Archive for the 'EU Referendum' Category

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At this critical time reflections on “Cultivating Democracy”

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

Occasionally I have planted a gorgeous looking plant; it has flowered briefly then died.  On digging it up I find the dreaded wine weevil or roots which have made no attempt to spread into the soil and find nutrition.  It is a reminder that nourishing the hidden roots is by far a gardener’s most important task.  A plant not strong and well anchored will be blown away by the winds, destroyed by frost or succumb to malicious bugs and parasites.

As with plants, so with democracy.  The assumption these days is that its most important aspect is the ability to vote.  Elections are the visible, exuberant expression of a democracy, its flowers if you will.  These days scarcely a day goes by without some politician referring to the 2016 referendum as the biggest democratic exercise in Britain’s history, as if this were an unprecedented event, of such preciousness that nothing else should come close.  Of course voting is essential or, rather, obtaining people’s consent to their government is.  But elections, on their own, are not sufficient to make a democracy.  Iran has elections.  But even its most fervent admirer would be hard pressed to call it that.  For democracy to flourish, something more is needed: what might be termed a democratic cast of mind and approach and culture informing how the various institutions in a state and everyone from voters to political parties and politicians behave.

What does this mean?

  • An understanding that state and government are not the same.  State institutions are there to serve but are independent and impartial and not party political.  The civil service, for instance, enacts government policy but also exists to warn, improve and advise.  Blind obedience is not necessary for good policy-making and implementation; indeed, it may hinder it.
  • Winning does not mean winner takes all.  The state is not there to be plundered, stuffed with your placemen and used for your own ends.
  • Understanding that the ends do not justify the means.  How one exercises power is, in a democracy, as important as what one is trying to achieve.  A party which comes to power is – for a time – custodian of the powers and institutions of the state and has a duty to pass these on in a workable state for the next government.  The rules of the game, the constitution, the conventions, the protocols, the implicit understandings of the limits of power may be of little interest to most voters, may indeed be seen as old-fashioned, out-dated, incomprehensible folderols but they exist in all democracies and are there to ensure that power is obtained and exercised fairly and in a way which does not place such excessive strains on the system that it breaks (or comes close to doing so).
  • Realising that your time in power will be not be for ever.  One day you will be in opposition and will need the tools which can be so irritating to governments facing challenge.  If you accrete more and more power to yourself, your opponents can use it against you when are in opposition.  It is, therefore, wise to ask yourself whether you would be happy to have the worst possible opponent in government with the same powers (that you, of course, are only ever going to use wisely) at their disposal.  Perhaps those in power could remind themselves of Lord Acton’s aperçu about power and corruption.
  • Accepting the concept and reality of opposition, that the very fact of opposition or a different point of view is legitimate and that this forces you to raise your game, to justify what you are doing, to think again, to take account of different viewpoints, to modify, to realise that you may not have all the answers, to understand that the tension inherent in having to reach agreement with those who disagree can often lead to a better, more long-lasting outcome.
  • Independent institutions who have their own role to play in ensuring good governance, proper scrutiny and a properly democratic culture: the press, the judiciary, all sorts of bodies from Burke’s little platoons to bodies set up by government to scrutinise and challenge and review.
  • Leaders who understand that they are and should be open to challenge and scrutiny and MPs and others who are unafraid to challenge and scrutinise.
  • A realisation that while it is parties which win elections, once in government your primary duty is to the country.  The interests of the party are separate from the interests of the country, however much parties like to pretend otherwise.  Of course, governments make choices about who their policies will benefit and about what is electorally popular.  But only a government in the grip of hubris should claim that it represents the British people as a whole or that the winning side in a vote is somehow the Will of the People as if anyone who opposes or disagrees is somehow unBritish and to be ignored.  A difference of opinion does not make one a traitor or even misguided.  There is more than one way of analysing a problem, thinking about an issue, devising a solution.

