General Election 2019: Results & Analysis Live Blog

General election 2019 - Boris Johnson - Jeremy Corbyn - Jo Swinson

 

13 December – 6:03AM

I  have mostly moved over to Twitter for the remainder of my election night results commentary, so for now will leave you with this:

 

In due course I will try to write something about what this election result means for Brexit, for the Union and for the future of conservatism – as the British political realignment takes another giant step forward.

13 December – 2:22AM – Labour Civil War, #2

 

I’m inclined to agree that this is the best course of action from a Labour Party perspective (though notably it means contesting exactly the same new ground that the Tories are trying to claim as their own). However, the unrepentant centrists within Labour will doubtless try to use Corbyn’s failure to shoehorn their way back into power and influence, despite having learned nothing from their past failures.

I’ll say it again: Jeremy Corbyn’s tolerance of antisemitism, agnosticism on Brexit and overall bad leadership does not magically erase the past sins of the Labour centrists, who presided over the broken old political consensus which finally received its coup-de-grace with today’s general election.

13 December – 1:50AM

Hot take analysis – Whither Scotland?

 

The SNP government in Holyrood has been a never-ending catalogue of incompetence and failure, yet in their eternal wisdom Scottish voters seem to have returned a huge caucus of SNP MPs to Westminster. This will only increase pressure for another independence referendum and cement Scotland’s position as a failing one-party member state of the UK.

I’m inclined to say that we should give Nicola Sturgeon her second Scottish referendum, even though it would be an unjustified repeat of 2014 pushed for by sore losers. This time, Scottish nationalists will have  to make the case for independence as a small country outside both the UK and the EU, plaintively applying for readmittance to the European Union on unfavorable terms. They would have to adopt the Euro and likely Schengen, which would create a whole host of delicious problems that would make the Northern Ireland Brexit issues look simple by comparison. Perhaps, unlike last time, the separatists would push for independence without publishing a plan of the kind which was so mercilessly dissected by the media and unionists in 2014, running instead on vague phrases and platitudes. Maybe they could print some lies on the side of a campaign bus.

I think that Scottish nationalists would lose another referendum by a wider margin than last time. Ultimately, the SNP has never been able to make a non-partisan case for independence. The whole thing is bound up closely in anti-Tory and anti-English hatred, and has never been an inclusive movement capable of taking onboard Scottish conservatives and others. Nicola Sturgeon’s entire schtick is that the UK is an evil right-wing dystopia that Scotland needs to escape, making it impossible for her to reach out to her centre-right countrymen. And assuming that the UK leaves the EU without suffering major economic disruption in the short term, Scottish independence well and truly becomes the reckless departure from the stable status quo, versus remaining in a closely integrated political union with the rest of the UK.

And let’s not forget the Russians! It’s clear that Vladimir Putin and all of our geopolitical foes would rejoice at the breakup of the UK, the diminishment of our union and the potential threat to the continuity of the UK’s nuclear deterrent (given that our ballistic submarine fleet are based in Faslane, Scotland). Why then should Scottish unionists or the rest of the UK accept a referendum loss, in the unlikely event that the nationalists win? Why would they not simply wage a campaign of obstruction, as Continuity Remainers did with Brexit? Why would they not scream “Russian interference!”, which will certainly be attempted in any referendum on behalf of the nationalists, even if it does not succeed in making a material difference? All of the anti-Brexit arguments and Continuity Remainer hysteria deployed by the SNP will be turned round 180 degrees and fired straight back at Nicola Sturgeon if she attempts to force Scotland out of the UK.

13 December – 12:19AM

Hot take analysis – Whither identity politics?

The British progressive left have gone all-in on importing a US-style identity politics culture war into Britain, from embracing every last aspect of avant-garde gender theory to adopting awkward terms such as “people of color”, carefully noting their pronouns and generally bowing down to what comedian Dave Chapelle termed the “alphabet people”.

Doing so made perfect sense to urban progressives with international social networks, all of whom now speak a political language barely comprehensible to anyone else (or even their past selves from as little as a decade ago). But has this embrace of hardcore identity politics and the politics of perpetual victimhood also helped to sow the seeds of progressive defeat in this election?

Recall, Jo Swinson famously stumbled as she attempted to give a definition of “woman” in a radio interview the other day. She and her Liberal Democrat colleagues have gone all-in on progressive identity politics, with its painfully stilted nomenclature and unforgiving cancel culture. Now, multiple sources suggest that Jo Swinson is in danger of losing her seat.

