Saturday, March 30, 2019

What has been done by a referendum must be undone by a referendum


I’ve joined nearly six million signing the petition for revoking article 50 but that for me is very much on the understanding that it would be endorsed with a referendum. There is a strong feeling that it would be best to just end this madness and just forget the last few years ever happened. The Brexitometers organized by Remainers show roughly as much support for just cancel as for a second referendum. But to do so would in my opinion be a mistake.
What has been done by a referendum can only be undone by a referendum. That the first was marred by illegality with Putin putting his thumb on the scales for leave strengthens the case for another referendum but doesn’t change that to simply pretend it never happened would be undemocratic.
On top of that, just canceling would open the way for a future Bexit PM simply pulling us out to the EU without a referendum. The ERG have one third of the Tory parliamentary party - that is all they need to get their candidate into the final round of a leadership contest. The majority of the Tory membership are already backing a no deal Brexit. So the next leader of the Tory party is going to be a hardline NoDeal Brexiteer. As Britain has a First Past the Post there is every chance that eventually they will get their person into Number 10. However extreme the Tories become, the tendency of supporters to stick with their traditional party along with the way in a two party system that people will vote for one of the two parties to punish one of the parties despite misgivings about the other - Trump’s election should be proof of that.
And if that happens, by canceling Article 50 without a referendum we will have made their aim of dragging us out of the EU so much easier.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Prisoners Dilemma facing the sane members of Parliament over Brexit

It is clear that Theresa May can’t get her deal through parliament. It’s clear that Jeremy Corbyn can’t get his General Election nor can he get his Customs Union Brexit. That should leave a Peoples Vote with a Remain option as the only alternative.
Yet both the deals of Corbyn and May stagger on in a zombie like existence allowing both Labour and Tory MPs to pretend they are avoiding the catastrophe of nodeal. Surely the Tory MPs especially have to be blind not to see that, after May backed the Brady amendment, May has thrown her lot in with the nodeal Brexiteers.
Sane Tory MPs do have a real problem. The Tory party membership now has a nodeal majority and the successor to Theresa May will almost certainly come from the ERG wing of the party. Any Tory MPs can forget about holding a ministerial post and will likely face deselection. We can tell them that they should country before career but their calculation will be quite different if their stand could actually bring about a peoples vote or merely be a symbolic vote that will only serve to open them up to revenge from the Brexiteer Tory membership. For them to do the right thing they need to be sure that enough other MPs who might be contemplating the same step are willing to break cover. So far only eight have had the nerve to do so.
For Labour the calculations are quite different. The membership is overwhelmingly remain and Labour is far better placed to attract remain voters. Given that there has been a significant swing to remain among the electorate, only those in especially strongly leave voting areas have anything to fear. Not surprisingly many more Labour MPs have come out in favor of a Peoples Vote. However, really a Peoples vote is going to need an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs and its hard to see that happening unless Corbyn swings behind a Peoples Vote. For Corbyn the problem is slightly different from that of moderate Tory MPs. It’s difficult to be sure but his inclinations are most likely for leave and possibly for a nodeal Brexit but given the membership of his party it is imperative for him to avoid having his fingerprints on the outcome. If all Labour Party MPs voted for a Peoples vote then with the current Tory supporters it would scrape hope - barely. So it is possible to argue that if no deal happens it will because Labour let it happen. However there will inevitably be some Labour MPs who will vote against a Peoples Vote even if Corbyn backs it so that seems to let Corbyn off the hook.