And as in government, so for political parties.  Parties have always tended to be broad groupings with a range of opinions.  A narrow purist approach to what it means to be Labour or Conservative or Liberal or Liberal Democrat has never really taken hold.  In part, this has been because the electoral system has forced internal coalitions on parties while, at least until recently, making actual coalition governments less likely than in other European countries.  (One of today’s ironies is that just as parties become ever narrower and purist the more likely it is that they will not gain a majority but be forced into coalition with others.)  Whatever the reasons, this has reinforced an understanding that a democratic culture within parties – as well as within the country – encompasses negotiation, compromise, accommodation.   Compromise and barter are the essence of democratic politics.  They are at the heart of how differing interests and viewpoints are managed, of how trust and tolerance and respect for others are lived rather than merely asserted in speeches.

As Burke put it, it is: “a very great mistake to imagine that mankind follows up practically any speculative principle, either of government or of freedom, as far as it will go in actual argument or logical illation.”  Politicians would do well to remember this.

Idealistic: yes.  Naive: almost certainly.  In practice, politicians have not always paid attention to these principles or not as much as they ought.  But better to aim for ideals and fall short than ignore them altogether and undermine them.  And the latter seems to be happening now.  The travails of the Labour Party over anti-semitism and of the Tories over Brexit show us politicians with little implicit understanding of what a democratic culture really means:-

And so miserably on.  Implementing a referendum result should not mean taking a sledgehammer to the very democracy which made it possible.  Wanting a radical set of policies to help the less well off need not mean behaving like a nasty spiteful sect lashing out at anyone outside the charmed circle.  Perhaps the Brexit referendum caused this.  Maybe these tendencies were always there and were exacerbated by it.  It scarcely matters.  What matters now is that politicians try to remember that their biggest duty is to nurture our democracy, to make sure it lasts and flourishes and is handed on to future generations in good order.  For all the talk of Votes and Mandates, their actions are those of destructive parasites.  If not checked, they will end up killing what they claim to love.

CycleFree


 

 



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Frustratingly there’ll be no results or even on the day polls until Sunday at 10pm

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019


Those used to general elections in the UK and the drama of the exit poll coming out they might get a bit deflated to have reached 10 this evening to find the polls have closed and nothing is happening.

We will have to wait until 10 p.m. on Sunday evening for the first results to come out. This is because of the strict rules about EU elections that no information on voting can be revealed until such time as as until voting in all countries is over.

There’s obviously a lot of anecdotal evidence of what’s been happening today and we could get some harder data about turnout trends from the verification process that is taking this evening of all the ballot papers that were cast. This procedure is monitored by party observers and information can come out.

If turnout is not as high as some had been predicting then which parties will be the beneficiaries and which the losers? My current view, an this might be overtaken by events, is that BRX will benefit most from a highish turnout.

Please share any info you have on the thread below.

Mike Smithson




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Farage against the machine. Why the Brexit party’s chances are not as good as billed

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

Nigel Farage’s second coming has been greeted with fanfares in the media, which love someone who courts publicity and is prepared to do whatever it takes to get it. His gaping maw can be viewed wherever you look, and he has so far been given an unimpeded run for his message that Brexit has been betrayed. His credentials as a strategic genius who delivered Brexit are taken as read. His brilliance as a politician is assumed. The imminent collapse of the current political establishment is expected.  

At the time of writing, he was most recently backed on Betfair at 48 (47/1) for next Prime Minister.  This price is shorter than that for Philip Hammond, Geoffrey Cox, Amber Rudd and David Davis. Since he is not even an MP, this shows remarkable enthusiasm for his chances.

There are a few problems with this narrative. Let’s take a look at them.

Nigel Farage is a really poor political campaigner

Put the referendum to one side for now (I will be coming back to this). His track record in seeking election to Westminster is one of almost unmitigated failure, both for himself and for his party. The only successes have been obtaining the re-election at by-elections of two incumbent MPs. One of these lost his seat at the next election.

He himself has failed to be elected to Parliament on no fewer than seven occasions, including coming third in a two horse race in 2010 when campaigning in the Speaker’s constituency.

He has a better record in the EU elections. The Brexit party can be expected to do well there. For long term impact, however, they are going to need to start making inroads into Westminster. Nothing in Nigel Farage’s past suggests that they will.

His role in the referendum is being hugely overstated

Nigel Farage’s biggest contribution to the referendum was leaning on Conservative MPs to help get it called in the first place. During the referendum campaign he roamed around like a rogue elephant, trampling across the main campaign’s efforts.