Does all of this go some way to suggesting a “common sense” repudiation of divisive progressive identity politics in Britain? Perhaps. But one scarcely hopes to dream that this represents the high water mark of the identity politics movement, whose activists generally take defeat as a sign that they need to double down rather than question their direction.

12 December – 11:58PM

Hot take analysis – Labour civil war

Okay, so what is likely to become of Labour, if the final result conforms anywhere close to the exit poll? Clearly it will spell the end for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but what comes next? Corbyn and his supporters have been working away for several years to broaden and cement their control of the Labour Party machinery and governing apparatus, in addition to which it seems unlikely that their defeated activists are likely to throw their hands up in the air and disown the hard-left platform on which they ran. So what prospects of Labour centrists retaking control of the party? And would this even be desirable?

From my perspective, it would be something of a tragedy if Jeremy Corbyn’s disastrous election allowed discredited Labour centrists to retake the party and waltz back in to power and influence having really done nothing to earn the privilege in terms of having updated their thinking or atoned for their past sins which led to the rise of Corbyn in the first place. Yet there is a real chance that the British electorate’s rightful rejection of Jeremy Corbyn (likely due in no small part to horror at Corbynite antisemitism) will allow that ghastly band of Labour centrists and machine politicians – people who more than anyone represent the old pro-EU political consensus which has now been rejected in multiple elections – to claim vindication.

Already we see two competing narratives start to form as talking heads spin their stories on the news networks. One story (pushed by a stone-faced John McDonnell) is that Labour’s disastrous result is about their opposition to Brexit, pure and simple, and in no way a verdict of the party’s otherwise hard left turn:

 

But the other story is that the Brexit agnosticism / Remainerism preferred by the centrists is A-OK, and that Labour’s defeat rests entirely on Corbyn’s shoulders. Which of these stories gains the upper hand and becomes the Official Narrative will go a long way toward determining who takes over from Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the nature of opposition to Boris Johnson’s Conservative government.

12 December – 11:35PM

Conservative Victory Catastrophization Watch, #2:

 

Until progressives and Continuity Remainers learn to at least hide their outright hatred for half the country (there’s no point expecting such extremists to ever actually think better of their fellow citizens, but at least they might try pretending) they will continue to suffer electoral setback after electoral setback – and ever see them coming until the votes are counted.

12 December – 11:11PM

Conservative Victory Catastrophization Watch, #1:

12 December – 11:07PM

A poll for you all to consider:

12 December – 10:31PM

On economics and identity:

 

The old truism seems to be proved correct once again.

12 December – 10:27PM

And now, a moment of schadenfreude

Gosh. It’s almost as though spending three years:

  • fighting a furious rearguard action against the result of a democratic referendum which everybody previously promised to respect
  • pretending that a very milquetoast, centrist Tory party was somehow analogous to the rise of Hitler and Nazism
  • repeatedly tolerating the cancer of antisemitism and allowing antisemites safe harbor in the Labour Party
  • embracing every virtue-signaling, low-intellect celebrity endorsement that Twitter could amplify
  • acting as though one has a monopoly on compassion, virtue and reason

are a terrible formula for electoral success. Who could possibly have predicted that embracing a campaign of being utterly insufferable might fail to persuade many of the same people whose votes you needed but just could stop insulting for three long years?

Continuity Remainers in Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP – enjoy the fruits of your labour. The frustration and sorrow you doubtless feel is richly, richly deserved.

12 December – 10:00PM – EXIT POLL RELEASED

At some point you just need to pick a direction, set a course of action and follow through on it. If the exit poll is remotely correct and the Tories are heading for a majority of around 86, then Britain can take at least one step forward in a roughly discernible direction rather than shuffling round on the spot with our ankles tied together.

Also, it’s worth noting that political parties hardly ever successfully renew themselves while in government – partly because the biggest majority comes first time round, followed by a tacking back toward the centre as the majority is threatened and chipped away in subsequent elections. But while the Tories certainly have not shown any real policy ambition during the course of the election campaign, might a solid majority and the political assurance that it brings be the shot in the arm that they need?

12 December – 9:43PM

We get the politicians we deserve

One of the themes of this election has been the unpalatable choice of leadership options – both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn being hugely flawed, often unlikeable and polarizing individuals. But rather than bemoaning the poor choice before us, maybe we need to look closer to home. We continue to reward these individuals with our votes, make excuses for their failings, believe the best of them in light of all available evidence to the contrary, and cheer them on with our social media accounts. But do we also effectively demand that politicians lie to us, before hypocritically complaining when they do so?

