Tuesday, May 24, 2016

National Security

And now for something completely different: a political message which is nothing to do with the referendum ...

A message from the Conservative Party.
Subject: National Security

Last week’s Queen’s Speech was a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a One Nation Government. It used the opportunity of a strengthening economy to focus on delivering security for working people, increasing life chances for the most disadvantage and strengthening our national security.
But the Labour Party want to derail that plan: they are a risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party has invited terrorists to our Parliament: ‘It will be my pleasure …to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking… I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.’
You can help stop Jeremy Corbyn. Donate £20 today and we will send you a limited edition ‘LABOUR: STILL A RISK TO OUR NATIONAL SECURITY’ mug as a thank you.

Thank you for your support,
The Conservative Party

PS: there aren’t many of these mugs so donate £20 now to make sure you get yours.

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Quote of the day 24th May 2016

Mr Duncan Smith seems to think Turkey joining the EU is an imminent threat. Which is odd, because that would require the EU to be efficient and decisive. And Mr Duncan Smith thinks the EU is the opposite. Indeed, that’s one of the main reasons he wants us to leave.

“The EU can only move as quickly as its slowest member states, and that means it can only move very slowly indeed,” he said. “EU leaders and the Brussels army of bureaucrats can’t agree on how to fix the euro. They can’t agree on what to do about refugees. They can’t agree on what kind of transatlantic trade partnership they want with the USA – such that it is very unlikely that it will ever happen.”

So the EU is hopelessly slow, inefficient and indecisive, then – even when pursuing trade deals that would be in its own economic interest. Oh dear. That’ll make it difficult for Britain to strike a trade deal with the EU after we’ve voted to leave. Won’t it?

Suddenly, Mr Duncan Smith’s view of EU efficiency changed.

“We’re the fifth largest economy in the world!” he snapped. “Are you telling me that with a trade deficit with the rest of the EU, we aren’t going to be able to arrive at a deal that is particular to the UK? I don’t think so! I think they’ll do that straight away!”

So, to summarise. When it comes to negotiating a trade deal with the world’s largest economy, the EU’s chronic lethargy means it will probably never agree one. But when it comes to negotiating a trade deal with the world’s fifth largest economy, the EU will snap out of its torpor and agree one immediately.

Yes, I think I’ve got that."

(Michael Deacon

Monday, May 23, 2016

Should I add an eleventh commandment?

I'm thinking whether I should add to my list of commandments in the post earlier today.

11) Thou shalt not publish the private telephone numbers of people you disagree with and encourage lots of people to ring them.

You would think that would be too obvious to need mentioning? Apparently not.

And this would have been bad enough if it was the Leave side doing it to the Remain side or vice versa. No, it's the Brexit supporters doing it to one another.

Gordon Bennett.  I'm wondering if Jim King was right in the comments and they want to lose.

Gaffe of the Week

On the BBC news today I listened to a presenter who was talking about the Chancellor's warning that Brexit might precipitate a recession.

He meant to quote the treasury report as suggesting that "up to 820,000 jobs could be at risk"

However he actually said, presumably by accident, that "up to 820,000 votes could be at risk."

Definitely a contender for Freudian Slip of the Week ...

Ten Commandments for conductng a referfendum with dignity and respect

1) Thou shalt not accuse all Remain supporters of being unpatriotic

Firstly, this does now help your case, and secondly, it isn't true. Saying things like "Remainers hate Britain" may apply in a few egregious cases of "every century but this and every country but his own" such as Emma Thompson, but is does not, repeat not, apply to the vast majority of those who may vote Remain.

If someone genuinely believes that Britain will be richer, better defended, and more influential in the world inside the European Union, then the patriotic thing for them to do is vote remain.

It is very unlikely indeed that either side in this referendum is going to win by much more than ten percentage points - if that. Both sides have been above 40% in the great majority of polls, which means if the turnout is similar to a general election, there will probably be more than ten million votes in each pile. Do you seriously believe that more than ten million British voters hate our country? I certainly don't.

2) Thou shalt not accuse all Leave supporters of being racists

There are some racists in our country and many of them will vote Leave, but the great majority of Leave supporters are not racist.

If someone genuinely believes that Britain will be richer, better defended and more influential in the world by cutting loose from EU institutions which are sometimes highly imperfect, then voting to leave does not make them a racist. See argument above about patriotism: I don't believe that more than ten million people in this country are racist and I know plenty of people who are voting "leave" for reasons which have nothing to do with race or immigration.

3) Thou shalt not accuse everyone on the other side of being stupid

Again, this does not help your cause and it isn't true either. Take as an example my profession - I'm an economist - in which the vast majority of experts think Britain would be better off inside the EU. However, those who don't think that - the "Economists for Brexit" group in particular - include some first rate minds who have a very good understanding of economics indeed.

And the reason I am beginning to lean against them is not because I think their economic arguments are wrong, but because I don't think Britain would not vote for the free-trade policies necessary  to make their arguments apply.

So to take an example, calling those who disagree with you "economically illiterate" is not terribly helpful whichever side you're on. You might have a point if you are referring to a specific set of arguments which particularly fail to hang together - those of "Labour Leave" for instance - but it isn't true of everyone and accusing everyone who disagrees with you of stupidity does not come over well.

4) Thou shalt not accuse everyone who changes their mind of having no principles

There can be very good reasons for people to change their minds. As I pointed out yesterday there are very solid and respectable reasons why a number of people on both sides of the EU referendum debate are much less keen on Turkey joining the EU now than they were ten years ago.

Nor is it sensible to assume that everyone who changes their mind towards the side you currently support is a great statesman and everyone who changes their mind in the opposite direction is an opportunist and traitor.

5) Thou shalt not compare the EU to Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany

Both Nazi German and the Soviet Union were run by people who started aggressive wars against people in other countries and murdered many millions of innocent people from their own countries. Neither ever held anything remotely resembling a free election or tolerated anything resembling independent courts or a free press.

The people who founded of the European Union, whether you agree with them or not, were trying to make another war like the one started by Nazi Germany impossible and to find peaceful ways to co-exist. You don't have to like what they created to recognise that not one of the five things I said above about the USSR and Nazi Germany applies to the EU.

Suggesting that the EU is like a murderous dictatorship such as the USSR or Hitler's Germany is downright offensive and makes you sound like an unpleasant fanatic. Even drawing more measured and reasonable parallels is unwise because the press is bound to report it in ways which cause justified offence and you'll have to spend days explaining what you actually said.

6) Thou shalt bear in mind how the press distorts what people said

It is far too late to hope for any sanity from the press, or that when the media report a grossly exaggerated version of what people have said, their opponents will respond to what was actually said instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint their opposition as headbangers or scaremongers.

But it will make it much easier to work with people after June 24th, if we remember that for example the PM did not say that Brexit will cause World War III or a good number of the more inflammatory things put into his mouth by the media. Neither has Boris Johnson said all the ludicrous things which the press has given the impression he said.

