Friday, 29 May 2015

Why there can be no EU Democracy

There is an honourable, pro EU position which holds that the European Union can be transformed into a large, democratic federation similar to the United States. Adherents believe that this will create a power bloc capable of dealing on equal terms with the US and other world powers. It is, so far as I can tell, a minority view in every country but it is an honest one and much more worthy of a considered response than the fudge and chicanery of politicians like David Cameron who still cling to the fiction that the EU can be a loose grouping built around trade and pragmatic cooperation without being a political union.

The trouble with the federalist position is that quite simply there is no European demos. There is no strategy to create one, and in my opinion no hope of doing so if there was. Even within the United Kingdom, the ongoing debate around Scottish independence shows a division which keeps resurfacing over centuries, amongst peoples who share a relatively small island, a common language, a land border, a shared history and centuries of political union with free trade and movement.

If such a scheme can only just be held loosely together within Britain then what hope for a union including countries as diverse as Sweden, Greece, France and Poland? What possible themes could bind Germans, Portuguese and Bulgarians to vote for a President who may be from Britain or Estonia or Italy? None what so ever.

This is not the United States, a vast, and until recently largely empty continent populated for the most part over the last 200 years by people seeking a new life. This is an old, settled continent with dozens of small countries speaking different languages, with vastly differing political traditions, and histories which could scarcely be less aligned. The idea that these hundreds of millions of people can be brought together in a single political entity is a dangerous utopian fantasy.

A working demos is something which evolves over centuries, an organic grouping of people who are bound together by language, history and trade. A people with shared values and culture. Attempting to create this sort of cohesion in a top down, bureaucracy is a monumental folly which can only be the product of an arrogance and vanity which beggar belief.

The federalists know this, and that is why, with a few honourable exceptions they have no intention of implementing this scheme democratically. Instead they insist on hiding this project as being about trade, or the environment or some other excuse which moves the decision away from democratically elected governments and pools it in the vast, remote and impenetrable bureaucracies in Brussels and Strasbourg. But make no mistake, the federal European Union is what they are building by hook or by crook, and so long as the United Kingdom remains a member then we are a part of it.

The Uncomfortable Truth About EU Negotiations

As I pointed out the other day David Cameron's reform negotiations have got off to a bizarre start, in so far as he isn't actually asking for anything that would require a single change in any of the treaties of European Union. This makes his curious posturing with Juncker, Merkel and others even more baffling. There are two possible explanations for why Cameron would proceed in this way, and neither is especially flattering for Mr Cameron or the EU project. Or indeed the state of modern Britain.
First is the simplest and most obvious explanation, and for me the most attractive because it relies on nothing more than the duplicity and arrogance of our Prime Minister. Ties which Occam's razor can not sever. That explanation is that Cameron is making domestic policy announcements and presenting them as renegotiation of our relationship with the EU. This will allow him to make the "negotiations" seem as difficult as he likes, because he isn't actually negotiating anything. Everything he is seeking is already in the power of the British government to implement.

This amounts to duplicity of such epic proportions that it's hard to think of a parallel, and should make any thinking person suspicious of the project itself. Why would such duplicity be needed for something which most of our political establishment apparently believe is beneficial to the country?

The only mystery this explanation leaves is why other European leaders would even entertain or collude in such a transparent fraud. What do they have to gain by putting their names to this?

The second explanation however is even more depressing, but only a little bit less plausible. That is, that somewhere in the tangled mess of our membership of the European Union, it is already a requirement that even such thoroughly domestic matters as a significant reform of our welfare system must be approved by Brussels.

This would explain why other leaders are indeed taking some interest in Cameron's charade. However it would also, ironically, shine a very unkind light on the extent to which our own elected government is utterly impotent to actually govern our country. So much so that a simple change such as requiring contributions before claiming benefits must be approved by politicians and bureaucrats from another country, who have never been elected for anything by the British people, and whose stake in the matter if any gives them interests which are not aligned with, and in some cases quite contrary to the British people.

