Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Labour's troubles are even worse than we think

On a heady morning in May 1997, dazed from lack of sleep, I made my way to work up the Essex Road, Islington on the top deck of  a No.73 bus. It may well not have been the morning after Tony Blair's landslide election victory, but might have been the morning after that: for I was reading a column in the Guardian - of course - by Hugo Young, reflecting on Labour's historic triumph.

At the time Young, now long dead, was the Graun's big shot columnist. I wish I could remember his exact words, but their thrust was plain.  The Tories, he wrote, are now finished. Forever.

Even then, euphoric at Blair's victory, I remember thinking, "Oh come on. Life's not like that. Nor is politics".

As I write this Theresa May is about to be installed as PM after a mercifully truncated leadership campaign and the Tories are the only plausible governing party in Britain. Young was wrong. Tory exile from power lasted a mere 13 years.

On the other hand Labour's NEC met last night to establish whether its leader Jeremy Corbyn, hated by the majority of his parliamentary colleagues, needed their support to get on the ballot paper to contest Angela Eagle's leadership challenge. The NEC decided Corbyn could run as of right. This morning it appears that Owen Smith MP has thrown his hat in the ring too, an act of incomprehensible political self-harm.

Labour has been virtually wiped out in Scotland. The EU referendum result appears to confirm what the 2015 election suggested - that the party is now losing its core support in the north and midlands to UKIP. So is Labour finished?

In 1997 the Tories had merely lost an election. Labour's position is far, far worse. But actually I think it's even worse than the most of the party realises.

For me the overarching lesson of the 2008 crash was that our economy had been dependent for too long on borrowing, both public and private. Labour briefly ran a surplus inherited from the Tories, but in about 2001 Gordon Brown began to spend. Even while the economy was growing, he ran a counter-cyclical counter-Keynesian spending splurge. Public spending nearly doubled under Blair/Brown. The bankers assisted Brown mightily by lending to any Tom, Dick or Harry with a job. The economy boomed, and private debt levels rocketed.

Now the bankers must take their share of the blame, but people forget to ask what would have happened if they had behaved responsibly. Answer - the boom would have come to a halt even sooner. The 2008 crash distracts by its apocalyptic nature from the underlying reality, which is that our standard of living - as private individuals and as consumers of public services - had been kept artificially high by borrowing from future income streams. As Frank Field wrote long before 2008 (I paraphrase), "In future, public services will have to be provided for less money, not more". After George Osborne became chancellor his much vaunted austerity succeeded only in halving Britain's deficit. In other words, we are merely racking up debt at half the rate we were doing when he became Chancellor in 2010. We are borrowing about £1.5 billion every week just to stay afloat.

The gap between our ability to pay for our standard of living and our ability to fund it has widened, as globalisation has sent manufacturing jobs abroad and growing longevity has increased strain on pensions and the NHS. The days of Gordon Brown's lavish spending increases are gone. I suggest they will never come back. You can argue whether that's a good or bad thing till you're blue in the face, but it would be pointless because even if you would like them to return, the money is not there.

I think Labour supporters are divided into roughly three groups. The smallest group contains people like Frank Field and Maurice Glasman who recognise the financial realities. The largest group thinks 2008 was largely the bankers' fault and that without the crash we'd still be tootling on as before (but this group, in which I'd include the overwhelming majority of the PLP, is slightly at a loss as to how to improve on Tory solutions). The last group includes the hard left entryists of the Corbynite persuasion. They think there's a magic button which can be pressed - spending, printing, borrowing, taxing the rich - which will get the state's coffers filling again. They are fantasists of course, but the certainty and simplicity of their prescription, its la-la-not-listening to the harsh realities of economic and social circumstance explains its appeal to a growing of Labour supporters. Hence Corbyn and his Momentum chums.