7) Thou shalt at least try to get thy facts right

As I have pointed out in numerous "Worst of Both Worlds" threads on this blog, and as various fact checkers have pointed out, the level of misleading information from both sides during this EU referendum campaign has been an absolute disgrace. Both sides need to do better.

A certain MEP from the region where I used to live tweeted to a friend of mine today - a fellow floater unimpressed with both sides -  that his side was not "in the same league" as the other for crazy scaremongering.

I'm afraid both sides have indeed been guilty of crazy scaremongering and I told him that I thought his side most definitely was in the same league.

8) No matter how badly you think your opponents have broken the seventh commandment above, thou shalt not use the "L" word

Despite what I wrote just above, it's not going to help us put matters right if people are too quick to describe arguments they disagree with as lies or call the other side liars.

It is my impression that, in the great majority of cases during this referendum where someone has called a person on the other side a liar, the individual so described actually believed what he or she had said.

Whether you are pro Leave or pro Remain, before calling someone on the other side a liar, think.

Whatever has incensed you, I guarantee someone on your side has said something equally untrue. I suspect you know perfectly well that I'm telling the truth when I write that, and if you don't you need to apply your critical faculties more carefully to what your own side is saying.

When you came across a statement from your own side which you know was untrue or misleading, did you call it out? Did you, like the pro-Brexit MP Doctor Sarah Wollaston, who refused to hand out Vote Leave's leaflets about the NHS which she considers misleading, refuse to go along with it?

If you didn't, do you really have the moral high ground to attack people on the other side?

9) Thou shalt not claim that there are no valid arguments for the other side.

Whichever side you're on, there are. There really are. It would not be so close if there were not.

10) Thou shalt try to keep thy sense of humour

If there is one thing that can help us get through this, it's the ability to laugh at ourselves and others.

Quote of the day 23rd May 2016


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Turkey - Facts and Scaremongering

A classic example of how not to discuss a sensitive and difficult issue if the way some people on both sides of the EU debate have been discussing Turkey, migration from Turkey, and whether and when Turkey might join the EU.

The first thing which has to be recognised in any such discussion is that many people on both sides of the EU debate have changed their minds about Turkey over the years, and this does not prove that they are fools, liars, hypoocrites, of have elastic principles.

There is a saying often attributed to John Maynard Keyes, although there is no proof that he ever said, it, which is nevertheless a wise one:

For thirty years after Turkey's first free elections in 1950, the development of democracy in Turkey was regularly interrupted by army takeovers: the last such military coup was in 1980.

But from the election of Turgut Osal's Motherland party government in 1982, there followed a period of 20 years when power alternated as the result of elections between moderate-reformists of the centre-right, and those of the Democratic Left. While Turkish democracy in this period was by no means perfect it was still perfectly plausible for reasonable, intelligent and well-informed Western observers to view Turkey as moving in the right direction towards becoming a normal, stable democracy whose eventual membership of the EU would not present any serious difficulties for other members.

Even after the initial election in 2002 of the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development) party which has been in power since then, that did not at first appear to change. The AKP initially presented themselves as moderate Islamists who would govern in accordance with the principles of democracy: until 2013 the AKP was allied to Fethullah Gülen's Cemaat Movement, which presents itself as a very moderate form of Islam.

In the great majority of cases where British politicians such as David Cameron have been quoted as supporting the accession of Turkey to the EU, those quotes date from between 1982 and 2013.

However, in 2013 there was a massive corruption scandal in which senior figures in the AKP government were arrested: Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blamed the Cemaat movement for the accusations which he said were part of a coup attempt and accused Gülen and his supporters of being terrorists. From 2013 Erdoğan's government has been accused of highly authoritarian and anti-democratic behaviour including a crackdown on press and social media, - such as seizing opposition newspapers and taking them over - electoral fraud, demeaning the Constitution and alleged human rights violations, having blocked access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on numerous occasions.

Hence, for very good reasons, a lot of people who previously supported Turkish entry into the EU have changed their minds - including prominent members of both the Leave and Remain campaigns.

For the same reasons, any well informed and honest person will tell you that there is no chance of Turkey being allowed to join the EU while they behave like this.

It has been suggested by some members of the Leave campaign that in the event of  a Remain vote Britain would not be consulted about whether accession countries like Turkey could join.

This is complete and total nonsense - what US fact-checkers call a "Four Pinocchios," a statement with no basis in truth whatsoever. All members of the EU, including the UK if we stay in, would have a veto over the accession of any new member wanting to join. While Turkey is run as it is today, it is extremely likely that at least one member state would be bound to exercise such a veto.

As Damian Chalmers, professor of EU law at the London School of Economics, told the BBC here, the UK and every other member state has an effective "double veto" in that both every government has a veto (the first thing a new member needs for admission is a unanimous vote in the European Council) and every national parliament has a veto (the next thing they need is for the parliament of every existing member state to ratify the accession treaty). He added that "We are talking many, many years" before Turkey would be allowed to join the EU.

We will have some serious issues in managing our relationship with Turkey whether Britain is in or out of the EU. But let's base our approach to those issues on the facts.

Those who say that as an EU member Britain would have a veto over Turkey joining the EU are telling the truth and this is a matter, not of opinion, but of fact. Anyone who claims that we would not even be consulted in the matter is wrong.

Sunday music spot: Charpentier's Marche en Rendeau

Quote of the day 22nd May 2016

(Sir Edward) "Heath loved to sign copies of his own books. Indeed it became a common joke that an unsigned copy of one of his books was a rare item of value.

One day, while he was signing, a woman approached him and shyly asked for his autograph, handing him a book.

It was Harold Wilson's volume on the governance of Britain.

Heath said nothing, inscribing carefully and slowly closing the book before handing it back. The woman thanked him and left with her prize.

Nobody said a thing but watching over her shoulder Stephen" (Sherbourne) "noticed what he had written.

'A million apologises for the damage I have done to Britain, yours Harold Wilson.'"

(Anecdote told by Stephen Sherbourne about his former boss Ted Heath as recounted in yesterday's Times by Lord Danny Finkelstein)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Innocent until proven guilty

There is no crime other than murder which can do more devastation to the lives of vulnerable people than child abuse.

There is no crime including murder of which a mistaken or malicious accusation can cause more devastation to the lives of innocent people than child abuse - such harm including, of course, the genuine danger of being murdered by vigilantes who believe the accusations.

In the wake of a whole raft of scandals from the Saville Affair to Rotherham, most intelligent people have reached the ghastly conclusion that child abuse is significantly more common in Britain than we had until recently thought, that people of any colour, any creed, and any status in society many be perpetrators or victims, and that our society has failed too many victims by not taking genuine accusations seriously enough.

