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Category: Dave Brockington

Brexit: Who Voted How? Evidence from Ashcroft

[ 139 ] June 25, 2016 |


Good morning, newly sovereign Britain and welcome to your new leadership team! We had Blair-Brown, then Cameron-Osborne, and now we’ll enjoy Prime Minister Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rubble.

Unlike yesterday’s immediate reaction post, this one is written on 24 hours of sleep uh, written 24 hours later on seven hours of sleep.

First, Scott L has it bang-on. While there are distinct similarities in the motivations of the Leavers and Trump supporters (as well as parts of Sanders support), the the contexts of the two votes are different enough such that the lessons that can be drawn are background, and not worthy of basing a forecast upon. Of course, given my very recent track record of superiority in forecasting, this should probably make people worry.  I did get the Cameron resignation right, but then low hanging fruit . . .

We now have some (patchy) data to assess the two variables I said that we should be attentive to in the run in to the referendum.  Turnout we’re not going to be able to assess yet, and in terms of raw turnout, we have nothing to compare it with really so that might never be properly assessed.  However, the received wisdom of political science and psephology, that undecideds significantly break for the status quo the closer we get to polling day (I estimated 3:1), is not receiving support, and this might be one key to understanding how my 52:48 prediction went ass-backwards (as well as why NCP’s forecast of 53:47 was just a bit off).



Those data are from an Ashcroft poll (details here, a lot of interesting stuff to pore over) conducted immediately after the referendum, with an N of over 12,000.  Those who decided a week out split 7%-6% for remain, a few days out 8%-7%, on the day 10%-9%. While there’s a marginal advantage for remain in the late deciders, these data suggest it’s only 53%.  Not the 2:1 or 3:1 breaks for the status quo we typically expect.

Demographics did work out as expected. The age gap (which we’ve known about for well over a month) is receiving a lot of attention in the media at present, as though everybody is surprised. Social class worked out as well; the higher up the socio-economic ladder one is, the odds of voting remain increase.  However, where pre-referendum models suggested social class C1 (lower middle class) would just support remain, they ultimately just supported leave (and the professional classes, A & B, did not support remain at the rate initially thought). The age gap is striking.


The next two figures illustrate the support for each side in party political terms, and how the parties own supporters voted. I have two observations here. First, it was Conservative voters who drove Brexit. 40% of leave support was Tory, 25% UKIP, and 21% Labour. Yes, a nice cross-party distribution, but there were over three Tory/UKIP (in the parlance of Plymouth Labour as we’re now enjoying a Con-Kip coalition in this fair city, “Blukip”) supporters for every one Labour supporter voting leave.  Additionally, this also tests my off-the-cuff suggestion yesterday morning that greater than 35% of Labour supporters voted leave. Ashcroft estimates the figure at 37%. While the traditional Labour heartlands of the northwest and northeast went huge for leave, Labour by and large did not. 58% of Conservatives did.

As the Labour Party itself is going through an uncertain period (charitably stated), one thing I’ve been hearing and reading that does need to stop now is that we didn’t “lose” more of our supporters than originally expected. Indeed, the 37% estimate is in line with expectations. Additionally, it doesn’t mean that all of those supporters we “lost” to leave were the traditional working class base. That figure must include a large degree of Lexiters, as evidenced by the 25% of Green Party supporters who inexplicably voted leave.

And just who are those 4% of UKIP supporters who voted remain?  Statistically, there had to be some, of course, but it’s still hilarious fun to point it out.










And now, the money shot. Why did the lies of the leave campaign resonate?  Why was Gove sage to suggest that Britain has had enough of experts experting us to death with facts in their expert ways? Self-reported political attentiveness breaks as we would think.


It’s not as stark as I’d have thought, but this is self-reported. There’s a lot more there in the link above worth looking at, of course. Later today, but more likely tomorrow, I’ll have some further thoughts on the result of the result, Article 50, and speculate as to just what the hell Boris Johnson is up to.


Brexit: Some Random Thoughts on WTF and Now What?

[ 461 ] June 24, 2016 |



So, that didn’t work.  On several levels; one of which is illustrated by the photo above. That’s LGM’s Senior Correspondent on British Politics holding the sign. While British politics suddenly became a hell of a lot more interesting, it’s also significantly less important.

After working GOTV all day yesterday, I skipped the count (where I was due to be a verification agent in Plymouth, but I was too spent to stay up until the declaration which happened around 4AM), and fell asleep by 10PM to Radio 4. When I went to sleep, one of the last tweets I read was that it would take a polling failure “worse” than 2015 or 1992 for leave to win (by whom I do not recall, but it was either a pollster or an academic psephologist). Both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were reportedly in negative spirits. Farage would later (around 4AM) say on R4 that he didn’t expect to win. I fell asleep easily.

I woke around 2:30AM with R4 still on, to several gloomy, dire texts, and the first authorities had been called.  They were not going as expected for a 50/50 national result as per this guide to expectations as the night progressed. If Sunderland had a leave vote of +6%, we’d be roughly at 50/50 nationally.

Sunderland came in at leave +12%.

I’m somewhat relieved that I didn’t go to the count in Plymouth. While leave was going to win in Plymouth under even the rosiest scenarios, the final result here was Leave 79,997, Remain 53,458 on 71% turnout.  That’s a 59.9% leave vote in Plymouth.

It’s difficult to say what happened. Turnout was a mixed bag; reports from Scotland indicate it was lower than expected, and significantly lower than the independence referendum in 2014. It’s likewise possible that my alternative hypothesis hedge from yesterday morning was more accurate than my working hypothesis: that the increase in registration and the relatively high turnout nationwide (72%, higher than any UK-wide election since 1992) was more due to lower socio-economic classes, relatively electorally inactive, being mobilised by the referendum.

I’m not sure we can call this a polling failure, given the polls were all over the place.  Clearly, however, on-line polls did better than telephone polls, to which I strongly suspect social-desirability was the cause (in Brit-speak, “shy Brexiters”). NCP did not do nearly as well as in the 2015 general election. As for myself, at least I was consistent: shit at the 2015 general and equally shit at the referendum. In my defense, I only missed the final result by 4%. Which is no defense at all.

