Saturday, January 19, 2019

Claiming a retrospective mandate

When you find points of agreement among both Brexit supporting and pro-remain columnists it often turns out that they are saying something insightful.

This week both a prominent Brexit supporting writer, Iain Martin, and a prominent Remain one, (Lord) Danny Finkelstein, wrote powerful pieces about how much more hardline views about Brexit have been getting. Finkelstein referred in The Times to the psychological concept of "Group polarisation" when people discuss politics primarily with other people who think as they do and are driven to ever more robust positions.

I think they are on to something, and they are calling out a process which is incredibly unhelpful. One of the thigs which has made the Brexit process so divisive and so hard to resolve is that many people on all sides have been taking increasingly hard-line positions.

Before about 2015 it was comparatively rare to find a senior Conservative who spoke openly of outright support for leaving the EU. Until that referendum was actually called most cabinet-level Conservative figures spoke simply of giving the electorate a choice in the form of a referendum.

Those whose positions have merely stood still have experienced the most extraordinary change in how they are perceived. For example, when Philip Hammond was appointed Foreign Secretary. the appointment of someone who had declined to rule out voting Leave to that position was seen as a major concession to the Eurosceptics. These days they regard the present Chancellor as a high priest of Remain - without much more evidence for that view than there was for the previous one.

People who before June 2016 would have defended a "Norway option" or EEA option as being better than continued membership of the EU now decry any such solution as "Brexit in name only."

The hardening of attitudes exists on both sides of the divide and is one of the reasons that assembling a parliamentary majority for any given course of action is proving so difficult.

It is also noticeable that people on both sides have a tendency to misremember what they were saying a couple of years ago to fit their present position.

The classic example is the very different position taken by many people about how final the referendum result should be compared to what they said before the event when they often thought Remain would win it. The first major petition for another referendum, which attracted 3.7 million signatures from Remain supporters, was created by a Leave voter shortly before the referendum in the belief that his side would lose. He was horrified when it was "hi-jacked" by Remain supporters after leave won.

(In the words of the late Windsor Davies who sadly died this week. 

"Oh dear, what a shame, never mind.")  

Some other leave supporters such as Nigel Farage who indicated before the referendum that they would not accept a narrow defeat - Farage said in a Mirror interview in May 2016 that a 52:48 win for Remain would be "unfinished business" - now expect Remain supporters to respect a result which they would not have been prepared to abide by had it gone by a similar margin in the other direction, while many of those who are now most prominent among those calling for a fresh referendum had said before the June 2016 vote that everyone should honour the result of that one. (This was, one presumes, when they thought they were going to win.)

The fact that people are taking a much harder line now, and think that they have always taken such a hard line, becomes particularly difficult when people start claiming now that the 2016 vote was a mandate for positions which simply were not being articulated at the time.

Anyone who looks back at the posts I made on this blog in 2016 will find that on a number of occasions I complained bitterly at the time that the official Leave campaign had never sought to set out exactly what a "leave" vote would mean.

A representative example is the post I put up here on 26th May 2016 called

"Why the Leave campaign should have backed Flexcit,"

but there were plenty of others.

The real problem which is making it harder to get a sensible decision about what form Brexit should take is that in the absence of any clear strategy having been set out by the official leave campaigns at the time of the referendum - unlike certain groups such as the Leave Alliance who put forward "Flexcit" - people are now trying to claim a retrospective mandate for things they believe now but certainly were not saying three years ago at the time of the referendum.

Does anyone remember a "Vote.Leave" leaflet saying that leaving the EU with no trade deal in place will do wonders for the economy?

No, because Leave was saying that getting a trade deal after Brexit will be easy because the German motor industry is desperate to sell cars to us so they will make sure the EU offers us a good deal.

As Danny Finkelstein puts it

""People who were once quite pragmatic about the sort of relationship we should have with the European Union after leaving have become more doctrinaire. Only the hardest Brexit is now real Brexit."

"These are people who once talked about how the EU was fine 'when it was a common market' or who said we might become members of the European Free Trade Association or be like Norway. People who argued that we would arrange tariff free trade with the EU. People who argued to remain in the customs union after Brexit."

"They haven't even noticed that they have shifted their position."

"They have spent so long knocking around with each other, egging each other on, setting each other purity tests, that they have drifted, drifted, drifted until we are in the ridiculous position where the Prime Minister negotiates to leave the EU and they turn it down."

"Forgetting, as they do, that they are being asked to compromise with positions that they publicly advocated not that long ago."

I think Danny has a point.

There is no easy route out of the position Britain is in now, and no way to avoid an outcome which millions of people will be horrified by.

In my humble opinion the only way to get a practical way forward which is in Britain's interests is going to be for those MPs who believe, as I do, that Britain must honour the referendum result by ceasing to be an EU member state, and who I believe to be in the majority, to reach a sensible compromise about how to deliver Brexit which can be passed by the House of Commons.