He may have reached voters that the main campaign did not reach but he also risked alienating other voters who were also needed with such stunts as his Breaking Point poster. He was certainly one of the more visible figures but he was not so much Svengali as sidekick.

Certainly he did not impress Dominic Cummings, guru of Vote Leave. Among his comments:

“We recruited more active volunteers (~12,000) in 10 months than UKIP in 25 years (~7,000 according to Farage).”

“Farage put off millions of (middle class in particular) voters who wanted to leave the EU but who were very clear in market research that a major obstacle to voting Leave was ‘I don’t want to vote for Farage, I’m not like that’. He also put off many prominent business people from supporting us. Over and over they would say ‘I agree with you the EU is a disaster and we should get out but I just cannot be on the same side as a guy who makes comments about people with HIV’.”

Without Boris, Farage would have been a much more prominent face on TV during the crucial final weeks, probably the most prominent face. (We had to use Boris as leverage with the BBC to keep Farage off and even then they nearly screwed us as ITV did.) It is extremely plausible that this would have lost us over 600,000 vital middle class votes.”

Retrospectively making him into some kind of electoral babe-magnet is rewriting history.

The Brexit party, new as it is, has major problems

Considering the Brexit party is so new, it has a remarkably chequered track record already. It has lost its chief executive over blood-curdling anti-Islamic comments and its treasurer over a pot pourri of anti-semitism, xenophobia and homophobia.

If Labour are struggling with accusations of institutional anti-semitism, the Brexit party seem to have much greater structural problems.  What is it about Nigel Farage that attracts such people?

The Brexit party’s party structure is also going to be limiting unless quickly changed. The party leader is chosen by a committee that is appointed by Nigel Farage. The party supporters get no say. Party democracy is evidently something that Nigel Farage has no time for.

While it is no doubt a great comfort to Nigel Farage that he has the same job security as Arthur Scargill, it will prove a major barrier to obtaining new recruits. Disaffected Conservative MPs will be unwilling to jump ship to a party where their status will be subject to the caprices of a man who many others had fallen foul of once their profile got too high.

This may in turn explain why Nigel Farage has yet again overpromised and underdelivered. We were told that the Brexit party was going to unveil a glittering array of candidates. Instead so far we have got the sister of a backbench Conservative MP and the usual ragbag of committed EU-haters who no one else had heard of. I suppose that this was a step up from a much-touted march that ultimately had fewer than 100 participants. It still suggests that the party structures are again likely to prove an Achilles heel for him.

Nigel Farage has a host of questions to answer about himself that he won’t be able to duck forever

Then we come to the man himself. He has never shown himself particularly deft on the defence rather than on the attack. Perhaps he will break that habit. He will need to.

As Dominic Cummings noted, he has an array of past statements that are voter-repellent (Mike Smithson noted his approach to the NHS, which is far outside the mainstream, on Monday). Those will come back to haunt him – does he still believe them? If not, why did he change his mind?

He also visibly struggles over questions about funding. The ongoing questions about Leave.EU’s finances rumble on. The answers won’t sink the referendum result but the waters lap around Nigel Farage’s feet (which is no doubt why Arron Banks is not being asked to contribute to funding the Brexit party).  

It is also worth noting that the rules on disclosing MPs’ interests are more stringent than those for MEPs. Were he ever to make it eighth (or ninth, or tenth) time lucky, journalists would be queuing up to pore over them.

He will no doubt also be watching with some concern developments over the Mueller report. He was named in passing as a possible conduit to Julian Assange for wikileaks. He was indeed seen at the Ecuadorean embassy. No doubt in due course he will be asked by reporters to explain his bit part in this drama.

Most importantly, he is campaigning on the democratic need to implement Brexit and how the MPs are betraying it. But before and during the referendum campaign he made many statements on Brexit that suggest that he was expecting a much softer Brexit then than he is campaigning for now. At some point he is going to need to come up with a convincing explanation of the discrepancies if he is going to make inroads beyond the permanently aggrieved.

Ultimately, the Brexit party may well prove extremely problematic for the Conservatives, perhaps lethal up to and including the next general election. That does not mean that it will itself have much electoral success and unlike in the 2010-15 Parliament, the diehard right is in no position to impose itself on the government, which has still greater pressures from elsewhere.