But then, the bookies got it very wrong, as did the markets.

Some observations:

  • North of the M4, remain under performed. However, in the south, remain over performed.
  • The class dynamic was huge, and bigger than expected.
  • The pound tanked, and is at its lowest level since 1985.  Ronald Reagan was just starting his second term. I was in high school. My trip to New York City in October will be just a bit more expensive.
  • The FTSE futures anticipates a 9% fall in both the FTSE and DAX when the market opens.
  • London retaining its status as a financial capital is in doubt, which is one of the key drivers of the British economy.
  • There was the expected regional divide. While Wales voted leave 53%, Northern Ireland was 56% remain, and Scotland . . . not only was Scotland 63% remain, but remain won every single Scottish local authority.
  • It’s pretty clear that a greater than 35% share of Labour Party membership voted for Brexit.
  • David Cameron gambled in 2013 on a short term electoral tactic. His “luck ran out”.
  • There will be a surge of experts on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

I don’t see how David Cameron can continue as Conservative Party Leader or PM.  Rumors abound right now of course, including Michael Gove and Boris Johnson in a huddle about Cameron’s future. Likewise, there’s now a real possibility of a snap election before Christmas. This would require overturning the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011, but that won’t be a problem. That said, the Labour Party are not ready for it.

Martin McGuinness has called for a poll in Northern Ireland to choose between a united Ireland and remaining in the UK.  The SNP see Scotland’s future as “part of the European Union”. It doesn’t take a genius to get the hint. While in 2014 I was solidly opposed to Scottish independence, one of the key arguments for remaining with the United Kingdom was that it presented the easiest and safest route to EU membership. It can be argued that England and Wales did not hold up their end of the bargain.

In terms of why 52% of the population voted to leave the European Union, this dovetails neatly with a class that I teach here on the effects of globalization on domestic politics. Yes, part of it was racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. But I don’t believe that 52% of the British (and Irish) population are those things (however, they are those who speak the loudest).  To quote my friend, Cllr. Bill Stevens (Labour), “It means England (especially the poorer areas) have felt ignored and saying the only reason they voted that way was due to hate, nationalism, racism etc. will make it worse.”

I don’t have the link, but a couple days prior to the referendum, Michael Gove was confronted with the question of market reaction, and he promised (in the glib manner that the Leave campaign responded to any critique or bothersome fact) that we would wake up on Friday morning, and there would be no crash.

Alas, here’s the reaction of the markets:



52-48 for Remain

[ 99 ] June 23, 2016 |



That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s a significant improvement from my freaking out a week ago today, and I’ve further downgraded the threat level from cautiously pessimistic to cautiously optimistic. It’s also going well out on a limb with a chainsaw considering the volatility in polling estimates and the lack of a consensus across the various polling houses.

Four new polls were released overnight, and the spread is to be expected of this entire frustrating campaign. The distribution in support for Remain is +8%, +2%, -1% and -2%.  (I’m ignoring the two updated polls by the houses not affiliated with the British Polling Council, SurveyMonkey and Qriously, which likewise vary).  NCP is currently forecasting 53-47 for remain with a 75% probability of a remain result.

The source of my unexpected cautious optimism is twofold, based on both variables I discussed a week ago. First, the share that are undecided is still stubbornly impressive. While two of the new polls do not top line undecideds, the two suggesting a narrow leave win both do: 9% and 16%. NCP estimates an undecided rate at 10%. Some will, of course, not vote. Those who are still undecided this late in the game that do vote will skew significantly for remain.  The final poll tracker on the Scottish referendum in 2014 from the BBC estimated 50% no, 45% yes, 6% undecided, the day before polling. The result was 55.3% no, 44.7% yes.

Incidentally, the NCP poll tracker at the top of this page appears similar in pattern to my recollections of the Scottish referendum, although only two polls suggested independence, whereas numerous polls have recently predicted a Brexit victory.

The second source of this (very) cautious optimism is the turnout. Voter registration hit a new record high for the referendum. Ordinarily this is to be expected with each passing year; however as I’ve written elsewhere, roughly 18 months ago the system of voter registration changed in a manner that would inordinately hit the younger cohorts.  Indeed, I saw evidence a couple days ago that suggests a significant increase in self-reported probability of voting amongst the 18-29 year old cohort in the past two to four weeks (this is from memory). Writing this just after 0900 BST, anecdotal evidence, both locally and nationally, is already reporting queues at polling stations.  Recall, the strongest systematic relationship in estimated support for remain is age: the younger are significantly more likely to support remain, the over 55s leave.

One hypothesis, indeed my hypothesis, combines the undecideds with (what might be) higher than expected turnout, the probability for a remain result increases.

For balance, however, while my take on the record registration implies higher than expected levels of the young turning out to vote, I can readily imagine an alternative explanation. A strong runner-up in the various estimated systematic relationships in support for one side or the other in this referendum is social class. The British have a measure for this: A, B, C1, C2, D, E.  C1 and above are significantly for remain, C2 and below for leave. Of course, a turnout relationship also exists here: higher socio-economic groups are significantly more likely to vote. Thus, the increased registration could be a function of new registrants from the lower echelons of this scale mobilised to vote in order to finally “take back control”.

So there’s the hedge. That said, I’m sticking to my prediction above, and warily eyeing this chainsaw I’ve taken with me out on this uncomfortable limb . . .

EDIT: How could I forget the bookies?  Here’s one, 76% for remain, and a tracker.

Brexit: A Disorganised Parting Shot for Remain

[ 112 ] June 23, 2016 |



I’ve been sitting on this article in Foreign Policy for a few days. It is one of the better articulations in defense of continued UK membership of the European Union that I’ve seen. It makes a lot of the points I want to make, and it makes them better.  Better written, at any rate, but I imagine that’s what comes with the luxury of time. It does hit on one of the truly fantastic aspects of the campaign just concluded:

Just as they reject historical context, lest it disturb the fantasy of their project, Brexiteers reject and ignore the problem of context in the policy debate. No complexity from the real world is allowed to compromise their unsullied imagined future.