Paul Goldsmith advances the argument:

I will leave you with these two thoughts…imagine if Boris Johnson told millions of Leave voters the exact risks of both his deal and a possible No Deal Brexit over the next few years…imagine if Jeremy Corbyn told voters that it is very possible that people other than the top 5% of income earners would have to pay more tax, or future generations pay off more debt, to afford his policies…would they win elections? No.

We know this because the one time this was tried..by Theresa May in 2017, who, thinking she would win a massive majority, attempted to address some serious issues such as social care and tried to remove the ‘triple lock’ on pensions and refused to promise no tax rises. She lost the Conservatives’ majority.

Politicians lie because voters don’t want to hear the truth, and until we wake up to our responsibility for that, we deserve the politicians we get.

Many people in both the pro- and anti-Brexit camps have no interest in examining their simplistic “buccaneering Global Britain” or “friendship ‘n cooperation with Europe” tropes, choosing instead to believe that leaving the EU is an end in itself or that remaining in the EU by overruling the 2016 referendum result is okay because the EU is either fine or can be magically fixed on a whim, and that doing so will have no negative consequences.

Even those of us who claim to want smaller government tend to squeal a lot when the bits of government activity we actually like are suggested for a trim. And hardly anyone seems willing to peel back the embarrassing Cult of the NHS, that last remaining bastion of blinkered British exceptionalism, which insists that our healthcare service is the envy of the world (yet strangely not copied by any other nation on Earth) and also perpetually on the brink of collapse.

We demand exponential improvement across a whole range of areas, but are unwilling to tolerate any real disruption or change to achieve it. In these circumstances, do we not actively incentivize politicians to lie to us, telling us that we can have everything on our wish list for free, and that the only thing currently preventing us from having them is a lack of imagination or belief in whatever Utopian idea is being peddled?

Given all of this, it is probably fair to say that we have the politicians we deserve. And when the votes are all counted, I imagine that whoever we put into 10 Downing Street will also be richly deserved.

12 December – 9:21PM

Prediction

Not much point in making a prediction at this point, other than to be proved laughably wrong in 40 minutes’ time, but if pressed I would predict a small-to-modest Tory majority, probably enough to get Boris Johnson’s Brexit “deal” over the line but with the tiresome rainbow alliance of progressive parties continuing to act as an effective obstruction to anything but the blandest and most non-controversial domestic legislation.

I hope I am wrong, and that the Tories secure a more robust working majority – not because I admire Boris Johnson or much like the present incarnation of the Conservative party (getting Brexit done and unleashing Britain’s potential is not a programme for government or an effective diagnosis of our national challenges) but because the alternative of another hung parliament and enfeebled minority or coalition government is worse. Britain has been drifting – on domestic policy, geopolitically and every other way – since 2016, and at some point it is necessary to stop arguing, pick a direction, commit to a course of action and let the consequences (rather than outrage on social media) shape the next steps.

Not that I expect it to happen happen, but if Jeremy Corbyn were to somehow become prime minister I believe that while it would be bad domestically and awful for our international standing and national security, the more radical parts of his domestic agenda (on taxation, nationalization and so forth) would be largely fought to a standstill by obstructive centrist forces fighting a rearguard action. Lord knows that they have honed their skills in this regard, doggedly holding up Brexit since 2016.

In such an unfortunate scenario, Labour’s appalling tolerance of antisemitism would likely continue unabated, and while this would be unimaginably worrying for Britain’s Jewish community and an appalling indictment of the Left in general, Labour’s anti-Jewish animus would likewise fail to translate into any kind of government policy thanks to the forces of restraint and moderation described above.

Anyhow, 30 minutes to go now. Let’s see just how wrong I am.

12 December – 8:39PM

Welcome!

Welcome to this live blog of the 2019 UK winter general election results. Yes, for some inexplicable reason I have decided to come out of blogging semi-retirement to offer semi-partisan hot takes on developments as they occur tonight and tomorrow morning.

I’m sure I will quickly come to regret this decision and/or give up half way through. However, I intend to keep going for as long as things remain interesting and there are still issues and arguments to dissect, advance and rebut. If things die down on here, I’m probably still ranting away on Twitter @SamHooper.