There simply are no other options beyond this unattractive dichotomy. Cameron's negotiations are either an elaborate fraud designed to hoodwink the electorate into voting for the status quo, or they are proof that we are governed by the EU to an greater extent than we had previously thought.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Duchess of Britain

It didn't have to be like this. There are real and important things which could be done at governmental level to improve the lives of the British people. A sensible immigration policy could be formed and implemented, beneficial trade deals could be pursued and radical cuts to taxation and spending could liberate the people of the United Kingdom, - who did after all just vote for a Conservative government - from the bureaucratic quagmire we are in.

Instead, much of the business of government. like the election campaign, is mostly about hospital administration, childcare places and the right to buy. Things which would be better dealt with by local councils than by the government of one of the world's richest and most powerful countries.

And there is the rub. While we still maintain the veneer of being one of the world's richest and most powerful countries, Britain is in fact a province of a country called the European Union. We can not negotiate trade deals with China or Brazil. We can not implement and Australian style points based immigration policy to ensure we admit the migrants with the skills most needed by Britain.

We can't do these things because we have handed these areas of control over to the European Union, to be decided by unelected officials, and implemented across countries as diverse as Bulgaria, Sweden, Malta and Slovenia.

Instead we have the sad charade of a former Queen who was born as the heir to the largest empire the world had ever known, now reduced to a sort of local Duchess setting out what programme of marginal fiddling her government will engage in over the next 12 months.

The EU referendum provides a glimmer of hope that this sorry state of affairs can be changed, but only if we are honest with ourselves about our current state, and have the courage to reject it when the referendum comes.

Grimace for the Cameras

As Cameron's apparent negotiations get under way, the Daily Mail has come closest I have yet seen to actually setting out what it is Cameron hopes to achieve by petitioning other EU leaders to alter our relationship with the EU. They list Cameron's demands as being:

No in-work benefits until they have been in Britain for four years
No social housing for four years
No child benefit or tax credits paid for children living outside the UK 

No support from the UK taxpayer
Deportation if they do not get a job for six months 
Other measures include:
Impose restrictions on EU migrants bringing in family members from outside the EU
Longer bans on rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters returning to the UK
Tougher rules on deporting foriegn criminals
Refusing to allow other countries to join the EU without imposing controls on the movement of their workers until their economies have reached UK levels

Which all sound like fairly sensible steps to stop new immigrants taking advantage of the welfare system without contributing. However unless anyone can show me something different, then not a single one of these "demands" requires anything at all of the rest of the EU. No change to any of the treaties, no change to any of the policies. These are entirely a matter of domestic policy, and reflect what many EU countries already do, requiring contributions before benefits are paid. In Spain for instance you need to have worked and contributed for at least 360 days in the last 6 years before being entitled to any benefits. The only item which would require a departure from previous policy is delaying freedom of movement for new member states, but we have a veto in this area anyway and such a move is unlikely to meet with much resistance from the rest of the EU. So no change.

Cameron proposes no restrictions on the right of the EU's 500 million citizens to settle permanently in the UK. No rejection of the supremacy of EU law over British law. He is not even seeking opt outs or reforms of the Common Agricultural of Fisheries Policies.

What Cameron appears to be doing is asking Juncker, Merkel and co to "grimace for the cameras" so that he can appear as tough negotiator, winning a better deal for Britain in Europe by dressing up domestic policy as a renegotiation, while in fact doing nothing of the sort.

He will then claim this as a famous victory for Britain, and proof that we can change the European Union from within, while in fact what he is proving to those paying close attention is that he neither can nor especially wants to seriously alter our relationship with the EU.

It is a classic heir-to-Blair operation, with lots of bluster and presentation and no substance of any sort.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Symbolism and the Difficulty of Bombing an Idea

Within a week of capturing Ramadi ISIS stormed the ancient city of Palmyra, destroying ancient monuments and killing anyone in their way. Despite, or perhaps because of the best efforts of the US and it's allies to defeat the ISIS threat they appear to be getting stronger, not weaker.

