what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Academics who produce the goods

In the 2 posts I did after the 23 June Brexit result, I tried to give a sense of how subsequent events were covered by some of the UK, European and American “writers” I respect (whether in The Guardian, LRB, Eurozine, der Spiegel or New York Review of Books).
A strong theme which emerged in their comments was the extent to which balanced analysis has been replaced (in both the tabloids and social media) by shrill partisanship and the careless treatment of “facts”……. Everything these days is “relative” – there is always a different perspective – the world is too confusing - so it’s not worth listening to “the experts”……

Exactly how this translated into electoral behaviour is powerfully shown at page 15 of a fascinating presentation made at the LSE by a Professor only a week after the result - After the EU Referendum – what next for Britain and the EU?
Bear in mind that some 90% of the public advice given (by economists and global think-tanks) on the economic aspects warned of the very tangible damaging effect which Brexit would have on British investment, shares and employment. “Project Fear” was a term which had been skilfully used by the Scottish nationalists during the 2013-14 Scottish referendum to try to belittle the arguments of those who argued for Scotland to remain in the UK. And this was the term which was duly trundled into use this year to make light of the dangers of withdrawing from the EU.

The difference, however, is that a huge 42% of those polled in the last few weeks of the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign considered that they would be “worse off” in an independent Scotland (3 other options were given - "better off", "no difference" and "don't know"). 
In June of this year – despite several official estimates which put a very tangible figure of several thousand pounds as the annual cost per earner of Brexit – exactly half that number (21%) gave that judgement about British withdrawal from Europe. 
By contrast almost half (45%) of those polled in early June this year for the UK referendum considered it would make “no difference” to them economically (compared with only 22% of the Scots 2 years ago)

In other words, “Project Fear” worked in 2014 but totally failed in 2016
Are the Scots more gullible (we did after all vote strongly for remain)? Can the same trick not work twice? More probable is Hix's more nuanced argument about the new social divide between the "precariat" and professionals - life is so bad for so many people that threats of it getting worse have lost meaning......they just want to kick out......  

Simon Hix’s presentation can be viewed on Youtube – and I really would recommend that you follow both the video and the power-point presentations since he gives the best analysis I have yet seen of the reasons for people voting the way they did - as well as an excellent assessment of what happens now. 

It clearly helped that he was part of a multi-disciplinary team of academics who travelled around the country talking to ordinary people about the issue...it's clear that he learned a lot from the exercise. And (despite his own views - he is after all a Professor of European politics) he is emphatic that "Brexit means Brexit" 

Academics get a bad name for talking down to us in abstruse language but the same research website The UK in a changing Europe has several excellent articles eg this one written in the aftermath of the vote by the indefatigable Richard Rose

And one more positive example of what academics are capable of if they turn their minds sufficiently to the real world is this 13 page memo published today by 2 British academics “Getting out Quick and Playing the Long Game 
A ‘three step’ Brexit solution, including an ambitious transitional arrangement, is key to meeting the aspirations of the British people and reaching a mutually beneficial long-term relationship with the EU. This would see the UK leave the EU towards the end of 2018 and enter a transitional arrangement, possibly lasting until 2024, which would offer the time and space needed to more coolly and calmly negotiate a long-term agreement. The outcome of the EU referendum laid down the general parameters required for such a transitional agreement:
1. Parliamentary sovereignty should be restored. All EU law would be transposed into British law and a ‘Petitions Committee’, comprising a variety of representatives, should be empowered to hold hearings on whether an EU law should be repealed or amended on the basis of a petition from a certain threshold of British citizens or companies. The UK should no longer be subject to the formal force of the EU Court of Justice’s judgments.
 2. Crucially, this committee should involve not only the ‘usual suspects’ from stakeholder society – though devolved administrations, local government and key interests should be involved. It should also reach out to groups that are not usually involved in exercises such as this but who turned out in force to vote in the referendum.
 3. A joint UK-EU commission could assess whether countermeasures were appropriate if judgments or interpretations by British regulatory bodies departed from EU law. These countermeasures could have consequences for UK exporters’ access to EU markets.
 4. Free movement of EU citizens cannot carry on in its current form. A compromise would be only to grant residence to those who have an offer of a full time job and a new income threshold for those seeking to bring their families to the UK, as is the case for UK nationals seeking to bring in a non-EU spouse.
 5. The UK should no longer formally contribute to the EU budget. The UK’s net contributions could be replaced by direct UK bilateral support to the poorer EU member states.
 6. Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland will need a closer relationship with the EU than other parts of the UK. This could involve keeping EU law in place in Scotland, including free movement of person, in return for participation in the work of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) in Brussels.
 The hurdles to such a transitional agreement should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, it could appeal to EU partners since it secures a quick Brexit and allows a high degree of economic predictability while negotiating a longer-term deal. Within the UK, such an arrangement would allow the broadest possible participation in the process of untangling the UK from EU law and responsiveness to unpopular EU laws, whilst securing an orderly exit.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters

