Subscribe via RSS Feed

Category: Dave Brockington

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.

A Brexiting Hypocrisy

[ 137 ] June 10, 2016 |


The United Kingdom votes in the European Union referendum in 13 days. The deadline for voters not on the electoral roll at their current address to register was Tuesday. Only, in the hours leading up to the midnight deadline, the system crashed. Now, if the Republican Party was in charge, one might naturally assume that this was intentional; one would certainly not expect the deadline to be extended. However, for all their manifest faults, the present Government of the UK is officially in the remain camp, so they extended the deadline by 48 hours.

This matters, for two reasons. First, in the run-in to the general election last year, the Government changed the system of voter registration. Under the old system, a single person could register an entire household in one go. This made registration simple for a lot if not most people, although, in theory, also made it vulnerable to electoral fraud. Yet, according to the Electoral Commission’s own report from January of last year, “We do not believe it is likely that fraud has been attempted in more than a handful of wards in any particular local authority area.” Basically, as in the United States, it doesn’t really exist. The new system requires each individual to directly register themselves to vote. This does not seem to be a big deal, and it remains simpler to register to vote in the UK when contrasted to the US. However, simple logic dictates that voters will be lost from the rolls. According to research published by the campaign group Hope Not Hate and the Labour Party several months before the 2015 general election, nearly one million people have vanished from the electoral rolls. Young voters are significantly more likely to be screwed by the new system. They’re less settled geographically, and whenever one moves, one has to re-register at their new address. The electoral commission admitted that certain demographics will be systematically affected by the change, specifically private renters, young adults . . . and students. Under the old system, students could be registered by their universities en mass based on their halls of residence. No longer; now it’s up to each individual student to ensure that they are registered.

For the EU referendum, this would not matter if there was no systematic relationship between age and probability of voting remain. However, there is, and it’s a very strong relationship, and a relationship that is only slightly mediated by education. “The young, whatever their age education, are very largely against Brexit; among the old, the intensity of their anti-EU sentiment varies substantially according to their qualifications.”   (“Age” is in the original, but given the context it’s probably a typo; regardless, look at the data which tell the story).

So, the young are significantly more likely to vote remain, more likely to have to continually monitor their registration status, and the system crashes under the weight of people trying to change their registration at the last minute. The Government sensibly extended the deadline 48 hours, because democracy is a good thing.

Those in favor of leaving the EU should applaud this decision. Their three arguments for leaving are unchecked immigration — that Britain is being overrun by nefarious forces from beyond the borders stealing jobs, crushing the health service, and causing all manner of mayhem. Because they’re different. The second is the money, and how much the EU costs Britain (which they all claim with a straight face will be invested in the NHS and those in need).  The third? Sovereignty and democracy. To quote Boris Johnson, “I’m telling you that if we vote on June 23 and take back control of our country, our economy and our democracy then we can prosper and thrive and flourish as never before.”  Michael Gove also weighs in with ” . . . though we are outside the euro we are still subject to an unelected EU commission which is generating new laws every day . . .”.

Democracy!  A key component of democracy is, you know, voting, and allowing as many as possible a means to cast their vote with minimal obstruction. It’s natural to assume that the Brexit camp would be completely supportive of extending the registration deadline 48 hours, to ensure that as many as possible, especially the itinerant young, get the chance to democratically express their preference on the most important question facing the entire UK in a generation or two.

To quote the inimitable Lana Kane, “nooooooope”.

A legal challenge to extending the registration deadline is under consideration.


Because duh. “BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said many Leave campaigners see the deadline extension as a “fix” because they think people signing up late will be younger and therefore more likely to support the EU. The official leave campaign – Vote Leave, in which Mr Banks plays no part – has said the government is trying to register as many likely Remain voters as possible, but stopped short of suggesting that it would consult lawyers.”

The act of registering a voter is neutral. We do not know how these late registrants will vote. However, because political science, we have a pretty damned good idea. Apparently, the Brexit camp is smart enough to have figured this out as well.