Or perhaps strength is not the correct term. ISIS are not problem which can't be bombed out of existence in the way a despot's military equipment can be, because their military strength is a manifestation of an idea which is largely accepted by a significant section of the population of the areas in which they operate. Short of killing everyone you can't bomb this support away and there's a strong chance that bombing will actually strengthen it. Iraq has been either occupied or at war, and in both cases heavily bombed, for quarter of a century, and it clearly hasn't worked.

When Lord Elgin was the High Commissioner to China in 1860 he quite effectively ended the second Opium War in part by ordering the complete destruction of the Old Summer Palace which was a potent symbol of Chinese imperial power. Either an act of supremely vindictive hooliganism, or a stroke of bubble popping genius. Possibly both. Either way the symbolism of it was, and remains, very powerful and arguably achieved what years of military campaigning had failed to do. 

It's interesting that ISIS themselves appear to know this, and make a point of smashing historic monuments wherever they go, in much the same way as the Taliban destroyed the giant Buddha statues carved into the rocks at Bamiyan in 2001. 

I don't know the area well enough to know what if anything could be done to similarly undermine the persuasive message ISIS put across, or even if this is the best approach; but unless you somehow remove the hold ISIS have over a large section of the population in the areas in which they operate we have no chance at all of destroying them.

Wanted: A Positive Case for Withdrawal

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) have done a phenomenal job of getting the issue of Britain’s membership of the European Union into the political mainstream, and they have at least partly achieved one of their primary objectives - securing a referendum on our continued EU membership. I say partly achieved because under a Conservative majority government led by David Cameron it is a certainty that the playing field will be severely tilted in favour of staying in, with public money lavished on the In campaign, the BBC fully on side and various groups such as the CBI who claim to represent "business" predicting economic collapse if we vote to leave.

No matter. This is the first time in four decades that the British people have had the opportunity to reject our country being a part of the political project of a united Europe, and anyone who believes in democratic self government should be ready to grab it with both hands. 

The problem with UKIP's campaign so far is that while it has very forcefully highlighted the many negative aspects of our membership of the EU they haven't really promoted a more attractive alternative. Now, with many people pushing for a referendum in 2016, rather than 2017 as Cameron promised it's high time to start making that case.

Firstly we must consider the alternative - renegotiating our relationship with the EU and staying in it. We can be sure that this option will be fudged. Cameron will secure some hollow concessions in the mould of John Major's Social Chapter opt-out. They will be temporary, and they will not fundamentally alter our commitment to "ever closer union" which lies at the heart of our membership. Yet they will be presented as an attractive alternative which dilutes or negates the negative aspects of the EU while preserving the advantages of EU membership. It will be made to appear attractive to people comfortable with the current arrangements and unwilling to rock the boat, yet it will ultimately lead to the same result – our continuing absorption into a country called Europe.

And what does Out mean? There are two possible options for leaving the European Union and the first question must be which of these options will be offered to us as an alternative to staying in the EU? The first would be membership of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) along with countries like Norway and Iceland. The second would be leaving the bloc entirely and trading under WTO rules. UKIP so far, when they have talked about alternate arrangements, have claimed the advantages of both. A luxury open to them as a small opposition party, but closed now that we actually have a referendum. There are other alternatives which have been suggested such as NAFTA or some sort of revival of the old Commonwealth trading arrangements but there is no certainty that either of these options will actually be available to us, and it would anyway take years of negotiations to attain either. 

The choice between EFTA and independence is a large and complex question in itself, and not one that I can do justice to in this article. In a nutshell EFTA would more or less preserve our current trading arrangements and thus be the less disruptive option, but by the same token it would undermine many of the advantages of leaving the EU in the first place, and almost certainly come with strings attached in terms to regulatory compliance, free movement of people and other areas.

Leaving to "go it alone" entirely would mean far greater disruption to our trading arrangements, but also represent a far greater opportunity to develop our own trade agreements with other countries, and to look globally instead of locally. 

There is a very attractive case to be made for this, whatever your political outlook. The key point is that important matters affecting our country can be debated openly in our own parliament by our elected representatives rather than being decided by committee in the closed rooms of the European Union's bureaucracy; and that logical decisions can be made and scrutinised based on our national interest, not the pet projects of EU officials. 