Please feel free to share your thoughts using the Comments feature, by emailing me at semipartisansam@gmail.com or engaging with me on Twitter @SamHooper.

 

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Henry Bolton And The Death Of UKIP

Henry Bolton - UKIP leadership - vote of no confidence

As party leader Henry Bolton gives a majestic display of the power of denial and refuses to resign, UKIP seems determined to go out not with a bang but a whimper

What an ignominious end for a political party which only a couple of years ago seemed to be dictating the rhythm of British politics and the headlines of our newspapers. But after a slew of leadership changes, cringeworthy scandals and bizarre disciplinary issues it seems pretty clear that there is nothing now left worth salvaging.

Several of the party’s remaining senior figures (none really warrant the title “big beast”) have resigned from the party following leader Henry Bolton’s refusal to immediately stand down after a unanimous vote of no confidence in his leadership, and everyone else may as well just follow suit and cut up their membership cards because there is no positive outcome to be had. Either Bolton tries to cling on until UKIP becomes a party of one, or he goes and makes room for another nonentity aboard the party leadership carousel.

Political parties drift when they lack any kind of unifying purpose or positive vision (though sometimes a strongly negative, reactionary position will do just as well in a pinch). We saw this with Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party when the centrist “moderates” were found to believe in nothing and stand for nothing, and we see it now in the Tory Party as Theresa May’s government fiddles while the few forward-thinking people in the party are shooting off in a million directions with their own uncoordinated plans for conservative reform.

UKIP have less of an excuse for their current predicament, though. It was always known that they would face an existential moment of reckoning in the event that an EU referendum was secured and won, and they did far too little – probably nothing – to prepare for that moment. And for a single-issue party (or at least a party viewed by many to be single-issue) this was an unforgivable strategic error.

I covered and live-blogged the UKIP annual conference in Doncaster back in September 2015, when the referendum had been secured but the official campaigns had not yet officially kicked into gear. I wrote going into the event that this was a “make or break conference”, not because of the referendum but because this was the last, best opportunity to solidify exactly what it was that the party stood for besides secession from the European Union before the referendum and its aftermath would signal the closing of that window.

As I wrote back then:

When we look back on 2015, this could be seen as the conference which makes or breaks UKIP. Not in the sense that any careers are on the line today, or that terrible consequences await any missteps made over the next few days. But decisions taken at this conference – and more importantly, the general tone and sense of direction given by the party leadership – could be vital in determining whether UKIP is strongly positioned to survive the turmoil of the next five years in British politics, or if the party is destined to go the way of New Labour.

As long as the target of the 2016/2017 Brexit referendum looms ever larger in our sights, the unlikely coalition that makes up UKIP’s support base are likely to continue cohabiting without any real problem. But what happens when the European question is settled?

UKIP is a vastly more established political party than it was this time last year, and is almost unrecognisable from the party it was at the time of the last election, back in 2010. And this has been an unquestionably good thing for our stale, consensual politics.

However, interested observers will be watching closely for any signs indicating the type of party UKIP is likely to become by 2020. And a lot could ride on the answer.

And unsurprisingly, UKIP totally ducked the challenge at their conference. Everybody who wasn’t indulging in the traditional UKIP pastime of shooting themselves in the foot with unnecessary squabbles and gaffes was drunk on referendum fever and in no mood to contemplate any event past June 2016, be that their preferred method of Brexit (a failure which has already come back to bite) or the preferred shape of their party when banging the eurosceptic drum no longer attracts votes.

Nigel Farage himself offered only a vague non-answer:

 

Over the course of the conference I spoke to a number of senior UKIP figures in addition to Nigel Farage, including Mark Reckless, Douglas Carswell and a number of lesser-known but deeply involved activists, and of those people only Douglas Carswell had a vaguely plausible vision for what UKIP could become – a vision that was so at odds with Nigel Farage’s own that Carswell jumped/was pushed out only eighteen months later.

 

Thus the tension between the various different UKIPs was never resolved. The party continued to be a fractious circus tent encompassing a dwindling cohort of libertarian types, a rump of ex-Conservative eurosceptics and an influx of new, more economically left-wing voters and activists.

Immediately after the 2015 conference, I wrote:

The United Kingdom Independence Party currently draws its support from a number of quite distinct support bases. There are the social conservatives and traditionalists, mostly ex-Tory voters. Then you have the “lost Labour” voters, those who are repelled by the modern Labour Party’s superficial virtue signalling, unquestioning embrace of uncontrolled immigration and perceived lack of patriotism.