Satuday music spot: "Only You" (Voces8 version)

Windsor Davies

Windsor Davies, a brilliant actor who appeared in many TV shows and films, died on Thursday at the age of 88. He is best remembered for his role as Battery Sergeant Major Williams from the comedy show "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum." I imagine that few people who watched the show will ever forget the way he could dismiss a complaint or concern with the words, delivered in an ironic tone,

"Oh dear; what a shame; never mind."

Davies was born in London to Welsh parents who returned to Wales at the start of WW2. He worked as a coal miner and as a schoolteacher before becoming an actor.

Apart from "It Ain't Half Hot Mum" his other TV and film parts included the comedy series "Never the Twain," two "Carry on" films, Doctor Who (in the episode "Evil of the Daleks,") Gormenghast, and he was the voice of Sergeant Major Zero in "Terrahawks."

He survived Eluned, his wife of 52 years, by four months. They had five children.

Rest in Peace.

Quote of the day 19th January 2019

"Not every cage is a prison:
not every loss is eternal."

(Line from the first episode of season two of "Star Trek Discovery" which was released on Netflix yesterday.)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Massive response to A595 consultation

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison organised a very constructive meeting today with Highways England and local county council officers and councillors about the A595.

Issues covered included the proposal for a Whitehaven Relief Road and the fact that repairs to what is currently the A595 will be necessary to deal with subsidence under the Moresby Viaduct.

Responses are still being analysed but one piece of information released today to the public domain is that there was a massive response to the consultation in late 2018 on the A595 in the Whitehaven area.

There were 850 responses which represents a very high response to a consultation of this kind.

Well done to everyone who took part.

UK inflation falls to 2.1% on latest CPI figures.

Figures released this week by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the  UK inflation rate fell to 2.1% in December, from 2.3% the previous month.
Inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) was the lowest in nearly two years, The main downward driver on inflation was a fall in the price of petrol.
The figure is close to the Bank of England's target of 2% and probably makes any increase in interest rates in the near future less likely.

Inflation chart

Average UK pay growth is now higher than inflation, suggesting a modest rise in real incomes, with the most recent available figures showing that wages excluding bonuses were up by 3.3% for the three months to October 2018.

Quote of the day 18th January 2019

Thursday, January 17, 2019

On calls to rule out "no deal"

There have been suggestions from a number of quarters that the Prime Minister should rule out what the people making the call refer to as a "No deal" Brexit and those who like the idea call a "WTO Brexit."

At the risk of annoying anyone from either of those groups who reads this, I don't think either is being reasonable.

You could have made a case for a properly managed exit from the EU in which Britain trades with the remaining EU countries on World Trade Organisation terms without a formal trade deal.

What you cannot do is leave without any agreement with France, Belgium on how we are going to manage trade across the Channel and not expect any disruption in Kent, at Eurostar and the channel ports.

Similarly, if Britain leaves the EU without a trade deal in place I don't believe that either side is going to erect a "hard border," e.g. put up checkpoints or any other form of high friction infrastructure along the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

What you cannot do, however, is 
  1. Leave the EU without any agreement on how we are going to manage the border in Ireland, 
  2. not put up any infrastructure at the border, and 
  3. still claim that Britain has "taken back control of our borders."
You might be able to make any two of those work but trying to have all three is logically impossible.

What Article 50 will do on 29th March if it is not revoked or withdrawn and no other course of action is agreed isn't a properly managed WTO Brexit, it is crashing out without a deal.

Like those people who have been calling on the PM to rule out such a course of action I don't regard this as my preferred option. But it isn't up to me and it isn't up to her either.

Under Article 50, that's what happens unless a majority of the House of Commons, and the EU, agree something else by 29th March.

Mrs May did put forward something which would have prevented a "No Deal" Brexit this week, and the vast majority of the MPs who have been demanding that she rule out a "No Deal" Brexit were among those who voted her proposals down.

Those who want to avoid a "No Deal" Brexit need to work together to find a proposal which can both be agreed by the House of Commons and by the EU.

And for the avoidance of doubt, I believe that the referendum result should be respected and we need to find a form of Brexit which can pass the House of Commons.

Stephen Pollard on Jeremy Corbyn's plans

Stephen Pollard is editor of the Jewish Chronicle and a former long-standing Labour party member and one time branch chairman.

He has an interesting take on what the Leader of the Opposition is playing at here.

Quote of the day 17th January 2019

"This is the problem. The entire day’s been filled with Corbynites and - to be fair - Labour moderates, demanding May opens talks. She does. At which point the evening’s filled with the same people scrabbling around for reasons why refusing to meet May is the right approach."

(Dan Hodges, former Labour and Tradue union official who is now a journalist)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Michael Gove's speech winding up the Confidence vote..

