Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A post-Brexit vote reader

All links are worth a look. Many are very short.

1. Robert Tombs: "I recall Victor Hugo’s crushing invective against French elitists who rejected the verdict of democracy, when in 1850 he scorned “your ignorance of the country today, the antipathy that you feel for it and that it feels for you”." What do they know of England, who only England know?

2. How Leave won: it was quite good at using email; it had the upper hand in terms of behavioural thinking; Remain was idiotic in Wales; Leave had a well-thought out campaign, while Remain didn't use these adverts and had bad marketing. Perhaps it was because too many people came across the over-privileged and entitled characters we meet in the LRB here.

3. Perhaps it was all about values, not the economy. Here's a long but interesting piece about values, worth more space than I will give it here. For the moment, I will note only this: "Although I love my country, it is more of a romantic than a filial love." Do you recall all those Brexiteers born outside the UK? Is it too crazy to see the Brexit leadership as motivated by a romantic love and the Remainers by a dutiful filial love? "Of course we love old England, but she's getting on a bit and there's this lovely home for her in Belgium where she can be with other old countries like her and, well, you know, you have to do what's best", the Remainers say, while the Leavers say "you don't want to hang out with these smelly old European guys - let's go dancing!" (Or at least, more filially, "Do not go quietly into that dark night".)

4. Here's Zadie Smith (with a well-chosen photograph, a reminder that the Caribbean is more important to London than the EU in some ways) and here's John Lanchester, two writers nearly always worth reading. An initial thought: the EU is rubbish at many things, but it is brilliant at associating itself in the middle-class English mind with all things good. Why? Let me repeat, For the Left to succeed, the UK must leave the EU, or at least that is a pretty reasonable thing to think. If you're a member of the metropolitan liberal left, you should be in two minds about the EU, in the same way as you are about NATO or faith schools. But you're not. You love the EU and cried after the Brexit vote. (Not universally, I know.) Why? Here's my theory: the Corbynistas are right - you're not really lefties at all. Not deep down. You are small-c conservatives who have fallen in love with a vision of Britain, an Islington/Richard Curtis/Channel 4/Tony Blair illusion, quite as charming and attractive in its own way as UKIP's 1950s village green illusion, but every bit as much of a fantasy. All those people who support Corbyn aren't mad: they've spotted something real and important about the non-Corbyn Labour leadership - it's not in favour of making radical changes to the economic structure of the country for the benefit of the working classes. But UKIP is - it's going to change the immigration rules.

Just to expand on that last point. Here's Lanchester: "The average immigrant is younger, better educated and healthier than the average British citizen. In other words, for every immigrant we let in, the country is richer, more able to pay for its health, education and welfare needs, and less dependent on benefits. They are exactly the demographic the UK needs." But who is this "UK" who needs these people which is a different thing from British citizens? What is the effect on these ill-educated unhealthy Britons (i.e. the UK) of having an incentive structure that allows employers to ignore them and ship in the flower of Poland to work instead? (I know it's a lot more complicated than that, but simply noting that immigrants pay more money in tax than they take as benefits hardly starts to answer the question of whether they benefit the country as a whole.) Here's Larry Summers (of all people): "A new approach has to start from the idea that the basic responsibility of government is to maximise the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good." And that's a new approach!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson did not contest the Conservative leadership election. Boris Johnson has been appointed Foreign Secretary. These are two surprising events. Perhaps they are related?

As we all know, Gove knifed Johnson. That Friday morning, Johnson's assessment of his chances was markedly reduced. But how low were they really? Worse than Andrea Leadsom's? Surely not. And should he make it to the final two, who knows how the party in the country would vote? But let's say that Johnson goes from thinking he was going to win to thinking he was going to lose. This all happened pretty quickly to some tired people and plenty of emotions were involved.

So Johnson thinks he's going to lose. But why shouldn't he try to extract as much value from his candidacy as possible? From his point of view on that Friday morning, a deal whereby (a) he gets the second best job in Government plus (b) Gove gets cast into the outer darkness would be a pretty tempting one.