There is also a significant body of support from the so-called economically “left behind” voters from Britain’s faded coastal resort towns, where pro-UKIP sentiment is very strong. And finally, there are the young (and old) libertarian types – for so long the backbone of the party, until relatively recently.

All of these disparate groups are currently joined under the UKIP banner in an uneasy alliance because they share the common goal of a Britain independent of the EU. But what happens when the EU referendum is won (or lost)? What, if anything, will keep these separate groups together in the post-election landscape?

That’s the conversation which should have started taking place at this conference. But it is a conversation which has been assiduously avoided by nearly everyone, including the party leader.

There was very much a self-sacrificial tone at that 2015 party conference. Nigel Farage seemed to have little concern that the party might burn up in the wake of the EU referendum, no doubt presuming that his own personal prospects would be fine in any event. But nobody else in the party had any excuse for so much complacency. And the personal squabbles and increasingly ludicrous crises to rock the party are partially a result of that failure to plan for the future.

As I write, Henry Bolton is giving a statement to the press in Folkestone affirming that he has no intention to resign, and instead proposing a new party constitution – in the hubristic manner of all banana republic dictators in history. Others know the detailed history of UKIP, with all of its personality clashes and policy squabbles, far better than I. But I can’t help feeling a little sad that the most consequential insurgent political party in decades seems so determined to end not with a bang but a whimper.

 

Nigel Farage - UKIP Conference 2015 - Doncaster

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Left-Wing Brexit Acceptance Award

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Finally, a prominent left-wing voice that accepts the result of the EU referendum and does not drip with contempt for democracy and the people’s choice to leave the EU

In his latest piece for the Independent, John Rentoul gives us that rarest of things from the political Left – a gracious and measured acceptance of Brexit.

Right off the bat, Rentoul declares:

There are two common views among people who wanted to stay in the EU that I think are mistaken. One is that David Cameron made a foolish and unforgivable mistake in promising the referendum. The other is that the result was obtained by a campaign of lies.

My contentions are that Cameron was forced to promise a referendum by the very democratic pressure that produced the vote to Leave, and that the referendum was about as fair as the rough and tumble of democracy usually is.

And Rentoul is quite right, I think, to state that with the rise of UKIP, never-ending power grabs from an increasingly tone-deaf EU and the systematic crises (euro, migration) facing the union, a referendum was ultimately coming, one way or another, regardless of whatever David Cameron did:

Cameron knew that if he didn’t promise a referendum, his party would become even harder to manage and it would lose votes to Ukip. As it turned out, he had a choice between cutting his throat and slitting his wrist: he could lose the election in 2015 and be thrown out of office or he could lose the referendum a year later and be thrown out of office. Being a politician – that is to say, human – he chose to maximise his chance of winning in 2015 and hoped that winning in 2016 would take care of itself.

Rentoul accurately notes that euroscepticism is hardly a new phenomenon in Britain. While we may not have been asked our opinion on the matter since the 1975 referendum, there has always been a significant chunk of the population opposed to our EU membership, even before mass immigration from eastern Europe or the euro crisis  were factors:

It may be objected that polls did not find that the EU was a priority for voters, and that support for leaving became significant only after the 2008 banking crisis. But there has been a majority in the British public for leaving or for reducing the EU’s powers since 1996, according to the British Election Study (page 6), and immigration has been named as one of the three most important issues facing Britain since 2001, according to Ipsos MORI.

But even more encouraging (from a Brexiteer’s perspective) is Rentoul’s refusal to fall back on lazy Remainer self-delusions that the Leave campaign had a monopoly on lies and misinformation, and that it was this uniquely one-sided dishonesty which somehow tricked a gullible population and swung the referendum:

The second complaint by many Remainers is that the people voted to Leave on the basis of disinformation. There is an implication that journalists failed in their duty to fact-check the post-truth politics – a criticism that must sound familiar in America.

But I don’t think the argument holds up. One of the surprising things about the referendum was that we didn’t hear that much about Eurosceptic press barons dominating the debate. This may be because they didn’t. The media landscape in Britain has been utterly transformed by the internet – as I know well, working for the first national newspaper to go online-only.