Labour's problems are worse than it realises because even if this last group can be seen off - and events of the last few weeks make that seem a slim hope - the others have no intellectually defensible or practical answers to the problems facing Britain. You may hate the Tories all you like, but their policy of bearing down on public spending and trying to encourage business to generate the taxes which will make Britain's public finances sustainable has at least the merit of coherence (it also, coincidentally, chimes with our own experiences as citizens in trying to run our own lives). When you add together that - in contrast to Labour's mediocre offerings - they have a new leader with a long history of performing competently in one of the great offices of state, it's difficult to see how Labour are going to claw their way back into contention.

At this stage the proposition that Labour are in deep trouble seems like a woeful underestimation of their problems. Unlike Hugo Young I wouldn't risk saying Labour is finished as a party. In politics things change of course. But I think they'll have to change quite a lot before Labour can form a government again.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Brexit reflections #10 - Professor Vernon Bogdanor; getting the cold shoulder

I don't think there's ever been a political issue which has divided us more.  I live in a divided household.  Since the referendum a number of social events have had to take place without me (it was felt that Remainer friends needed a good cry and it was best this take place without my provocative presence).  Although my wife, two and a half weeks in, is showing signs of forgiving me for disagreeing with her, I have been given the cold shoulder by people I thought were my friends.

One such sent round an email.  It read as follows -

"I know you might be sick of it, but this is a really important moment in our country's history.  Please think about this, it is like a second chance to vote".

There followed a link to a petition to stop Article 50 being invoked.

"Now we have a chance to show the rest of Europe and parliament what we really want.  Sign this petition if you want to stop Brexit."

Goodness, I thought; and there was me thinking we'd already had a chance to vote on Brexit. In the Referendum.

Something else struck me. This "second chance to vote" was only open to Remainers. That's a stroke of genius, I thought. That's the way to defeat the Leave supporters. Deny them the franchise!

My friend went on, "There is some confusion about the referendum result and what it means."

Actually Leave won by a small but clear majority. Or did they?

"Only 37% of the British electorate put a cross in the Leave box on 23rd June.  The 52/48% split was not the percentage of the British electorate but the percentage of the turnout on that day.  So Brexit is not the will of the people.  Since then many Leave voters have changed their mind. So the figure of 37% voting for Leave is even less now . . . the majority of the British people do not want this."

But hang on. If only 37% of the British electorate voted Leave, mustn't the percentage who voted Remain have been even smaller? Something like 34%?

Who is to say that the people that didn't vote were all Remainers? Or all Leavers for that matter? Or split along the lines of those that did vote? Or split some other way? Isn't the point about public votes that they give an opportunity for those who care enough to make their opinion clear? And don't they entitle politicians to disregard the views of those that can't be bothered to turn out?

"Parliament has no mandate to vote for Brexit. If it does so it will be against the wishes of the people and undemocratic. So, to make it absolutely clear to parliament that the majority of the British people don't want to leave please sign this. Please don't think it is a lost cause, because it isn't. It is more important than the vote you made on 23rd June in many ways. It is a chance to get this country back on an even keel, to right the terrible mistakes that were made, which several of the politicians who were campaigning for Brexit now admit were wrong. People who want to remain are in the majority. Let's show really clearly that we are not going to let democracy be manipulated any more".

Oh Jesus. "More important than the vote you made on 23rd June in many ways".  Give me strength.

How do we know what the "wishes of the people" are? Or what the majority of "the British people" want? We could ask them! And conveniently we just did! In a national Referendum with polling stations and a proper voter registration system!

They voted Leave.

To be fair my friend is correct about one thing. The Referendum result is not mandatory but advisory. Parliament doesn't have to go along with it. Most MPs are Remainers.

What would be the effect of ignoring the result? I don't know what disenchanted Leavers would do, but if you accept that we, the much-invoked British people, voted Leave because it offered an opportunity for the poorest to protest about their effective disenfranchisement on one of the issues about which they feel most strongly, it's not difficult to imagine the impact on faith in democracy.

At this stage we still don't know who's going to win the Tory leadership contest, or whether there'll be a snap General Election, but it's not hard to imagine the electoral consequences for any political party which ran on a pledge to ignore the Referendum result. UKIP got nearly 4 million votes in the last election. More than 17 million people voted Leave. It's not hard to see how UKIP could eat into the Labour vote in the north, or, at a time when outright parliamentary majorities are hard to come by, hold the balance of power in a coalition. I doubt my friend wants to see that any more than I do.

