other than a womaniser: it’s a near-fatal character flaw when his record is judged. But there’s a reason that Republican strategists have historically NOT gone after him as a means to get at Hillary. It’s because every time it’s brought up, it produces more sympathy for Hillary than everything else, especially amongst women voters. In desperation, Trump broke that rule. It won’t help him, and could hurt him.

Also, every time Trump brings up Clinton it reminds people of his own transgressions. His first wife accused him of rape – an allegation withdrawn after a confidential settlement. A “live” rape case with a thirteen year old plaintiff is in the courts now. Trump denies both, but, you know, so did Clinton …

The Republican backlash.

Sure, the Republican Party is split right down the middle. Sure, Tea Party types will accuse all those Republicans now abandoning Trump as being the best possible reason to back him and his intra-party revolution. But not all Republican voters are Teapublicans, and they and “independent” voters leaning towards Trump will be dismayed at his own colleagues’ thumping rejection of him. Some of those voters will plump instead for the Libertarian, Johnson, some will simply stay home rather than vote for the hated Clinton. Neither of those possibilities help Trump. By contrast, the centre and left have coalesced effectively around Clinton, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein is fading.

Now opinion polls have been wrong in the past. (Most notably with “Brexit”, which we and everyone else called wrong.) But not this wrong.

Which is why we say, as we have all along, it’s all over. Somewhere, a fat lady is singing her lungs out.

Probably one that Trump insulted.

boris rope

 

Early results in the UK “Brexit” vote are showing unquestionably that the referendum is much, much closer than we thought yesterday.

At this point in time, it is looking increasingly possible that the UK has, in fact, voted to Leave.

Whatever has happened in reality, we can now clearly state that this will NOT be a big or biggish win for Remain as we predicted, with what definitely appears was foolish over-confidence. It might well become a win for Leave as the night goes on, or if Remain do stumble over the line it will be only just, and probably with the help of a large Remain vote in Scotland, London, and parts of the South East.

Some early assumptions can be made with confidence:

The “working class” in England and South Wales has voted significantly more heavily for Leave than was expected.

The BBC’s chief political correspondent Christopher Hope has put the referendum result into a historical context. His opinion is its set to the biggest uprising against the people who run the UK since the Peasants Revolt in 1381.

This may be for two reasons.

Firstly, the working class may well be (indeed, almost certainly are) using the referendum to express generalised dis-satisfaction with the sitting Conservative government, and David Cameron and George Osborne in particular, and even with the general conduct of democracy in the modern era, full stop.

In particular, working class resentment over population movement and immigration has been ignored for too long. We do not believe that the bulk of Britain’s working class are racists, although there are some, without question. But they are increasingly anxious about the pace of change, and concerned about their terms and conditions of employment. Immigration is an easy target on which to blame the effect of austerity measures.

Secondly, the Labour Party in the UK, which delivered very mealy-mouthed leadership on the issue, has seen its call to Remain steadfastly ignored by its own supporters, delineating again, if further evidence was needed, that the working class is much less “ironed on” to Labour than it used to be.

The Scottish turnout seems to be lower than might have been expected, and that is probably a result of what people will call “referendum fatigue”. Nevertheless, the Scottish National Party’s strong “Remain” position seems to have substantially carried the day north of the border.

Wales – the area of the UK that probably benefits most from EU largesse – has nevertheless voted in large numbers for Leave. This again looks like a failure of the Labour Party to turn out its vote or a result of strong dis-satisfaction in industrial areas like the South Wellian valleys, Swansea and elsewhere, although the capital Cardiff seems to have voted for Remain.

Even in areas like Southampton and Portsmouth in the South, Leave votes are piling up in working class areas in those major urbanised areas. And as this is about the total votes cast one way or the other, that is bad news for Remain.

Even areas of the South that cannot possibly be considered “urban”, such as West Dorset and the Isle of Wight, have voted for Leave.

Big Remain votes in inner London could just turn it round for the IN campaign, but that may be the wishful thinking on behalf of the Remain camp. Interestingly there is a marked difference between the inner core of London and the East End and Essex. The more culturally polyglot centre of London might back Remain, but the old-style working class areas on the fringes are voting to back Leave.