Brexit has always been a fantasy, forwarding a purely emotional argument reliant on dodgy figures (at best; outright lies are not unknown). For every objection, they had an answer, regardless of how fanciful.  That £350 million per week we ship to Brussels?  It will go to the NHS instead.  Of course, the £350M figure was significantly exaggerated, and the leading lights of the Leave campaign have a long, proud history of wanting to degrade the Health Service or privatise it entirely. Cornwall receives a massive pile of EU cash (so too does Devon; less so than Cornwall, but one of the newer buildings on my campus was funded in part with a generous dollop of EU money) as its one of the poorer regions of the UK. Under the old EU rules, any region at less than 75% of the median income (EU-wide) was eligible for structural investment funding. Considering some of the competitors in the EU, it’s not a great sign to end up on this list. Cornwall, and parts of western Wales, did. Yet, all this cash has not prevented Cornwall from likely voting exit today. When Leave was campaigning down in Cornwall a week or so ago, they committed to maintaining this funding. Indeed, they’ve made this promise formally to all interest groups receiving EU cash.

But seriously, can we really believe that a post-Brexit Conservative government, one significantly to the right of the current well right-of-center lot, will do all these things? They’ve never been interested in ensuring adequate NHS finding before, let alone investing in the Southwest of England (but then, nobody really seems to do that bit much).

Regarding all these pesky EU immigrants . . . damn near every single economic analysis has demonstrated their positive effect on the British economy (the link is representative). Post-Brexit, while the future of these EU citizens is uncertain, equally uncertain are all the British citizens living elsewhere in the EU. While the estimates are all over the place, up to 750,000 Brits live in Spain according to the BBC. They tend to be older, retired, on pensions (in Spain) which makes sense. You’ve retired, and you’re done with the grey drizzle that typifies the British summer, so you retire to Spain, where they have this thing called the sun. EU citizens living and working in the UK tend to skew significantly younger and healthier. Go ahead, fire up your econometric models, and swap one group for the other, and grimly observe the projections.

The crushing reality of the situation is this dilemma that Brexiters face:

Having been trounced on questions of economics, the Leave campaign has, unsurprisingly, stopped talking about the economy, and instead has relentlessly pushed the immigration argument, and pushed it well beyond the truth (the Leave campaign’s website tells us, for instance, that Turkey will join the EU, which is highly unlikely). But even this supposed trump card is flawed. First, there is the problem already discussed: Being in the single market means accepting high levels of free movement, just as Norway and Switzerland have. End of argument — at least in the real world.

Of course, if the UK remains in the single market, the UK must accept most if not all of the associated rules and pay for the privilege, without membership of the Council of Ministers or of the European Parliament. Ironically, leaving the EU yet remaining in the market is pretty much the opposite of “taking back control” over anything. Yet leave the single market, you invite economic chaos and uncertainty.

I need to wrap this up and go help out with GOTV for Remain as the polls are already open.  Prior to leaving the house for the day, I will post on current polling numbers.

That said, the following is a counter-point to the Foreign Policy article linked at the top, originally a response on my fb page when I posted the article. It’s typical of the genre, and is quoted with the public permission of the author.

haha, Foreign Policy always knows what’s best(not). For instance their position on Syria is out of touch with reality and this Kafkaesque notion that some how a UK that is fully sovereign is some how ‘little’ typifies their ‘journalistic’ style. I know, maybe if the ‘leave’ campaign is ‘little England’ then maybe the ‘remain’ crowd should be categorized as the ‘no England’ group. I fail to see how English culture will endure in the long run in the face a watered down national image and unlimited immigration from the third world….huh, maybe that’s why there is a referendum in the first place. People across the Soviet Union knew there would be and economic price to pay with the dissolution of the USSR, but they did it anyway. Perhaps sovereignty and self determination are worth more than what ever threats the ‘no Englanders’ put forwards. It’s amazing to watch the elite circle the wagons…

It’s Awesome Being an Immigrant in the UK Right Now

[ 72 ] June 22, 2016 |


An academic who has lived and worked in the UK for the past 18 years, originally from an EU country (possibly Germany) published this in the Guardian yesterday. It deserves to be read.

But the signs are ominous. The referendum campaign has created an atmosphere of hostility towards immigrants, in ways I have never experienced in my 18 years in this country. We are being blamed for the state of public services such as health, housing and education, and for undercutting wages, even though the real culprits – chronic underinvestment, poor planning, ineffective governance and watered-down labour laws – are entirely homemade.

The tales of intimidation and threats against pro-Remain campaigners, immigrants and their supporters are a cause for serious concern. There is no doubt that many Leave proponents are decent, thoughtful people, but there is also no doubt that parts of the campaign have played on xenophobia and emboldened nasty, violent racists.

In large part, I agree with the author’s assessment. In living here over 12 years, I’ve never seen anything quite like this, the unreserved rhetoric, the unabashed racism, the pride in ignorance. Michael Gove has a lot to be infamous for to future generations, but if he’s remembered at all, it will be this quote: “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.”  (This piece that ran in the Telegraph in the wake of that quote a couple weeks ago, “Michael Gove’s guide to Britain’s greatest enemy . . . the experts” has flashes of hilarity.)

The author faces an uncertain future should the UK vote to leave the EU tomorrow. Ironically, it does not directly affect my status as an American. I didn’t have a right to be here, the author does. Of course, I also didn’t necessarily seek out living in Britain; I’m an academic, and we go where the job is. The university had to sponsor my visa and work permit, and when my FLR expired after five years, I had to apply for my Indefinite Leave to Remain, which if I recall cost somewhere around £850. I had to take that hilarious test, Life in the UK, which most Brits couldn’t pass (a real question I had on mine: how many members are there in the Welsh Assembly?). However, with the ILR, EU or no EU, I’m not going anywhere.  If Brexit were to win, the same can no longer be certain for citizens of EU countries.  What makes this doubly ironic is that a greater proportion of immigration to the UK is from outside the EU, which can be directly controlled (i.e. made more difficult) by the government of the day.

