Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

One vote that rules them all

As Justin Lewis recalls, an Ipsos Mori poll just before the EU referendum “found that while most people (70% to 17%) did not believe a claim that British people would be significantly poorer outside the EU, they were more likely to accept (by 47% to 39%) the £350m a week figure.” Such beliefs indicate both that Leave ran a much better campaign, and also that the broadcast media totally failed to inform its viewers.

Those beliefs about the economic impact of Brexit are now beginning to change, as this series of results from a different poll show:


One obvious reason for this shift is the increase in inflation that the Brexit vote has generated. This shift is important, because polls before and after the vote also suggested that a large proportion of voters only wanted to reduce immigration (as a motive for voting Leave) as long as it did not cost them any money.

But put these things together and we get something of a paradox. If being worse off was more important than reducing immigration, and more people are now convinced they will be worse off, why has popular opinion about the vote itself hardly changed. The YouGov tracker poll, which asks “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union?”, has hardly moved since the vote, with currently as many people saying Yes as No.

It is not just the economic data that is going the wrong way. Matthew d’Ancona quotes a senior government source as saying “the three main Brexiteers are suddenly becoming more and more vocal about the need to keep the [immigration] numbers sufficiently high for the needs of the economy.” They are right of course, but it suggests another key area in which the expectations of Leave voters will be disappointed. Not to mention the £350 million a week coming to us turning into a £50 billion bill going to the EU.

Here is a possible reason for this paradox. (I admit I have little evidence for it, and it is not the only possible explanation.) Voters feel that once a democratic decision has been made, it should be respected, even if they personally now feel less comfortable with the reasons behind the decision. It is important to respect the ‘will of the people’ for its own sake, just as it is important to keep to a contract even though you may now regret signing it. I do not think this view is sensible in this context, but that is a different issue.

You could use a similar rationalisation for Labour’s evolving attitudes to Brexit. Their latest position is that Labour will hold May to 6 tests, one of which is to “deliver the "exact same benefits" as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union”. It is of course an impossible test for May, despite what David Davis may have said. It makes no sense coming from a party that voted for triggering Article 50, unless there was some compelling reason for supporting the will of the people for its own sake.

The big question, for those like me who would much rather we stayed in the EU, is whether the same logic applies to Conservative MPs who personally favour remaining in the EU. Is there some point at which their duty to respect the vote is fulfilled, and does that point come before or after they have to ratify whatever deal May delivers? I suspect (again with not much evidence) that this depends on whether there will be a deal or not.

The logic of this suggests there will be a deal. (I wrote this before reading today’s Guardian.) Any poor poll performances from the May council elections onwards will be described as the public sending a message that there should be a deal, rather than as the public changing their mind about leaving. The tabloids will huff and puff, but May will just for once ignore them. Conservative MPs who are also Remainers will console themselves that at least disaster has been avoided. In the end, that one vote will bind us all.




15 comments:

  1. "Voters feel that once a democratic decision has been made, it should be respected, even if they personally now feel less comfortable with the reasons behind the decision."

    But that isn't a position held in a vacuum when a large part of the press have been pushing this point at every opportunity since the vote, without much dissection of what 'the people' were actually 'willing'.

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  2. What I find extraordinary is that you ascribe all of the fall in the £ to Brexit whereas many commentators have said that the £ has been over valued for some time now in any case; this is really stretching the point and is disingenuous.

    As regards any vote to ratify a deal I think it will depend at least in part as to where we are at the time; a great deal could happen between now and that point. I believe the EU is heading into stormy waters and the Dutch and upcoming French elections even if they both go the "right way" will still not disguise the increasing dissatisfaction with the EU project, no matter how it is spun in the friendly media, and it is against this background that any ratification vote will be made.

    The same point applies when you state that the economic data is "going the wrong way" - after nine months! Like puppies Brexit is for life not just for Christmas!

    What I also find amusing is that the polls are changing and yet we have not had Brexit at all yet ( there has been some short term impact certainly but to contend that we know what Brexit entails is risible) and the proper point at which this question should be asked is around 2037 not nine months after the vote.