Turnout in London is high (as it is in the rest of the country) and that has to be good for democracy – at least whoever wins will legitimately be able to claim a mandate.

The natural reversion to the status quo which we predicted appears – very rarely – to have been largely ignored. This may be one of those very, very unusual occasions when the people overturn the tables in the Temple and send the moneylenders packing.

What this is, unquestionably, is a victory for those who ran a highly effective scare campaign about the EU. Likely results of a Leave win will be very significant economic disruption, including a run on Sterling, and depression of stock markets worldwide. Indeed, Sterling and the Market futures are currently down about 5%, to levels not seen since 2009. The Bank of England may well have to intervene in the morning to create stability. Whether losses will be fixed up as the dust settles it is too early to say. There is little doubt that part of the story in the next 24-48 hours will be huge market volatility.

Whatever the result as the night in the UK wears on, one thing becomes very clear. Britain is split right down the middle, and the disputation of the last few weeks (in particular) needs to be addressed.

Likely winners out of this situation? Definitely Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, one of whom will very likely replace David Cameron sooner rather than later if Leave prevail, or even do very well. In either case, their stock will be boosted. For Prime Minister Cameron, calling this referendum may well come to be be seen as “the longest suicide in history”, to steal a term from earlier days.

A renewed call for the Labour Party to replace its current leadership team is very possible. Corbyn has completely failed to enunciate a Labour argument for “In”, and it could see the beginning of the end for his improbable tilt at history.

If Leave succeeds, Nigel Farage, even more improbably, will go down as one of the most historically significant British politicians of the post World War 2 period.

And the European Union will never be the same whatever happens.

What is not generally understood by many people is that if Leave HAS won, this would just be the beginning of a long, tortuous process to untangle a fiscal, trade and regulatory mess. It will be years before a “Brexit” can actually be achieved, (at least two years), and what that would look like has not be explained in any detail by its proponents. Sadly, this is one that will run and run.

We’ll be back if we have anything else intelligent to say, beyond “We read that utterly wrong in predicting a big Remain win”.

Which is the wonder of democracy. No one can ever take the electorate for granted.

And that’s a really good thing, whatever side you’re on.

eu puzzle

We have a habit, Dear Reader, of predicting elections (and referendums are a bit like elections, aren’t they?) BEFORE the result is known. We do this for a number of reasons. When we get it right (which is almost always – although some would argue we didn’t pick a majority for the Tories at the last British General Election, whereas we would argue we did flag it as at least a possibility) we like to stick it up those less perceptive types who think we know nothing – childish, we agree, but very satisfying – and also it’s just plain fun to try and get it right. Everyone’s gotta have a hobby, right?

We have said, all along, ever since the referendum was announced, that Leave will not win. Our reasoning was and is very simple, and quite different to all the other reasons advanced by pundits.

It is simply this.

The “Steady As You Go” argument

 

Electorates are inherently conservative. They tend to vote for the status quo, and especially when they are uncertain of the advantage of changing things. That is why, for example, that the received (and correct) wisdom is that Governments lose elections, Oppositions don’t win them. (And that’s why the Coalition will be returned to power in Australia, incidentally, as they have not done enough cocking up, in enough people’s opinion, to actually lose the whole game.)

In the EU referendum, in our view, the Leave campaign have done an excellent job of ramping up xenophobia and leveraging generalised disgruntlement in the electorate. They have worked on crystallising the anti-politics fever that seems to be gripping most Western democracies, as people rail against the admitted inadequacies of representative democracy. We see it everywhere – the visceral hatred from some for President Obama, the embrace by Trunp by those in America who feel themselves disenfranchised by “Washington”, the rise of the far right in Denmark, Austria, France and Russia, the apparently unresolvable divide in Thailand, the growth of micro parties and third parties in Australia, (reportedly about to push towards nearly 30% of the vote at the July 2nd poll), and so it goes on.

Brexit has leveraged this angst effectively through a ruthless application of rabble-rousing.