Global events have struck me dumb…Brexit did not so much surprise as shock me – into a deep depression. But it’s not so much the result per se as the new tone of global politics of which this is simply one expression – any pretence at reason has been surrendered to the exercise of brute power and stirring of visceral hatreds as evident in Trump’s victory and events in Turkey, Nice and Munich…..let alone Baghdad and Kabul

They’ve apparently been talking in the US for some 5-6 years about “post-truth politics” but it was an important recent article argues that technology is at the root of the new drift 
It was hardly the first time that politicians had failed to deliver what they promised, but it might have been the first time they admitted on the morning after victory that the promises had been false all along.
This was the first major vote in the era of post-truth politics: the listless remain campaign attempted to fight fantasy with facts, but quickly found that the currency of fact had been badly debased.The remain side’s worrying facts and worried experts were dismissed as “Project Fear” – and quickly neutralised by opposing “facts”: if 99 experts said the economy would crash and one disagreed, the BBC told us that each side had a different view of the situation. (This is a disastrous mistake that ends up obscuring truth, and echoes how some report climate change.)
Michael Gove declared that “people in this country have had enough of experts” on Sky News. He also compared 10 Nobel prize-winning economists who signed an anti-Brexit letter to Nazi scientists loyal to Hitler. It can become very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and 'facts' that are not…
For months, the Eurosceptic press trumpeted every dubious claim and rubbished every expert warning, filling the front pages with too many confected anti-migrant headlines to count – many of them later quietly corrected in very small print. On the same day Nigel Farage unveiled his inflammatory “Breaking Point” poster, and Labour MP Jo Cox, who had campaigned tirelessly for refugees, was shot dead, the cover of the Daily Mail featured a picture of migrants in the back of a lorry entering the UK, with the headline “We are from Europe – let us in!” The next day, the Mail and the Sun, which also carried the story, were forced to admit that the stowaways were actually from Iraq and Kuwait.

 A few days after the vote, Arron Banks, Ukip’s largest donor and the main funder of the Leave.EU campaign, told the Guardian that his side knew all along that facts would not win the day. “It was taking an American-style media approach,” said Banks. “What they said early on was ‘Facts don’t work’, and that’s it. The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”
 Twenty-five years after the first website went online, it is clear that we are living through a period of dizzying transition. For 500 years after Gutenberg, the dominant form of information was the printed page: knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format, one that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths.Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.
Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago). ……
There are usually several conflicting truths on any given subject, but in the era of the printing press, words on a page nailed things down, whether they turned out to be true or not. The information felt like the truth, at least until the next day brought another update or a correction, and we all shared a common set of facts. 
This settled “truth” was usually handed down from above: an established truth, often fixed in place by an establishment. This arrangement was not without flaws: too much of the press often exhibited a bias towards the status quo and a deference to authority, and it was prohibitively difficult for ordinary people to challenge the power of the press.
Now, people distrust much of what is presented as fact – particularly if the facts in question are uncomfortable, or out of sync with their own views – and while some of that distrust is misplaced, some of it is not.

update; I now see that there was talk in Britain even in June of "post-truth politics" - and that I must have borrowed my title for this post from a post on 23 June by Chris Grey

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why the natives are revolting

Only those wishing to see Britain destroyed could have wished for the events now playing out in the country in which I spent my first fifty years -
Take back control” was the slogan of those wanting out of Europe – instead of which everything seems to be spiralling out of control. Owen Jones is the author of a book The Establishment – and how they get away with it which excoriated the British power structure and has given us perhaps the pithiest view of the past week’s events - 
- The Brexiteers have no plan; they began backtracking on their promises within hours, which may well produce a firestorm of fury in the coming months;
- the Prime Minister is resigning (and the Leader of the Opposition has massively lost a vote of confidence from his parliamentary colleagues) 
- the economy faces turmoil, as do jobs and people’s living standards
- The country is more bitterly divided (and in so many different ways) than it has been for generations; Scotland is on course to leave and precipitate the break-up of the country, and who can blame them; xenophobia and racism have been given renewed legitimacy; the Northern Ireland peace process is under threat.
- The hard right of the Tory Party is on the cusp of power; 
- and the EUfearful of its future survivalis preparing to offer punitive terms to Britain.
 We may well be at the beginning of the biggest calamity to befall this country since the end of the war.