Sadly there is also far too much evidence that we have also failed those who through mistaken identity or malice have been wrongly accused of this awful crime. Danny Finkelstein had a very disturbing article in Thursday's Times called "Destroyed by false accusations of child abuse" which begins be reporting some of the findings of an academic study of the impact of mistaken or false allegations on a number of people who were accused of child abuse but against whom no charges were brought, who were acquitted, or had their convictions overturned.

The murders of  Darren Kelly and Bijan Ebrahimi, innocent men who were killed in two separate incidents  by people who wrongly thought they were paedophiles,  demonstrate only too clearly how harmful and dangerous being on the wrong end of  mistaken allegations of child abuse can be. The errors of mistaken identify which led to mistaken allegations against Lord McAlpine and the ignominious story of Operation Midland demonstrate how difficult this is to get right.

It is tragic that so many children have been failed in the past because action was not taken in many genuine cases of child abuse. It is also tragic that the justified reaction against this unacceptable situation has let to dire consequences for some people who were falsely accused. It would be a third tragedy if a further over-reaction were to cause future allegations of child abuse not to be properly investigated.

Britain must not alternate between opposite over-reactions, between on the one hand complacency which leaves real cases of child abuse not investigated and genuine victims unprotected, and on the other panic and witch-hunts which destroy the lives of innocent people.

We must find a happy medium in which child abuse is taken seriously and action taken to stop it without this becoming a witch hunt in which those investigating fail to treat the accused and their families like human beings or remember that they must be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

The most powerful countries in the world ...

An interesting study by a geostrategy consultancy, reported here on the UK defence site, suggests that Britain is the second most powerful country in the world, behind only the United States, in terms of the ability to project power globally.

The study divides nations into Superpowers, Global powers, Regional Powers, and local powers. It finds that the US is the world's only current superpower, and Britain as the only Global Power, putting us ahead of the eight countries ranked as Regional powers which are Russia, China, France, India, Canada, Japan, Germany and India.

This is based on global reach and the proportion of the world in which a nation is capable or projecting military power.

An interesting analysis, but before we get too complacent I think that, despite the fact that this gives NATO countries the top three spots and two more of the top ten, both the UK and other NATO members states need to take a long hard look at what plans we have in place to deal with any further adventurism from the country placed at number five in that list. That will apply whether we are in or out of the European Union.

The problem is not that Vladimir Putin wants to start World War Three, it's that he could very easily touch off something dangerously close to it by mistake if he gets the false idea that the West is not willing and able to defend itself and our allies.

Justine Greening on the EU vote

Justine Greening has a piece at Conservative Home today about which side she is supporting in the EU referendum and why.

I will say that it makes a nice change to read an almost entirely positive piece from either side, which in my opinion does not contain a single scaremonger, personal attack, or dodgy statistic.

(I see from the comments that someone on the other side from Justine, who appears to have been on the lookout for something to be offended by, managed to find three words that they could take as an insult but I don't agree with them.)

You can read Justine's article in full here but here is a sample:

"I have never been a default ‘Remainer’: in fact, I have always had what I consider to be a pretty sceptical streak when it comes to Europe. When I went to work as a chartered accountant in mainland Europe for a couple of years during the 1990s, working with European clients, I did wonder if I’d come back a converted Europhile, but I didn’t. I grew to love the diversity of Europe and its different cultures, rather than its Union. However, when the time came to actually think where I would put my cross on the Remain/Leave ballot paper, it involved a much more forensic approach to assessing what the right thing to do would be for our country, combined with an element of gut instinct.

For me, any debate on our economy and jobs is a very personal one. When I was growing up in Rotherham during the 1980s, my own father lost his job in the steel industry and was unemployed for a year. I’ll never forget what that was like for my family and how hard it was. Successful companies create jobs, but they need a level playing field to compete.

That’s why Margaret Thatcher set about getting the Single Market in place – so that British companies could get on with competing – and they have done that very successfully, which is why we export so much to the rest of Europe. Our car manufacturers – now a net exporter for the first time since the 1970s – need that level playing field, not to be at a disadvantage with tariffs trading from outside it. I can’t see the point of leaving the Single Market and the level playing field to then try instantly to rejoin it. If you’re not in a club, you’re not going to be given the same benefits as others who are – otherwise what would be the point?

And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years, it’s that the intractable problems that our world faces – like the Syria conflict, ebola in West Africa, or the impact of climate change – will be there whether or not Britain is in the EU. They are best dealt with, however, by working together with our neighbouring countries, in partnership. That can be exceptionally difficult, since we often have very different views about the best course of action, but that’s all the more reason to be a voice round the EU table having our say.

Why put ourselves at a disadvantage?  How Europe responds collectively affects us. Europe is our continent: that’s a geographical fact, not an option. It’s why Europe is such a huge part of our history – it’s a continent we’ve shaped as much as it’s shaped us. This will be the same for our country’s future too. Britain’s voice matters and should stay at the table. We will keep winning the debates by being in them."

Saturday Music spot: a Vivaldi Concerto arranged by Bach

To be clear, this magnificent piece was actually written by Vivaldi for four violins, and in that form was one of the many pieces of Vivaldi's music popularised by the late Yehudi Menuhin after, like almost everything Vivaldi wrote, it had been long forgotten.

JS Bach transcribed Vivaldi's music for four harpsichords instead of four violins, and that is this version.

It is unbelievable, but true, that the musical world somehow largely managed to forget about both Bach and Vivaldi for one and two centuries respectively. Bach was then "rediscovered" and popularised by Mendelsohn and Vivaldi, almost within living memory, by Menuhin. In my youth I remember reading a letter in The Times by a professor of music about the fact that his generation of music students were told that they would probably never hear a piece by Vivaldi performed, but they ought to study him because he was important to the development of other composers (like, I presume, Bach). He added that he remembered this with wry amusement every time yet another recording of "The Four Seasons" came out.

So that's four great musicians to remember when you hear this piece!

Quote of the day 21st May 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

The problem with polls

Veteran pollster Peter Kellner has a fascinating article in the Politics Counter today.

The article is about why he thinks Remain is more likely to win the EU Referendum and most people reading it will probably focus on that conclusion but actually what he says about why opinion polls are often wrong is in some ways even more interesting.

I had a twitter exchange with a journalist on the North West Evening mail this week, after taking exception to the results of one of the voodoo polls in the paper.

Basically any newspaper website, or any other website, which simply asks readers to click on their view without making any effort to check for things like multiple voting is going to produce totally unreliable results and would be anywhere near correct only by great good fortune in the same way that a broken clock is right twice a day.

That's why Mike Smithson of Political Betting calls such polls "Voodoo polls" and he's right,

The interesting thing about today's Kellner article is that he addresses the difficulty that both online and phone polls are addressing in terms of how hard it is to reach a representative sample of voters, and as he says, the amazing thing is not that the opinion polls are sometimes badly wrong as how often they are right.

Here's an extract from the article


Before we discuss these differences, a broad point needs to be made about all polls. They face a huge challenge getting anything right. By definition, online polls survey people who have chosen to join a polling panel.