A midweek music spot dedicated to Theresa May

Government wins confidence vote by 325 to 306.

The government survived the "No confidence" vote in the House of Commons by 325 votes to 306.

Mrs May will be making a statement from Downing Street at around 2200 GMT.

The PM won the vote by a margin of 19, including 10 votes from the DUP.

Yes, it is a big of a turnaround from the government losing a vote by the largest majority in history and then being confirmed in office 24 hours later. Some people on social media are asking on social media how on earth more than a hundred MPs could vote so differently on consecutive days.

Actually this is not a difficult question to answer at all.

Try for a moment to imagine yourself in the place of a Conservative or DUP member of parliament who does not like the proposed Withdrawal Agreement but who also does not like
  • the IRA "armed struggle" (in which more than one or two of the people murdered were Conservative and DUP members of parliament,) 
  • Anti-Semitism 
  • Economic policies analogous to those of the present government of Venezuela 
  • Attempts to dismantle Britain's defences
If you really can't see why such a person might think it in Britain's interests to vote the way the Commons did yesterday and today then you didn't try very hard to put yourself in their place.

Quote of the day 16th January 2019

"What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground, you are legislators. We are playing with people’s lives."

(Geoffrey Cox MP, solicitor general, to fellow MPs during the Withdrawal Agreement debate.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

From the Copeland Local Committee

Long day today

Spent the morning at Copeland Local committee which I had booked as leave, then the rest of the day at the office, through to well into the evening.

Came home to the news of the vote.

Will probably post a longer report on the committee later but there was one particularly important point I should probably flag.

One of the major items on the agenda was the Fire Service Integrated Risk Management Plan.

One of the proposals in this plan is to introduce "Rapid response vehicles" (RRVs) to replace some of the Cumbria Fire service current fleet of vehicles. 

"Rapid response Vehicles" are about a third the size of a standard pump, can generally get to an incident more quickly but do not carry as many people or nearly as much equipment.

The committee was not opposed to the principle of having a greater range of vehicles and recognised that there may well be parts of a county where the use of RRVs as part of a balanced fleet would improve the service.

For example, Maryport currently has two pumps, one of which has not always been available. There is a proposal to keep one and replace the other with an RRV. This is in the Allerdale's area rather than Copeland so I'm not going to write anything which could be seen as telling my Allerdale colleagues what to do in their patch but I mention this part of the proposal to indicate that some of the proposals coming forward suggest a balanced fleet.

However, the one specific proposal in the Copeland are for Frizington, which is one of three fire stations in Cumbria which currently house a single standard large fire engine or "pump" and where the draft Integrated Risk Management Plan proposes to consider replacing it with a much smaller RRV.

The majority of the Copeland local committee did not consider that the case for replacing the current full-size pump with an RRV at Frizington had been made. 

A number of the arguments for RRVs which are cited in the plan on issues like firefighter availability and which may apply at other stations are not applicable in Frizington, and the population of the area served by the Frizington station is much larger than that for the other areas where an equivalent proposal to replace a single full-size pump with an RRV has been put forward  (including the area where it is planned to hold an RRV pilot.)

Accordingly the local committee voted to oppose the replacement of the Frizington fire engine with an RRV at this stage. (This was our input to the consultation on the plan, the final decision will be taken by full council.)

The vote today was seven to nil: there were ten councillors in the room at the time the vote was taken, and seven of us voted for a motion to indicate opposition to the replacement of the Frizington fire engine by an RRV. 

If my memory is not playing tricks on me, and I don't think it is, the other three councillors did not raise their hands to vote for or against the proposal or to record an abstention.

What happens now?

The government response to the Brexit vote.

· The House of Commons has spoken and the Government will listen.

People, particularly EU citizens who have made their home here and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve clarity about what the House does support.

· So the Prime Minister has set out how we intend to proceed:

First, we need to confirm whether this Government still enjoys the confidence of the House. If it does, the PM will meet with Conservative colleagues, our Confidence and Supply partner the DUP, and senior Parliamentarians from across the House to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House.

If these meetings yield ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in the House, the Government will then explore them with the EU.

· We ask Members of Parliament on all sides to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the Government to do just that.

Confirming whether this Government still enjoys the confidence of the House…

  • We believe it does – but given the scale and importance of tonight’s vote it is right that others have the chance to test that question if they wish to do so. 
  • If the Official Opposition table a confidence motion this evening in the form required by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, we will make time to debate that motion tomorrow. 
  • If they decline to do so, we will – on this occasion – consider making time tomorrow to debate any motion in the form required from the other opposition parties.

Holding meetings with Conservative colleagues, the DUP and senior Parliamentarians

· We aim to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House. …

Exploring ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support with the EU

· If these meetings yield ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in the House, the Government will then explore them with the EU.