This A-Z of Brexit was apparently written the day after the vote to leave and is a rather longer and emotional commentary….
The Current Moment is an interesting collective blog which draws attention today to the blow which the referendum seems to have struck to progressives’ beliefs in democracy -  
every self-described leftist – even those who openly recognised the EU’s undemocratic nature and brutal record in southern Europe – supported Remain.
Fundamentally, leftists doubted their capacity to lead the British public towards a progressive Brexit. Instead, they warned, Boris Johnson would sweep to power and dismantle what was left of social democracy – apparently with popular consent.
They backed continued EU membership to maintain policies and institutions that they feared the population would not support in a fully democratic system. Lacking any real belief in the EU, the left was unable to offer a positive vision of EU membership and fell back on elite-led scare tactics.
The issues of democracy and self-determination were given up to the political right, as was leadership on both sides of the debate, allowing conservatives to define the debate over the future. Ducking the issue of principle in the name of strategic nous, the vote was lost anyway, creating the outcome the left had feared all along: Brexit, led by the right. 
After the vote, this defeatist orientation of the left has resulted in a social media spasm of vitriol directed against the old, the poor and the uneducated. 

This piece on “Why elections are bad for democracy” seems to catch the mood well - although the book from which it is excerpted is part of a much older argument about representative democracy.......

But it is perhaps Glenn Greenwald’s “Intercept” column which gives the most sustained analysis of the reasons for the profound rejection of the political class we have been seeing in recent years His argument basically is that......
a sizable portion of the establishment liberal commentariat in the West has completely lost the ability to engage with any sort of dissent from its orthodoxies or even understand those who disagree. They are capable of nothing beyond adopting the smuggest, most self-satisfied posture, then spouting clich├ęs to dismiss their critics as ignorant, benighted bigots.
Like the people of the West who bomb Muslim countries and then express confusion that anyone wants to attack them back, the most simple-minded of these establishment media liberals are constantly enraged that the people they endlessly malign as ignorant haters refuse to vest them with the respect and credibility to which they are naturally entitled. 

 The referendum, of course, only seemed to be about Europe - in reality it was probably more about identity and fear of "the other"...what Europeans actually make of the referendum and its result is of little interest to the English electorate.....but, for what it's worth, the inestimable Eurozine site offers some feedback

The newspapers and journalists who are the subject of Glenn Greenwald’s vitriol do, of course, contain exceptions – John Harris and Gary Younge being the two who try to keep the reputation of The Guardian intact.  Younge’s “long read” today packs eloquence and insight ……
Lying has consequences that last far longer than individual acts of deception: it ruins the liar’s ability to convince people when it really matters. The source of the mistrust between the establishment and the country isn’t difficult to fathom.
Next week the Chilcot inquiry will publish its findings into the Iraq war. After Iraq, we faced an economic crisis that few experts saw coming until it was too late. Then followed austerity; now the experts said this was precisely the wrong response to the crisis, but it happened anyway. 
When leaders choose the facts that suit them, ignore the facts that don’t and, in the absence of suitable facts, simply make things up, people don’t stop believing in facts – they stop believing in leaders. They do so not because they are over-emotional, under-educated, bigoted or hard-headed, but because trust has been eroded to such a point that the message has been so tainted by the messenger as to render it worthless…………..
 It may seem a minor matter in the wake of this referendum to say that our political parties are failing in their historic mission, but we would not have arrived here were they not doing so.
 The party set up by trade unions to represent the interests of workers in parliament no longer commands the allegiance of those people. True, almost two-thirds of Labour voters did vote remain – but an overwhelming number of the working-class, the poor, and the left-behind put their faith in leave.
Meanwhile, the party of capital and nation has presided over a painful blow to the City and the Union.
 Neither party is fit for purpose………….