In our view the support for Brexit – which has risen by between 5-10% over the last 12 months – is at least as representative of a general mistrust of the establishment as it is a reflection of genuine anti-EU sentiment. In this context, the EU is just the establishment writ large, and the Leave campaign knows this, and has presented it as such with commendable, if amoral, consistency.

By choosing the wayward buffoon Boris Johnson, the plainly odd Michael Gove, and the determinedly esoteric and individualistic Nigel Farage as their lead acts, Leave have presented themselves as the natural anti-establishment choice.

But despite Leave’s efforts, at least 14% of the British electorate still report themselves to the pollsters as “Don’t knows”. Abut 5 million people entitled to vote in the referendum apparently haven’t got a clue what they think, despite literally years of coverage of the matter.

One has to have sympathy with them. Both sides in the debate have fudged statistics and relied on barbed soundbites rather than any serious appeal to the intellect to sway the electorate. There has been a deal of outright lying going on.

In fact, this referendum has been an appalling example of the comprehensive trivialisation and failure of British political leadership, and almost no major player comes out of it with any kudos.

But assuming these 14% are not simply too embarrassed to embrace either of the sides, it is highly likely that the majority of them, if they vote at all, will lump (without any great enthusiasm) for Remain. “Don’t knows” nearly always overwhelmingly back the status quo. (For the same reason, the bulk of Independents in the USA will break for Clinton, not Trump. “The devil you know” is a powerful motivation.)

Yes, there is a chance they are enthusiastically pro-Remain but don’t wish it to be known because they are frankly confronted by the aggression of the Brexit camp and yes there is a chance that they are enthusiastically pro-Leave but don’t want it known as they fear being painted as irresponsible. If either of those things turn out to be true then the winning margin will be much higher for one side or the other than is currently predicted.

The current Daily Telegraph poll of polls has Remain leading Brexit by 51-49, having had Brexit ahead for at least some of last week. If those “undecideds” break very strongly one way or the other that calculation could be way wrong.

When the dishes are all washed at the end of the night, we think they will break disproportionately in favour of the status quo, and also that a good proportion of them won’t vote at all.

For that reason, we feel more comfortable with a prediction of about 55%-45% in favour of Remain, and if that turns out to be the result then everyone in the Chardonnay-sipping commentariat will throw their hands in the air and say “Well, what was all that fuss about? It was never really close, no one got that right!” Except we did. Today.

The ‘Polling Discrepancy’ argument

Our second reason for making our prediction is that telephone polls overwhelmingly favour Remain by a bigger margin than the overall polling is showing, because online polling has the two sides much closer.

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.24.00 pm

As the chart above highlights, polls where people answer questions on the phone suggest higher EU support than polls conducted on the internet. Since the start of September last year, phone polls suggest a nine per cent lead for Remain, while online polls have it at just one per cent. Why would this be? Well, that depends really on whether one is a conductor of phone polls versus online polls. A lively debate has been going on between the polling organisations.

In our view, it is because people respond differently in different social situations.

They may feel more encouraged to speak their mind to a real person, for example, or exactly the opposite, they may feel less free to state their views.

They may be more inclined to tell the truth when clicking on a survey question on a screen, or they may be more prepared to give a tick to something they actually don’t intend doing when they get into the polling booth proper. There will be a difference between phone polls where you actually speak to someone and where you use your keypad to respond to recorded questions.

Bluntly: polling is an inexact science.

What polling does do very well is track trends accurately. On that basis, there has undoubtedly been a move towards Leave in the last two-to-three weeks, but it may well be that Leave support peaked a week early, as it now seems to be weakening again. It is as if voters walked to the brink of the abyss, had a look, and stepped back. If this turns out to be the case it will be promoted as a triumph of campaigning by the Remain camp, but that would be a mistake. It’s simply the innate fear of change kicking in again. It’s one thing to tell a pollster you are voting Leave when it doesn’t matter because Leave has no hope of winning. Quite another to tell them that when it appears you may carry the day.

Two other factors, we believe, has bolstered the Remain cause.