The other thing which struck me when I read her email related not so much to its content, but to the fact of its having been sent at all. Reading the names of the other people to whom it had been circulated I couldn't help notice that she had left out acquaintances in common whom she must have known would be Leavers. Sadly, she had thought I must be one of the Nice People who would have voted Remain. She had made an assumption about me which took my breath away.

This presented me with a dilemma. Should I ignore her email and resolve not to mention the subject next time we met? Or should I respond, pointing out politely the flaws and dangers in her argument? In the end I did neither. I wrote as follows -

"I know you'll think less of me for this, but I'm afraid I'm one of the people who voted Leave.

I guess I should be flattered by our assumption that I must have been one of the nice Remainers, but I'm not.

I could have just not responded at all, but I felt that in the interests of friendship (and I have a very high regard for you) it was best to be candid. For what it's worth my wife voted Remain and is very cross with me.

I'd be happy to explain why I voted the way I did, not to try and persuade you that you're wrong, but to advance the idea that there is a case for Leave which a reasonably intelligent and well-informed person could find decent and plausible. But I understand it may well be too late for that!

With love as always,


That was last week. So far there's been no reply.

Should my friend stumble across this blog I would like to refer her to a letter from Professor Vernon Bogdanor of Kings College London, who wrote to the Times recently -

". . . Yet (Leave voters) are now told by academics, lawyers and others that the outcome of the referendum should be ignored on the ground that, as the former Bishop of Durham suggests, they were not voting on the EU at all but on "longstanding social grievances". Others also have suggested that Leave voters did not know what they were doing, or were bigoted (though bigotry in the form of antisemitism is more likely to be found among university students or on the Labour left that in the pubs of Sunderland or Hartlepool).

The arguments against accepting the legitimacy of the outcome of the referendum are similar to those used in the 19th century against extending the franchise.  Were they to succeed, the poorer members of the community might well begin to ask whether democracy has anything at all to offer them; and that would indeed be a very dangerous development".

Bang on. And by the way, Professor Bogdanor voted Remain.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Chilcot Report - counterfactuals and illegality

Like you, dear reader, I haven't read Chilcot; just the words of those who haven't read it either, or only part of it. But I think we get the gist.

Blair probably committed himself too early; the intelligence on WMD was not wholly watertight; our troops didn't always have the right gear; there was no adequate plan for afterwards; military action should have been a last resort; hundreds of thousands of people died; ISIL rose out of the ashes.

And yet there are counterarguments. 

Even if Blair did make a personal decision months in advance, Parliament was free to overrule him.  It did not.

The intelligence on WMD may have been flawed (although Chilcot clears Blair of the sexing up allegation), but even so we all believed Saddam had such weapons because we knew he'd gassed the Kurds and because he had obstructed the UN weapons inspectors at every turn.  The circumstantial evidence for WMD was overwhelming.

As for the absence of an adequate plan, we were going into coalition with a much larger ally, the United States.  Diplomats and soldiers suggest we tried to influence the US approach (itself riven by factionalism) but were often rebuffed.  And what plan could conceivably cover every eventuality on the ground?

At the time he was trying to prevent war, Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, said that completing his work would take "not weeks, but months".  Given that Saddam's cooperation had only been secured by massing forces on Iraq's borders, how long did Chilcot suggest we should have paid for our armies to remain there?

It's true that many of ISIL's early leaders served time in post-invasion prison camps, but, aside from the generality that removing Saddam was likely to take the lid off the sectarian pot, no-one predicted the rise of ISIL, a phenomenon which owes its emergence as much as anything to the Arab spring revolution in Syria.

In the 13 years since the invasion has counted about 160,000 violent civilian deaths.  That's a little over 10,000 a year.  Iraq is still a violent place, but not remotely comparable to the scale of the Saddam Hussein years.