In theory, telephone polls are able to reach everyone who has a phone. But they are at the mercy of response rates; and in recent years these have collapsed. Twenty years ago, according to one of our most respected telephone pollsters, they achieved a response rate of around 30%. To obtain 2,000 interviews, they asked their computer to generate 7,000 random residential telephone numbers. These days, to obtain 2,000 interviews, they need to start with as many as 28,000 phone numbers, for response rates have fallen to just 7%.

In short, all polls require research companies to extrapolate from the small proportion of the general public they can reach to the far larger number of people who neither join online panels nor respond to telephone polls. The surprising thing about is not that today’s polls sometimes get things wrong, but that they have such a good record of getting so many things right.

The reason why our leading polling companies are so good, so often is that they go to great lengths to make their samples match the country’s population – by age, gender, region, social class, past vote and so on. Usually this process generates accurate results. But sometimes it doesn’t, either because the silent, unpolled, majority, differs from the poll-friendly minority in some way that is not captured even by the smartest demographic sampling – or because of “mode effects”, in which the way a poll is conducted prompts some respondents to conceal their true feelings."

Seriously, for anyone who wants to understand the workings of opinion polls, Peter Kellner's article is an absolute must read. You can read it  here.

Surprising news

I was astonished to learn this evening that Rod Liddle has been suspended from the Labour Party.

Not because I find their action in suspending him in the least surprising, obviously.

I'm astonished because he was still a member.

Considering how rude he has been about them in his columns in the papers for years, it is very remarkable indeed that he has neither resigned nor been expelled before now!

Worst of both Worlds: Juncker and Vote Leave lose the plot again

If I had a hundred pounds for every really, really silly tweet, message, article, leaflet or newpaper piece I have read during the EU referendum campaign, including material from both sides, I could afford to retire early.

This week's examples of how not to make the argument come from EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and from the Vote L:eave campaign.

When you are trying to explain to people how you will respond if they do something you are trying to persuade them not to do, it is usually an excellent idea to try to make the comment sound like a warning from a friend rather than a threat from an enemy.

You'd think the President of the EU Commission would know that.

Apparently not

"I'm sure the deserters will not be welcomed with open arms"

was what he told readers of the French newspaper Le Monde in an interview reported here by Reuters, adding that

"The United Kingdom will have to accept being regarded as a third country, which won't be handled with kid gloves.

He also said this was not a threat but it certainly didn't come over very well.

Meanwhile Vote Leave's latest utterly ridiculous tweeted graphic was this one:

Anyone who could authorise the release of such utter nonsense either thinks they are going to lose  and are desperately looking round for even the weakest argument, is very badly informed, or thinks the electorate are.

There was a silly, meaningless and entirely symbolic  European Parliament vote last year suggesting that the British and French UN Permanent seats on the UN security Council should be transferred to the EU.

But we don't "have to worry" about such a thing because there is no possibility whatsoever of ther EU causing it to happen. Britain or France could and would veto any attempt at the UN to amend the United Nations Charter in such a way. Britain and France could and would also veto any serious attempt (which the EU parliament motion was not) to persuade the EU to formally put such a proposal forward on behalf of the Union.

The people who might pose a threat to Britain's Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council are not the European Union but the SNP. If a major part of the UK were to break away, it might be possible for Britain's enemies to argue that what was left of the UK was no longer the same nation which had been given that seat under the original UN charter. Hence if Scottish Independence were ever to happen we might lose the seat for reasons which were not down to the EU at all.

If I regarded it as a strong possibility that a "leave" vote would trigger a second Scottish independence referendum and a vote by Scotland to leave the UK, then I would argue that, far from a vote to leave the EU safeguarding out UN Security Council seat, it would endanger it.

Since I think one of the better arguments made by Leave supporters lately has been that the SNP will only call a second IndyRef if they've very confident of winning, and at the moment they are not, I don't think the vote on June 23rd will affect out UN seat either way.

Another ridiculous tweet by vote leave this evening which is daft for very similar reasons:

Whether we vote Leave or Remain, British forces will work with our allies through NATO and there is absolutely no way we could be forced to put our armed forces under EU control

Since our armed forces already work with those of most other EU nations as part of the NATO alliance, it has been the case for longer than I have been alive that British troops can end up serving under an American general, or a Dutch Admiral, or a Canadian Air marshal. I have not heard a single advocate of a "leave" vote attack NATO - in fact most supporters of leave are also strong supporters of NATO.

Our soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting shoulder to shoulder under a common command structure with our allies, and pooling our sovereignty and defence with our NATO allies has hardly turned us into a conquered province subjugated by NATO.

Anybody who says there is something wrong with sharing the burdens of defending Europe should logically be even more keen to leave NATO than the EU. But apart from Jeremy Corbyn and a few of his acolytes I know of nobody daft enough to want to leave NATO.

There is nothing wrong in principle with working with countries like France and Germany for our mutual defence, unless you are still stuck in the attitudes not just of World War II but those of the Napoleonic wars!

The reason I don't want Britain to take part in an EU army is absolutely not because there is anything wrong with working with these countries, but because in NATO we already have a perfectly good structure to co-ordinate our armed forces with them for our mutual defence which has stood the test of time, and as it is not broken there is no need to fix it.

And there is absolutely no way that Brussels could force us to take part in European army if we remain a member of the EU. We could veto any such proposal. So we do not have to vote leave to keep our own defences.

The Leave side often accuses Remainers of making up ridiculous scare stories and sometimes they are right. But it's the Vote Leave who have been circulating preposterous and untrue scare stories today.

Just over another month of nonsense by both sides to go ...

Quote of the day 20th May 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thursday Music spot: Christopher Tin's "Baba Yeto" with film scenes

Christopher Tin's "Baba Yetu," which is a setting of the Christian Lord's prayer sung in Swahili, was composed as the theme tune for the fourth iteration of the computer strategy game "Civilisation" and won a whole raft of awards. It's one of only two game introductions in the past twenty years that I would always listen to in full after the first couple of times the game rather than cutting short.

The original game intro displayed various stylised scenes from history while this was playing: the author of this Youtube clip recreated the same effect using short video sequences from various classic films, often depicting the same or similar events.

NHS Employers and BMA reach agreement on Junior Doctor's contract

I am very relieved that an agreement has been reached which, subject to approval by a vote of BMA members, will settle the long-running dispute about Junior Doctor's terms and conditions.

The dispute has been good for nobody - not good for doctors, not good for the government and, far and away the most important, not good for patients.

This deal appears to be an honourable compromise which has been described as a "score draw."

Let's hope that the deal proves acceptable to Junior Doctors in the ballot,  which will be held in June, and we can all go back to building a better NHS.