Two reassurances:
  1. The best way forward is to leave in an orderly way with a good deal. It is not our strategy to run down the clock to 29 March. We will therefore make a statement about the way forward and table an amendable motion by Monday. 
  2. It is our duty to deliver on the instruction to leave the EU. The Prime Minister became PM just after the British people voted to leave the EU in the referendum. She believes it is her duty to deliver on their instruction.
(The opposition has of course tabled a motion of no confidence on which I understand will be debated tomorrow afternoon, with a vote early tomorrow evening.)

Quote of the day 15th February 2019

For the avoidance of doubt I repeat Melbourne's quote this evening because the sense of frustration it conveys perfectly sums up the current state of Britain, not because this evening's vote in the House of Commons was a surprise.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 will be held on Sunday 29th January, which is the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp.

Themes to be remembered this year include "Torn From Home" which is about the refugees who had to flee their homes to avoid actual or threatened genocides, and it is also the 25th anniversary this year of the Rwandan genocide.

More details are given on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust site here.

Tackling pollution

The Environment Secretary has launched a world leading plan to tackle air pollution, clean up our air and save lives. 

Key facts:

The Clean Air Strategy 2019, which the World Health Organisation has described as ‘an example for the rest of the world to follow’, recognises that air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health.
  • The measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030. 
  • The ambitious strategy includes new targets, new powers for local government and confirms that the forthcoming Environment Bill will include new primary legislation on air quality. The UK is the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on WHO recommendations, going far beyond EU requirements. 
  • While air pollution may conjure images of traffic jams and exhaust fumes, transport is only one part of the story and the new strategy sets out the important role all of us – across all sectors of work and society – can play in reducing emissions and cleaning up our air to protect our health. 

Why this matters:

Breathing dirty air is associated with a host of health problems, from asthma to cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, and all too often it is the most vulnerable – children, older people and those from poorer backgrounds – who are hit hardest. The action we are taking today will save lives and improve the health of the nation.

Quote of the day 14th January 2019

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Churchill's grandson on the Withdrawal agreement

Sir Nicholas Soames MP, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, made this speech in the House of Commons yesterday.

He stressed the need for "Dignity, reason and calm" in the Brexit debate and suggested that people on all sides should treat those of different views with respect. Despite having voted Remain he said that it is the duty of the House of Commons to respect the result of the referendum and that calling another one would be a very bad idea. He added that he has the impression that "the country is fed up with this debate and desperate for us to come to an agreement."

I think he is absolutely right.

In my humble opinion recommend the speech above by Sir Nicholas is well with listening to, and I also recomment this speech by Nick Herbert MP as well worth reading.

Saturday music spot: "O Lord, in thy wrath" by Orlando Gibbons

The 1984 playbook: Putin airbrushes history just as Stalin did

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," George Santayana once wrote.

Which is why a common practice of both totalitarian regimes like those of Stalin or Hitler, or authoritarian ones like Vladimir Putin's today, is a propensity to try to airbrush embarrassing events out of history. The tactic was satirised in extreme form by George Orwell in the book 1984.

In terms of current events, the age of the internet and social media makes it virtually impossible to censor an event out of the current consciousness, so the purveyors of Russian propaganda today tend to work by broadcasting multiple conspiracy theories and attacks on the integrity of any of their critics or sources of an independent point of view (at its worst this led to the attempted extermination of the "White Helmets"  civil defence organisation in Syria) with the result that people give up attempting to work out which explanation is true.

But where events of the past are concerned, the Putin regime reverts to the Stalinist tactic of removing references to events they don't want people to remember.

There is an article by John Sweeney on the CAPX site about the way four important events in recent Russian history were conveniently excised from the "Russia: My History" event in Moscow and how events which might show Stalin in a bad light or the west in a good one do not get much attention in Russian school history books today, which you can read here.

Quote of the day 12th January 2019

“It’s a very sad state of affairs that you have to be brave to call out anti-Semitism.”

(Countdown presenter/mathematician Rachel Riley on the abuse she has received for standing up against anti-Jewish racism. You can read more about the context of this quote here.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Universal Credit

Today, the Work and Pensions Secretary has announced changes to Universal Credit to ensure it is flexible enough to adapt to personal circumstances, recognising the needs of the most vulnerable.