It's worth briefly examining the scale of those casualties. Saddam engaged in repeated assaults on his own people and took Iraq into a disastrous war with Iran. He is thought to have killed about 180,000 people in the 1988 Al Anfal campaign alone. In the 1991 uprising estimates of Kurdish and Shia deaths range between 100,00 and in excess of 200,000.  The Iran-Iraq war killed half a million soldiers and, according to one source I found, an equivalent number of civilians.  And then we have the constant attrition rate the maintenance of a tyrannical state involves - the torture chambers, the summary executions, the disappearances, the use of chemical weapons at Hallabja. Mass graves are still being found.

Fewer people are dying post invasion, perhaps by as much as a factor of ten.

Chilcot is guilty of the counsel of perfection.  His inquiry took seven years to mull over decisions which the Blair government had weeks, days and sometimes hours to consider. Chilcot found that sometimes things didn't go according to plan.  Well blow me down!  Who could have predicted that?

Moreover Chilcot was given the job of making sense of what happened, not with considering what would have happened otherwise. If the invasion hadn't taken place Saddam Hussein would still have been in power today.  Or one of his sons, or some other Ba'ath party hard-man. This prospect reminds me of Orwell's famous image: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever"

Without the invasion Iraqis would have been denied an opportunity to remake their country.  They may have messed it up, but that isn't all our fault.

If the anti-war faction had not taken such a stranglehold on Western political life we might have intervened in Syria. As it was, stymied by Ed Miliband's Labour party, David Cameron lost a Commons vote, Barack Obama forgot his "red lines" and President Assad stayed in power. In Syria the militants stepped into the vacuum and thus ISIL was born.

Chilcot is a luxuriant wallow in hindsight. Shame it didn't look forward and consider the counterfactual a bit more. Its effect is to indulge the fantasy that it's possible to make the world a better place without mistakes, expense or anyone dying.

The reality about liberal intervention is that it's messy, expensive, difficult and time-consuming.  It's impossible to plan for every eventuality, and if you think a bomb-proof plan is conceivable you're going to be disappointed.  Every time.  And yet intervention sometimes works.  It worked in Kosovo and in Sierra Leone.  If you think it didn't work in Iraq, Google "Iraqi media after Saddam".

In contrast, non-intervention always fails. Why? Because it merely gives bad people like Saddam Hussein or President Assad (or ISIL) space to do whatever they like. The disappointing thing about Chilcot for me is not that he was critical of Blair, but that his criticism will merely reinforce the tendency, already becoming ingrained in Western political life, to isolationism. Unless you want to be vilified like Tony Blair, don't send your troops overseas. Ever.

PS  Those of us who think that Blair probably did the best he could under difficult circumstances have been dogged for years by the foolish assertion that Iraq was an "illegal" war. I'm pleased to see that Chilcot knocks this on the head. Not by confirming the war was legal (how would he know?); but by pointing out that no-one knows whether it was or not. The only way to establish this would be to go to Court. It's amazing how many lavishly backed Blair-haters have baulked at this, considering how confident they are in their view. When even international lawyers don't agree on the issue, I think we should be sceptical of pronouncements by those whose closest brush with the law will be contesting a parking ticket.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Brexit reflections #9 - Farewell to Scotland?

Amongst all the unpredictable consequences of last Friday's Brexit vote (and the momentous events of the long weekend - Cameron's resignation, the collapse of Corbyn's shadow cabinet), one which struck me most was the size of the majority for Remain in Scotland.  Given that the SNP's manifesto promised a 2nd Independence referendum it was no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon almost immediately said that Holyrood would begin the legislative preparations for such a referendum to take place.

I voted Leave after a lot of thought and with a heavy heart; I also think the Union is a better arrangement than the alternatives; so I'm dismayed at this turn of events. "I told you so", say some Scottish Unionist commentators (without actually saying how they could have been so sure what would happen).

So is disaster upon us? Or are the any reasons to be cheerful?  Well yes, I think there are.