There are about twenty perhaps thirty Tory MPs who plausibly could come out in favor of a Peoples Vote. If just fifteen of them joined those who already publicly back a Peoples Vote, Corbyn would be exposed as enabling Brexit if he didn’t then come off the fence. But will they have the nerve to take the risk when Corbyn may stay firmly on the fence no matter what? The situation lacks the symmetry of the Prisoners Dilemma but it has the same catch-22 feel. The sane Tory MPs risk burning their boats for nothing unless enough of their fellows plus Corbyn do so. And unless those MPs take the risk, Corbyn can escape the blame for all that ensues.
But Corbyn really doesn’t risk a great deal in backing a Peoples Vote so by not acting first he shares the greater guilt.
What we can do to change things is to keep on doing what we are doing, campaigning for a Peoples Vote and the advantages of staying in the European Union. The clearer it becomes that Britain has changed its mind, the easier it becomes for the Tory MPs to back a Peoples Vote and the greater the pressure on Corbyn to get off the fence. And while time is running out that also helps us in that the closer we get to March the 29th the greater the fear of the catastrophe that will be nodeal will concentrate the minds of the sane Tories.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Proportional Representation and how the rise of Trump highlights the Achilles heel of First Past the Post democracies

An old argument against Proportional Representation was that PR would allow extremists and Nazis to get elected. With Trump’s election that should be dead. One of the USA’s two main political parties now has denying voters that they suspect of being likely to vote for the other party as its main electoral strategy. It has relied on gerrymandering up till now to keep control of the House of Representatives. While the size of the popular vote for Democrats was large enough, this time, to overcome gerrymandering, Republicans, solely through gerrymandering, continue to control the assemblies of many states, despite losing the popular vote. On issues such as gun control and health care the Republican hold positions that in a normal democracy would place them in the lunatic fringe of the hard right. If you want to find an equivalent to the British Conservative Party don’t look for it in the Republican Party - look for it on the right of the Democratic Party.
First Past the Post does make it almost impossible for extremists to get elected but the two party monopoly that it produces makes political systems that rely on it uniquely vulnerable should one party of the duopoly be captured by an extremist movement. That the Democratic Party draws support from everyone from socialists like newly elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to conservatives like David Frum is not a strength - no party can meaningfully bridge such a wide divide. Sadly, simply being the party of sane people is not a platform and hence it is the more focused Republicans that control two and half of the USA’s three branches of government.
In Britain, Theresa May with her deep hostility to immigrants represents a huge step from the traditional conservatism of David Cameron towards that of today’s Republicans but the real danger is that Brexit will open up to extremist capture in the form Rees-Mogg. In normal times Rees-Mogg would fail to survive the vote of Conservative MPs to be one of the two candidates put to the party membership. But these are not normal times and he would be a strong favorite in any contest among the membership. As leader of the Conservatives Rees-Mogg would have the majority of British voters against him. But with the electorate divided between Labour, Lib-Dems, Greens and nationalists he wouldn’t need a majority - thanks to First Past the Post.
Proportional Representation does reduce the initial barrier to extremist parties but allows the sane parties to better oppose the extremists because they are not forced in an unnatural unity.
The Achilles heel of First Past the Post is extremist capture of one of the two main parties and that danger should put Proportional Representation on the agenda of both Britain and the US.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Britain alone like before the EU? When was that?


The British nation state is a myth. Before Britain joined the EU there was not a British nation state but the British Empire.
First off, it was a large trading bloc. Though the British Empire was not a customs Union, still less a true single market, the imperial preference became important as Britain abandoned free trade as a result of the First World War. In the trade wars of the thirties trade within the Empire and Commonwealth became even more important with imports from within the bloc rising to over 40%. When that bloc collapsed the safe harbor that Britain immediately set sail for sail for was the then Common Market. And 1940 Britain did not “stand alone” - the war against Nazi Germany depended on Canadian, Indian and African troops. It is a dangerous illusion that Britain can ignore what happens on mainland Europe. If Putin succeeds in his aim to prize apart NATO and the European Union, in the future Britain and faces a hostile power across the channel , Britain will be truly alone in a way that it never was in 1940. Even the USA, in 1940, will be in grip of Putin’s ally Trump.
It is a dangerous illusion to think that after Brexit, Britain can go it alone, because we never really have.