Category Archives: politics

Another way to misrepresent the EU referendum result: the Charles Moore Defence

Charles_Moore,_former_editor_of_the_Daily_Telegraph,_at_Edmund_Burke_Philosopher,_Politician,_Prophet[photo by Policy Exchange – Flickr: Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, at Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30224977%5D

As we have seen ( in Liars in public places) the usual method of misrepresenting the 2016 referendum result, as employed by messrs Rees-Mogg, Jenkin and Johnson, is to lie outright –  these honourable men equate those who voted to leave with ‘the British people’ whose voice, we are told, must be heeded, and whose will must not be thwarted. Yet if we look at the actual figures, this arithmetic is downright dishonest:

British People (total) = 65.5 million

British People (eligible to vote in 2016 referendum) = 46.5 million

“British People” (as defined by messrs Rees-Mogg, Jenkin & Johnson) = 17.4 million.

(i.e. 38% of the electorate, 26.4% of the population – a large minority by any honest measure)

This morning, Mr Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, made another sort of misrepresentation to the people – he told us that the vote to leave was  ‘a massive vote – 17.4 million people, the largest number to vote for anything in our history’   (Today programme, BBC Radio 4, 15 February)

This is a claim I have heard before, from others who, like Mr Moore, are keen to present the 2016 referendum result as something it is not. For what it’s worth, the assertion is true (though only barely so) – but to be honest, it is not worth much at all.

For a start, we must ask ourselves on how many occasions ‘in our history’ the British people have voted on a single issue such as this*.

The answer is 3.

In 2016, as we have seen, 17,410,742 voted to leave the EU;

in 2011, 13,013,123 voted to reject the alternative vote and stick with first past the post;

and in 1973 17,378,581 voted to remain in the EU

that is only 32,161 fewer (or 0.18% less) than the ‘massive’ 2016 tally – from a substantially smaller electorate (40 million against 46.5) and a slightly lower turnout (64.67% v. 72.21%) – sufficient, I would say, to render Mr Moore’s grand-sounding claim void of any worth and confirm it as a clear attempt to misrepresent the 2016 referendum result as some sort of overwhelming landslide which it would be futile to challenge, whereas it was actually very close on the day – 51.89% v 48.11% – and in percentage terms meant that only 38% of the electorate actually voted to leave as against 34.7% who wished to stay and a further 27% who did not offer an opinion.

For comparison, the 1975 result was decisive –  67% to 33%,  17.378 million v. 8.47 million, 43% of the electorate for, 21% against with 36% not offering an opinion.

I have said elsewhere that the 2016 result would be more honestly presented by saying that 62% did not vote to leave. In case I am accused of duplicity, we should consider the 1975 referendum in the same light.

Can we say that 57% ‘did not vote to stay’ ? I suppose we could; on the other hand, since the status quo then, as now, was that we were already in the EU, then voting to leave is the vote for change; so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in 1975, 79% did not wish to leave the EU, since only 21% expressed a desire to do so.

What is undeniable is that a number of public figures – many of them elected representatives – consistently misrepresent the 2016 result as so overwhelming that to challenge it would be futile and an affront to democracy. 

They do so because they fear that the result – which was actually very close and showed the country to be deeply divided on the issue – will certainly be reversed in a second referendum.

For them, that makes a second referendum something to be avoided at all costs. For us – the British people – it makes it a democratic imperative.

 

*There have been 11 referendums since 1973, but only 3 involved the whole of the UK. General elections, which involve multiple parties, constituency votes and complex manifestos, are clearly not the same as single-issue referendums in  which the overall vote is what counts. For information, since the war, the winning party has generally gained around 13 million votes, with the lowest being Tony Blair’s victory in 2005 (9.55 million votes giving a majority of 31) and the highest John Major’s 14 million in 1992, which gave him a slimmer majority of 10; while Teresa May’s total of 13.63 milion in 2017, though among the highest, left her short of an overall majority – which shows that the total popular vote is of little significance in these contests.

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Johnson now certain Britain wishes to remain and would reverse Brexit in second referendum

 

Screenshot 2018-02-14 14.50.48     picture: BBC Website

Boris Johnson has admitted that a second referendum would reverse Brexit and see Britain vote to remain in the EU.