Pointing out the negatives has got us this far. It is now up to Nigel Farage, UKIP and others who believe in an independent Britain to make this case positively and attractively to the British public so that people can vote confidently for a democratic and free United Kingdom when the referendum comes. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Out of the Melting Pot...

In 1960 not many people would really have argued with the statement that Britain was a white, Christian country. There were people of other races and faiths, and while they might have been considered a curiosity in many areas, they weren't legally barred from anything, there was no segregation and there doesn't appear to have been much violence or vitriol directed towards them. Still very few people would have really argued that Britain was or should be anything other than a white, Christian country.

Even describing Britain as such now could itself be considered a provocative and divisive thing to say, despite the fact that it actually is. According to the 2011 census 87% white and 59%, a majority, identifying themselves as Christian. But that's not the party line - Britain, we are told is a land of diversity, where people of all backgrounds mix and mingle in an intoxicating curry of multiculturalism. Celebrating our superficial differences around our shared values of tolerance, fair play and health spending. There's even a made to match history, where the British are a mongrel race who have for centuries absorbed incomers from across Europe and beyond, bringing their colourful, interesting and exotic ways to our drab isle.

Not a single senior member of any of the three main parties would dispute this, and even the "maverick" Nigel Farage treads very carefully around the subject. Yet it's not really true at all. As we've seen the simple demographics don't stack up, and it still is a predominantly white country, where a majority of the people describe themselves as Christian. Rather this view of Britain as a sort of Ellis Island without the Atlantic in the way is a retrofitted justification for a left wing project to profoundly and permanently change the country.

The history of immigration and integration is a bit more difficult to quantify, but while Britain certainly did provide refuge to Huguenots, Jews and others it was in tiny numbers compared to the industrial scale migration we have had since WW2, and accelerated again since 1997. Anyway this wasn't something unique to Britain - people have moved around Europe, and indeed everywhere, since time began and generally rubbed along ok. It is not a uniquely British phenomenon. It's what people do. Up until relatively recently it was done in tiny numbers and usually out of necessity. Now it is being done on a vast scale, and mostly driven by economic gain on both sides. The migrants get better wages, and employers get a pool of workers to keep wages down. Only the native population lose out through increased wage competition, access to services and their towns and cities being turned into alien places with the high crime and mistrust that comes with a transitory population, disproportionately made up of young men.

But all this diversity is great, many say. It's one of the things that defines Britain, the availability of curry and kebabs in small towns, the opportunity to live with people from exotic and faraway lands and learn about their ways.

This melting pot view is a pure fantasy, invented and imposed on the British people without ever asking them. It appears to be taken wholesale from a romanticised view of 19th century New York, where the 'huddled masses' from Europe arrived with nothing and built exciting and productive lives in the new, young republic. It ignores both the massive racial tensions which this created in New York and beyond, which continue to this day. It ignores the fact that America has since developed a fairly strict immigration policy, which also suggests that this policy was not an unmitigated success. It ignores the very important differences between doing this in a huge, almost empty continent with vast resources, compared to imposing this on an old, settled population in a densely inhabited island. Finally this view doesn't seem to give any consideration to the fact that the United States of the late 19th century was a very harsh place where the onus was almost entirely on the immigrant to sink or swim. Whatever assistance there was came from charity or religious groups, not a vast welfare state with social services, integration programmes and multilingual telephone helplines. Nor did it have the necessary flip side of this - an elaborate and resentment inspiring tax system, hiring quotas for minority groups and far reaching laws against discrimination, or even speech which might be considered derogatory towards a certain group.

All this, combined with the arduous journey across the Atlantic to get there in the first place, means that the huddled masses arriving in 19th century New York were a very different type of migrant to the ones arriving in Britain today, and have an entirely different experience when they arrive. Which makes clinging to the idealistic view of recreating this experiment in 21st century Britain a leap into the unknown, in a vain attempt to attain something that most people don't particularly want anyway, by a means which seems unlikely to attain it.