I have been told: “It’s not about people like you, it’s the others.” I am, apparently, a “useful” foreigner. So who are the others they are talking about? The Polish plumbers? The Lithuanian fruit pickers? The Spanish nurses? The Greek doctors? Or is it the benefit tourists, those mythical creatures that, like the Loch Ness monster, have never actually been spotted, but that surely must exist, given the amount of conversation about them?

This resonates. I have lost count of the number of conversations ‘on the doorstep’ while campaigning for the Labour Party in the past three elections where I’ve had discussions with UKIP supporters, and it’s usually straight from that script. Romanians this, Bulgarians that, and the Poles are everywhere . . . (and it gets worse, of course). When I’d point out my obvious immigrant status (my accent has barely changed from the west coast US I grew up with), it was always “oh, not you.”

It obviously helps that I’m white.

Even in the event of a vote to Remain, it will be difficult to control the forces that have been unleashed in this campaign. And it is difficult to imagine what the UK would turn into after a Brexit, possibly under the leadership of Messrs Johnson, Gove and Farage. What is certain, however, is that it will no longer be the country that embraced me – and that I fell in love with – all those years ago.

I don’t know whether I would be allowed to stay, but, like many others, I am beginning to wonder why I would want to. I would hate to leave the country that has been my home for almost 20 years and that has been so good to me – but if it comes to that, the real loser will be Britain.

I admitted this morning, if this campaign was my introduction to English (not British per se, but explicitly English) culture, I would not have come here. As it is, I’m not going anywhere (unless they decide to further clamp down on immigration by changing the rights associated with the ILR).  Which makes me wonder, of course, how much damage this poisonous rhetoric has caused, even in the event of a remain victory?

UPDATE: This, by German-born historian Tanja Bueltmann, published in the Times Higher on 16 June:

Such behaviour is not characteristic of the UK I love. But the UK I love, an open and tolerant country, seems to be vanishing. I see a “Trumpification”, and look in horror at clear parallels in early 20th-century German history.

I have absolutely no idea what is happening here in the UK right now. But what I do know is that it keeps me up at night.


[ 163 ] June 22, 2016 |


The misinformation distributed by the Leave campaign has reached a new level of surreal.  During a debate last night on the BBC which featured six speakers (three for remain, three for leave, obviously) former London Mayor Boris Johnson (and heir apparent to David Cameron should leave win tomorrow) stated, to the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson (on the remain side), that the EU prevents Britain from exporting haggis to the United States. (The tweets reproduced in the HuffPoUK story are worth clicking on the link alone).

Just imagine how prosperous the UK would be, how creative and enterprising the British people would become, if Britain were only allowed to export haggis to the US. Clearly, this is what is holding the country back.  Damn Brussels and their oppressive, anti-democratic ways.

The image above is from a 2014 BBC story with the head “UK government bids to overturn US haggis ban”.

Hang on?

Yes, the US banned the importation of sheep lungs (apparently part of this delicacy) in 1971. The same 1971 that preceded the UK’s accession to the then EEC by two years. The story does mention the European Union, however, by pointing out that “The UK government said it hoped the ban could be lifted as part of an EU-US trade deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which is currently being negotiated.”

Ah, so instead of banning the export of Haggis to the US, the EU could be the vehicle to allow its importation into the US?

Two related observations:

  • It would appear that the Leave campaign has been allowed to deal in misinformation to the degree where they’re happy to make shit up on the fly, knowing that it will not be scrutinised.
  • Is there any example of the European Union not allowing the export of something that is legal within the European Union? It doesn’t make any logical sense to me.

Incidentally, I only first had haggis on Burns night this past year, in part because my partner / girlfriend / whatever is Scottish. I didn’t find it entirely dissatisfying, but I’m not sure that it holds the key to either the Leave campaign or the economic vitality of the United Kingdom.

h/t friend of the blog Matthew Remnant

Brexiting on Tuesday Morning: the Future of the Empire, and Fresh Numbers

[ 33 ] June 21, 2016 |


A couple days ago an American friend posted this to an email list we’re on (original purpose: beer geekery) and requested some commentary. I had read it that morning, so I sent the list some assessment. (For the record, this request for commentary was made not only to the beer list’s resident political scientist, but also our resident Scot who has lived in Manchester the past 25-odd years).

The basic thrust of this Guardian piece is that the core of Brexit support is English nationalism.  Not British nationalism, not UK-ish nationalism, but specifically English nationalism. And it rings true based on what I’ve seen, discussions I’ve had, and the rather impressive immutability of the Brexit support. It’s emotional, not rational:

When you strip away the rhetoric, Brexit is an English nationalist movement. If the Leave side wins the referendum, it will almost certainly be without a majority in either Scotland or Northern Ireland and perhaps without winning Wales either. The passion that animates it is English self-assertion. And the inexorable logic of Brexit is the logic of English nationalism: the birth of a new nation state bounded by the Channel and the Tweed.

The advent of devolution to Scotland and (to a lesser extent) Wales inflamed a segment of the English populace, then there’s the difficult-to-measure sovereignty-sapping forces of globalisation that are perceived to be screwing everybody. Here, the EU represents a very tangible, mis-understood (on the left and right) symbol of globalisation. It’s an easy target. And as I said in that Foreign Entanglements thing Farley and I recorded on Thursday, the EU referendum gives those on the right and left the ability to snub the elite, consequences be damned.

That said, what are the ramifications? Given current polling, it’s probable that should Brexit win, it will only win in England. Remain will win overwhelmingly in Scotland, comfortably in Northern Ireland, and a bit narrower in Wales. Thus, the basic ingredients for a typically British constitutional crisis are available in the kitchen. This is especially true given that the enabling legislation for the Scottish Parliament (Scotland Act 1998) requires Scottish law to be consistent with EU law.