In his speech today, Mr Johnson said holding another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU – as some campaigners are calling for – would be a “disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal”.

Since Mr Johnson presents himself as a firm advocate of Brexit, it is inconceivable that he would describe a referendum that confirmed Brexit in those terms or as having these effects; if anything, it would silence the Remainers.

His words can only mean that Mr Johnson expects a second referendum would reverse Brexit and leave the 38% of the electorate who voted for it feeling betrayed.

His words are open to no other construction.

But if he believes that the British people wish to stay in the EU, why is he intent on denying them the chance to say so? Can it be that he puts his own career above democracy?

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Reading between the lines in Boris’s valentine

Boris Johnson, whatever else he may be, is a wily creature. His Valentine’s Day attempt to woo us all to get behind Brexit is a typically guileful effort. It is presented as a magnanimous ‘reaching out’ to ‘Remainers’ along the lines of ‘let’s all pull together to make this happen’.  He wishes to persuade us ‘that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.’ His general style, as always, is one of bluff confidence.

Screenshot 2018-02-14 14.50.48   (picture: BBC website)

However, even the wiliest creatures do not always succeed in concealing their true feelings; sometimes they let slip rather more than they mean to.

 

Mr Johnson has done his arithmetic: he knows that when he and his cronies – the reprehensible Rees-Mogg, the unspeakable Bernard Jenkin – use expressions like ‘the voice of the British people’ (which must be heeded!) and ‘the will of the British people’ (which must on no account be thwarted!) then the expression ‘British people’ actually means ‘a large minority of the electorate.’

 

To be precise, it means 17,410,742 out of an electorate of 46,500,001 registered voters (in a country with a population 65,640,000). In other words, while those in favour of leaving the EU might amount to a bare majority (52%) of those who voted, in fact they are only 37.4% of the electorate and 26.5% of the total population. Another way of looking at this is that 62.6% of the electorate did not vote to leave the EU, and the fate of the British people – by which I mean all 65.6 million of them – is being dictated by the wishes of just over one quarter of them.

 

And Mr Johnson is convinced that a second referendum will see this arithmetic expressed at the ballot box – in other words, that this time around, the majority will find their voice and say they do not wish to leave the EU.  Consider this excerpt from today’s BBC report:

‘Mr Johnson said holding another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU – as some campaigners are calling for – would be a “disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal”.
“Let’s not go there,” he said.’
Look carefully at what he is saying here, at the place he does not want us to go: another referendum ‘would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal‘.
Does he mean it would be a disastrous mistake if it confirmed the result of the first referendum? That those who voted to Remain would, for some reason, feel permanently and ineradicably betrayed were they to lose again? Surely not – if you have been beaten twice on the same issue, you are more likely to accept the result.
No. The only sense that can be made of Mr Johnson’s words is that the 38% of the electorate who voted to leave would feel betrayed if a second referendum showed that the majority of the British people did not wish to leave the European Union and it would be a mistake to let that happen. But whose mistake would it be, and by whom would the 38% feel betrayed?
The answer to both questions is Boris Johnson and his ‘Brexiteers’.
That is what Johnson’s speech is really about: he firmly believes (as, I would suggest, do most in the Brexit camp) that a second referendum can only result in a rejection of Brexit, at which point the mob will turn and rend him. It is not any concern for his country or even his party that drives him, but a deep personal fear. Hence his desperate pretence that the matter is already settled, that there is no going back, there is nothing to see here, move along and let’s all pull together to make a success of this (and save my skin)  – and do not, whatever you do, even entertain the possibility that you, the British people,  might get another chance to have your say on the matter:
‘Let’s not go there’
I disagree, Boris. By all means, let us go there. It is the only honest course.
[The situation bears a striking resemblance to the Tories’ attitude to a second Scottish referendum, which I discussed in The curious case of Toom Tabard and the Indyref Paradox]

 

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Liars in public places

‘die breite Masse eines Volkes… einer großen Lüge leichter zum Opfer fällt als einer kleinen’ – ‘the broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.’ (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf)

‘These are people who are bent on trying to reverse the substance of Brexit and if we finish up with Brexit in name only there will be a terrific backlash in the country because the country voted overwhelmingly to leave.’ (Bernard Jenkin MP, broadcast on the Today programme, 7 July 2017)

As big lies go, it would be hard to find a more consummate piece of public dishonesty in recent times than that.