1. Although the result was 60% Remain / 40% Leave, no-one knows how those votes break down. Were the Remainers all pro-Independence?  If so, Ms Sturgeon would have good reason to go the country again. On the other hand the evidence suggests that it was the more affluent who tended to vote Remain; the same sector of Scottish society that shunned Independence in other words. This could be good news for the SNP if it means former Unionist voters would switch to Yes out of sheer disgust at the prospect of leaving the EU. The problem is that Sturgeon doesn't know.

Moreover a vote to stay in the EU is not the same as a vote to rejoin once out.  And the desire to stay in the EU may not be as powerful an urge as that to stay within the Union.  Also the majority of Scots voted for the UK to remain in the EU, not Scotland to remain in it.  Then there's turnout - lower in Scotland than average, at 67% rather than 72% across the whole of the UK. Turn-out in the Indy referendum was about 85%.

A lot of unknowables here.

2. The economic arguments which are thought to have defeated the SNP in 2014 are if anything even more difficult to overcome now. The SNP's economic case was based then on heroic assumptions about the price of oil. But that price has now dipped still further. Moreover the economics are more widely understood, partly thanks to the work of Kevin Hague and his Chokkablog. Scotland would face a deficit increase of about £1700 per person immediately it left the UK.  It will be hard to explain to the Scottish electorate why they should embrace something which looks economically even worse than it did at the last referendum.

3.  Scotland would have to pay a financial contribution to the EU.  It might have to join the Euro.  It would, post Indy, have the largest deficit in Europe, many times the permitted level for joining the EU (remember that it was fiddling the figures, with the assistance of the Remain-supporting Goldman Sachs, which led to Greece's ill-fated admittance). Depending on the outcome of Brexit negotiations Scotland could find itself on the wrong side of a tariff barrier from a country with which it does the overwhelming majority of its business (four times that with the EU).  There would have to be a hard border, with fencing.  In order to regain their right to work in Paris, Munich and Madrid, Scots would have to give up their collective right to work in London, Manchester and Belfast.

4. Timing could be a key issue. Westminster may not be able to stop Indyref 2.0, but it could plausibly have a big say on when it happens. And timing could be crucial, for example if it looks as if HMG will be able to cobble together a deal on reasonable terms.  Moreover the longer the party are in office the more likely the Scottish electorate is to shrug off its rather bizarre infatuation with the SNP.

5. I never wish to see another referendum. And down here we've had only one. I can't imagine Scots would look kindly on a party which inflicted on it a third in five years.

Ms Sturgeon is unlikely to call a referendum unless she is absolutely sure she can win. I wonder whether she is already regretting her gung-ho response on Friday morning. The next few weeks' opinion polls will be interesting.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Brexit reflections #8 - Simpson's Law meets Libby Purves

Occasional readers of this blog (are there any other kind?) may recall me mentioning Simpson's Law, a principle most pithily summed up here in February in the following terms - "if the Luvvies are in favour of something it's likely to be wrong, and, moreover, almost certain not to prevail."

I wrote then that in the EU referendum this law faced its sternest test, since I believed that although Emma Thompson, Bob Geldof and Uncle Tarquin Cobley were in favour of staying in the EU, Remain was likely to win. But it seems there is no standing in the way of the Law, for as we now know, just as with Hacked Off and the Alternative Vote, the Luvvies lost.

Serendipitously just as this occurred to me the Times has published a magisterial article by (go on, guess) Libby Purves (yes, I know) entitled rather cruelly Hysterical lefties really need to grow up.  It's here.  With apologies to Mr Murdoch, here are some choice extracts.

The carry-on was beyond parody: anguished bunker-mentality tinged with patronising, generalising hauteur about those who voted Leave . . . This reached its apogee with the telly critic AA Gill decrying fuddy-duddy Britain as opposed to "the Renaissance, the rococo, the Romantics, the impressionists, gothic, baroque, neoclassicism, realism, futurism, fauvism, cubism, dada, surrealism, postmodernism and kitsch".  He concluded that the only people thinking of Brexit were "old philistine scared gits" (Mr Gill is 62 tomorrow. There's a lot of down-wid-da-kidzery in all this). . . Of all the culturati the only sharp pre-vote voice was our Richard Morrison: "The arts world prides itself on its diversity, inclusivity, open-mindedness and constant efforts to reach out to all. Yet at the very moment when Britain decides its future, hardly anyone in the arts seems to understand, let alone agree with, the opinion of at least half the population."