It’s also possible that there’s a second referendum in the wake of a settlement, for the UK to accept it. Remember, the current parliament is heavily pro-remain. It’s not fanciful to imagine a well crafted sleight of hand where said parliament puts a settlement that is not favorable to the UK to another referendum vote. Indeed, if Cameron somehow hangs on as PM following a Brexit result (and it’s a huge if), I see this as a probable outcome.  Also possible, considering how the Tories have gone through self-immolation, Cameron immediately stands down, and there’s a snap election following a Brexit vote. Given current polling, the Tories win, with perhaps a reduced majority. Or, less likely, some form of a Labour or a Lab-SNP coalition assumes power. If the latter, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where there’s a second referendum.

What must be understood about the mythical British constitution is that the people are not sovereign as in the US. Parliament is sovereign. Parliament would be within its constitutional rights to flat out ignore the results of the referendum. Technically, these are merely advisory in the British system. It would be politically problematic, but not beyond the possible.

It’s common to suggest that Scotland will hold a second independence referendum with alacrity. A second Scottish referendum is possible to probable in the wake of a Brexit vote, but it won’t be immediate. It will take up to two years to negotiate Article 50 (which is the legal mechanism within EU treaties for any member leaving). Unlike 2014, commodity prices (i.e. oil and gas) have cratered, so the logic of Scotland going it alone outside the UK has less economic attraction (if it ever really did). Furthermore, a freshly-independent Scotland would face the same problems vis-a-vis the EU as it would have done in 2014: it would have to apply for accession as with any other state. Granted, given EU law is already woven into the fabric of Scottish law, accession would be easier and quicker than, say, Albania or Turkey (ironic considering one of the many outright lies of the Brexit campaign is that Turkish membership, and millions of Turkish immigrants, are right around the corner should we stay in the EU, and there’s nothing the UK can do about it!!!)  All said, Scottish independence is possible, but it won’t happen quickly.

A big, key question only slightly touched on in this piece is the Irish border and the future of the Good Friday agreement. Britain and Ireland have long had open borders. Since 1923, that border has been part of the “common travel area”. Of course, during the troubles, there were military checkpoints, and until the early 1990s random customs checks did happen, but right now, in crossing the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, you’d likely never even notice. This is true for any port of departure / port of entry combination between the Republic and the UK: I once flew from Dublin to Plymouth (back when Plymouth had this thing modern civilizations call airports) and there were no border controls. It was as easy as flying from Seattle to Portland. In some ways, easier.

Here’s the rub. Neither Ireland nor the UK are in the Schengen free-travel zone, but they have their own free-travel area. As a significant component of support for Brexit is controlling immigration, something will have to be done about that. On the British side of things, a post-Brexit Britain would want to ensure than anybody getting into Ireland isn’t likewise capable of wandering into Britain. While free movement of labor will cease once leaving the EU (unless the UK wants to stay in the free trade area, at which it would have to accept free movement, but then that undermines the entire argument for leaving in the first place) a key plank of the leave campaign has been all about border control. There would be a controlled border in Ireland. But it might not even be up to the British: the European Union would likely ensure that border is effectively a proper border: passports, customs, etc. That’s going to significantly fuck with the economy of Northern Ireland.

But not enough for Northern Ireland to leave the union and unify with the Republic or (shudder) go it alone. Those who support both the DUP and UUP would be (possibly violently) opposed to leaving the UK, and there’s not enough public support for unification at present. While leaving the EU and the introduction of a controlled border will likely inflame nationalist and especially republican sentiment in Northern Ireland, and lead to calls for a unification referendum, written into the Good Friday Agreement is the constitutional requirement that any unification vote is limited to the electors of Northern Ireland.  NI will stick with (a possibly rump) United Kingdom.

Wales? Even though they beat the crap out of Russia last night in Euro 2016, Wales hasn’t ever really been an independent state. I would be astonished, even if the UK votes Brexit yet Wales (as is probable) votes remain, that Wales would want independence. Plaid Cymru might gain in support.  However, unlike in Scotland, legal, political, educational (et al.) frameworks are largely the same between England and Wales. Scotland has its own legal system, its own laws, its own education system (strange fact: university education in Scotland is four years, not three like in England and Wales. It’s also free for the Scots, whereas here it’s £9000 per year), and a much stronger parliament than the little Welsh Assembly. Scotland was allowed to retain all that it developed with the Act of Union 1707. Wales never really had the chance to develop an indigenous legal or political structure that would be recognisable as such to a post Westphalian observer.

But, they beat the crap out of Russia, while England couldn’t nick a goal against Slovakia.

Current Polling

I’ve downgraded the threat level on the referendum from freaking out last Thursday to cautiously pessimistic. Three new polls were released overnight (although one is based on fieldwork dating back to 16 May, so ignore). While mixed depending on how one interprets them, they both suggest that the shift to remain over the past week has consolidated into “bloody close”.

Number Cruncher Politics (whom I followed last year in the run-in to the general, and should have listened to) were on either BBC R4 or WS last night as I was falling asleep, and forecast the same 52-48 remain vote that I was spouting until about ten days ago. You can see their assessment and unpick their methodology here. Their “nowcast” is 51-49, forecast 52-48.

Lexit: The Fool’s Journey

[ 288 ] June 20, 2016 |


A recent poll (10 June) estimated that 44% of those who voted Labour in the 2015 General Election will support Brexit. This was perhaps the poll that began the general freak-out amongst remain supporters. That said, neither that number nor the top line figure of 55% leave are likely to survive the vote come Friday morning.

Brexit is an emotional, nationalistic movement, and my guess is that a strong majority of that 44% figure are not motivated by the Lexit arguments. Summed up, the basic argument is that the European Union has been little more than a neo-liberal project, concerned only with big business and trade, and worse, would prevent the UK from becoming the progressive, socialist paradise should we ever, you know, elect such a government. Most Labour-Brexit support want the same (ill-informed, misguided) things all Brexit supporters want: their “country back”, an end to unregulated immigration, and to snub their collective noses at the elite.  According to at least two vocal members of the audience of a panel I chaired a few weeks back debating a “better EU”, I represent said elite.  (I’m still waiting for my membership card, instructions for the secret handshake, and the financial stability that membership of the elite promises). But, there are those that genuinely believe that Britain, and the left in Britain, would be better off and in a better position to effect progressive chance should we leave the EU.