Good attendance at Public meeting re Whitehaven issues

The venue at Mirehouse Labour Club was full to capacity at the public meeting organised by the Mayor of Copeland last night to discuss various issues in Whitehaven

More detailed report to follow but about 100 people heard presentations on Health - including very welcome steps being taken to develop medical teaching and research at WCH and Westlakes which will help our local hospital move toward becoming a teaching hospital - a new coal mining proposal, and car parking. The latter sparked off the most vigorous debate.

Quote of the day 19th May 2016

"She dealt with everything but a plague of locusts, which I will predict in my next speech on Europe."

(David Cameron in the Commons making a joke about the way the debate on Europe has developed)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trump, Clinton, or Death?

For an indication of the lengths some Americans will contemplate going to avoid having to choose between voting Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton - or more likely that the deceased in her last wishes or her next of kin displayed a unique sense of humour - see this obit notice ...

(I will partially suspend the usual rules of this blog on obit posts to allow comments about this notice.)

David Cameron writes about the Queen's Speech.

Subject: A One Nation Queen's Speech

Today the Queen delivered a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a One Nation Government. When we came to office in 2010, our urgent task was to get the British economy going again. With the strengthening economy moving in the right direction, we can be ambitious in our plans to deliver for the hardworking people of Britain.
Security for working people is the next step in our long-term economic plan for our country. Whether it is continuing to bring the public finances under control so that Britain lives within its means or delivering the infrastructure that British business needs to carry on creating jobs. To help create jobs, we will make our country a world leader in the digital economy, with new obligations on broadband providers to make sure everyone in Britain has access to an affordable high speed internet connection. To back business, we will make sure Britain has first-class infrastructure, especially when it comes to the transport of the future. To support aspiration and promote home ownership, we will build a million new homes across the country by reforming planning. And because we want to make sure every part of our country shares in our rising prosperity, we will legislate for a dramatic devolution of power to local areas, giving them complete control over business rate revenues to use as they wish to stimulate economic growth.
These reforms will help people get on. But to spread life chances to everyone, we have to go further in tackling the barriers to opportunity. With this Government, the number of people living in poverty has fallen; the number of students from low income backgrounds going to university has risen, and hope has returned to communities that were once written off. But there are still too many people left behind – and they need deeper, more intensive help.

Increasing life chances for the most disadvantaged is at the heart of this Queen’s speech. We will carry out bold reforms to tackle some of the deepest social problems in our country and remove all barriers to opportunity. We will give children in care the best possible start in life by tackling state failure, so children in care are not doomed to a life of poverty. There are reforms to schools, so excellence that comes with more teacher freedom is spread to every community. There is an expansion of higher education, so just as we uncapped the number of student places we now encourage the new universities that will help educate the next generation. And because this Government sees the potential in everyone, we will finally undertake the long-overdue change that our prisons need. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; we want them to be incubators of changed and reformed lives. This is a Queen’s Speech aimed at giving everyone in our country the chance to get on.
Strengthening our national security to keep our country safe is the first duty of Government. We cannot extend opportunity or help working people if our country is not safe. So this is a Queen’s Speech that invests in Britain’s armed forces, honouring our NATO commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defence. To support global stability and prevent new threats to our security, we will also meet our commitment on international development spending. And in an ever more dangerous and unstable world, where the threats to our country are increasing not diminishing, we will secure the long-term future of our nuclear deterrent and give our security and intelligence agencies the powers they need to keep us safe.
This is our legislative programme: to give working people security in their personal and professional lives; to increase the live chances for the most disadvantaged in our society; and to strengthen our national security to keep us all safer. We’ve set challenging, but achievable goals, using the strong foundations of our economy to make a series of bold choices that will improve lives across the country. It is a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a progressive, One Nation, Conservative Government.
So, if you haven’t already, please join the Conservative Party, to play your part in achieving a brighter and better future for every single person in this great nation.

Thank you,

David Cameron

Promoted by Alan Mabbutt on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 4 Matthew Parker Street, London, SW1H 9HQ

Reminder: Public meeting about Whitehaven issues at 6pm this evening

The Mayor of Copeland, Mike Starkie, has also set up a meeting at 6pm this evening (May 18th 2016) to discuss a number of local issues including the parking problems in Whitehaven. The meeting will be held in Mirehouse Labour Club, and representatives of Sellafield Ltd, Cumbria County Council and Whitehaven Town Council have been invited to attend to answer residents' questions.

A number of issues are up for discussion at the meeting, but Mr Starkie said parking is likely to be high on people's agenda.

He said: "I am fully aware of the high level of public discord on this issue and will invite along to the meeting a number of key stakeholders who are working with Copeland Council to address this."

Also on Mr Starkie's agenda will be other Whitehaven-related matters, including the Moorside nuclear power station development - and its associated accommodation and transport links - and West Cumberland Hospital.

Quote of the day 18th May 2016

"You know you’ve not necessarily added a great deal to your argument when Ken Livingstone is telling you off for invoking Hitler."

(Isabel Hardman writes in the Speccie here about the bizarre spectacle of one former London Mayor who recently got in hot water with a most unfortunate public reference to Hitler attacking the other former London Mayor for also raising the subject of Hitler ...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sarkozy says "The British are right"

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a very interesting speech earlier this week in which he said that many of the criticisms made by the British of the European Union are accurate.

"On much of their criticism, the British are right," Sarkozy told Le Monde in an interview. "The peoples' estrangement from Europe is a major worry for all countries," he said, while underlining that he strongly opposed Britain quitting the EU.

"But Brexit or not, we'll need, in all scenarios, to deeply relaunch the European project, and that will have to be done through a treaty that France must initiate, from the summer of 2017," Sarkozy said.

More details from Reuters here.

In terms of the referendum, Sarkozy's comments can be argued two ways and undoubtedly will be. I have no doubt that those who already want to leave will present the fact that a statesman who has been as intimately involved with the EU as Sarkozy says many of the British criticisms of the EU are accurate as an argument for leaving it.

However, it is worth pointing out that Sarkozy himself hopes Britain will not leave and you could also take his comments as an argument that some of the reforms many British people believe the EU needs, and which we would want to see if we stay in, are beginning to win support in other EU member countries.

Cameron criticises the EU Leave Campaign's economic arguments

An interesting and powerful six minute clip from a speech by DC about the economic arguments for Leave. While I don't necessarily agree with every word he says, most of the things I would challenge are essentially quibbles and minor points, and the essence of all the PM's main arguments here strike me as deserving very serious consideration.

Micro-Earthquake in Cumbria

The British Geological Survey has announced that a Micro-Earthquake took place deep underground in Cumbria yesterday.

The earthquake was centred near to Millhouse, about 1.7 miles from Hesket Newmarket.

It was recorded by seismograph and measured 1.3 on the Richter Scale.

The event is believed to have occurred about three kilometres underground and happened just after 3.21pm. Experts say it is unlikely that it would have been felt at ground level.

Quote of the day 17th may 2016

“We are bound to further every honest and practical step to which the nations of Europe may make to reduce barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare.
“We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonality. 
“But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.”