But this does make their paean to democracy appear as unmitigated bullshit.

UPDATE: This in The Independent.

Should Obamacare be repealed?

[ 66 ] May 20, 2016 |

So read the subject line of an email that Paul Ryan sent me. Well, not me, but somebody who has a name awfully similar to mine. I was an early adopter of gmail, so I’m blessed (or cursed) with an email address that is basically, you know, my name. There are apparently a ton of other Brockingtons out there, unrelated to me, who accidentally use my email address instead of their own to sign up for stuff (or do it purposefully for whatever reason, which given that this happens often is probable in some instances). My favorite by far was the time when I was serving as a bridesmaid several years ago at some stateside wedding. I should have crashed it; I’d have looked pretty good in that dress.

The email from the Speaker of the House includes a “survey”, which I reproduce below. This reminded me of Ross Perot’s infamous TV Guide “survey” from the 1992 election. This isn’t the first time in this election cycle that I’ve received email from the GOP (virtually every campaign team in the primary race — aside from Trump’s, strangely enough — have emailed me mercilessly) and when I have the opportunity to screw with their propaganda data, I’ve done so.

“So sue me.”
— President Obama

Dxxxxx . . .  —

President Obama taunted conservatives when we expressed concern over his executive overreach. And when we sued him in federal court to protect the Constitution’s separation of powers, President Obama called it “a stunt.”

Now President Obama is eating his words.

Last Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Obamacare violates the Constitution by granting spending power to the Executive branch.

Daniel, I need to know if you stand with me in the fight to repeal Obamacare.

Should Obamacare be repealed?

ID: xxxxxx

The House represents you, the people. And if you want Obamacare repealed, it’s my obligation to you to make sure I do everything in my power to make that happen.

House Republicans need to hear from you immediately: should Obamacare be repealed?

Should Obamacare be repealed?


Thank you,

Speaker Paul Ryan


The Past Few Days in the Special Relationship

[ 79 ] May 17, 2016 |


Donald Trump, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the newly elected Mayor of London have gotten themselves into a spot of bother.  In an interview with Piers Morgan, Trump assailed the clearly less-intelligent office-holders in the UK. To prove his assessment of their relative intellects, he’s challenged Sadiq Khan to an IQ test because . . . well I guess that approach to trans-Atlantic diplomacy hasn’t been tried recently.  This received some play in the media over here yesterday, prompting one of the regional BBC radio stations to interview me about the fate of the special relationship (my ten minute interview could be summed up as “don’t worry, it’s no big deal, on several levels”).

My question to my fellow Americans actually living in, you know, America is did this story get any play in the US?  I couldn’t find it on the NYT at all, which was an observation that elicited surprise from the presenter on Radio Berkshire yesterday morning.

In other more local news, even though the Labour Party secured the most votes citywide in the recent city council elections, the Conservatives have officially gone into coalition with UKIP in order to run the city for the next two years. I was asked for a react quote from the local paper when the story broke, but given I was teaching American politics for two hours, it had to wait until this morning. There should be something out there by now. I’m sure it’s made everybody involved very happy.

Local Elections in the UK

[ 10 ] May 12, 2016 |


First, a disclaimer. There isn’t much of an argument in this post. There isn’t even much of a narrative arc. What I do promise are some words strung together somewhat coherently to form paragraphs. Individual paragraphs might be a satisfying à la carte experience, but the aggregate meal will probably disappoint as it’s largely autobiographical. I’m shaking the rust off of the blogging thing following a lengthy hiatus. If you take anything away from this post beyond light food poisoning, it should be the video on the Plymouth city council elections put together by The Guardian’s John Harris (link below).