This is a good, brief read on the folly of Lexit-ism. It outlines how ignorance over the EU is driving the left as well as the right, albeit from different perspectives entirely such that the EU is rendered some sort of schizophrenic institutional blob:

If you listen to some left-wing voices – proponents of what is being called Lexit – the European Union is an undemocratic, neo-liberal empire. It is ruled by Angela Merkel and an army of cold-hearted, faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who spend their lives plotting to privatise British public services and deliberately making life in Southern Europe as miserable as possible.

Listening to both left-wing and right-wing arguments for Brexit can be rather confusing. Similar to Schrödinger’s immigrant who lazes around on benefits while simultaneously stealing jobs, the EU seems to be at the same time both communist and predatory capitalist. It has transformed Europe into a fortress while at the same time opening its borders to mass immigration. The EU’s rescue packages for Southern Europe have been too stingy while at the same constituting an outrageous burden to British taxpayers.

But here’s some truth:

But that is not the case for the UK. Britain has been driven by neoliberal economic policy for the past four decades. The EU has actually brought back all kinds of protections for workers, consumers and the environment. Among other things the EU forced the UK to introduce the statutory right to paid leave. Before the implementation of the EU Working Time Directive in 1998, two million British employees did not receive any paid holiday at all.

European integration has clearly been a left-wing corrective to British neoliberalism. Meanwhile, it was actually the UK that has pushed many of those developments in the EU that the left opposes.

The government of the United Kingdom lacks any sort of real checks and balances that can be found in many democratic systems. Yes, there’s the toothless House of Lords, who can be somewhat of a nuisance to the government of the day if they so desire, but then said government can effectively quash any objection the House of Lords raises by invoking the Parliament Acts 1911 & 1949. Within this constraint, their power is limited as the Lords can not muck around with supply bills or anything mentioned in the governing party’s electoral manifesto.  What does that leave?  The Queen.  The monarch hasn’t withheld royal assent since 1708, and I’m thinking that the left doesn’t want to rely on the monarch to share in its goals regardless.

The European Union effectively provides the left of the UK with an implicit check on the ability for Conservative parliaments to make life harsh. Furthermore, in the event that Britain elects a left-ish Labour government (where left-ish equates to the left of Blair and Brown) the EU does not prevent a lot of the left’s dream agenda (which is a common critique of the EU by Lexiters):

Nor do arguments about the EU holding Britain back from re-nationalising public services and the railways stand up to much scrutiny.

The privatisation of British public utilities had a lot to do with British politics and very little with European integration. While the EU Rail Directive opened up the railways for private competition, it did not oblige member states to privatise state-owned service providers. In fact, the UK was the only big EU state to do so.

If a left-wing British government tried to renationalise the railways, or any other utilities, the EU would be the least of its worries. The main obstacles would come from within the UK, most notably from the private sector and, indeed, the electorate. British voters are – whether the left likes it or not – far more economically conservative than most of continental Europe.

The piece correctly points out that the only way for this dream to work is for a left-leaning Labour government (or, let’s face it, a Lab-SNP coalition) to get elected. Alas, there are problems with this dream.

Brexit could only be in the left’s interest if it was followed up by consequential left-wing politics. It would require a Labour party that has significantly moved to the left to get into government very soon.

Giving up on the EU and the left-wing corrective it already provides in exchange for the slim hope of a genuine left-wing government coming to power in Britain is a rather risky gamble. In the short term, Brexit will empower the likes of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who have never made a secret of their Thatcherite fantasies.

In the long term, Brexit might render Labour completely impotent. If Britain leaves the EU against the will of the majority of Scottish voters, their appetite for independence will surge again. Needless to say the left’s electoral potential will diminish for generations without the Scottish vote.

Unmentioned is that any future Conservative government, and there will be more Conservative governments than Labour governments, can simply undo whatever it is that a progressive left government established.

Should the UK vote for Brexit on Thursday, there’s a decent chance that we’ll be governed by some form of a Boris Johnson – Michael Gove administration. This would make Kansas appear well governed in comparison. Which leaves this for our Lexiters:

Any British left wingers thinking of voting to leave the EU over these issues should perhaps instead consider leaving Britain.

Sunday Brexitology Blogging

[ 21 ] June 19, 2016 |

BFOn Friday afternoon, I was interviewed by BBC Radio Devon about calls for increased security for MPs in the wake of the Jo Cox murder. It can be found here just after 38 minutes in. I tried to place this in a comparative context with the United States. In my lifetime, only five sitting members of Congress have been shot or killed while serving. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 and John Stennis in 1973 (a mugging) survived. Those that didn’t include RFK in 1968 (but as I point out in the interview, he was running for president, so it’s a little different), Leo Ryan in 1978 (Jonestown), and Larry McDonald in 1983 (KAL 007).

I have two thoughts on this list. First (again as I point out in the interview) I’m surprised the number is that low given the gun culture in the US. Second, there’s not much commonality tying all five together. The only two that bear any sort of resemblance to what happened here on Thursday are Kennedy and Giffords, and that’s tenuous.

My broader point in the interview, moving beyond the comparisons with the US, is that we shouldn’t over-react. I enjoy the degree of approachability that MPs here have, which isn’t surprising considering that the average size of constituencies in the UK (as measured by ‘electorate’) ranges from 57,044 in Wales to 72,676 in England (for the 2015 General Election). They’re known to those in the community who want to get to meet them, not only as faces on TV or billboards, but as human beings. This past academic year, I launched a new seminar series for the students at the university where I invited in a number of politicians and others who are politically active to discuss their own politicisation and how students can take such a course if they so desire. Included in these presentations were four MPs (three Conservative, one Labour) and an MEP (Green). In going for partisan balance, I also had among the list of speakers a UKIP city councillor, but I had a difficult time finding a Liberal Democrat who wanted to show their face. I managed this at, lets face it, a regional university. Adding a security detail to this mix might have reduced the approachability and availability of these serving politicians. (For something of a counter-point, read Paul Goodman, an ex-MP, writing in Conservative Home).

Side note: the presenter on BBC Radio Devon Friday afternoon was Gordon Sparks, who did a guest piece for LGM a bit over two years ago.

