The recent events and the last three years have been a case study of why the UK needs electoral and constitutional reform. This is, for many, a tedious topic but much of what we have witnessed during the last three years, has been even more tedious. The issues needing change are well-known but the party machines have resisted even giving consideration to them during the last 50 years.
The first problem
One of the fundamental problems facing representatives of the people is the system of their selection and organization of campaigns, rests with political parties that demand "loyalty". This creates from the outset a schism between an individual's ability to respond to the details of constituent needs and what a political party desires; these are not always the same thing. The recent expulsion of a large number of government MPs, or rather removal of the whip, is an example of where this sort of schism can lead.
It is worth revisiting the outcome of the 2016 referendum on Europe. The question put to the people was:
"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"
with the voters being asked to place an "X" to the reply they preferred. The replies were:
"Remain a member of the European Union"
"Leave the European Union"
It is sobering that only 65% of the population of voting age (51,356,768) turned out to vote. In terms of proportions of the constituency of the United Kingdom amongst the voting age population, more people did not vote, that is, 17,804,785 people or 34.7% of the voting age population. There followed two smaller groups made up of those who voted to leave at 17,410,742 or 33,9% of the voting age population and those who wanted to remain made up of 16,141,241 people or 33.9% of the voting age population.
This was clearly a non-conclusive result because the size of the population not voting exceeded the "winning" vote. It is not productive to assert that if a person does not vote they don't count. For years now, many have become increasingly of the opinion that their vote does not count, it is considered to be meaningless in the light of the current electoral system. The opinions of people who think this way are important, whether they vote or not.
The campaigns in the referendum were organised by political parties and no matter what is now stated, at that time, the issues raised in campaigns were to some degree emotion-laden and linked to immigration, the European democratic deficit and suggestions that leaving could result in significant amounts of money saved and assignable to national policies such as supporting the NHS. Both Labour and Conservative parties attempted to shadow the then UKIP party rhetoric on immigration. As a result the referendum was contentious and for many an unattractive affair that did not address more fundamental issues facing the wellbeing of the population and therefore a large number of voters did not participate for this as well as other reasons.
A constitutional question here is that although the political parties, in their wisdom, saw the issue as one of being in or out of Europe, the shades of advantages and disadvantages vary according to family and individual experience, work and association with European affairs or those who are less directly involved with Europe. With integration with Europe having taken over 40 years, almost 2 generations, the referendum questions pall at the reality of the wide range of personal circumstances and unique life experiences with respect to Europe.
Unfortunately, given the binary character of the typical dialogues that exist between British political parties the question was reduced to "in" or "out".
What were the options?
Although today many will argue as to whether, "people knew what they were voting for", it is clear that the referendum did no elaborate on the costs and benefits associated with membership nor with the costs and benefits of the many trade agreement options open to the UK or even the costs and benefits of a no deal exit. To say that people knew what they were voting for only admits to the fact that each voter would have had a personalised prior view of why he or she voted the way they did and it is unlikely, considering human nature, that much thought was given, in the act of expression through a vote, to the implications of this collective action for others in the UK or those in Europe. Certainly those representing the opposing factions had some notions of what they were voting for but there is no evidence at all that a serious review of costs and benefits across the range of options had been undertaken. Therefore it is simply too simplistic to say, people knew what they voted for.
Polar politics in a multi-polar constituency
It is more than apparent that to have the outcome of a referendum on BREXIT to be so finely divided between those for and those against, and the size of the group who did not bother to express an opinion, exceeding the size of the leave group, that British political parties were never going to come up with a solution to satisfy all voters, especially when for 2 years the then prime minister refused to collaborate with other parties along the typical irrational British party line. In a way one cannot really blame the politicians for maintaining such a mindset when the British population isn't moved to articulate their disagreement with this abusive approach to politics and to set about changing the system. We are suffering under a system that many voters feel is sound because, after all, we are one of the oldest democracies and therefore it is probably not feasible to improve upon it. But the constant theme of British politics is that government decisions on the macroecomnomic front as well as socially important initiatives tend to generate winners, losers and those who end up in a neutral policy impact status. This destructive differentiation emanates from the binary nature of party policies goaded on by different perspectives of self interest. They typically slump into assertive modes in order to "win their argument" and often these assertions are, almost by definition, not evidence-based; credibility is a serious issue. Decisions emerge on the basis of parliamentary majorities usually controlled by party whips who goad MPs to support the "party line" but this has nothing to do with winning the argument or reflecting constituency opinions, even if they have any notion of what this might be. The only solution to such situations is to improve the quality of information on the options that is disseminated directly to the electorate, even after a referendum, so as to be able to identify the full range of options.
DABs-Decision Analysis Briefs
One of the more interesting constitutional propositions, amongst many made during the last 50 years, is the proposed legal requirements for parliamentary propositions to be accompanied by detailed Decision Analysis Briefs1 (DABs) on all sectors and including sector and household impacts of any proposal. Clearly something missing from the last two year's of BREXIT discussions and in particular the no deal scenario. DABs should have been circulated to the electorate containing quantitative audits of the costs and impacts of all options including no deal on all sectors and the consequences for prices, employment and wages. Different industries and sector associations have produced a lot of material on this topic and these add up to a dire situation. There is a real danger of the likelihood of cost-push inflation associated with a no deal situation, leading to a decline in real profits and employment in the economy exacerbated by the failure of QE to stimulate the economy constrained by austerity and further destabilised by the current instability in the world economy created by the current US trade confrontations and sanctions. There could not be a worse time for contemplating a no deal Brexit. We believe the projected decline in national income of 8% is a gross underestimate.