On May 5th, the United Kingdom enjoyed an electoral orgy in what sort of passes for ‘off year’ elections here. Some mayors were elected in some of the municipalities than have such things (and the one municipality in Devon that has an elected mayor voted 62% to eliminate the position in a referendum), the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and the Northern Irish assembly had elections, and the patchwork of local government also had elections. This is quite varied in England; geographically, England is divided into metropolitan counties, non-metropolitan counties, and London. These are all dual-tiered. To use the example of a non-metropolitan county, district councils are nested within county councils, and the two of them divide the administration of services. Alongside all these are “unitary authorities”, which combine all responsibilities under one body. The City of Plymouth is a unitary authority. To make matters more complex, some of these bodies elect a third of their council in any given year, some half, and some elect the entire council once every four years. Plymouth is elected on the thirds system, so we have elections to the city council three out of every four years.  (Incidentally, to the social scientist this makes for a brilliant data source, and I have a paper under review that pitches this as as close to a natural experiment as I can achieve). Some national media took to calling the 2016 election here “Super Thursday”, which is apt I guess given that this is the largest election day in the UK outside of a general parliamentary election.

Readers who remember who I am might know that I’ve been active in the local Labour Party for the past several years (and I also do a lot of media as an academic, which makes for a fine line) and this year was no different. The photo at the top was taken on election day a week ago, at our traditional morning breakfast before our targeted, data-driven GOTV effort begins. I’m sat in the center of the picture, discussing the day’s plan with the canvassing team I cobbled together and led throughout this electoral cycle, the campaign coordinator for the southern wards in the city (Luke Pollard, also the parliamentary candidate for the southern constituency last year who lost by only 523 votes) and Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth City Council. (Photo credit to Cllr. Jonny Morris, the campaign coordinator for the northern wards of the city). One thing I appreciate about this picture is that Jonny’s shot visually inflates my centrality to events, so I’m running with it.

In all last Thursday, I walked 15 miles between 7am and 9:30pm (and still had time to drop in on the university to deliver a scheduled lecture). Then it was home for a quick shower and nibbling on some fish & chips before heading to the formal count, where I was from 10:30pm until the final declarations; I think we left the count at 4:45am.  This was my third election running as a verification agent; I wrote about my first experience in the role two years ago here at LGM. Unlike the past two years, where I was assigned to one candidate in one ward, this year I was more of a trouble-shooter, allocated where needed on the fly, and in the end I worked five different wards throughout the evening.

In the end, Labour won 11 of the seats up for election to the Conservatives eight (Wikipedia overview here; note the swing was from the last time these specific seats were up for election in 2012, not last year). However, given only a third of the council was up for election, we ultimately lost a net one seat, thus resulting in a city council deadlocked on 27 Labour councillors, 27 Conservatives, and three UKIPers. That said, we “won” the vote. Plymouth consists of 20 wards, and in the 19 up for election city-wide, the result was Labour 36.5% Conservative 35.5% UKIP 16.3% Liberal Democrat 4.4% Green 2.5% Others (TUSC & PISWUK) 4.8%.  Two parliamentary constituencies are located wholly in Plymouth, and Thursday’s results, normed to those two constituencies had Plymouth Sutton & Devonport: Labour 43.3%, Conservative 30.2%. Plymouth Moor View: Labour 38.2%, Conservatives 30.6%. The five remaining wards in the east of the city form 60% of the population of South West Devon, which is a Conservative stronghold. Note, we lost both of the marginal parliamentary constituencies last year, so the Count featured the attendance of all three Conservative MPs representing Plymouth (all of whom I know, which makes for interesting conversations on election night).