This is a quote by Sir Winston Churchill, from a 1930 article in America's Saturday Evening post.

The last sentence of the quote above has sometimes been misrepresented as having been said in Parliament in 1953 and combined with a comment made to General De Gaulle during a wartime argument.

As you can read here Churchill supported European unity and thought that what in the latter part of his lifetime was called the European Economic Community was a good thing.

At different times of his life he had different opinions about whether Britain should take part in it, but in or out, he would certainly not have wanted Britain to be hostile to Europe.

In 1963, just two years before he died, Churchill wrote:
“The future of Europe if Britain were to be excluded is black indeed.”
I do now know how Churchill would vote on June 23rd if he were alive today, and neither do those who are trying to posthumously recruit him to the Brexit cause. I do know that he would not have wanted us to be hostile to or disengage with Europe.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Polls all over the place again ...

ICM have two polls out today on the EU referendum and these two polls from the same polling company say two different things

Their phone poll has Remain eight points ahead, 10% after removing Don't knows.

Their online poll is the other way round, Leave four points ahead of Remain.

Worth remembering that the phone polls performed better than the online ones in predicting the 2015 general election result - most of the phone polls correctly predicted a Conservative lead, most of the online ones wrongly had Labour ahead.

But we can't take either as gospel - people may yet change their minds.

I still think a Remain vote looks more likely but this could yet go either way.

Another example of the Sowell principle of equal treatment seen as discrimination ...

I was astonished at the weekend to hear a report on one of Radio 4's financial advice programmes about a campaign group for women who say they have been badly informed about changes to their pensions.

I have the greatest sympathy for anyone, male or female, who is having difficulty adjusting to the changes to pensions, especially if they were not given much notice.

I initially reacted with complete disbelief to the suggestion that some women were only given a couple of year's notice of the changes which have been made in the state pension age.

One of the two changes concerned stems from a European Court judgement in the early nineties, and an act of parliament passed in 1995, which I remember being announced at the time and giving at least fifteen years' notice of the change,

The other act concerned, which also affects men (as I know very well being about the age when it transitions in) was the Pensions Act 2011, which slightly accelerated the latter part of the equalisation of men's and women's pension ages provided for in the 1995 Act but giving five years' notice, and putting the pension age for men and women up from 65 to 66 between 2018 and 2020 - seven year's notice.

So if anyone only got two years notice of these changes, something went incredibly badly wrong with the communications some years ago.

And sadly it appears that this may have been the case - it has been alleged that some people were not told by the DWP about the change in their retirement age until fourteen years after the relevant legislation had been passed.

The increase in the women's pension age from 60 to 65 is not down to David Cameron's government, or Brown's, or Blair's: it came from a Sex Equality ruling from, dare I say it, the European court at the time of the Major government, when the court ruled that it was unlawful for women to be able to collect their pension from 60 while men had to wait to 65.

The Major administration therefore passed the Pensions act 1995, giving a minimum of fifteen years' warning, that between 2010 and 2020 there would be a staged rise in the state pension age for women from 60 to 65 to equalise that between men and women. As mentioned the last stage of this was accelerated under the 2011 act.

Incidentally for anyone who is reading this and does not know this, there have also been pensions acts under Labour in 2007 and under the coalition in 2014 which will raise the retiring age further

The Pensions Act 2007 provides for the increase in the State Pension age for men and women from 66 to 67 and the date of this change was brought forward in the 2014 act to 2026 to 2028. The 2007 act also provided that the state pension age for men and women will increase from 67 to 68 between 2044 and 2046.

I gather that Pensions ministers are looking at this - it has been suggested that there might be some form of transitional relief for women, of perhaps a hardship fund for anyone affected by special circumstances particularly as a result of the failure of the DWP to keep them informed.

Up to this point this post is absolutely serious, but one thing I cannot take seriously is the utterly inappropriate name - reflecting the exact opposite of what they are campaigning for - of WASPI, the campaign group representing the women affected.

WASPI stands for Women Against State Pension Inequality - when actually it is the incompetent management of the END of State Pension Inequality which has caused their problem.

It would perhaps be unkind to suggest that they change their name to WIFSPI (Women in favour of State Pension Inequality) but WADWPI (Women Against Department of Work and Pensions Incompetence) would certainly be a more appropriate acronym than WASPI is.

As Thomas Sowell put it, and I make no apology for quoting him for the third time in a few days:

As one listener suggested to Radio Four, perhaps men, the gender who have actually been on the wrong end of sex discrimination on pensions, should set up a campaign group called MARSPI - Men Against REAL State Pension Inequality.

Quote of the day 16th May 2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Worst of both words: The "Zombie myths" of the EU campaign


The British people are entitled to have their intelligence respected by both sides in the EU referendum, and by the press, and to be provided with full and balanced information to make a decision on how to vote. With a few honourable exceptions in all three cases, this is not happening.

Some people are bending over backwards to be fair, but the amount of misinformation which has been circulated is deeply depressing. What is even more depressing is that some myths which most intelligent people on both sides who have been following the campaign with anything remotely resembling an open mind know to have been exploded refuse to die and keep getting circulated.


Many of the issues in the EU referendum which are fiercely contested boil down to matters of opinion and nobody can be absolutely certain who is right. We do not know what would have happened to our economy, or to peace and security, were Britain not in the EU. It is possible for honest and intelligent people to disagree about what the impact on growth, prices and family incomes would be if Britain left the EU, and what diplomatic consequences might follow a vote to leave - whether, for example, France would be more likely to tear up the Le Touquet agreement.

In this article I am not referring to differences of opinion. This post is about claims which are either directly wrong in fact, statements for which I can find no evidence whatsoever, and numbers which are so misleading that genuinely independent experts or more honest people on the same side as those making the claim have disowned them.

And I am making a point of including some myths from both sides.


FACT: AUDITORS SAY "the ECA have signed off the 2014 accounts of the European Union as they have done for every year since 2007."

(The above is a quote from the EU auditors' own website and can be found here.)

It is quite true that the European Union's Auditors have been severely critical of the way substantial sums of EU funds raised from British and European taxpayers have been spent. In the past there was a period when they refused to sign off the accounts.  The European Court of Auditors have repeatedly refused to give EU spending a completely clean bill of health and called for reform - calls which in my opinion should be heeded to a greater extent than they sometimes have been.

However, the auditors have certified the EU's most recent accounts (which are for 2014) and each previous year back to 2007 as having been accurately prepared in accordance with international accounting standards.

A competent "Leave" campaign which studied the Auditors' reports carefully could find a great deal of evidence which could be used to justify savage and completely accurate criticisms of EU spending. But the claim that the accounts have not been signed off for 20 years is not one of them.

I have written about this in more detail here.