The country voted overwhelmingly to leave

Did it really, Mr Jenkin?

I do not think that (not quite) 52% to (slightly more than) 48% can be construed as ‘overwhelming‘ in any sense of that word; furthermore, a total of 17.4 million out of an electorate of 46.5 million is 37.4%: that is a considerable minority, not an overwhelming majority; an overwhelming majority would be something like 62.6%the percentage of the electorate who did not vote to leave the European Union.

But you know this, Mr Jenkin. You know that every time you make claims like this you are deliberately misleading the public and fostering a lie, just as Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg does when he speaks of ‘the will of the British people being thwarted’ if people have the temerity to  speak against leaving the EU.

Yet you do it, day in and day out. You try to silence your opponents by what the psychologists call ‘projection’: attributing to others the very faults of which you yourself are guilty. Thus, anyone who dares raise any difficulty that Brexit might entail (and as you know full well, there are many) is said to be advancing phony arguments for an ulterior motive; their real intention is to ‘reverse the substance of Brexit’, and that will incur ‘a terrific backlash in the country because the country voted overwhelmingly to leave.’

The truth of the matter – as you know – is that it is your arguments that are phony, and that you are determined to hustle the British people into accepting the views of a vociferous minority despite the fact that an overwhelming majority do not agree with them.

There will be a terrific backlash: but it will be against you and your like, the liars in public places, and against the craven parliamentarians and ineffectual journalists who meekly accepted your lie and did not robustly challenge it every time you uttered it.

Shame on them, and shame on you.

 

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The curious case of Toom Tabard and the Indyref Paradox

Psychological projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.

– Wikipedia

ToomTabard

(David Mundell – photo from BBC website)

As Secretary of State for Scotland at a time when we have our own devolved government, David Mundell is a worthy inheritor of the title Toom Tabard, originally given to John Balliol, whose claim to the throne of Scotland was dependent on his being vassal to Edward I of England. ‘Toom Tabard’ means ‘empty coat’ and signifies one who has the trappings of power without the substance.

Mr Mundell, never a man to shy away from a cliche when it presents itself, today delivered this curious pronouncement:

“The people of Scotland sent Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP a very, very clear message in last week’s general election – with the cataclysmic performance of the SNP compared to the 2015 general election. They want that threat of an independence referendum taken off the table.
“Nicola Sturgeon should not be in denial about that. She should wake up, smell the coffee and be absolutely clear with the people of Scotland, as now members of her own party are indicating, and take that threat off the table.”

As others have pointed out, an election result that leaves you with more seats than all your opponents combined (nearly half as many again – 35 to 24) is the sort of cataclysm any party would gladly suffer.  In the five elections prior to 2015, the SNP won 3 seats in 1992, 6 seats in 1997 and 5 in 2001 (all from a total of 72 contested) then 6 seats in both 2005 and 2010, when the number contested was 59. If Mr Mundell is looking for a realistic baseline to measure from, then the low single figures of that 18 year span are surely more indicative than the astonishing 56 out of 59 seats the SNP won in 2015. The only cataclysm in recent elections in Scotland has been the collapse of the pro-Union vote.

(In the interests of historical accuracy, it should be remembered that the ‘union’ referred to in the titles ‘Scottish Unionist’ and ‘Scottish Conservative and Unionist’ is the Irish union of 1800, not the Scottish Union of 1707: it was Irish Home Rule that the Unionists opposed – so it is better to call the Scottish anti-independence parties – Tory, Labour and Liberal – pro-Union rather than Unionist)

It is against that background that we should consider Mr Mundell’s bizarre notion that an independence referendum constitutes a ‘threat’ – to what, and to whom?

The Conservative election campaign in Scotland was, to say the least, peculiar. It was led by Ruth Davidson and consisted entirely of the repeated assertion that the SNP were only interested in a second Independence Referendum, which they were ‘always banging on about’, to the extent that they were ‘neglecting the day-job’ of running Scotland. The campaign’s actual policy content was zero.