    May backing off on the "no deal" option is only sensible to me; there has been a great deal of sabre rattling on both sides since last June and it has to be in the interests of both the UK and the EU to reach a mutually acceptable deal; we are leaving the EU not Europe.

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  3. I'd also argue there's a huge amount of individual psychological friction to results in the yougov poll - by which I mean it's hard for people to accept they were in some ways 'wrong' in their vote, so they compensate for that decision after the fact by changing the parameters under which brexit is a good thing. A reason which may have been indefensible before the vote is suddenly an acceptable downside.

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  4. When I voted Labour in 2015 they were, like the Liberals, against offering a referendum.

    I watched Craig Oliver complain that the BBC did not help the Remain campaign tackle the lies of the Leave campaign. This from Cameron's man on media with their long term economic plan.

    They used and then lost to the paranoid style of politics.

    Let's see how the inflation rate plays out before being too pessimistic.

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  5. To be fair, that 50 billion bill is all about sunk costs and should not be taken into account in decisionmaking.

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  6. I suspect another reason is cognitive dissonance. Ask the question 'is brexit a good idea' and people will answer the question 'did I make a stupid decision?'. The question would have to be very carefully crafted to avoid this.

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  7. As a Leaver I don't feel the comments coming from the Brexiteers on the need for immigrants are a betrayal at all. I think this shows they are being realistic.

    The point about Free Movement of People is not that you can get immigrants to fill skills gaps that need filling; lots of countries import workers without having to agree Freedom of Movement. What FOM gives you is no control over immigration, and allows businesses to avoid training indigenous staff as they can import skills directly.

    Given that the UK has had many years of regarding providing our young people with suitable skills as a profit opportunity not a commitment, it is not surprising that we don't have skills in many key areas and will have to import skills for some time to come. But what leaving will give is a framework for developing the skills of our young people as a preference and a priority rather than just chucking them on the zero-hours/benefits scrap heap as done currently.

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  8. Simon, I fear you and many analysts are trying to be too​ rational in your analysis. This decision, to leave, was not rational, it was emotional. It can perhaps be better understood on emotional, psychological, terms.
    Leave voters, as indeed are remain voters, are deeply personally invested in the decision they each took last June, not least because of the huge global impact of the decision, and also the social impact within families and work groups. Remember all those stories of families falling out?
    It is likely that there will be a long lag before rational data and evidence will be allowed to overcome that personal investment, allowing leavers to admit, even to themselves, that they made a wrong decision. Possibly not even when the deal is struck.
    Moreover, the longer Remainers maintain a confrontational argumentative position, the leavers will be forced to defend their position, even when they begin to suspect they got it wrong in the first place.
    Anyone expecting leavers to repent their decision in the next two years, in time for a second referendum, or a vote in parliament, is likely to be disappointed.
    Unless Remainers can find a way for leavers to change their position without loss of face, I fear, despite efforts of Jo Maugham in Dublin, the decision will remain, in practice, irrevocable.

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  9. «a senior government source as saying “the three main Brexiteers are suddenly becoming more and more vocal about the need to keep the [immigration] numbers sufficiently high for the needs of the economy.” They are right of course,»

    The usual use by an Economist of «the needs of the economy» in the aggregate as an euphemism for "bigger rents for property and business owners". A well known hedge fund manager who has invested in businesses relying on low-paid labour has remarked:

    www.ibtimes.co.uk/buyout-boss-says-brexit-will-be-good-his-business-will-mean-30-cut-uk-wages-1602631
    «One of the biggest names in European private equity said that Brexit will be good for his business, but will mean a 30% wage reduction for UK workers. ... He added that EU immigration will be replaced with workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, willing to accept "substantially" lower pay.»

    and very similarly D Davis yesterday:

    «In fact, he suggested that the figures may in fact go up from time to time, depending on whether immigrants would serve the “national interest” – but it would be up to the Government rather than the EU. He said: “The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work.”»