All it looks set to do is hand the initiative to pro-EU forces. For all that they are being much-derided at present, CUK look more likely to achieve their policy objectives in relation to Brexit both in the short and in the long term.

Alastair Meeks




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Now the Electoral Commission orders an investigation into LeaveEU’s referendum finances

Friday, April 21st, 2017


Independent

The Indy is reporting that the Electoral Commission is to launch an investigation into the finances of Leave.EU.

“The Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into spending at the European Union referendum by the campaign group Leave.EU, it has announced.

The Commission says the investigation will focus on whether the Brexit-supporting campaign took “impermissible” donations and said there were “reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences” may have been committed by the campaign.

A spokesperson for the Commission said: “The Electoral Commission has begun an investigation into Leave.EU’s EU Referendum spending return. This followed an assessment which concluded that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that potential offences under the law may have occurred.”

This could get messy particularly during the election campaign given the closest of the results – 51.9% to 48.1% – and that TMay is making BREXIT her key GE2017 campaign plank.

Mike Smithson


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The polls did NOT get BREXIT wrong: Only 41% had REMAIN leads. 59% didn’t

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Is it too much to expect Britain’s PR people to check simple facts?

One of the enduring myths from June 23rd was that the polls got it wrong. Some did but most in the official campaign period didn’t as shown in the chart.

That esteemed body that allegedly speaks for PR people, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), has announced it is holding an inquiry into polling specifically referencing GE2015 and the June 23rd referendum. Certainly the former was a big polling fail and there has been a major inquiry into what went wrong and many pollsters have made changes. Quite what PR men can add to the serious examination that has taken place is hard to say.

But the suggestion that keeps on getting repeated is that the polls got BREXIT wrong. This is rubbish as I keep on repeating. There were more LEAVE lead polls carried out during the official campaign period than REMAIN ones. The figures were 14 REMAIN leads, 17 LEAVE leads and 3 polls had it tied.

It is certainly true that two or three of the final polls were off the mark but the overall picture was reasonably good.

A big factor was postal voting which started more than three weeks beforehand and represented maybe a fifth of all votes. The greater the time gap between the act of voting and being polled is bound to increase errors.

Mike Smithson




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And now what you really wanted to know about LEAVE and REMAIN voters – how often they change their underpants/knickers

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

survey-report

Remember: Normal polling margins of error apply



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Five months after the vote and BREXIT is as divisive an issue as ever

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Very few referendum voters have changed their minds

As we get closer to the PM’s target invoke Article 50 date of March 31st we are going to get a lot more polling like that above. The fact is that the June 23rd outcome was very close, LEAVE chalked up 1.89% more than the 50% required for victory, and the nation remains split.

The big issue in the next couple of weeks will be the Supreme Court hearing on whether the Royal Prerogative can be used to trigger the process. The big development this week is that the Scottish and Welsh governments have been joined to the action sparking of the speculation that Nicola Sturgeon could have a veto.

On the betting front William Hill are now making it odds-on, 4/6, that TMay won’t be able to trigger Article 50 before her end March deadline.

Mike Smithson




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DPP considering complaint that the LEAVE campaigns misled voters in breach of election law

Monday, November 7th, 2016

It’s hard to know how to assess the seriousness

This afternoon’s report is the first anybody has heard of this and it is difficult to know what will happen if anything.

The complaint has been made by Prof Bob Watt, who is an expert in electoral law at the University of Buckingham. The Guardian report notes:

“Watt and his colleagues who have prepared the case say it centres on “instances where the leave campaigns continued to make assertions of fact that were knowingly misleading”, including the oft-cited claim of the EU costing the UK £350m a week.

That claim, made by Vote Leave, was contrary to evidence from the Office for National Statistics, Watt said. Other instances cited to the DPP include alleged misrepresentations on pro-Brexit leaflets that Nissan and Unilever supported leaving the EU.

Watt also cited Vote Leave’s posters that claimed “Turkey is joining the EU”, as well as the assertion that “the UK has no border controls whilst in the EU” when billions are spent on the UK Border Agency…”

I noted at the time that LEAVE was moving into dangerous territory by continuing with the £350m claim even when the ONS had called on it stop.

What the DPP will make of this we’ll have to see.

Mike Smithson