There was a decent media presence as well, and I had what was an off-the-record chat with a local print journalist that found its way into the paper as a “Labour source”. What I didn’t know is that the highly regarded John Harris of The Guardian was down from London, and he put together an excellent ten minute video on the Plymouth elections. It opens in the count late Thursday night, and gives a decent idea what it’s like. When this was released the next day it spread through our circles quickly, and it was pointed out to me that I have brief cameos at 35 seconds in (blurry, in the background, doing verification on Stoke ward’s table; taking our samples, the Conservative and I would help each other out on ballots either of us missed) and then a three second closeup from 8:09.  The latter, I was on the Southway ward table, the last ward to call on the night, furiously chewing my nicotine gum. We had to win, given we lost Eggbuckland, thus at best putting us level with the Conservatives. Since I wasn’t on that ward for the initial sample I was flying blind (we had some numbers, but I didn’t have a sense how reliable they were), and it was close. Very close. I’m watching not only the Labour count just to my right, but the Conservative count two tables to my left (I also had someone on that table I trusted) while stood immediately next to the Conservative candidate for the ward (pleasant conversation ensued). In the end, we held Southway by only 88 votes, but it was probably the tensest moment I’ve had in three elections of doing this. Following the counts, it was time to settle in for 19 speeches by winning candidates. My favorite was Darren Winter’s, newly elected to St. Budeaux ward, directly critiquing the Conservative MP for the north of the city (while looking right at him on occasion).

Direct participation in local politics has been educational, and my lecturing on both British and American politics is richer for it. It’s also been a lot of exercise, both physical and mental.  And this should serve as a warning: LGM’s Senior Analyst for British Politics is coming out of extended hibernation, dammit.  I’ll get around to writing about some of the reasons for this extended hiatus, but the next few weeks I’ll likely be solely occupied with the UK’s European Union referendum, to be held on the 23rd of June.

2016 Political Predictions, A Little Late

[ 8 ] January 23, 2016 |

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 12.17.38

We at LGM have a long, glorious tradition of boldly making predictions that inevitably don’t pan out.  I’ve always tried to avoid this particular game, given the risks are high and the potential payoff the opposite.  However, over the Christmas break, the political reporter for the local paper asked me to send him some predictions, which resulted in this article. When it ran in print (which the university forwards me) it was with the pictures above: Hillary Clinton, Tudor Evans (the leader of Plymouth City Council, awarded an OBE in the New Year’s List), and yours truly.  I expect electoral ramifications for the two politicians portrayed alongside the shambolic academic).

Below, I reproduce the email I sent to Sam about said predictions.  Consider it the director’s cut of what ultimately ran in print (very lightly edited for the LGM audience).  Feel free, indeed obligated, to mock me in 11 months.  Note that the first two are about local issues that probably will not resonate with the broader LGM audience.  Also note the fine line I walk as an academic who is also a member of and activist with the Plymouth Labour Party. Tudor is a friend of mine, and indeed as part of a seminar series I run with the School of Government here I had the honor of introducing him this past Wednesday, which marks the first, and perhaps only time I’ll have introduced an OBE.


Here we go. A mix of local / national / intl. Hope this helps.

1. Plymouth City Council elections in May. With LAB on 28, CON on 26, and UKIP on 3, it’s technically NOC, but (and I’m sure you agree) from all accounts the coalition (of sorts) is working harmoniously. The best target ward for a Labour add is probably beyond them, while Labour have two very marginal wards (and that’s putting it charitably) to defend in order to retain the current 28 seats. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that I don’t see Labour adding seats, so the best that Tudor Evans (Leader of Plymouth City Council and the Labour group) can hope for is retaining the status quo.

That said, empirically the opposition party gains seats and councils in local elections, so it’s possible that Labour can get some momentum behind them and pick up one of the current Conservative wards. However, the best bet is Peverell, which is a long shot. The paradox faced by Labour is this would ordinarily be their year, but both locally and nationally they’re protecting the massive gains made in 2012.

In pure sporting terms, I’d rather be Ian Bowyer (Leader of the Conservative opposition) than Tudor Evans going into the local elections. The Conservatives can play offense, while Labour is on the defensive. Regardless of the outcome, Labour will be electorally well positioned for 2018.

Finally, while both Tudor Evans and Ian Bowyer applaud the pragmatic, positive working relationship between Labour and the Conservatives on the council thus far, the budget next month could play havoc with that.