The ‘Nigel Farage Gaffe’ argument

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.35.23 pm

The first was the badly judged UKIP poster promoted by Nigel Farage that showed a huge queue of universally black and brown immigrants waiting to enter the UK. (They were actually photographed trying to enter Slovenia, but that’s splitting hairs.)

Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationals and Green MPs immediately united to condemn the poster, accusing Mr Farage of ‘exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way’. Popular Scots Nats leader Nicola Sturgeon called it “disgusting”. Others lined up to condemn it as “reprehensible”, “vile”, and “quite revolting”. Even Farage ally Michael Gove said the poster made him “shudder” and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne also aid the poster was “disgusting” and compared it to Nazi propaganda. Social media lit up with actual examples of the poster set against eerily similar Nazi propaganda from the 1930s to make the point.

The poster will play well with the neo-racists, anti-immigrationists, Little Englanders and out and out racists that make up the majority of UKIP’s dwindling band of supporters. But that’s simply Farage shoring up support for his views amongst people who were never going to vote for Remain anyway. We strongly suspect that the majority of Brits, who are, at their core, a fair minded people, will recognise the poster for what it is – an intimation of what Britain would be like under a hard-right Government that could well follow a successful Brexit vote. We think a small but significant number of people will have moved back from Leave to Remain as a result.

The ‘This Has Got Out Of Hand’ argument

Our last reason for suspecting Remain will win with relative comfort is the near-universal shock we have observed over the death of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was callously shot down while going about her daily business, allegedly simply because she held pro-refugee and pro-EU views. This awful event has shaken the British people rigid. Attempts to wave off any connection between the shooter and far-right groups, let alone the Brexit camp, and to characterise him as merely “mentally disturbed”, have, it seems to us at least, failed. Just as the Farage poster offended the British sense of fair play, at least for some people, so the assassination of Jo Cox has driven home to many how divisive and ugly the whole EU debate has become. Families have descended into recriminations, lifetime friends have fallen out with each other, and there have been multiple examples of violent fractiousness from all over the country.

The British people have now had more than enough of this unpleasant debate, which was foisted on them by a bitterly divided Conservative Party and a weak and vacillating Prime minister, and they heartily wish to be rid of it.

Staring down the barrel at what could be years of a messy dis-integration from Europe starts to look like a very poor option to a majority.

In 24 hours, Europe will be calmer again. With Britain inside it, and by then, presumably, permanently.

You heard it here first.

This is YOUR pension that is vanishing.

Dear British person: this is YOUR pension that is vanishing.

 

Brexit is bad for you.

Today, the markets took a downward turn. It wasn’t in reaction to a terrorist attack or the threat of a war, but due to the Leave campaign taking the lead in the polls.

This isn’t a conspiracy, this isn’t a part of Project Fear, these are real investors taking their very real money elsewhere because they’re worried that next Thursday Britain will make one of the biggest diplomatic mistakes in centuries. If you are British, don’t ignore the facts next Thursday – vote to remain a part of the European Union.

Meanwhile markets all over the world are nosediving at the prospect. Real people, losing real money.

In the last 24 hours or so polling conducted for The Guardian has shown the “Leave” campaign in the British EU referendum to have jumped into a small lead over the Remain campaign.

This has excited much comment, cheering from the Brexit mob, and even a run on the pound. (Just like the good old days – Ed.)

Before the Little Englanders get too excited, though, they would do well to consider the following:

Betting market

By far the most accurate “poll” on upcoming elections has been shown – again and again – to be the betting markets. This is because they are made up of people who are not answering questions  on the phone or online, but people actually wagering real money – their own money – on their considered analysis of the likely result, assuming the risk for their opinions.

This is not to say that the betting market is always 100% accurate – that would be an over-statement – but it very accurately measures trends. So what is really interesting is always the MOVEMENT in the odds, just as the TRENDS in opinion polls are what are extremely accurate, not any individual poll.

The political betting market in the UK is very large, which also increases its accuracy.

These odds show a small movement towards “Leave”, but nothing like enough to see them winning the vote in three weeks’ time. The general consensus is still in the region of 4-1 (at least) ON a Remain victory, and as wide as 3-1 AGAINST (or higher) on a Leave win.