What has appeared as the Yellow Hammer document content consisting of 5 pages of an executive summary as opposed to any detailed analysis and this comes nowhere near the required level of relevance of information necessary for the people of this country to fully appreciate the seriousness of the issue. So far, Yellow Hammer is appearing to be a typical product of "sofa government" drafted on the basis of assumptions but with no serious evidence-based quantitative analysis and projections; more content is required. It seems that this report is of the category of those that are the product of irresponsible amateurism winessed under the Blair government where the country was encouraged into an illegal war in Iraq largely "justified" by an absurd report which gained the endearing name of the "dodgy dossier". This amateurism and dishonesty led to the deaths of untold numbers of innocent men, women and children. In the case of a no deal exit from the EU is is likely to signify widespread suffering related to business disruption, unemployment and a range of disruptions in people's life and welfare through market failures.
The current government appeared to have thought that by threatening an election, the Labour Party would back off for fear of the might of the combined forces of the Conservative and Brexit parties along with the Liberal democrats recent surge. But as always, in confrontation situations there is a diminished capability to identify the most rational pathways forward.
The opposition parties' prospects
Labour is called the government's bluff by first of all contributing to making no deal contrary to legislation. It is however, contrary to assumptions, likely that if and when an election comes Labour and the Liberal Democrats would be the winners. This could happen if they collaborated on exposing the true consequences of a no deal in more quantitative and realistic terms by generating and circulating DABs and
The Liberal Democrats have an unvarnished position of remaining and opposing any alternative deal or no deal. They now have a young, lively and coherent leader. There are enough remain supporters to give them a sizable vote.
Not so daft
Labour has had a consistent position, contrary to what one might believe. They have understood more clearly the fact that the spread of views within the population is evenly balanced and in order to satisfy all there is a need to combine a deal that attempts to provide the UK with conditions close to a no leaving situation with a de facto BREXIT. Some Labour MPs have stated they would work to generate a deal that satisfies remainers as a basis for leaving but during an election campaign Labour MPs will be permitted to campaign to remain or to leave, but with a deal. This removes the schism between the party and constituents according to the location.
In a recent BBC Question Time, Emily Thornberry attempted to explain the rationale of this more realistic approach but almost no one on the panel, caught up in the binary mind warp that has dominated this topic, could comprehend what she was saying. They all defaulted to a binary position when, in reality, such positions can never satisfy the greater part of the electorate. They therefore, embrassingly, became dismissive and attempted to belittle her statements as being contradictory. The discounting of Thornberry's position only demonstrates the dangerously blinkered viewpoints of many spokespeople who after 2 years still do not understand what the outcome of the referendum vote signifies. They are still locked in to an irrelevant binary fixation that has no relationship to the way the opinions of the population map out. Thornberry's position is the closest solution that fits over the actual map of the balance of the referendum results.
With Labour, Greens and the Liberal Democrats approaching any election armed with DABs they could completely change the nature of the game. This is because DABs could make the prospects of the Brexit Party no deal "policy" more transparently dangerous for the electorate and economy. Given the stakes, no one with access to the information explaining the consequences, is likely to desire a no deal BREXIT nor will the public in the EU. Under such circumstances support for the Brexit party and to a significant degree, the Conservatives, is likely to decline rapidly as the election campaign progresses.
As proponents for a professed support for the freedom of all, the Labour party has the opportunity of demonstrating a needed levelling off of the paranoia concerning "The Commission" and their real or imagined intent to harm Britain. In the end, the Jury, in this case, is the EU electorate including the UK and it is their mutual interests that should be paramount as the principal strategic objective. By balancing the DABs on the British case with additional DABs on the EU consequences of a no deal BREXIT and disseminating this information through Labour's associated EU-based political parties including the Greens, could help change the situation. There is no particular sense in the Liberal Democrats doing this by themselves but they would be advised to collaborate with the Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru, th Change Group and independents and MPs who were sacked by the current government, to contribute to the work on the remain and no deal scenario work. As a result we would at last move from a position of needless contention and confrontation to one of mutual understanding based on the facts and sound proposals for mutual collaboration around practical imperatives
One of the mistakes made by the European Commission was to emphasise withdrawal conditions before understanding what a deal might be, since withdrawal conditions are dependent upon the final structure of a new trading arrangement. As a result the European electorate, just as in the case of the current UK electorate, still do not have a clear objective view of what is at stake in terms of their wellbeing. DABs could be extended to include estimates of the impact on the EU on a sector by sector basis. As a result they can be used to help structure and inform the negotiations under an extension with the EU. With the Member State electorates becoming more aware of the true consequences of a no deal BREXIT it is obvious that, behind the scenes, the Commission would be encouraged to review options so as to obtain a deal that also protects the interests of their own electorates. In this way we could end up in a win-win situation.
On the question of the border in Ireland, there are, indeed, technical solutions and we will provide information on these in the next post.
1 Chapter 26, Parliament, pages 281-282. "The Briton's Quest for Freedom - Out unfinished journey ...", McNeill, H. W., Hambrook Publishing Co, 418 pp., 2007, ISBN: 978-0-907833-01-7.
ibid: in several chapters dealing with electoral processes and policy development
ibid: Note 104 page 400.