The original CBI paper which produced this figure pulled together a number of research papers, but appeared to suggest at least double the positive impact of EU membership as appeared in any of the papers it claimed to be based on. Channel 4's fact check said that the original report

"doesn’t appear to be a fair reflection of the evidence they themselves have looked at – and the choice of evidence seems partial and one-sided to begin with."

The CBI have republished the study, and the INFACTS pro-remain fact check website suggests that the revised report provides a clearer explanation of how the £3,000 per household figure was put together.

In their opinion it is reasonable as a ball park figure of the current benefits of membership but even they still say it should not be taken as gospel or as a precise figure and advise Remain campaigners against using this number as an estimate of the cost of Brexit.



Britain is a net contributor to the EU budget, and you would think that a competent and honest Leave campaign would be able to make  a pretty strong case for Brexit based on the very large amount of money Britain actually does pay them - as I wrote yesterday this is a net figure of about £8.4 billion a year or £161 million per week - rather less than half the figure Vote Leave is quoting.

Any suggestion that £350 million is an accurate estimate of the amount which the government would save from Brexit and that this amount could then be spent on other causes like the NHS is completely and utterly indefensible and I have been very disappointed to see people who ought to know better repeating it.



It has often been suggested by Leave campaigners that, quote, "The UK is consistently outvoted" or  that "The UK has never been on the winning side when we have challenged the Commission in a vote in the council." Lord Lawson suggested that Britain had voted against items of legislation 72 times in the past 20 years and been outvoted 72 times, figures which are often quoted by Leave supporters as inferring that Britain is outvoted 100% of the time.

That conclusion is not supported by a more complete description of the facts. Since European Council voting figures have been published from 1999, the UK has voted “no” to legislation on 57 occasions. It has voted “yes” to 2,474 acts and abstained from voting 70 times.

In other words on successful acts the UK has been in the majority abut 95% of the time, abstained about 3% of the time, and been outvoted 2% of the time.

This figure is not perfect either because we do not have complete statistics on proposals which were not successful, and particularly not those which were withdrawn before being put to a vote, but it iks certainly far more representative of the true position than the "Leave" figures claiming Britain is outvoted every time.



Leave supporters who have said that three million jobs are linked to Britain's exports to other EU member states are correct, that is the best estimate of the number of jobs involved. Those who have gone one stage further and suggested that we might lose all of those three million jobs in the event or Brexit are not right, however. We might lose some of those jobs but certainly not all of them.



First, it has been agreed that no further countries will join the EU before 2020.

Second, applicant countries to join the EU have to pass certain tests covering a whole range of issues such as human rights and Turkey is nowhere near passing many of the relevant criteria. And for Turkey to get anywhere near to meeting those criteria while their current President remains in office would require a range of U-turns from him about as extreme as Ken Livingstone joining the Conservative Friends of Israel.

Third, every EU member state has to agree to the accession of a new member and the relevant treaty has to be ratified by each country's parliament as well as the government. Assuming that Britain does not veto Turkey's entry, they would still have to persuade Greece, whose enmity to Turkey is legendary, and Cyprus, who they invaded less than 50 years ago, not to veto their accession



FACT - he seems to be almost the only world leader who has not expressed an opinion.

This is about the only remotely controversial dubious claim from the Remain side which the Leave campaign does not usually challenge, but the Russian Embassy certainly does challenge it quite vigorously whenever a prominent person makes the claim.

An appropriate response might be the late Sir Ian Richardson's line,

"You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment."

I suspect Putin may indeed be secretly hoping for a Brexit vote, but if so, he appears to have enough sense to realise that saying his views about it in public would probably have exactly the opposite effect on the vote. Not one of those who claim that Putin wants Britain to leave the EU has ever been able to produce actual evidence that he has said so.

8) "THEY SUPPORTED EURO ENTRY!" (when said of people who didn't)

Just about every prominent person or organisation who supports "Remain" and was out of short trousers or existed at the turn of the millennium has been accused by the "Leave" camp of supporting British entry to the Euro at that time and of being "Wrong then, Wrong now."

Which is a perfectly fair point when it is made against people who really were in favour of scrapping the pound for the Euro.

Less so when it is made - as it often has been - against people who fought tooth and nail to keep the pound!

Another modest proposal ...

Can we please add a "Godwin's law" clause to the EU Referendum rules?

To be specific I refer to the best known corollary of the original law. Mike Godwin initially suggested that, the longer a debate goes on, the closer the probability that someone will make a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis gets to certainty.

It is often added that  unless the subject of the original discussion was World War II, totalitarian dictatorships, genocide and mass murder, or some other subject to which would make such a comparison proportionate and legitimate, when this happens the argument is finished and, whoever first raised the comparison to Hitler or the Nazis has automatically lost.

Clearly the terms of the EU referendum act should not be retrospectively changed, but if it were possible it would be so tempting to try to amend them so that the next time a prominent spokesman for the Leave or Remain campaign introduces the subject of Hitler, that side loses.

Of course, I'm basing this modest proposal on the assumption that if such a rule were added the prominent members of both sides would have the sense not to do it ...

Sunday Music Spot: Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No 1 in D Minor

Quote of the day 15th May 2016

Saturday, May 14, 2016

How much do we really pay the EU?

Britain pays a lot of money to the EU and it is totally legitimate for supporters of a "leave" vote to make that point.

It is not legitimate for them to do so in what the head of the UK's statistical service called a "potentially misleading" way - and he was putting it very politely.

The top line in the table below, shows the gross payment Britain WOULD have had to make to the EU were it not for Margaret Thatcher. It is a notional accounting figure and NOT an actual payment.

The rebate Maggie negotiated - and even after Tony Blair gave half of it away, it's still worth more than four billion pounds a year - is deducted BEFORE we pay anything. The second line, after the rebate, is the GROSS amount the UK actually pays to Europe before you consider what comes back.

The fourth line is the NET amount we pay, e.g. what Britain pays to Europe less what they pay back to us.

Depending on the exact context, the second, third and fourth lines on the table all represent real sums of money and it may be legitimate to use any one of these in debate depending on precisely what is said. Personally I consider the fourth line the best measure of the money we pay to the EU. That is a matter of opinion. But to say that the top line is not a fair representation of the cost of Britain's EU membership, and certainly does not represent money which would become available for the government to spend after a "Leave" vote, is not an opinion, it is a matter of fact.

The top line is a purely hypothetical figure, not an actual amount paid, and it is totally wrong to suggest that it represents the real cost of Britain's EU membership in any meaningful sense.

Anyone who repeats the suggestion that a sum like the top line of the table above, usually rounded to £350 million a week or £19 billion a year, (or £20 billion a year) would become available to spend on other things if Britain left the EU is either very badly informed themselves or is falling well short of the standard of truthfulness that British voters are entitled to expect. Either way they have shown that they cannot be relied on as a source of fair and accurate information and in my opinion nothing else they say about the EU should be taken on trust.

Some people on both sides in the EU debate have been repeating grossly misleading figures and I will come  back to this later this weekend.