This small shift towards Leave is also picked up by the FT poll of polls, which shows Remain winning despite the ICM poll. It should also be noted that a cursory glance at the poll of polls show that ICM have consistently rated Leave higher than other polls, suggesting there is something in their methodology that is fractionally favouring the Leave side. Of course if they are proven right they will be cock-a-hoop, and good on them if it proves to be the case, but that rarely happens in such examples.

What really WOULD put the cat among the pigeons would be if the slight drift to Leave was picked up by other polls, or became a growing trend. That is not yet the case.

One thing that is clear is that the Leave campaign is polling far better than Prime Minister David Cameron would be happy with, and it may well be that a sizeable “out” vote will undermine his already eroding position within the Conservative Party.

He was urged by many (including then Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg) not to play around with a referendum to de-fang his Eurosceptic right but loftily chose to ignore that advice. As things stand, it may be that any victory in the election will be close enough that he, personally, is stripped of personal authority and mortally wounded. It may turn out to be a gross miscalculation.

When true leadership was required, he squibbed it. And the penalty for that is always, inexorably, inevitably, political death.

eu puzzle

“What did the EU ever do for the UK?”

You hear it asked by well-meaning people all the time. And to be fair, the EU has had its share of bad publicity. We all know it’s bureaucratically top-heavy. We all know it’s clunky and sometimes passes really silly laws. But that said, how has Britain fared from it’s membership of this unique social, economic and political experiment?

We have consistently been supporters of the EU, but not for reasons to do with economic matters.

But with the referendum looming we thought it a good time to re-post this great letter by Simon Sweeney in the Guardian newspaper. Frankly, if you still think “Brexit” is a good idea after reading this, then you’re simply not interested in facts.

“What did the EU ever do for us?

Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade;

Providing structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;

Regulating for clean beaches and rivers;

And cleaner air;

Insisting on lead free petrol;

Making restrictions on landfill dumping;

Instilling a recycling culture;

And arranging:

cheaper mobile charges;

cheaper air travel;

improved consumer protection and food labelling;

a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;

better product safety;

single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;

the break up of monopolies;

Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;

In the EU we have:

no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;

price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;

the freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;

funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;

access to European health services;

labour protection and enhanced social welfare;

smoke-free workplaces;

equal pay legislation;

holiday entitlement;

the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime pay;

the strongest wildlife protection in the world;

improved animal welfare in food production;

EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;

EU representation in international forums;

bloc EEA negotiation at the World Trade Organisation;

We have become used to:

EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;

European-wide arrest warrants for criminals;

cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling;

better counter terrorism intelligence;

European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;

support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;

and investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.

All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.

It furthermore has assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.

Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neo-liberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses although it is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value. We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multi-polar global future.

Simon Sweeney,
Lecturer in International Political Economy,
University of York

Despite this, the anti-EU campaign will have the full force of Murdoch’s and the other 4 extremist right-wing media billionaires papers whose straightforward agenda always has been, and still is, to weaken or remove all our human rights and reduce working people to contemporary serfdom.

Over 80% of UK papers are owned by just five extremist right-wing media billionaires: Rupert Murdoch, (Sun/Times), Barclay Brothers (Telegraph), Richard Desmond (Express) and Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail).

Murdoch is Australian/American living in New York, Rothermere lives in France, the Barclay Brothers live in the tax havens of Monaco and Guernsey.

So key question – is in light of the above list of the EU’s successes – why have these billionaires and their loopy political fellow travellers for decades tried to destroy the EU’s democratic institutions? Hmmm?

Don’t be conned. Get the facts, and share them.

As Britons contemplate the possibility of leaving the EU in June – the so-called Brexit referendum – they might do well to consider this infographic carefully.

 

swarm

 

“Swarms” of British refugees (mainly fleeing rain, we are advised) have made their way to Europe courtesy of the EU’s open borders policies. There they have a legal right to work, rest and play.

We say chuck them all back to the UK and build a wall at Calais.