I generally have no time for Twitter - but feel that this blow-by-blow analysis by one of the Economist analysts says it all 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Europe's Fateful Day

My last post predicted (on 14 June) that those voting to leave would significantly outnumber the others but, as one Prime Minister of the 1970s famously said, "a week is a long time in politics"
I was, like most people, shocked by the killing of a young English Labour MP last week, this being the main reason why the promised summary of Barnett's book has not yet appeared. The murder may or may not be the factor which has apparently seen a significant swing toward "remain" (and the betting money is certainly on that result).
What people actually do when they reach the privacy of the polling booth (if they actually do) is always the imponderable as I well know from personal experience. In 1979, I was a very active public campaigner for a "no" vote in the referendum about creating a Scottish Parliament (I felt then it was the slippery path to independence); I appeared on public platforms with prominent MPs – but- when it came to vote - I actually found myself putting a cross in the "yes" box!!    

So now, as British voters trek to the polls, the feeling is that "remain" might just make it.......

Here are two thoughtful pieces on the implications of the campaign from one of my favourite journals – this one which focuses on the fact that Britain has always had a “semi-detached” view of Europe  and a short magisterial piece which refers to a writer (JB Priestley) from the area in which the young MP was born -   
who is remembered mostly for a single play, which he wrote towards the end of the second world war but which he set two years before the start of the first. It covers a single evening in the life of a smug, prosperous Midlands family, the Birleys, who are enjoying a celebratory dinner. It is interrupted by an unexpected caller, an inspector of police. A young woman is dead.
 It emerges in the course of his interrogation that every member of the Birley family contributed in some way to Eva Smith’s suicide. It’s all a bit schematic; at times it creaks. Yet this standby of tatty rep – with its old-fashioned Christian Socialist values, its whiff of the supernatural, its overhanging presentiment of mass slaughter, its mysterious denouement – somehow moves and provokes modern audiences. It has become one of the classics of our age. Young people love it. 
Now, why might that be? It’s a question worth asking at the end of this vicious campaign, as we look with foreboding to a denouement of our own making in the early hours of Friday. I suspect what appeals to young people about this play, what gives it meaning in their own lives, is that it preaches – and it does preach – the importance of moral responsibility.
Read the inspector’s closing speech. I’ve retained the name of the original character, Eva Smith, but it might be interesting if you substituted the name of a young woman from an ethnic minority. 

But just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths left with us, with their lives, their hopes and their fears, their suffering and a choice of happiness, all intertwined with our lives and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.
 In the end, the early summer of 2016 was never about money, about a balance of economic advantage, about notions of sovereignty, about the parrot cries of 'freedom for Britain’ or 'Britain first’.
It was not even about immigration. It was about a shocking want of kindness, an absence of love, a grievous loss of humanity. The inspector is calling. Again he’s calling. This time, he’s calling on us.

Der Spiegel has a longer article here. And the Dublin Review of Books does a good summary of the debate as it took place in the columns of the Guardian newspaper

If the vote is for "leave", this piece will be worth studying in detail   

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Making sense of the Referendum (and UK politics)

The mood in England (less so in the other 3 parts of the UK – particularly Scotland) seems this past week to be consolidating around withdrawal from the European Union. We have known that a significant section of the British population has never found involvement in Europe to their liking but -  
that Brexit is holding at around 45% support according to the polls; that it has two ruling party politicians (the cabinet’s most able thinker and one time confidant of the prime minister, and the Tory's most popular star) as its leaders; that they are supported by around half of the party's MPs and a clear majority of Conservative voters; that they might even win!............ This should not be remotely credible.

My blogposts this past week have been trying to shed some light on how on earth the country has got to this point.
But I discovered this morning that someone has, in the past few months, been writing and publishing the definitive explanation …..and that is Anthony Barnett of the Open Democracy website whose Blimey – it could be BREXIT ! has been serialising on a weekly basis on that site for the past 3 months.

It is, quite simply, one of the most stunning things I have read for many years – written by someone who has had a unique position at the heart of key debates about political power since the early 1970s and whose independence from any employer or ideology allows him to write with a unique balance of coherence and intellectual depth. 

As Barnett explains in his introduction - 
“Blimey!” is not 'about' the referendum or reporting its ups and downs week by week. My aim is to explain its 'meta-politics': what to make of why it is occurring, where it comes from, what forces are contained within this strange event, what the consequences may be for all of us in the UK and in Europe over the longer term.

I have not yet finished my reading of the 12 sections (at least 200 pages) but what impresses me is the clarity of expression; the width of his reading; and the generosity of his quotations and attributions. 