Saturday music spot: Come ye Daughters from Bach's Matthew Passion

I'm experimenting with doing a music spot on Saturdays as well as Sundays

And where better to start with a chorus from Bach's Matthew Passion, one of the movements from that masterpiece which is particularly sublime ...

Cardboard Boat Race on Windermere today

The fourth "Cardboard Boat Race" for charity is set to "Make a big splash" for charity on Windermere today. Racing starts at 10am at the Low Wood hotel

This incredible family event, started in 2013, is held in aid of local charities and kindly sponsored by Progression Solicitors and Low Wood Bay Resort Hotel and Marina. In 2016 the event is supporting St Mary’s Hospice, Ulverston, and the Lake District Calvert Trust, Bassenthwaite.

More details from the event website at


Quote of the day 14th May 2016

“There is no more efficient way to convince someone you are crazy than to tell them you are building a cardboard boat.”

(Quote from the organisers on the website of the Low Wood Cardboard boat race (being held at Windermere today - see next post!)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Economists for Brexit critique of the treasury model

"Economists for Brexit" have produced an rival assessment, and critique of the Treasury calculations of the effects of leaving the EU, which you can read here.

This is vastly more intersesting and credible than most of the rubbish pumped out by the official Leave campaign and many other Leave supporters because it is written by people who know what they are doing (the lead author is Professor Patrick Minford) and because they have avoided several of the mistakes which tend to wreck most of the Leave arguments as often presented.

In particular

1) Most Brexit supporters suffer from the inconsistent beliefs that other EU members are determined to block any reforms suggested by Britain even when it is in their interests to support them, yet if we vote to leave the rest of the EU will suddenly start being guided by enlightened self-interest to fall over themselves to offer us good terms. The "Economists for Brexit" report is open about the fact that this is not a realistic assumption and allows for the strong possibility that we will not get everything we want out of the exit negotiations.

2) The report is reasonably clear and open in its' assumptions about the policies Britain would follow in the event of a "leave" vote, which unless I am totally misreading it are complete free trade and no tariff barriers.

So if you think that this is the destination policy Britain should and would move towards after leaving the EU (possibly via a FLEXCIT route) then you should read the "Economists for Brexit" paper and it will give you evidence to support your position - including the fact that there are some reputable economic experts who think that this particular economic strategy might work for a post-EU Britain.


If you don't support a strongly free trade, no tariff barriers strategy - suppose you want to have "anti-dumping" tariffs against Chinese steel imports to protect the British Steel industry, for instance - then the assumptions behind the "Economists for Brexit" critique of the Treasury's anti-leave arguments do not hold for your preferred policies. The author of the "Economists for Brexit" paper wrote quite openly in The Sun newspaper that he was prepared to see Britain lose most of our remaining manufacturing capacity and replace it with service industries in which we have a comparative advantage.

If you do not support that strategy or don't believe a British government would follow it, then you cannot consistently expect to get the benefits which "Economists for Brexit" argue would follow if and only if a post EU Britain follows a free-trade, zero tariff policy.

That doesn't mean you have to vote Remain but it does mean you have to accept that there are no reputable economic voices at all who think Brexit would make Britain economically better off given the economic policies you support. In this circumstance a Brexit vote only makes sense if you are arguing that you are willing to pay money for greater sovereignty.

Quote of the day Friday 13th May 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The book "Project Fear" revisited

Joe Pike's book "Project Fear" was apparently mentioned in Question Time this evening.

I reviewed that book and commented on its' implications last year in a post called

Project Fear: lessons from a referendum.

With a bit less than two months to go until the EU membership referendum, it is striking how many of the concerns I expressed about how this current referendum might come to resemble the Scottish one have come to pass.

This is an extract from what I wrote at the time

"The first thing which horrified me about this book was how the divisive nature of the campaign, the lies told by the Nationalists and over-concentration on negative arguments by the unionists, have left a legacy of distrust and anger which will scar Scotland for years.

The second thing which horrified me was the dawning realisation of how easy it would be for each side in the forthcoming European referendum to repeat the mistakes of one or both sides.

It is painfully obvious from some of the internecine battles within UKIP about which of the rival "out" campaigns to support that those who wish to leave the EU could all too easily fall into the trap of repeating many of the mistakes that the "Yes Scotland" campaign made.

It is equally obvious that those who want Britain to remain part of the EU will have to raise their game dramatically if they want to avoid becoming Project Fear II - especially as some of their most powerful negative arguments about the economic risks of not being EU members have been weakened when the pro-EU lobby "cried wolf" about the consequences if Britain did not join the Eurozone.

Companies which threatened to stop investing in Britain should the country not join the Euro, and did not carry out the threat when Britain kept the pound instead, are unlikely to be believed if they repeat the threat, this time as an indication of what they will do should we leave the EU. It doesn't matter whether they are telling the truth this time - because they cried wolf before they will not be believed.

If the "Out" campaign is characterised by the sort of wilful failure to spell out what a "leave" vote actually means combined with the sort of narrow and often spiteful nationalism which sadly characterised "Yes Scotland" they will deserve to lose.

If the "In" campaign run a campaign based on scaremongering and lacking a positive vision for the benefits of Europe in Britain they too will deserve to lose,

Britain, however, does not deserve that sort of choice any more than Scotland did last year."

Clearly one lesson that separatists in this referendum have learned from the failure of their equivalents in the Scottish one is that fear is a powerful weapon. The Brexit camp have deployed two tactics to counter a perceived "Project Fear" by the Remain side, either of which would probably have worked better on its' own because in a sense they are contradictory.

On the one hand, the "Leave" side and their allies in the newspapers have done their best to constantly present in an exaggerated form, and then ridicule, any argument by the Remain side which is, or can be represented as being, a warning about the risks of leaving. They have tried to present all Remain arguments as being nothing but ridiculous scare stories.

On the other hand "Leave" have also run their own "Project Fear" about what Conservative Home called "The Risks of Remain," designed to suggest that there is no status quo and making the case that staying in the EU has risks too.

This has ranged from some well argued articles on Conservative Home to several utterly ridiculous scaremongers such as the suggestion from Leave.EU that voting Remain might result in the forced privatisation of the NHS. I have explained why this is complete nonsense in a number of posts, most recently here.

If the British electorate has as much sense as I think they have, the "Leave" campaign would have gained rather more traction by depicting "Remain" arguments as daft scaremongers like

"voting for leave will mean world war III, millions of people losing their jobs next day and the collapse of the NHS"

had not a very vocal element of "Leave" supporters been frantically spreading equally ridiculous scaremongers like 

"Voting Remain will mean the privatisation of the NHS, Britain's armed forces being forcibly integrated into a European Army and 72 million Turkish people moving to Britain"

As far as I can tell, the sensible people on each side do not believe and have not put forward such views, at least not in such an extreme form, but a lot of hysteria is floating around.

Roll on June 24th!