Key facts:

This is a continuation of the test and learn approach we have always taken, and follows the £4.5 billion package of changes announced at the Budget last year.
  • Universal Credit is working for the vast majority of people, but to truly work for everyone, it has to be flexible enough to adapt to personal circumstances, recognising the needs of the most vulnerable. 
  • To do this, we are investing an extra £250 million to deliver the two-child policy fairly – ensuring parents who made decisions about their family size when the previous system was in place are supported by Universal Credit. This is restoring the original intent of the two-child policy, which is that parents receiving benefits face the same choices as those in work. 
  • We will pilot the next stage of rolling out Universal Credit for 10,000 claimants to learn how to provide the best support. We fully complete the roll out as planned by 2023. 
Why this matters

By rolling out Universal Credit gradually and sensibly, we can ensure our welfare system is better for those who need it, while helping people into work so that people can lead fulfilling lives

Quote of the day 11th January 2019

“Stepping beyond your competence can be like stepping off a cliff. Too many people with brilliance and talent within some field do not realize how ignorant—or, worse yet, misinformed—they are when talking like philosopher-kings about other things.”

(Thomas Sowell, American Economist)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Britain and Japan

The Prime Minister met her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, today in Downing Street to forge a new alliance on medical research, robotics, data and trade – boosting innovation across Britain as we leave the EU.

Key facts:

The two leaders will set out an ambitious programme – and £30 million of initial funding – for projects to tackle the Grand Challenges in our modern Industrial Strategy such as:
  • Designing robotic systems to allow our ageing populations to live independently in their own home for longer, finding new treatments for chronic conditions, and new forms of greener transport and energy storing. These could create 175,000 new jobs and will boost the UK manufacturing sector by £455 billion over the next decade. 
  • Japan will also scrap the existing ban on British beef and lamb exports which has been in place since 1996 and is worth £127 million to British farmers over five years – reiterating our commitment to an ambitious bilateral trading relationship. 
  • In addition, we will build on our Joint Declaration that stepped up our defence and security partnership by increasing combined exercises between our defence forces and strengthening maritime co-operation. 

Why this matters:

As we prepare to leave the EU, we raise our horizons towards the rest of the world. By agreeing to forge a new, dynamic partnership with Japan, we not only back some of the most cutting-edge sectors in our economy, but will also improve people’s lives and shape the 21st century for the better.

Stephen Bush on Westminster's four Brexit factions

Stephen Bush of the New Statesman had a good piece yesterday on the four factions, three of them cross-party, supporting four different outcomes for Brexit.

(I'm not counting those who want another referendum or another election - these are process methods which people are putting forward, or pretending to put forward, as a means of getting to their preferred outcome. Some of these are pretty much belied by their actions.)

Realistically there are only four options now, and the four factions who support them are

1) The ERG and anyone else who actually wants a "No Deal" Brexit.

  • appears to be the smallest of the four factions in the House of Commons although I have strongly suspected since his failure to move a real "no confidence" motion that this may be the secretly preferred outcome which which Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle actually want as long as they are not blamed for it. Despite their lack of numbers this group have a huge advantage because Article 50 makes their objective the default option - it stipulates that unless an alternative course of action can get agreement from both parliament and the EU by 29th March, these guys win by default. It could very well happen.
2) Supporters of the May Deal
  • (including those who are hoping against that they can get it improved and those who don't like it but privately think that it is the least worst option.)

3) Those who want to cancel or delay Brexit
  • "Paranoids have enemies too" and the Brexiteers are probably right that there is a significant faction in parliament and the establishment who have always been determined to stop Brexit. I do not believe that a majority of MPs will or should dare defy the electorate by openly voting to halt the entire Brexit process. But if that appeared to be the only way to stop a "no deal" Brexit I might be wrong.

4) Supporters of some form of EEA or "Norway" option

  • There are some MPs in both the Conservative and Labour parties who want to see a "soft Brexit" which would probably involve amending the "political declaration" to work towards Britain joining the European Economic Area. That would mean a close economic relationship which, formally  involves leaving the EU and would keep the UK outside “ever closer union” and also reclaims a small degree of political sovereignty.
This faction argue that their plan is the only one which might possibly both get a majority in the House of Commons and be agreed by the EU. They may be right - though I wouldn't bet my shirt on either half of that proposition - but there are two big problems for them.

The first is that not many MPs see "Norway plus" as their first choice even though many would see it as a fall back if their first choice falls. Logically most Leave supporters and a good many Remain supporters ought to prefer the May deal to EEA membership - the charge of "Brexit in name only" which leave supporters have thrown at the May deal is far more true of this option, especially if it is intended to be a permanent solution and not a staging post to a Canada - style trade deal in the longer term as was proposed under Flexcit.

The second problem is that "Norway plus" would need to be agreed both the EU and with Norway, and time to do so is running out.

When MPs in the previous parliament voted by about two-to-one to trigger Article 50 in early 2017, they should have been aware that when the government of the day reached a draft agreement with Brussels we would be in this situation - agree it or we get a No-Deal Brexit. 

I suspect that many of them had not anticipated the situation in which the House of Commons has splintered into four factions, none of them commanding a majority, while opinions hardened greatly in each of those creating a serious danger of "No Deal" happening by default not because it has support but because there was no majority for anything else.