    The «national interest», «the needs of the economy» for an Economist and a Conservative minister; with «they continue to work» followed implicitly by "at the lowest possible wage levels, to boost property and business rents and keep property and business taxes lower".

    «It is important to respect the ‘will of the people’ for its own sake»

    I have to believe that one motivation for "Leave" was a sense of national humiliation at being "one country among many" and "subjugated by foreigners":

    www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/the_problem_with_the_english_england_doesn_t_want_to_be_just_another_member_of_a_team_1_4851882 and at being subjugat
    «England doesn’t want to be just another member of a team .... The destruction by the USA of the British empire, after its finest hour in 1940, was a traumatic blow to the psyche of two English generations, from which they have never recovered, largely because they have never recognised it.»

    www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=86419#comment-3224358768
    «I despise and loathe the EU, virtually everything about it and its dictatorial superstate destination.»

    www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/16/its-time-for-britain-to-get-off-its-knees--freedom-awaits-us-out/
    «It's time for Britain to get off its knees – freedom awaits us outside the EU ... Freedom beckons. Will a generation of politicians who have never fought for it betray the many thousands who died for it?»

    peterjnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/brexit-end-of-error.html
    «The EU60 hashtag on Twitter is a potent reminder of why I voted to leave. It is radiating hypocrisy. More than anything the EU is a deranged cult. The Europe the true believers live in is not one I recognise at all. I do not see this malign entity as a guarantor of peace and prosperity.»

    With attitudes like by that by some of the most reasonable "Leavers" (the least reasonable ones have opinions similar to those of greek cartoonists or the polish government), the economic cost is obviously well worth paying to end what they perceive as an intolerable national humiliation. Perhaps elite establishment Economists don't realize that.

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  10. «The logic of this suggests there will be a deal»

    The difficulty with that is that TEU art. 50 empowers the EU Council of head of state to negotiate and approve at QMV (with the consent of the EU parliament) only a termination agreement.

    Any "deal" must be negotiated instead on a third party basis according to TFEU art. 207 and 218, which usually require ratification by all member states, as in CETA etc.

    There are gray areas, but this is a case where the EU27 governments will be extremely careful to avoid pushing the boundaries because:

    * The UK is losing its membership in large part because of a national paranoia about "undemocratic, faceless eurocrats" arbitrarily grabbing democratic powers from member countries as "extensively documented" by B Johnson.

    * UK (and not just UK) "full and clean" exiters like the "Leave means Leave" group will use the excuse of the slightest perceived remaining "subjugation" to EU rules in any "deal" to challenge it as "ultra vires" before the ECJ and UK courts.

    It would be a political and public relations disaster for the EU27 governments to be challenged before the ECJ for exceeding their EU treaty powers in making a "deal" with the UK as it exits,against the will of the most vocal "Leavers", and without any compelling advantage to run that enormous risk, so the safest and easiest choice is to aim for no "deal".

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  11. Simon, I fear you and many analysts are trying to be too​ rational in your analysis. This decision, to leave, was not rational, it was emotional. It can perhaps be better understood on emotional, psychological, terms.
    Leave voters, as indeed are remain voters, are deeply personally invested in the decision they each took last June, not least because of the huge global impact of the decision, and also the social impact within families and work groups. Remember all those stories of families falling out?
    It is likely that there will be a long lag before rational data and evidence will be allowed to overcome that personal investment, allowing leavers to admit, even to themselves, that they made a wrong decision. Possibly not even when the deal is struck.
    Moreover, the longer Remainers maintain a confrontational argumentative position, the leavers will be forced to defend their position, even when they begin to suspect they got it wrong in the first place.
    Anyone expecting leavers to repent their decision in the next two years, in time for a second referendum, or a vote in parliament, is likely to be disappointed.
    Unless Remainers can find a way for leavers to change their position without loss of face, I fear, despite efforts of Jo Maugham in Dublin, the decision will remain, in practice, irrevocable.

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  12. «The logic of this suggests there will be a deal. (I wrote this before reading today’s Guardian.)»