2. Again, locally, a major issue will continue to be transportation. The pressure to re-open the airport will get play, but continue to be kicked into touch, to Cllr Bridgeman’s dismay. There’s always the possibility of another storm causing havoc with Dawlish (we’re fortunate that Storm Frank didn’t cause more trouble than it did), but even if it gets wiped out again, expect the national government to say a lot of soothing words, and do nothing.

The national government will renew Trident as scheduled in 2016 which will give a boost to local economic confidence. Likewise, it should negate what is perhaps Plymouth Labour’s biggest vulnerability – the personal position of Jeremy Corbyn in opposition to Trident. Locally, Labour can already say that the official position of the Party is for renewal, but the concerns on the doorstep are real.

3. At the end of 2016, Jeremy Corbyn will still be the leader of the Opposition, and it will still be known as the Labour Party. While there is predictable friction between the Progress (Blairite) wing of the party and Momentum, do not expect the Opposition to fracture the way it did in the 1980s. Momentum might be agitating, but they’re no Militant Tendency. Corbyn’s massive electoral mandate garnered in the leadership election this past September will get him through 2016 easily. This remains true even if Labour
lose councils and councillors in the local elections, because, again, Labour have to defend the massive gains that they made in 2012.

4. David Cameron will claim that he has comprehensively renegotiated Britain’s relationship with the European Union. In reality, what will result is little more than symbolism (either dropping or giving Britain yet another opt out regarding the “ever closer union”), with anything practical existing only at the margins – perhaps an understanding that EU nationals in the UK can not automatically qualify for
benefits without being in work in Britain for a specified period of time. However, should a referendum on EU membership be held in 2016, Yes (i.e. remain members of the EU) will win, and this will partially deflate UKIP’s bubble.

5. But UKIP will not entirely go away. The support for UKIP transcends the single issue that it was founded on, and it’s tapped into a much deeper fear and concern about slipping standards of living for the middle and lower classes and the seeming powerlessness that national governments have in warding off the perceived injustices of globalisation. While the bogeyman is immigration, the deeper fear and motivation for said fear is real and legitimate. This explains the continued existence of the far right across Europe (and the far left for that matter) as well as the popularity of both Bernie Sanders (Democratic candidate for President) and Donald Trump in the United States.

6. 2016 is of course a Presidential election year in my home country, and everybody here wants to know about Donald Trump. I’m not going to make him the odds on favourite to win the Republican nomination – he’s slipped a bit in the polls in the past week – but whereas in 2012 between August and January there were four different candidates leading the Republican polls, by this stage Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, was ahead by 12 points. Today (5 January) Trump is ahead by 15.5%. Ted Cruz might win Iowa, which could knock back the Trump bandwagon, but the latter is currently leading healthily in New Hampshire. It looks more likely now than a month ago that Trump could take the GOP nomination, but I still put the odds at slightly better than 50%.

That said, come November, Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States.


[ 13 ] January 11, 2016 |

Thanks, of course, to Scott L. for getting the jump on this one.

My friends know that I have a certain attitude towards pop music: it needs to continually and frenetically push the boundaries, redefine itself, and never look back.

When i woke at 6am (GMT) to set up the morning coffee, I looked at my phone in order to figure out the time of the day. I saw the newsflash, and it didn’t register. I told my girlfriend that Bowie had died, but it still didn’t register. He just had a birthday two days ago, and on his birthday released his new (and final) record, which BBC Radio 6 had been previewing for the past couple weeks.  What 6 has played, it’s typical Bowie: awesome, and unlike anything he had done.

Bowie came close to capturing the ideal: never look back.

Lacking words, we will look back.  I’ll leave you with this, perhaps the best marriage of two outsized performers and artists.  And I’m old enough to have bought the 45 when it was released.

EDIT: read this, it’s better than anything I could possibly conjure up.

Page 3 of 3012345...102030...Last »