It's not about being racist, or wishing for some mythical Christian past, the sort of slur that is usually thrown at anyone daring to question this policy. It's about a wrongheaded doctrine being imposed upon the country with no real debate or chance of stopping it, and about a political class with a pathological inability to be honest with the public, or even themselves; yet in the grip of a furious determination to allow no discussion of this cataclysmic change, or dissent from the established orthodoxy on it.

The reality of this experiment so far has been an enormous rift in British society, where we have the Labour party holding election rallies separated by gender to appease Muslims, huge scale postal voting fraud again committed by Muslims. We have British citizens travelling to Syria and elsewhere to fight against our allies in favour of Islamic fundamentalism, absurd levels of often very violent crime in diverse areas and a myriad of other problems grown out of the wholesale importation of millions of people who share no values, history, or often even language with the host population. Yet still our politicians of all parties cling to this orthodoxy and insist that the greatest problem is lack of resources and whites discriminating against non-whites.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that a lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get it's pants on. It was another great Tory, Enoch Powell who told the truth about the multicultural experiment being imposed on the British people from above in 1968, and despite huge popular support this destroyed his political career. His tone, the unfortunate way in which the speech was dubbed "Rivers of Blood" and the general political mood of the time in which he said it meant that the uncomfortable truth he told was caught with it's trousers down. Meanwhile the lie that all our differences are merely skin deep and we will all live side by side without problems if we just legislate against a few racists and bigots has had almost half a century as unchallenged orthodoxy, and the truth is only now starting to catch up.

But catch up it will, because that's what truth does, and the stronger the lie, the more thoroughly embedded the orthodoxy, then the more difficult and problematic will be the resulting correction as we get out of the melting pot of multiculturalism and into the unforgiving fire of reality.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Reply to John Redwood - Wither UKIP?

Originally written in response to an article entitled Wither UKIP? on John Redwood's blog, discussing the failure of UKIP to actually win seats in the election. John Redwood is one of those very few Tories who I actually have some time for. He has consistently stood up to his own party leadership on Europe and on climate change, and held on to some genuinely conservative ideas as the party has slid ever further left. He is a party politician and his own narrative on UKIP is obvious, but his questions appear genuine.

I have reposted my reply here.

I think in a sense Farage’s success and UKIP’s failure are two sides of the same coin. Farage is a hugely recognisable character, but by his own admission a “Marmite” politician who people tend to either love or hate. This has been extremely successful in getting UKIP’s message across to the country as a whole, but less so in generating strong pockets of local support that would enable them to win seats. I still wouldn’t call this an abject failure. 3.8 million votes is a massive result and puts them close to the glory days of the Lib Dems. The distribution of those votes is the problem. I am still optimistic longer term that UKIP can win seats and have an even greater impact on government, but it does need to do this at a local level, not just a national level through a charismatic and bombastic, yet sometimes divisive leader. I think this also answers your fourth question about why the party failed to make the breakthrough locally.

Whether now is the time to change to a different leader, or whether the party should build a stronger internal structure and groom future leaders more thoroughly is difficult to judge. Initially I thought that tearing up the resignation and moving on under Farage was sensible, but as the cracks begin to show (I don’t doubt exaggerated by a UKIP story hungry media) it’s starting to seem that an election might be the best way to decide that.

2010 was very different. UKIP was a far more marginalised, minority party. Since then we have had Cameron’s about turn on the Lisbon referendum and massive immigration, plus UKIP winning the European elections outright. He stood in Buckingham as standing against the speaker gave him a relatively high profile. He stood in Thanet because he is from Kent, and it’s a likely target seat.

As for UKIP’s purpose – I believe they very much still have one with the referendum, and even after the result, whatever that is. Firstly the referendum – I believe Cameron will offer something similar to the choice given to Scottish voters last year. A superficially attractive status quo, staying within the EU with a few concessions, or a vast unknown of “Out” which has been given no real thought or preparation ahead of the vote.

UKIP must make this case and this preparation because aside from a very few genuine withdrawalists int he main parties I don’t believe that the main parties will.