If you look at the readership of British newspapers, print and online, not only does The Independent have more readers than The Sun – not many people know that – but the total readerships of newspapers advocating Leave and Remain were about the same (of the 13 weekday newspapers, the Mail, Telegraph, Express, Star and Sun advocated Leave, with 95m monthly readers; the Guardian, Mirror, Independent, Standard, Times, Daily Recordand Scotsman advocated Remain, with 97m monthly readers; the Metro had no position). There are other new news sources online, Buzzfeed and other rivals of The Independent that I won’t mention, but overall I think the media was fairly evenly balanced.

As Rentoul points out, the Evil Murdoch Press doesn’t have quite the vice-like grip over the minds of the British people as many a Corbynite (or even a New Labour centrist) likes to believe. People consume their news from a variety of sources, and exist in social media bubbles of all kinds – pro-EU as much as eurosceptic.

More:

All the same, there were claims made in the campaign that were – I prefer not to call them lies – not absolutely evidence-based. The most prominent was the claim by the Leave campaign that the UK sends £350m a week to the EU. We don’t. It’s about half that. The Leave people justified it by saying it would be £350m if we didn’t have the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1985. Their argument is that politicians will be tempted to negotiate the rebate away in future – Tony Blair, for example, allowed it to be diluted when new countries joined the EU in 2004.

Most journalists reported that it wasn’t true. The trouble is that saying, “It’s not £350m a week it’s £180m a week,” didn’t really help the Remainers. It drove them mad because the Leavers kept on using the £350m, and the Remainers kept saying it wasn’t true, drawing attention to it, and reminding voters that we send a sum of money too big to be understood to the EU every week.

Besides, the Remain campaign was putting out leaflets claiming that for every pound we put into the EU we got £10 back. I wouldn’t describe that as absolutely evidence-based either.

Many of us – this blog included – campaigned long and hard and angrily about Vote Leave’s disingenuous “£350 million for the NHS” pledge, pointing out that it was false and that it served as a greater propaganda tool for the Remain campaign with which to attack Brexiteers than as an argument for leaving the EU. But Rentoul is quite right – the true figure of c. £180 million is just as impactful, and quantitative scaremongering claims by the Remain campaign were no less manipulative and deceitful.

This blog has been busy handing out awards for grotesque Brexit catastrophisation with some relish, so it is only fair to acknowledge times when those from the political Left exceed the low expectations which have too often been set by politicians and the media class. Rentoul’s overall assessment is quite right – the EU referendum campaign was cacophonous and messy, but it was in no way tilted in favour of the underdog, insurgent Leave campaign, and would never have succeeded if it had not ignited already-latest anti-EU feelings among entire swathes of the British people.

So credit where credit is due: John Rentoul is one of vanishingly few prominent left-wing commentators to broadly accept the result of the EU referendum with no ifs, buts or asterisks. If only other left-wing politicians and commentators found it within themselves to do the same, their political movement might not now be facing unprecedented unpopularity and rejection by the British people.

 

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Remainers Are Trying To Rewrite History, Claiming Media Coverage Favoured The Leave Campaign

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Yes, the BBC let the public down with their spineless, uninquisitive EU referendum coverage. But this only benefited the Remain campaign, not the Brexiteers, and to suggest otherwise is absurd

Disappointed Remain activist Hugo Dixon takes to the pages of InFacts with with a sullen litany of the many ways in which the (ahem) notoriously eurosceptic television news media supposedly hindered the pro-EU camp’s chances and aided the fact-free Brexiteers at every turn.

Dixon writes:

The BBC has rightly been criticised for its weak referendum coverage. If the broadcaster had done a better job of challenging interviewees, informing the public and making room for a variety of viewpoints, voters would have had a better chance of sifting fact from fiction. The BBC, after all, dominates our news coverage: 77% of the public use it as a news source, according to Ofcom.

The most common criticism aired against the BBC is one of phoney balance – namely that it gave equal airtime to experts and their opponents’ unsubstantiated bluster. But this is probably not the most serious charge. After all, it would not have been fair to deny the two sides of the referendum equal airtime or to keep off the air campaigners who were telling fibs or spinning fantasy.

However, what the BBC could and should have done was grill its guests more vigorously – and make more space for coverage that didn’t fit into the tired Punch-and-Judy style battle between spokespeople put up by the two official campaigns.

There is a kernel of a sensible point in here. This blog has written numerous times that sensationalist or craven news coverage which merely allows two opposing talking heads to scream at each other without any effort to arbitrate or discern truth is a pox on our journalism – whether it is infecting the US presidential election or the EU referendum in Britain.