Once we had Orwell and Priestley: now, it is almost comic to watch the affluent metropolitan left being cross with the zero-hours strugglers of Sunderland for disrespecting the instructions of a Tory PM and big business. . . . The really shameful thing is for those who purport to be socialist humanitarians to demonise 17 1/2 million people: patronising them as stupidly "deceived", or writing them off as racist, bigoted malicious or just old . . .

Purves quotes Chesterton: "Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget/For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet".  OK, they may have spoken wrong and plunged us into difficulties. But it is not fair to blame them more than the arrogant, incompetent Brussels institutions and the decades when governments neglected inequality.

Amen to all of that. There's a lot more swingeing stuff which is a pleasure to read and re-read. Libby Purves. Who knew? I'll never switch off You and Yours again.

Meanwhile, Simpson's Law rides off into the sunset, unvanquished.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

brexit reflections #7 - Re-education required

On the day the world fell in / democracy returned to Britain (you choose), I found myself sitting next to a friend who had voted Remain. It took her a while to register that I hadn't, but, when she did, the explosion of anger and incredulity was immediate.

"So I suppose you're pleased that the financial markets have crashed and that the pound's hit its lowest level since the 1980s?", she spluttered.

"I think the markets closed down at about the level they were in June", I said. "And the pound fell a lot at first, but recovered to about the level it was in May. Something like that".

"Only. Only. Only because", she said, clearly struggling, "because Mark Carney spent loads of our money propping things up".

"Did the Bank of England actually intervene then?", I asked, genuinely surprised: I follow the news pretty closely, and I hadn't heard of this (48 hours later there have been no news reports to this effect).

"Well I don't know", she said. "They might have done".

"I don't think they did", I said. "And anyway, the Bank of England doesn't buy equities. The price of equities is just what the markets think they're worth.  You've got to bear in mind that there's bound to be a bit of turbulence because a lot of what goes on at times like this is simply betting on a grand scale".

My friend was discomfited at meeting someone who knew more about this kind of thing than she did, but I could see her lining up for another go and was part grateful, part frustrated when my wife, who hates this kind of thing, intervened to stop it. I extracted an agreement to the effect that it was possible to vote Leave without being a racist baby-eater, and that was that.

During the meal though, eaten in an atmosphere of awkward truce, I wanted to ask, Did you really think the Bank of England had propped up the pound? Did you really think the pound had closed at its lowest level since the 80s? If not, why did you say it? Did you really think the Bank had spent "our money" buying equities to support the stock market? Did you really think a fall in the pound would have been an unequivocal disaster, helping as it would manufacturers, savers and Britain's balance of trade?  Did you really think you were well enough informed to be able to criticise someone whose view differed from yours?

Since the referendum many on the losing side have sought refuge in the statistic that those most likely to vote Remain were the best educated people in the country.  Leavers, goes the unattractive inference, are stupid.  But ignorance is not confined to Remain voters.  Neither was education the only predictor of which way a person was likely to vote.  So was affluence. 

It's probably not surprising that the better off were more likely to want to stay in the EU. As I've pointed out before, we (because I am one of them) are the people most likely to benefit from cheaper access to the service industries. We're on the housing ladder, we're well established in our careers and if push comes to shove we can get health insurance and send our kids to private schools to avoid logjams in the NHS and education. The EU works for us. We can pay our way round many of the problems uncontrolled migration causes the poor.

My friend is an intelligent, able, likeable and successful person. She'd probably describe herself as living a modest lifestyle, although as well as a house in a pleasant Manchester suburb, she and her husband have property interests in two other countries and send their child to a fee paying school.