Conscious that about 75% of my readers are not native English speakers, I will try to summarise the points which particularly impressed me and post this asap .....

In the meantime, just click and dip in.....see for yourself

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why immigration is the only issue in this referendum

One issue has dominated the British referendum debate of the past few months - and that is immigration.
Those wanting Britain to remain in Europe have talked in vain about the economic aspects – people no longer trust economic arguments and forecasts or those who use them. Even references to “European bureaucracy” - which for so long has been the staple fare of the overwhelmingly negative British media coverage of European affairs – have been put aside in favour of a focus on immigration.

And it didn’t need last year’s pictures of the hordes of Syrian refugees crossing the Aegean or smashing Balkan border fences to make this the number one issue in the campaign. Four million English citizens had in Britain’s 2015 General Election given their vote to UKiP – the nationalist party – four times as many as had voted for the Scottish Nationalists (who had as a result gained 50 Westminster seats).  
Such, however, is the nature of the British electoral system (“first past the post”) that UKiP won only one seat!!! 

The electoral support should have been a wake-up call but one solitary figure on the parliamentary benches has given the political elite the excuse to ignore the increasing alienation of the (mainly) the English citizen from the democratic process….The media attention given during the decade to parliamentary expenses (and business corruption) was certainly one factor in this but the two main factors in this alienation have been -
- the continuing economic decline in so many parts of the country; and 
- the awareness since 2000 of a growing number of immigrants - even in these areas - with the low-paid being nudged out of jobs by those prepared to accept less; and pressure on public services already being starved of resources

Just three weeks ago, a short House of Commons Briefing Paper on Migration Statistics set out (in chart 5) the facts very starkly – net annual immigration to Britain was a tiny blip from 1930-1960; actually negative from 1960-80 and less than a few thousand in the 1980s….
Only from the mid 1990s did it start to rise – 50,000 in 1998. But in the next decade it shot up – to almost 250,000   

The 2004 enlargement of the European Union (EU) to eight Eastern European countries (EU8) generated fears of large flows of low-skill immigrants from Eastern to Western Europe. For this reason most Western European countries (EU15) imposed temporary restrictions to the free movement of people from Eastern Europe. But the UK (along with Ireland and Sweden) did not impose any such restrictions – as a result “the Polish plumber” became a bone of contention in the country….
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were the key players at the time – and it is therefore odd to see them popping up this week to argue the case for “Remain”. Blair knows he lost all credibility during the Iraq war - but Brown does not seem to realise that his role in the final week of the Scottish referendum of 2014 finished him as a figure of influence   

Very few British journalists operate outside the “Westminster bubble”. John Harris is a rarity..... Some five years ago he started to go round the country and use video for carrying out sharp interviews with the public…to get a sense of their concerns......all of which carried clear warnings for the political elite. This article from February this year was a great summary of what he was finding…Just a few weeks ago, he ran with this warning…Today saw his final post - from the Labour stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent - where those canvassing what they considered to be Labour voters could find only an angry determination to leave the EU
Rather belatedly, a few politicians have been trying to address the concerns. But it is too late – the scale of disgust and anger of the public is simply irresistible….

update - a further development here - with an important figure conceding that Europe needs to change tack on free movement of labour...but such a change is totally impossible.....

Two weeks ago pundits were saying that "it would be OK on the night" - that voters would, in the privacy of the polling booth, vote remain. It is now obvious that the opposite is happening....My prediction is of a LEAVE VOTE winning margin of 7-8%. I may not be in the country - or been so for a few years - but the few reporters I trust have been on the doorsteps and in the (Labour) party rooms and have a very good sense of the mood........
Frank Field has long been a maverick voice in the Labour party but he has been one of the few to articulate grass-roots concerns….

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Referenda or Neverenda??

Richard Dawkins is a name to conjure with – Professor of Evolutionary Biology, author of numerous books and a great sceptic….. He has just entered the debate on British membership of Europe by challenging the very idea of a referendum - 
My own answer to the question is, “How should I know? I don’t have a degree in economics. Or history. How dare you entrust such an important decision to ignoramuses like me?”
I, and most other people, don’t have the time or the experience to do our due diligence on the highly complex economic and social issues facing our country in, or out of, Europe. That’s why we vote for our Member of Parliament, who is paid a good salary to debate such matters on our behalf, and vote on them......... 
I am indeed a true democrat, but we live in a representative democracy not a plebiscite democracy. To call a referendum on any subject should be a decision not taken lightly...... But to call a referendum on a matter as important and fraught with complicated and intricate detail as EU membership was an act of monstrous irresponsibility: the desperate throw of a short-term chancer, running scared before the Ukip tendency within his own party. He may reap the whirlwind.