Returning to the murder of Jo Cox, I now feel safe in using the word “assassination”. On the day, Paul quoted Alex Massie’s discussion of the rhetorical context in which this murder took place. We now know that the SPLC has a file on Thomas Mair’s hard-right / neo-Nazi proclivities. The evidence is overwhelming enough now such that The Telegraph is calling it as it is: an act of far-Right terrorism. When Mair appeared in court yesterday and was asked to confirm his name, he said “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

I think we understand his motivations. The photo above circulated on social media yesterday, originally (I believe) attributable to David Neiwert of the SPLC. While Britain First immediately (indeed, before the suspect was even named, I think) distanced themselves from the shooting, the photo (if it is him, which has not been confirmed to my knowledge) calls this into question.

Finally, there have been several new polls released in the past 24 hours, and one of which had a significant chunk of its field work conducted following the murder of Jo Cox. If you don’t want to pore over the numbers at UKPR, this Observer piece has a nice assessment. Upshot: the numbers are tightening, with a notable shift towards the remain side. We can expect this as polling day approaches; it’s typical in a referendum / initiative campaign. Encouraging for those of us on the remain side, remain is (barely) ahead in all but one of the polls, and there’s a large number of undecideds. On Thursday (while not freaking out), I pointed out that the greater the number of undecideds, the better the chances for remain, so I’m taking some solace in this. For additional solace, one can read this:

Given the extraordinarily low response rate, there is a good chance the highly excited leave supporters in every demographic by which Pollsters weight their samples: age, education, socioeconomic class, party affiliation etc, are significantly more likely to respond. The Be.Leavers are enjoying this referendum. The Bremainers are thoroughly sick of the whole referendum and cannot wait until it’s over. I cannot see how this can be captured in their methodologies.

Basically, I think there’s a good chance the polls are at least as wrong as the General election, which would be nearly enough to get Remain over the winning post.

There are 13% undecided in the last Survation poll. These people will break for the status quo, as they have in most referendums in the past.

The ground game: where one side has access to all the party machines, and the other, leave has access to UKIP’s chaotic machine alone, and no national footprint or experience in national ‘Get Out The Vote’ operations.

While he (I’m assuming the author is a he given the title of the blog) acknowledges that his argument can be written off to some degree as the typical “the polls must be wrong!” response to being behind, two good points are made (in addition to the undecideds discussion): the leave camp are significantly more motivated and mobilised, which might have an impact on the makeup of the response rate (especially to on-line polls). Second, which I haven’t considered, is the ground game. That said, speaking from several years of experience in the Labour Party ground machine, whereas in a local or general election we have data, for this, we’ll have a lot less data, especially given how the referendum crosses party lines.

One final note. Commentators and, dare I say, lazy assessments of the recent shift in the polling numbers will look to the murder of Jo Cox as a pivotal event. It very well might be. However, in the current batch of polls, most of the fieldwork was done before the murder; in short, there was already a shift to remain underway. Additionally, even once fresh numbers are released in the coming days, we’ll likely never know with any certainty if this had any effect at all on support for the referendum, or the final result. Early reports this morning do indicate that it has had the effect of softening the rhetorical tone of the campaign, which is a good thing.

When You Think Your Racism Is Too Subtle, Go Full Wanker

[ 35 ] June 17, 2016 |
Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage poses during a media launch for an EU referendum poster in London, Britain June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage poses during a media launch for an EU referendum poster in London, Britain June 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Yesterday morning, Nigel Farage launched a new front in the final week of campaigning for Brexit, based on the image above.  I’ll let this HuffPo article draw the obvious historical comparisons.  The photo, taken in October 2015,

“shows some of the 47,000 refugees said to have entered Slovenia from Croatia in just a few days after Hungary closed its border to them. That in turn saw Croatia direct them to Slovenia which is part of the European Union’s open border Schengen Area.”

Also note how they airbrushed out the lone white guy in the picture. Classy.

In addition to the nod to earlier forms of propaganda, I have two thoughts on this. First is the economical relationship with the truth that has typified the Leave campaign. Ah, screw that careful wording. The leave campaign is explicitly lying, and getting away with it. In this case, it’s an implied lie, but a lie nonetheless. The UK is not a member of the Schengen Area. Yes, due to free movement of labor, EU citizens have the right to live and work in the United Kingdom. However, just because somebody gets into “Europe” through Slovenia, Poland, Estonia, or France, it doesn’t mean that they can automagically walk into Britain. First, there’s that English Channel thing, stopping invaders since 1066 (or 1688, depending on how you interpret the history). Second, when entering the UK (unless you’re entering from Ireland, which is also outside of the Schengen Area) everybody is greeted with this:

UK Border control is seen in Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London June 4, 2014. Heathrow's rebuilt Terminal 2 welcomed its first passengers on Wednesday, as it began its gradual re-opening. REUTERS/Neil Hall (BRITAIN - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS TRAVEL) - RTR3S6U6

Your passport doesn’t matter — British, Irish, American, Syrian, you get to stand in a queue.  If you don’t hold an EU passport, your queue takes longer to process.  If you’re in this slow queue and you don’t have a visa, you get grilled.  I had an American friend fly to Britain three summers ago to visit. The flight was long and she was exhausted by the time she arrived at T4. I waited for her to appear at international arrivals, but she never showed up. Then I heard my name called over the loudspeaker. Even through she was in possession of a return ticket, UK Border Control would not let her enter the country without interviewing me first.  She was a white American woman. I’m guessing it’s significantly more difficult for non-whites who don’t speak much English.

The other thought is about timing. As in very bad timing for Mr. Farage. Jo Cox spent her sadly truncated career as an MP in part focusing on the plight of refugees:

“She set up a parliamentary group on Syria and staged Commons debates on the plight of the refugees. She argued forcefully that the UK Government should be doing more both to help the victims and use its influence abroad to bring an end to the Syrian conflict.”

I hope that Farage feels like a dick right now.

The EU Referendum: One Week Away. Time to Freak Out.