The oddnesss of this is worth dwelling on: Ruth Davidson, technically, had no involvement in the General Election, since she is not a Westminster MP but leads her party in the devolved parliament in Holyrood. Likewise, the ‘day job’ of running Scotland falls to the devolved government and has nothing to do with Westminster; finally, the question of a second independence referendum was not an issue in the General Election: it had already been voted on by the Scottish Parliament on 28 March, with MSPs voting by 69 to 59 in favour of seeking permission for a referendum before the UK leaves the EU.

To reiterate: the Conservative campaign was exclusively concerned with a matter that was not at issue in the election and had in any case already been settled by the legitimate authority. This suggests that if there is an obsession with the independence referendum, it is on the part of the Conservatives rather than the SNP (who, incidentally, made no mention of a second referendum in their campaign).

And the obsession is not with winning a second referendum, but with preventing it from taking place. The logic of this is worth examining. The position of the Conservatives (and indeed the other pro-union parties, who largely parroted the Conservative campaign) is that it would be better for us all if the question of independence was off the agenda for at least a generation. That, of course, is a perfectly legitimate viewpoint, whether one agrees with it or not.

Now, if a second independence referendum repeated or indeed enhanced the result of the first in 2014 (55% No, 45% Yes) it is clear that the matter would be settled for a generation: none of the present pro-independence politicians would feel there was much credibility in going to the country a third time having lost twice.

The inference to be drawn from that is that if the Conservatives and their pro-union allies were confident that a second referendum would deliver the same result as the first, or better (from their point of view), then they would be keen to have one, since it would deliver exactly what they want: the removal of independence from the political agenda for the foreseeable future, with accompanying discomfiture of the SNP.

But, as we have seen, they are not keen: in fact, they are pathologically opposed to having a second referendum, to the extent, as we have seen, of making it the sole focus of their General election campaign, even though it was not an issue. What inference can be drawn from that?

Logically, there is only one: that they fear the Scottish people have changed their minds since 2014 and that a second referendum will reverse the decision of the first. On the evidence, that fear is well-grounded.

In the 2014 referendum, Scots were assured that if they wished to remain part of the EU, they should vote No, as (it was claimed) a Yes vote would jeopardise Scotland’s membership: they would have to reapply, with no guarantee of being admitted. In the 2016 EU referendum Scotland voted by a substantial majority (62%) to remain (as did Northern Ireland, by a smaller margin – 55%) but the UK vote overall was to leave (though only 17 million out of an electorate of 46 million voted to do so – 16 million wished to remain and 13 million did not vote).

Furthermore, as the results of the 2015 and 2017 elections, measured against the baseline of the five previous elections, suggest, there has been a sea-change in Scottish politics: the great majority now favour a party whose principal aim is Scottish independence.

In other words, since 2014 there have been two substantive changes: the UK government is committed to a course which the Scottish people have emphatically rejected; and from having minimal support, the pro-independence party has risen spectacularly to a position of dominance which, even at its reduced 2017 figures, any of the pro-union parties would give their eye-teeth for, and probably sell their own grandmothers into the bargain.

Add to this that a minority Conservative government is now seeking alliance with the DUP, who are simultaneously asserting that they will pursue ‘the interest of the people of Northern Ireland’ (who voted to remain in the EU) yet will support Brexit on the grounds that, as a Unionist party, they must follow what the UK as a whole voted for, and you have a situation which is confused, to say the least.

The paradoxical Mr Mundell views the SNP’s continued electoral dominance as a cataclysmic failure, and grounds for their abandoning a second independence referendum (which has already been democratically decided on), yet seems unable to draw any similar conclusions from his own party’s having called an election expressly to strengthen their hand in Brexit negotiations only to lose their majority. In fact, we are being told that it is the country’s best interests not to have another election soon.

This is projection, in the psychological sense, as defined at the top of this article. When Mr Mundell says that the Scottish people do not want another referendum and the Tory press tell us that the country has no stomach for another election, what they really mean is that the conservative party has no stomach for either because they fear to lose both.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they would. A second independence referendum might repeat the result of the first; a further general election might give the conservatives the majority they seek: neither is a result I would welcome, but as a democrat I feel strongly that it is a matter for the people to decide.

I do not view democratic processes as a threat. I am suspicious of politicians who do.

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