I don't think those who support what they call a "WTO Brexit" (e.g. No Deal) have thought through  how unmanageable British politics may become if an outcome which only about one in ten MPs want is inflicted on the country by default because nobody quite managed to assemble a majority in the House of Commons for any of several competing alternative options all of which had much more support.

You can read Stephen's article in full here.

Thursday music spot: "Salvator Mundi" by Thomas Tallis

Thatcher's Blame

Doctor Madsen Pirie, founder and current President of the Adam Smith Institute, published a highly entertaining and very useful book in 1985 called

"The Book of the Fallacy - a training manual for intellectual subversives."

which is a masterly guide to the different tricks which people can use to make their argument sound much stronger than it really is, how to spot them, and what the holes in their logic are.

Pirie listed many of the most commonly encountered logical fallacies and traps which, by accident or design, can lead people to support false conclusions.

Unfortunately, as Madsen Pirie points out, knowing why the argument you are listening to is wrong does not always make it easy to defeat the person advancing it. Arguments "ad baculum" (by threat of force) do not go away if you prove the person making the threat to be wrong, irrelevant humour, if it is funny enough, can carry away a valid argument on a gale of laughter, and emotional appeals can be extremely hard to stop with mere logic.

Nevertheless, to be able to understand why an argument is wrong is a useful start - if you don't know yourself you have little chance of persuading anyone else. And this book is really helpful at showing you how to see where faulty logic is in play. Sadly the original version with it's highly entertaining cartoons is no longer in print though one can sometimes get second-hand copies on Amazon, but a second edition of the book was published in 2006 with a new title

"How to Win Every Argument - the use and abuse of logic."

The text is about 95% common, although the new version has a few updated concepts.

One of these is called "Thatcher's Blame."

This is Madsen's twist on a concept also known as "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" but he gives a particular example of the way some people on the left always manage to make things Mrs Thatcher's fault.

If the country was going through a period of austerity and poverty, any misbehaviour was blamed on Mrs Thatcher on the grounds that people who don't have enough money are rioting / mugging / stealing / getting drunk to drown their sorrows because they are suffering as they don't have enough money, and this is destroying the fabric of society.
When the economy was growing at an incredible rate and people had much more money (and some of the people caught rioting or looting turned out to be in well-paid jobs) the same journalists and politicians who had advanced the argument in the above paragraph said that the misbehaviour was all Mrs Thatcher's fault because she had encouraged them to worship material success and think that all that mattered was to have "loadsamoney," which led to moral decay / rioting / mugging / stealing / getting drunk to celebrate or get even more money and that this is destroying the fabric of society.

So all the evils of society are Mrs Thatcher's fault because people have too much money or not enough money.

This year will see the thirtieth anniversary of Mrs Thatcher's fall from power and at the first full council meeting of the year in Cumbria today we had -you've guessed it - the Leader of the council blaming things on Mrs Thatcher.

When asked by my colleague Ben Shirley whether the council could do more to improve the effectiveness of bus services, the first response of Labour councillor Stuart Young was to blame the problems with bus services in Cumbria in 2019 on Mrs Thatcher's bus deregulation of the 1980's.

The fact that his party had been in power for thirteen of the intervening thirty years and either of the two Labour Prime Ministers at that time could easily have reversed the decision had they thought the case for re-regulating buses was so overwhelming did not seem to be of interest to him.

Quote of the day 10th January 2019

"The tragedy of John Bercow’s behaviour is that even when he goes, the chair will never fully recover its reputation for impartiality."

(James Forsyth)

"Sadly, it is in the nature of Governments that they tend to push the boundaries, or even flatten conventions outright when given the chance. Administrations of all stripes have done so over the last 20 or more years.

It is an important role of Parliament, and particularly of the Speaker, to try to resist those efforts. So yes, John Bercow has a responsibility to defend the legislature from excesses of the executive – but as a guardian of the constitution he also has an especially important responsibility to obey it himself."

"Now he has duly intervened, contrary to the expert advice of the Clerks and in breach of their interpretation of Standing Orders, in order to allow a particular amendment that he likes. Other potential amendments were not given an equal privilege."

"By shattering convention in this way, Bercow has not just indulged himself, he has given license to future Speakers to do the same – and inspired MPs to permanently fear the prospect that they will do so. In the absence of faith in the true impartiality of the Chair, the obvious alternative is for both parties to ditch the next convention down the list, the respectful alternation of which party provides the Speaker, and instead compete to put in place Speakers whom they openly expect to be their partisan servants.

Even if you like his actions today, or happen to believe the amendment itself to be positive for Parliament, it is important to consider what the permanent cost will be.

Not only would the business of the Commons suffer from a move to more openly partisan, biased Speakers, but Parliament itself will lose out from such a change.