And now let's look at it from May's point of view. Less emotional, less shocked perhaps. But Johnson is still a real threat. Remember that Leadsom was a real threat - and Johnson has at least ten times her X factor. From May's point of view, taking Johnson out with a promise of a good job looks like a good deal. And if Johnson wants to punish Gove? That's fine too.

So there's scope for a deal to produce precisely the (surprising) outcome that in fact happened. Did such a deal happen? I have no evidence, but it fits the facts.

There's one other thing. Let's say either Johnson doesn't fancy actually doing the Brexit negotiations, or that May reckons he shouldn't do them. Either way, a deal whereby he gets to be Foreign Secretary without responsibility for Brexit is unsurprising.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Trump will win

So says Michael MooreThis guy is worried about it too. This is why. Or maybe this. Scott Adams also explains it a lot (e.g. here).

You want data? FiveThirtyEight is the place for you. Here is the graph showing their assessment of who would win if the election were held today:

So it's basically a toss-up at the moment but Trump is ahead and has been improving. (FiveThirtyEight has other models for predicting the result in November - but they are not great reading for Clinton either.)

Here are two other points.

First, although it's pretty easy to think of events that could help Trump's chances, it's hard to think of ones that help Clinton's: terrorist attacks, for example, play more to Trump than Clinton. Or imagine any plausible revelation about a candidate's private affairs: could Trump's reputation be affected? Short of it turning out that in fact he's poor, it's hard to see how. But all kinds of revelations about the Clintons could be unhelpful for her.

Second, everyone has already made up their mind about Clinton. She's not gaining new converts. But as the idea of President Trump becomes more familiar to people, more people will come to accept it and perhaps welcome it.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [postscript]

A little postscript to this series.

We started with an article by Matthew Parris that put me in mind of some lines from TS Eliot. Neither Eliot nor Parris was born in the UK: Parris in Johannesburg and Eliot in St Louis.

It's notable that the leaders of the Leave campaign were also largely born not only outside the UK but outside the Commonwealth: Boris Johnson (born in New York), Daniel Hannan (Lima, Peru), Gisela Stuart (Velden, Germany). (Stuart came to the UK in 1974 - it seems that it had some attractions even before the EU had much time to work its magic on the UK or to introduce freedom of movement.) Even Michael Gove has crossed Hadrian's Wall, perhaps soon to be an international border.

So, even if we are looking only at the main players in the story of Brexit, we see that there is far more to the UK's global links than the EU. That's not going to change.

Finally, a thought about stereotypes. Eliot came to London and worked in finance. (He worked for Lloyds Bank, an institution founded before the EU was thought of and one that might still be in the business of furthering global trade after the EU has passed away.) He was also a poet and critic, i.e. not the stereotypical banker. We have stereotypes about foreign bankers that do not always fit the facts. I hope Parris' stereotypes about Leave voters are similarly far off the mark.

Monday, 18 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 5]

We are, you will be relieved to hear, coming to the end of this series. You may recall that it started with Matthew Parris telling a story about Brexit being a shocking revelation of an unpleasant national character. I want the story of Brexit to be something much more pleasant and, as I have shown, there is plenty of evidence from which a far more pleasant story can be constructed.

This post, however, deals with something a little different: assuming that I am wrong in everything I have said so far, to what extent should the leaders of the Leave campaign, not themselves xenophobes, feel personally guilty for having ridden a wave of xenophobia? My answer is: not at all. All is explained below.

Friday, 15 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 4] UPDATED

Next question: let's assume that everything I've shown you so far is wrong. Let's assume that people voted Brexit simply to reduce immigration. Does that make them bad people?

In short, no.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 3]

Now to the next question: insofar as immigration mattered in the Brexit vote, was it control over immigration or a reduction in immigration that made the difference? In this post, with the assistance of a dodgy masseur, I will attempt to show that it was control.