Pyrrhic Victories

Peter Black makes an obvious point:

[D]espite the bravado by the UK Government that they will not pay a leaving fee they know that if they want to secure a trade deal with the single market then that is precisely what they will have to do.

I keep on seeing articles in which various groups of people try to make some legalistic argument or other about the UK not paying the balance of its debts, and this is the thought that keeps leaping out at me. You can’t go into negotiations having already poisoned the atmosphere — as the Tories are increasingly doing — and then expect a decent deal at the end of it.

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Corbyn on Brexit: Labour not wedded to a principle

I have to hand it to Jeremy Corbyn: he never ceases to amaze.

Back in September, he said:

It isn’t migrants that drive down wages, it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.

It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS, it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training.

It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.

This was quite a remarkable position for Corbyn to take as it it managed to be principled, consistent and true.

So, it was probably inevitable that he would abandon it:

Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.

But nor can we afford to lose full access to the European markets on which so many British businesses and jobs depend. Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations.

It’s not that he’s trying to weasel his way into an imaginary compromise between the leave and remain factions of his own party that is so impressive, it’s the spectacularly inept manner in which he has attempted to do it.

The best thing that Labour could do now is pack their collective bags and go home in order to leave the way clear for a competent and progressive alternative to emerge.

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Brexit means…

Extrapolating from UK by-elections to a general election result is always a dodgy proposition, but we have seen two in short order so I’m going to stick my neck out.

In Richmond Park, a constituency that voted solidly to remain in the EU, the unambiguously pro-remain Lib Dem candidate trounced the Brexit supporting Tory. And no-one was fooled by Zac Goldsmith’s pseudo-independence.

In Sleaford and North Hykeham, a constituency that voted to leave, the pro-leave Conservative candidate comfortably won, beating UKIP into a distant second.

Both by elections centred on the Brexit vote and the government’s response, and this clearly remains a live issue for many voters. In constituencies in which the remain vote was strong, voters are turning to the Lib Dems as the only unambiguously pro-EU party. In pro-leave constituencies, voters are not buying UKIP’s accusations of the government backsliding on Brexit, and are continuing to back the Tories.

It would be foolish to try and make a general election prediction based on two by elections. But the one thing that has become clear is that when Theresa May says “Brexit means Brexit”, what she means is that Labour’s slide into irrelevance can only accelerate.

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Manipulating System 1

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman looks at the mental shortcuts we take and the ways in which these shortcuts mislead us. In doing so, he describes two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is quick, intuitive and emotional while System 2 is slower, more deliberative and more logical. Both systems have their place, but System one tends to dominate and is relatively easy to manipulate.

AC Grayling argues that this has happened, both in the Brexit referendum and the Trump election.

What Kahneman and other researchers have empirically confirmed in their work is that the majority of people are ‘System One’ or ‘quick’ thinkers in that they make decisions on impulse, feeling, emotion, and first impressions, rather than ‘System Two’ or ‘slow’ thinkers who seek information, analyse it, and weigh arguments in order to come to decisions. System One thinkers can be captured by slogans, statements dramatised to the point of falsehood, and even downright lies, because they will not check the validity of what is said, but instead will mistrust System Two thinkers whose lengthier arguments and appeals to data are often regarded as efforts to bamboozle and mislead.

Grayling goes on to say:

A senior BBC news editor told me that there was fierce debate among his colleagues about how they were reporting the Brexit referendum campaigns. They were conscious that that the Leave campaign, in particular, was putting out highly doubtful if not downright dishonest statements either very late or very early in the day in order to have them reported in morning news programmes, knowing that fact checking and the need to modify or retract misleading statements would only come later in the day, by which time the statements would have done their work with System One audiences.

And the media often compounds this problem by seeking a balance that (unintentionally) results in false equivalence.

I’m not sure what the solution to all of this is – or even if there is one – but surely it starts with more teaching and use of critical thinking and a better use of journalistic resources so that untrue and misleading claims can be quickly and effectively debunked.

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Who was taking back control?

Politico has picked up a story from the Independent which reports that The Sun registered as an official Leave campaign group and spent nearly £100,000 pushing for Brexit.

[T]he Sun was a vocal proponent of Brexit, as was Murdoch, who, when asked why he didn’t like the EU, said: “That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

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38 Worthless Promises

Vote Leave Watch has helpfully assembled a list (via) of all the false promises the Brexit campaigners are now trying to duck out of.

Every one of the Leave campaign’s claims was worthless. Every one of their promises was obvious nonsense. And a BMG poll suggests that people are beginning to realise this.

Referenda can look superficially appealing, but by trying to reduce a complex or divisive issue into a simple yes/no question, they can cause confusion and uncertainty. Often, this leads to people voting on the the question they would like to answer rather than the question being asked, which allows the whole process to be hijacked by fringe groups (UKIP turning the Brexit vote into a ballot on immigration, for example).

Low turnouts, as is also often the case, also skew the results away from the balance of public opinion and towards the minority with the most enthusiastic supporters.

There are cases in which a referendum is justified, but these are rare and should be treated as exceptional and they certainly have no place in resolving internal party disputes.

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