A strong Speaker, respected on all sides due to their even-handed pursuit of the role and defence of the rules, is in a better position to defend Parliament’s privileges when they are threatened by the executive. If it becomes acceptable for MPs to simply put in place a Speaker with whom the majority of them agree politically, and to expect that Speaker will use the office to serve their politics, then we risk replacing a bulwark of the legislature with simply another tool of the government of the day."

(Mark Wallace, extracts from an article on Conservative Home about Speaker Bercow's decision to rule that the Grieve Amendment could be accepted while allowing his officials to reject at least one other amendment. The full article can be read here.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Here we go again

Despite having voted Remain and not regarding a "No deal" Brexit as either the best option for Britain or required by the referendum, I wasn't impressed by the Cooper amendment passed in the House of Commons which was presented as a vote against leaving the EU without a deal.

I'm afraid I regard this vote as a pointless exercise in virtue signalling.

It doesn't do anything about the fact that if MPs can't agree on anything else, we automatically leave the EU without a deal.

What it does is require that if there actually is a "No deal" Brexit, the provisions which have already been put into law enabling the government to spend money to mitigate the effects can only be put into effect it parliament approves them.

If the MPs who voted for this intended the government to take it as a serious threat, I agree with various people on Twitter such as Robert Colvile ‏(@rcolvile) who wrote that

"The logic is essentially

‘We disapprove of fires, so we’re banning sprinkler systems to make everyone think really carefully about using matches’"

But do these MPs really expect anyone to believe that if a "No Deal" Brexit had already taken place they would deliberately vote to make it more damaging to prove a point?

MPs have voted for an awful lot of things in the recent past which I thought were pretty stupid - the Cooper amendment itself being a case in point - but I don't believe they are that stupid.

Social Housing for veterans

Today, the Communities Secretary announced plans to prioritise social housing for veterans suffering from mental health conditions, ensuring our armed forces get the help they need.


Key facts: Former service personnel suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental illnesses will be prioritised for social housing under proposals published for consultation by Communities Secretary.


·         Our plans will mean all applicants for social housing will be asked if they have served in the Forces to make sure our armed forces receive the help they need.


·         Under the proposals from our eight-week consultation, those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental illnesses could be treated in the same way as those with physical injuries, and get the priority they deserve.


·         We are also publishing new guidance which will encourage councils to waive the residency rules, so that people who split from a partner in the Forces are not denied social housing as a result of not being resident in their local area long enough. This should particularly support those who have been victims of domestic abuse.


Why this matters:  While the vast majority of veterans thrive in civilian life, we have a responsibility to ensure that any who do struggle as a result of their service – whether finding a job, getting on the property ladder or with mental health issues – get the support they need.

Midweek music spot: "Miserere Mei Deus" by Gregorio Allegri

Quote of the day 9th January 2019

"It isn’t enough for Parliament to vote against a no deal exit – it has to vote for something to have in its place, whether that is another referendum, an early election, the withdrawal agreement as currently written or the withdrawal agreement following revisions to the political declaration, or simply to revoke Article 50 without a referendum."

(Stephen Bush, writing in the New Statesman, in an article called

"Parliament can agree that it doesn't want a no deal Brexit, but that's it"

in which he suggests that the narrow margin of victory for the Yvette Copper amendment suggests that although a majority of MPs are strongly committed to avoiding a "No deal" Brexit, there does not at the moment appear to be a majority for any specific alternative path.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Tuesday music spot: "If ye love me" by Thomas Tallis

January meeting of Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland.

Cumbria County Council's local committee for Copeland will meet next week at 10.15 am on Tuesday, 15th January 2019 at Cleator Moor Civic Hall and Masonic Centre, Jacktrees Rd, Cleator Moor CA25 5AU.

The meeting will be open to the public.

The agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

Quote of the day 8th January 2019

Guardian journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had a go at some prominent BME Conservative politicians this week on twitter for no clearly specified reason. I was reminded of some wise words from Thomas Sowell:

Monday, January 07, 2019

Of honest politics and the reverse, IDS and the National Living Wage.

All governments make mistakes.

All governments which have been in office for any material length of time when the country is going through financially challenging times - for example, if it has to deal with the sort of mess that the Conservative-led coalition inherited from Labour in 2010 - will have had to make some tough choices which not everyone will like.

Any remotely competent supporter of an opposition party who wishes to criticise a governing party which has been in office for more than the shortest period of time - eight years, say - should be able to find plenty of serious criticisms without the need to tells lies.

Let alone really obvious lies.

One of the more memorable images broadcast in TV reports of George Osborne's 2015 budget was the sight of Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) cheering when the then chancellor introduced the National Living Wage - effectively a rebranding and big increase in the minimum wage.

There are - if you take a free market position - genuine arguments for and against a minimum wage as I explained at the time in an article called the minimum wage balancing act.