[ 191 ] June 16, 2016 |


The numbers don’t look terribly promising for the remain camp.  There has been a significant shift in the polling data to leave across every polling house in the past two to three weeks.

Clearly, leave are winning the argument. How the trio of clowns leading this argument are winning it is mildly shocking, but winning it they are. It’s always been an easier argument to make: sovereignty good, immigrants not. It’s an argument, if crafted well, plays on raw emotions. This has been crafted well. Remain have to talk up the status quo, make a strong economic case (which isn’t exactly sexy) and say the occasional nice thing about Brussels, while simultaneously dodging the question of the free movement of labor.  I’ll have more thoughts on these as the week progresses, but today I want to discuss what we should be looking for in the week ahead.

One week out of the Scottish independence referendum, I was very confident in a victory for the union. While the pro-union camp freaked out over one poll that showed independence ahead, I wasn’t freaking out. Indeed, in media work in advance of the referendum, I came within half a point of predicting the outcome, an assessment based on extant polling data and political science. In short, I nailed it (and did better than the polls). How I know I nailed it is that after the referendum, two different radio interviews played back my original predictions. A moment of sheer terror quickly turned into relief in happily accepting the congratulations of the presenter.

I’m not going to nail this one. Up until about three weeks ago, I was consistently predicting a 52-48 remain vote. Now, I honestly don’t know, but if I were to place a bet, it would be on Brexit (and maybe I should be a betting man: as of this morning the bookies were still giving remain a 60% probability of winning). Unlike in Scotland, where one pro-independence poll freaked people out (and there were only ever two polls that showed independence winning) the past couple of weeks of polling have shown not only consistent movement in the direction of leave, but also most polls show leave with either a narrow or significant lead. The second problem we face in trying to forecast the results of the referendum is that the various British polling houses have all been continuously tinkering with their methodologies (some sampling, but mostly likely voter models) such that the numbers are all over the map. Granted, they failed dramatically in advance of last year’s general election, but they were quite reliable in predicting the result and vote share of the Scotland referendum. So why change what worked well in the binary choice environment of Scotland? Additionally, there has been a pretty consistent (but not absolute) split in the mode of a survey. On-line surveys have estimated larger levels of support for leave than phone surveys, and I have a pretty simple guess as to why this is (such that when the first phone surveys also began to suggest a leave victory, that’s when I started freaking out).

With those caveats, disclaimers, and a general lack of a clue as an introduction, this is what I’m looking at in the next week and on the day:

First, the undecideds. In polls that report undecideds, the higher that number, the better for remain. In referendum voting, the status quo has the power of incumbency, and the closer we get to polling day, the larger the probability than any given undecided voter will vote for the status quo. Thus, stories like these, about an LSE study suggesting that up to 30% of voters will not decide until the final week (and half of those on election day itself) should give supporters of remain some hope.

Second, turnout. Bluntly, if turnout is higher than expected, the odds are better than remain will win. This is an easy one. As I mentioned in my last Brexit post, there is a significant and substantive relationship between age and support for staying in the EU. The young would much rather stay in the EU. This is rather unfortunate for the remain camp, given the young would also much rather be doing virtually anything else than, you know, voting.[*] Increases in turnout do not have a straight linear effect on all subcategories of the overall population; a one-percent increase in overall turnout has a stronger effect on those categories voting at lower rates. More voters means an asymmetrically larger share of young voters.

I usually know in advance how an election will turn out (or at least in the case of the general election last year, at least I thought I knew).  This time I’m in the uncomfortable position of not knowing.

[*] Note, this is explicitly not a “kids these days” argument. The youngest cohorts have traditionally been the age group that turns out the least.

Commentary on Another Slaughter

[ 80 ] June 16, 2016 |


I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of media stuff this year; indeed, I’ve been on air at least once per week for the past nine weeks alone. The topics, in rough order of frequency, have been 1. Trump, 2. US primaries in general, 3. Brexit, and 4. English local elections.

And of course, whenever there’s a notable gun massacre back in the old country, I’m invariably somewhere trying to explain the lunacy to a British audience.  Since Sandy Hook, my appearances on this topic have grown increasingly frustrated and angry — in short, not my best interviews. This one is no different. I largely ignored Orlando on Sunday, tried to come to grips with it on Monday, and I was interviewed during my first cup of coffee Tuesday morning just past 0700 British Summer Time.  Between Monday and the interview Tuesday morning, I came to several tentative conclusions.  First, that the ISIS connection was likely opportunistic on the part of the shooter. Yes, the FBI investigated him twice, and twice they lacked the evidence to charge him. Based on what has been reported, one would have to be truly paranoid, or perhaps Donald Trump, to make the leap that this guy was going to do this thing given the information that the FBI had at hand.  But what we also seem to have at hand are reports that suggest or imply that the shooter was on some level in the closet.

Hence my argument in the interview that this was more likely an explicit hate crime attack on the LGBT community than it was an act of jihadi terrorism. This isn’t an original idea, obviously; Guardian journalist Owen Jones famously stormed off the Sky News set in trying to make this point.

Anyway, here is the interview (it begins about 36 minutes in, and isn’t long); it’s not my best work. I did some prep and had some numbers (*) — the number of gun deaths per year in the US (> 32,000), broken down between suicide and homicide (around 11,000); a league table of the rate of firearm homicides per million people (spoiler alert: amongst first world democracies, we’re number one!!! and it’s not even close.  The US has 29.7 firearm homicides per one million people; the next three are Switzerland (7.7), Canada (5.1), Germany (1.9). The US is home to 4.4% of the global population, but 42% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. As is often the case, what I prepped didn’t make it into the interview, but what I wasn’t ready for did.

I obviously wasn’t prepared to discuss constitutional law.  I got the concepts right, of course, but erroneously gave the date of DC v Heller as 2010, when of course it was 2008. The incorporation case (McDonald v Chicago) was 2010. I also didn’t realise just how jarring an interview sounds like over my mobile as opposed to live in the studio. The studio is by miles my preferred medium, and this is just another reason why.

(*) apologies for the lack of sources or links; I’m just going off of the notes I made while prepping for the interview.

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