    «The difficulty with that is that TEU art. 50 empowers the EU Council of head of state to negotiate and approve at QMV (with the consent of the EU parliament) only a termination agreement.
    Any "deal" must be negotiated instead on a third party basis according to TFEU art. 207 and 218, which usually require ratification by all member states, as in CETA etc.»

    Reading the 2017-03-29 Guardian that seems confirmed:

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/29/first-eu-response-to-article-50-takes-tough-line-on-transitional-deal
    «A withdrawal agreement, covering financial liabilities, citizens’ rights and the border in Ireland, will need to be accepted by a qualified majority of 72% of the EU’s remaining 27 member states, representing 65% of the population. The agreement would then need to be approved by the European parliament, voting by a simple majority.
    Barnier has said that any free trade deal, to be struck after the UK leaves, would be a “mixed agreement” requiring ratification by the national parliaments of the 27 states, plus consent by the European parliament.
    »

    If M Barnier said this, it cannot be a mere negotiating starting point: if there is court case about a putative deal, that he said that initially will be used against the deal. A diplomat and negotiator does not make statements that bind their hands later so casually.

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  13. What is it about people's psyche that they believe without having any factual information available to make any assessment of a future that has not yet happened.

    I voted remain because whether in or out we face the same universal problem, NEO-LIBERALISM.

    That is the dragon we need to slay.

    Greece should be the most obvious indicator what we are confronted with in the EU, the majority Neo-Liberal governments are transforming our democracies into a monolithic corporate state. So to say whether we are better off in or out is totally irrelevant, the whole political edifice has to be toppled and replaced with a system of government that works for people and not just corporations.

    I voted remain because the whole crass argument about Brexit is to avoid the real issues and acts to distract away from tackling the major political crisis of corrupt parliamentarians acting in their own interests rather than serving the needs of people.

    Inside or outside that will not change until we as ordinary people articulate what the essential priorities are, in that our governments are being dismantled by politicians who serve the corporate sector and will via the revolving door benefit at our expense.

    I was only reading in Die Linke blog from Sara Wagenknecht yesterday how they planned to resist the privatisation of their motorways. This process has been underway in this country now for over forty years and people are just sitting back as though it were inevitable and that the consequences won't affect them.

    What academics in this country should be doing is to use this Brexit opportunity to outline how we can use money creation to rebuild our economy and create a corporate free democracy, instead of being the slaves to a corrupt system. In doing this we could also lead the rest of the world out of the chaos of modern day capitalism. We lead the world to show what was said to be impossible by creating the NHS after the war, only now to see it deliberately underfunded and undermined for private profit and private gain.

    It really looks to me that the sheep mentality concentrates on miniscule detail rather than tackling the big picture.

    Theresa May will withdraw from Europe and set up these bogus trade deals which the US have instigated, in order to perpetuate Americas hegemony over the world and we will become a minor satellite of the republican party's cause.

    This article by George Monboit clarifies this process in detail here:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/02/corporate-dark-money-power-atlantic-lobbyists-brexit

    We really do need to wake up in this country and start rebuilding our country, rather subjugating ourselves to the whims of Trumpeteers.
























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  14. J Corbyn should be as always should have been our blogger's favourite politician because his positions has consistently been to realistically respect the referendum outcome but choose continued single market membership with all its advantages, from today's speech:

    labourlist.org/2017/03/the-tories-want-to-turn-brexit-britain-into-a-low-wage-tax-haven-corbyn/
    «To safeguard jobs and living standards Britain needs full access to the single market. The Secretary of State for exiting the EU seems to agree with this. He stated in this House on 24 January the Government’s plan is a: “comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have” That is what they have pledged. So will the Prime Minister confirm today, that she intends to deliver a trade and customs agreement with “the exact same benefits”?»

    Apparently the Liberals have been converging on the same position, slowly.

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  15. "It is not just the economic data that is going the wrong way."

    To which economic data are you referring? According to the article below, the current situation doesn't appear as dire as you imply (and certainly, some of the indicators which have fallen since last year cannot be laid solely at the feet of Brexit, can they?):

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-36956418

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