This balancing act is that for a minimum wage floor to be successful in reducing poverty it must be high enough to make sure we reward work, not so high as to bankrupt small employers and price people back onto the dole queue.

I discussed the real arguments for and against a minimum wage in great detail here but they are not relevant to this article about honest politics because the people who have been dishonestly using film of IDS cheering the announcement of the National Living wage to attack him neither believe nor pretend to believe in the free market arguments against the minimum wage. They are supporters of a minimum wage floor and indeed think it should be even higher.

IDS has a long and controversial record in government and there are plenty of things he has done which an honest socialist would disagree with and could use to criticise him without the need to lie about his record.

Which is why it says something interesting about some Corbyn supporters that both in 2016 and again this week they have been sharing the image of IDS cheering the announcement of the National Living Wage and lying about it.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will probably have noticed that I usually bend over backwards to avoid accusing people who say something I disagree with of lying but this time there is really no other word for it.

As the Independent reported in 2016 here, Corbyn supporters shared the image of Ian Duncan Smith cheering the NLW and said that it showed him celebrating, quote "screwing the poor."

In the newspaper's words,

"He was, of course, celebrating the proposed rise in the minimum wage to £9/hour as set out by George Osborne in the post-election Budget in July last year. Which many probably wouldn't see as 'screwing the poor'."

This week some Corbynistas have been spreading a similar lie on social media again, circulating the same gif on social media and claiming that it showed IDS cheering "government policies that leave people choosing to heat or eat, having to go to Foodbanks & live in poverty!"

Nonsense. And it is not just that he was actually cheering a policy which make it less necessary for millions of the poorest-paid workers to do any of those things: the Resolution Foundation published a report arguing that the National Living Wage caused the biggest improvement in low wages for 40 years.

It's not only a lie, but a stupid lie because enough people remember that image of IDS cheering and that he was cheering the NLW that the lie was always going to be called out.

If Momentum were confident that they could win by telling the truth they would not need to resort to dishonest tactics like this one.

A new Long-Term Plan for the NHS

·      The Conservative Government has always recognised the unique importance of the NHS. That’s why in 2010, when we took office and had to deal with the record peacetime deficit we inherited, we prioritised the NHS with real terms increases in spending every year.

·      And that’s why last year – in its 70th year – we committed to providing an additional £20.5 billion by 2023-24 to help make the NHS fit for the future. Not a one-off injection of cash. Not money to plug a gap or shore up a problem – but funding to protect the long-term future of the NHS.


·      In return for this funding – because this is not just about money – we asked the NHS to draw up a long-term plan. We asked for it to be clinically led and locally supported, with an absolute focus on cutting waste and ensuring every penny is well spent.


The NHS Long Term Plan was published today, setting out how we will protect the health service now and for generations to come. From birth, through the challenges that life brings and into old age, the plan will:


·         Give the NHS the biggest cash increase in its history. We are increasing the NHS budget by £20.5 billion in real terms over the next five years, meaning patients will be seen faster and outcomes will continue to improve. We will be investing an extra £4.5 billion into primary and community care services, and £2.3 billion extra into mental health services. There will also be a major crackdown on waste to make sure every extra penny of taxpayers’ money is spent wisely.


·         Grow the NHS workforce with more doctors, nurses and other health professionals, particularly in mental health, primary care and community services. We will create a better working environment for the people at the heart of our NHS with better training, support and career progression, stronger leadership at all levels, and a clamp down on bullying and violence to improve retention.


·         Bring the NHS into the digital age, making it fit for the future. New digital GP services will improve access and help people make appointments, manage prescriptions and view their health records online. Technology will help people manage long-term conditions, while digital health records will help different parts of the health and care system work together to deliver the care at the right time, in the right place.


·         Improve the care you receive and health outcomes across all life stages and for major conditions. We will ensure every baby gets the best start in life, and revolutionise how the NHS cares for young people experiencing poor mental health. For major conditions, such as cancer, we will improve care so people live longer and healthier, including measures to prevent up to 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases over the next ten years. We will also support people to age well, ensuring older people get the support they need to remain independent in their own home for longer.


·         Target funding to reduce health inequalities so we have an NHS that delivers for everyone and will always be there for you and your family. We will support the best NHS organisations to help others improve their services, so the best care is available to everyone across the nation.


Third party responses:


·      The King’s Fund commented: ‘This is an ambitious plan that includes a number of commitments which – if delivered – will improve the lives of many people. NHS leaders should be applauded for focusing on improving services outside hospitals and moving towards more joined-up, preventative and personalised care for patients’ (The King’s Fund, 7 January 2019, link).


·      Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘There will be strong support across the NHS for the vision and ambition set out in the document’ (NHS Providers, 7 January 2019, link).


·      Brian Dow, Deputy Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: ‘This could be the red letter day where we begin to genuinely reform the treatment of mental illness’ (Rethink, 7 January 2019, link).