The 1975 Referendum broke new constitutional ground – it had never been used before….and was, in most people’s minds, associated with dodgy regimes…..Vernon Bogdanon (to whose analysis of the 1975 Referendum I referred yesterday) is Emeritus Professor of Government and author, amongst much else, of The New British ConstitutionThe grounds he gives for the support of such constitutional referenda do, therefore, deserve our attention. 
His analysis of the 1975 referendum gave two arguments – namely
all parties supported membership in the 1970s - but public opinion was divided. A significant section of society had therefore no voice…
the issue was so fundamental that the legitimacy of government was being threatened

But that’s not actually why or how the first ever British referendum came about……
In the 1970 Election, the Labour Party was defeated. Heath was returned to office. At the end of 1970, Tony Benn raised the possibility of the Labour Party committing itself to a referendum on joining Europe at Labour’s National Executive, but he could not find a seconder for the motion.
From 1971 onwards, the very complicated European Communities Bill made its way through Parliament, and in March 1972, a Conservative backbencher who was opposed to Europe, called Neil Martin, proposed an amendment calling for a referendum, and this meant the Shadow Cabinet had to decide what to do about it, and they decided to oppose this motion. 
But the very day after this happened, President Pompidou in France said he was going to have a referendum in France on whether the French people approved of British entry into Europe…and he was doing this for internal party political reasons, to weaken his opponents on the left, who were split on the issue. …. But there were going to be four new members of the European Community: Britain, Denmark, Ireland and Norway. In the end, Norway did not join. The other three countries were all having referendums. France was having a referendum on whether Britain should enter, but Britain was not. One cynic wrote to the newspapers that when Heath has spoken of full-hearted consent of Parliament and people, he meant full-hearted consent of the French Parliament and people…
After this, Labour’s National Executive voted narrowly in favour of the Benn proposal. Then, a couple of days later, pure coincidence, the Heath Government announced there was going to be a referendum, though they called it a plebiscite, in Northern Ireland, on the border, on whether people wished to remain in the United Kingdom or join the Irish Republic. At this point, the Labour Shadow Cabinet agreed to the referendum.
 So, it came about through a series of really unforeseen contingencies and vicissitudes, completely unplanned, this very fundamental change in the British system.
But there were, in my opinion, good arguments for it, and the first, I have already given, that the party system could not resolve the issue properly because all three parties were in favour of membership, so there was no way in which the democratic party machinery could work.
 But the second argument, I think, is even more important, that even if the party system had been working efficiently, there are some issues that are so fundamental that a decision by Parliament alone will not be accepted as legitimate. This point of view was put forward by the Labour Leader of the House of Commons, Edward Short, in March 1975. He said: “The issue continues to divide the country. The decision to go in has not been accepted. That is the essence of the case for having a referendum.”  

The referendum is one of several major constitutional changes which Bogdanon’s book assesses and which are superbly critiqued in this LRB reviewBut, Dawkins asks, is that a reason to abstain from voting? 
Certainly not. We are where we are, and there’s no use wishing we were somewhere else. I shall vote. And I shall vote to stay in Europe, exercising the Precautionary Principle which is appropriate to anyone lacking the confidence to push for a radical change in the status quo. Better the devil you know, or at least the devil that seems to be working adequately.
Moreover, as I listen to advocates from both sides I notice that, for all my lack of expertise, I am qualified to judge that most of the arguments for leaving are emotional. The evidence-based arguments tend to be the ones for remaining in Europe, whether they come from professional economists, historians, business leaders or powerful foreign politicians.

1. Bogdanor’s presentation correctly reminds us that the 1975 referendum was supposed to settle the issue of Europe for ever - but that it was only a few years later that the Labour Party officially committed itself in the 1982 Manifesto to withdrawal…..and a few years after that that the Conservative Party started to tear itself apart on the issue. Somehow the issue never went away….hence the term which came into use during the Scottish debate on Independence “neverendum” – never-ending discussion….

2. Yesterday’s post emphasises the loss of trust there has been in the past decade in the political elite. But it more than that – it is a new lack of respect for arguments from people such as Dawkins and those whose opinion people like him respect….There is now a dangerous divide between professionals and the public