Secondly, there is a massive gulf between UKIP and all the main three parties on some very important issues. The greatest of these is the obsession with man made global warming and our response to it, on which Cameron is as one with Labour and the Liberal Democrats. After years of this meaning little more than expensive petrol and burdensome building regulations this is starting to bite in areas such as energy policy, and it’s very obviously and visibly wasting vast sums of money on projects such as wind farms. UKIP are helping awaken the public to this cynical alarmism.

Though UKIP may have been founded as a single issue party I believe it’s scope has grown to be much more than simply EU membership. On issues like climate change and immigration it is often on the edges of the Overton window, making a difficult and unfashionable case for things which mainstream Tory and Labour voters agree with but do not feel comfortable to say.

Blinded by Numbers

There's an amusing article here with lots of inside info from the Labour party's disastrous campaign in the recent general election. This one passage though really stood out as explaining much that is wrong with the way the world is run presently. It is attributed to an unnamed Labour MP and appears to have been spoken last year, though no firm date is given.

 ‘I sat in a room and saw Greenberg and Morris explain how it was structurally impossible — impossible — for us to poll less than 35 per cent in this election,’ said one. In the event, it was 30 per cent, against the Conservatives’ 37 per cent. A far cry from the tie predicted by most pollsters.

It might sound like normal election campaign hubris, but as so often with such bold pronouncements based on statistics, it's real-world implications are worth considering a little more closely. 

For a bit of background, Stan Greenberg is one of the founders of Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research (GQRR), a major polling and research firm long associated with the Democratic party in the US and Labour in the UK. James Morris is the European Director for GQRR, a former speech writer for Tony Blair. 

These two men, with their terrific combined experience felt safe to say ahead of time that it was "structurally impossible" for less than 35% of the electorate to vote Labour. They had made this pronouncement on the strength of extensive polling data and the advanced statistical techniques, and it was completely wrong. In the event Labour polled 30% to the Conservatives 37%. However right up until the early hours of the 8th of May, as the article says, Miliband firmly believed he was going to be Prime Minister. He was even busily writing a victory speech after the polls closed, and the traditionally much more accurate exit poll showed the extent of the damage to Labour's vote.

You could dismiss it all as politicians seeing what they want to see during a close run election campaign, but I believe that is highlights something more profoundly wrong with the world, and especially with the business of government, and how it uses statistics. Don't forget that while this ultimately trivial example relates to an election defeat, similar such numbers are put forward all the time to "prove" whatever point it is that the government or the civil service wish to make. 

People forget that statistics are a proxy for a far more complex and chaotic reality; and quite often it appears, people believe that some advanced statistical techniques can make up for a fundamental lack of data. People are awed by this and believe that such advanced and scientific methodology must surely be accurate. They could not be more wrong.

Over 30 million people voted last Thursday, from wild and remote Orkney to cosmopolitan Islington and all points in between. To imagine that a poll of a few hundred, or even a few thousand people a week, never mind 6 months before the election itself will give you a realistic idea of how people will vote on polling day is a nonsense. However it is a nonsense upon which millions of pounds of campaign expenditure were lavished, and important policy decisions were made, and exactly the kind of nonsense upon which government, politicians and so called experts base the regulations and policies we live under.

The vast industry that has built up around telling us how we can avert global warming is built around predictions of a 0.7ºC rise in global temperatures over the next 30 years, and as the linked article points out the IPCC has a history of wildly over predicting such changes anyway. Even so 0.7ºC is barely perceptible. Drawing from this flawed estimate the apocalyptic conclusion that the ice caps will melt, the seas will rise and famine, pestilence and death will follow is ludicrous, as is sacrificing our economic well being, and compromising such obviously beneficial things as private transport or electricity on the altar of this guess. These models may well use advanced techniques but they are based on a miniscule amount of questionable data, and predicting a change which is within any sensible margin of statistical error.