Their lives have about as little in common - and as little contact - with those of fellow Labour voters in Sunderland, Stoke or Whitehaven as theirs does with Donald Trump. No wonder the referendum result was a shock.

The ignorance of the Left's haut bourgeoisie regarding the circumstances in which ordinary people live outside the glitzier parts of our big cities is almost total. It has reacted with comical surprise to the discovery that large parts of the UK do not share its views or its affluence. Most people in Britain will never buy second homes in two countries, but they know we're doing it and they know we're content with an expansion in the labour force which undercuts their own living standards. Wages in some semi-skilled sectors (building for example) are believed to be actually falling.

The Hampstead Left generally has reached a pitch of self delusion so total that it imagines a petition for a second referendum, thus far reaching three million signatures, carries with it a shred of moral authority. Faced with the realisation that - gosh! - ordinary working class people feel that membership of the EU does not actually benefit them that much, it has fallen back into a cloistered echo chamber, now reverberating with cries that the underclass voted Leave because it was too ignorant to see that the bien-pensant were right.  Urgent re-education must take place at once, they Tweet.

Yes. They certainly need it.

Friday, 24 June 2016

brexit reflections #6 - Britain votes to leave and Cameron resigns

Here's an email I wrote to my brother on learning the news about Brexit -

Hi Roz,

You must be pleased this morning.  I guess I am too, although my delight at the total shock at the result amongst the great and the good (distinctly audible on the BBC – someone tweeted “They don’t know anyone who voted leave!”) is tempered by Sal’s dismay.  She understands that people in England’s old industrial areas feel disillusioned with their lot (and let down by Labour, which is essentially run by people like us), but she puts their problems down to failures of capitalism.  Moreover she attributes decades of peace in Europe to the EU.  She’s gutted.

I think she’s wrong on both counts.  I think we have peace because we remember what two world wars were like; and as for capitalism, it is lifting people out of poverty all over the world – it’s just that better standards of living for people in the Far East means poorer job prospects for the post-industrial West; and those same forces of globalisation are driving people (courtesy of free movement) to Britain, depressing wages at the bottom end and keeping Brits on the dole. 

Because of this we’ve become a much more unequal country in the last twenty years.  Those with skills are not competing with migrants, on the whole, so their wages have risen more quickly.  The idea that this could carry on indefinitely without the derided underclass rising up and taking an opportunity to lash out was always complacent and, it turns out, mistaken.

I think Cameron and the EU bigwigs have handled this incredibly badly.  Cameron should have asked for much more than he did.  He should have understood that given some genuine restrictions on migration much of the anger of Labour’s core vote would have dissipated.  Merkel, Juncker et al are equally to blame.  They could have kept the principle of free movement whilst allowing for its suspension in cases where net migration exceeded a certain percentage of the population.  Cameron was incompetent for not insisting on it.  They were arrogant and inflexible.  That their cosy arrangement now looks under threat is entirely their own fault.

Nothing is as good or bad as it first seems.  I think the predictions of financial meltdown are premature.  I also think we’ll negotiate new arrangements with the EU which will fairly closely resemble the old ones.  On the other hand I think the fact that Scotland voted by a big margin to Remain is genuinely disquieting.  I think the financial arguments which dished the Independence campaign last time will have if anything greater force in the event of another referendum, and I don’t believe that Scots would prefer a Union with Europe (and possibly the Euro) to Union with the rest of the UK.  But a lot of Scots were daft enough to believe the SNP last time, and I’ve got absolutely no doubt that La Sturgeon would go at it with renewed vigour.

I was struck by one thing when I went to vote yesterday morning.  Polls consistently show that membership of the EU is one of the least pressing issues concerning voters.  Yet here we were voting on it.  On the other hand excessive migration consistently comes out as one of the top two most pressing issues for the British, but we can’t vote for (or against) any politician who promises to do something about it.  The walk I was making to the local library to vote would not have been possible regarding migration.  

A political arrangement like that cannot stand, and I’m not remotely surprised that Labour’s underclass has registered its anger in the only manner available to it.