It isn't just politics where people misuse statistics rather than deal with reality, either. Cars are almost entirely designed by numbers, and car companies developing a new model must match or beat rivals on a whole range of metrics from boot space, to fuel consumption, by way of rear passenger legroom and in the case of anything mildly sporty, Nurburgring lap time. I have heard people actually judge the performance of cars entirely on the basis of these numbers, then puzzle over why one car that is faster than another round the Nurburgring in a car magazine is not comparably faster around a flat, sweeping airfield track in England. As though somehow the numbers better represented reality than the reality itself.

Other consumer goods are the same. In fact nearly every walk of life is dominated by this obsessive apophenia, and I believe it most often hinders rather than helps the process of improving our environment to suit our needs.

Perhaps the most insane application of this cultish belief in the power of numbers is the black art of quants trading. At once a very powerful and completely nonsensical method of trading financial instruments based on analysing past data, hedge funds and global banks "invest" trillions this way on little more than a bet that the patterns in the data analysed will continue to repeat themselves. 

Nicholas Taleb has gone into a lot more detial on this in his in his books, but suffice to say that while usually successful for a time these models are prone to serious failures as well, and the consequences are often disastrous, and extremely expensive. 

So what to do? Ford and Toyota can't very well go around designing their cars as per the specification of each individual customer, anymore than GQRR or the Labour Party can go out and ask 30 million people how they intend to vote and what might change their minds over the next 6 months. The IPCC can simply disappear, but that's another story. You do need to draw inferences from sample data, and numbers are a very efficient way of simplifying this. What I would suggest is that three points be always kept in mind when using such data to make predictions or decisions:

1) That no amount or complexity of numbers will give you a qualitative assessment. I believe car makers, politicians and others would do very well to spend a few minutes talking to a handful of car buyers or voters than asking a series of closed questions to thousands upon thousands.

2) That people forming data driven surveys tend to set out with a result in mind and then find it. There's a wonderful exchange in Yes Prime Minister which illustrates this point very well. 

3) That a small sample is not reality, and should be used only as a rough guide. To say that for instance a political party is guaranteed 35% of the vote weeks or even months before an election is foolish in the extreme. That the partners of a major polling company didn't see this is absurd.

Ultimately it comes down to taking numerical data as just one factor to consider when making decisions, but also having the confidence to question it and the wisdom to over-ride it. Many times the flaws in numerical data are quite obvious when the results are assessed in the light of actual qualitative feedback drawn from a far smaller sample. Even after this then you still need to qualify all sampling with a bit of experience and a bit of inspiration to make sure you end up with and end product which is designed with intelligence and thought, by and for a human being. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Operation Shameless Hypocrisy

You really can't get a much clearer example of government saying one thing and doing another. As the newly elected government talk tough on immigration and the moral hazard of assisting those attempting to cross the Mediterranean, one of the Royal Navy's largest ships actually delivered 400 illegal immigrants to Italy.

A quick look at the key facts of this case tells you the whole story. 400 people set sail in rubber dinghies from Libya to Italy, a journey which is at least 200 miles at it's narrowest point. Just 40 miles off the Libyan coast they ran into difficulties, and were rescued by the Italian coastguard and HMS Bulwark, and shipped to Italy. Italians I'm sure are very grateful for this.

It would take an absolute heart of stone for anyone in the area to simply let these people drown, and it's not a fair position to put naval crews in. But you have to ask why our navy is patrolling 40 miles off the Libyan coast in the first place. And secondly why, on intercepting such craft, they deliver the refugees straight to their intended destination rather than escorting them back to Libya. They are not simply saving drowning people at sea, they are laying on a free ferry service for them. Aspiring migrants must know this policy - it would be pretty much suicide to attempt such a crossing with the equipment and preparation they have, or haven't, got.

I don't expect a complete policy shift one week after a general election, but I watch with interest for the response to this, and how exactly they will change this policy. And change it they must because it is an absolutely ridiculous policy, which encouraged 400 people including children and pregnant women to make this perilous journey in rubber dinghies, and will encourage many, many more.

The only answer can be that we simply do not have ships patrolling this area, do not put our naval crews in the position of having to make such awful decisions, and demonstrate a clear and consistent policy of returning vessels to their port of origin rather than completing a journey they embarked on with apparently every intention of being rescued by European ships.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Battle Lines Were Drawn, By Accident

I'm starting to wonder if Cameron has bitten off more than he can chew with his plan to renegotiate our EU membership, and whether some in the EU aren't quite pleased about it. If his negotiations are to bear any fruit at all then it has to seriously limit the freedom of movement element which allows anyone who is legally resident anywhere within the EU to relocate to the UK. For the second time since the election that senior EU officials have made it very clear that this is not on the table. Firstly when Eastern European leaders lined up to state that freedom of movement was "sacrosanct" , and now, with Jean-Claude Juncker wading in to say that Britain must take even more refugees from North Africa.

True, there have also been conciliatory noises as people have said they are prepared to work with Cameron on reform, and it's becoming increasingly clear that there is an appetite for reform amongst electorates across the continent. But this early and definitive red line is an clear statement that the EU is not prepared to keep the UK at any cost.

Cameron might well find himself in a position where he can't get any meaningful concessions at all and has to go to the country with this fact plain for all to see, and offer a referendum choice of either maintaining the status quo and admitting that we can not reform the EU from within or leaving altogether. Many in his party would prefer the latter, as would many outside. in effect admitting that he is prepared to stay in the EU at any cost.

The EU can't possibly offer Cameron what he wants because France, Germany, Holland and elsewhere would soon start demanding the same and the whole European Union, with it's enshrined principle of "ever closer union" would be stopped in it's tracks. None of the major political parties or institutions in Europe could accept this, and I suspect many would see British withdrawal as infinitely preferable.

I believe that Cameron never expected to win this election or to hold this referendum, and this gave him licence to be extra bold with the demands he never thought he would need to make.  Now that he has won he appears to have backed himself into a corner which he can not come out of without climbing down on one of the most important aspects of our relationship with the EU.

Of course it's not over yet. Cameron is a shrewd operator and may well get concessions which can be sold as a victory to the British public. These combined with the inevitable onslaught of negative campaigning and scaremongering may be enough to secure victory in a referendum. However with UKIP and the withdrawalists in his own party poised to expose any fudge, and many in both national governments and EU institutions refusing to offer the concessions he needs then there is the very real possibility that Cameron has been an unwitting architect of our EU withdrawal.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Hollow Victory

So a disappointment for UKIP with just one seat, and a Tory majority against all the odds. But there are a few qualifications.

Most importantly as Tories crow about their victory, is that it was much more a case of the other major parties losing more. The increase in the Tory vote last time I checked was 0.8% while Labour managed an increase of 1.5%. Both of these modest increases happened while the other formerly major party, the Lib Dems dropped an incredible 15.2%. The distribution of these simultaneous crashes is the only thing that handed Cameron thus victory.

UKIP's performance in terms of seats is disappointing but I find solace in the fact that 1 in 10 voters *switched to* the party this time, and more still to other smaller parties. It's an inbuilt iniquity of FPTP voting that this massive support for UKIP didn't translate into seats, but it must also reflect the fact that while they ran a highly effective national campaign they did not rally sufficient voters locally to win any more than a single seat, and that local, direct element is a virtue of FPTP, even if it sometimes rewards inertia more than we would like.

Once the surprise and euphoria of the Tories has worn off the real story is that Cameron has not won over more voters, he has simply got the best deckchairs on the sinking Titanic of the major parties. And he has won with the slimmest of majorities when a resurgence of Scottish nationalism and the EU referendum he never wanted could split his party as deep as Maastricht did.

Final reason to be cheerful - it appears from a quick scan that Labour lost more seats to UKIP than the Conservatives did, meaning they may be forced to start looking at the often deeply Eurosceptic voters in their traditional constituencies, many of whom to their massive credit ignored the media guff about public school, banker, southerner Farage and voted for someone who was standing for their interests.

No cause for celebration but not much cause for despair either. And a massive well done to Nigel Farage and everyone else in UKIP who did so much to bring real democracy back and despite the disappointment achieved so much.