Dixon is also admirably on-point when he criticises the media’s reliance on the sanitised, focus-group approved  media grids of the two opposing lead campaign groups, effectively suggesting to their viewers that these incompetents and nepotism beneficiaries represented the full spectrum of eurosceptic and pro-European thought:

This wasn’t the BBC’s only failing. It also allowed too much of its coverage to become a Punch-and-Judy style battle between the official campaigns. The broadcaster, of course, had to give a lot of airtime to Vote Leave and Stronger In. But it allowed its coverage to be virtually dictated by their agendas.

I know the Remain side of the story better. Stronger In had a “grid”, on which it set out what stories it wanted to push on particular days and which people it wanted to push those messages. It coordinated this grid closely with Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s director of communications. Indeed, Stronger In was effectively in Number 10’s pocket. It rarely put forward people who weren’t on message with its Project Fear strategy.

The BBC should not have allowed itself to be manipulated in this way, particularly since it was aware of the potential problem. Its guidelines said: “Where there is a range of views or perspectives, that should be reflected appropriately during the campaign.” They went on to say: “The designated Campaign Groups – whilst offering spokespeople to programme-makers and other content producers – cannot dictate who should or who should not appear on BBC output.”

But the broadcaster didn’t do enough to resist the pressure. As a result, Downing Street and its puppets dominated the Remain camp’s share of airtime, and people who wanted to make a positive case for Britain’s involvement were edged out. Even Gordon Brown – who was trying to argue that we should lead Europe, not leave Europe – found it hard to be heard.

While Hugo Dixon’s heart wells over with sympathy for Gordon Brown’s inability to claim his fair share of the limelight, this blog would point to the many independent and non-aligned voices on the Brexit side who struggled to get a hearing of any kind, despite (in some cases) holding media events in the heart of Westminster under the very nose of the establishment.

So on both of these complaints, Dixon is on solid ground. But to go on and suggest that intellectually lazy journalism which impacted the Leave side every bit as much as the Remain campaign somehow decisively swung the outcome of the referendum is to venture into the realm of fantasy.

Dixon concludes:

For every such example, the BBC could presumably come up with a counter-example. But when its senior figures search their souls, do they really think they fulfilled their mission of informing and educating the public well during the referendum? And, if not, what are they going to do about it? How about an independent, public audit of how the BBC fared during the referendum backed up by recommendations on how to do better in future?

The world is not getting any simpler. Hard, honest thinking about how to cover often very complicated questions could stand the BBC in good stead. Audiences and license fee payers definitely deserve it.

The underlying assertion, carefully left unsaid, is that these various journalistic failures added up to a succession of “microbiases” which somehow cumulatively tipped the referendum result, and that if only BBC and other television news presenters had challenged guests and demanded more “facts” then the British people would have come to their senses and realised just how star-spangled awesome the European Union really is.

And maybe in an alternative universe that was the case – that there simply weren’t enough highly credentialed experts, both hysterical and sober, using abundant media platforms to lecture the British people that seeking freedom from the EU would be an unmitigated disaster.

Why oh why were these noble voices, these latter-day Cassandras so cruelly shut out of the national debate, swamped by a relentlessly pro-Brexit television media amplifying the Leave campaign’s monopoly on falsehoods and scaremongering?

But that’s not how I remember the EU referendum campaign.

Hugo Dixon inhabits an interesting parallel universe, and no doubt a comforting one for disappointed Remain campaigners so deeply invested in their failed euro-federalist dream. But it bears no resemblance to the real world, where the plucky, haphazard, incoherent and almost terminally disorganised Leave campaign triumphed against the arrayed forces of the establishment and a television news media which only amplified rather than diminished their influence in support of the status quo.

 

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The Economic Challenges Beyond Brexit

Bitter, swivel-eyed (and unrepentant) europhile he may be, but the FT’s Martin Wolf makes some valid points in his latest column, warning against any complacency that Britain’s persistent economic weak points will be automatically restored to health upon leaving the European Union.

Wolf writes:

British economic policymakers confront big challenges. They have to manage departure from the EU with the minimum damage. They also need to make the UK economy far more dynamic. The latter cannot be achieved if they do not abandon the myth that Britain is already an economic success, albeit one choked by the dead hand of an over-regulated European economy.

Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform provides a far more realistic picture in his Brexit Britain. Measured at purchasing power parity, the rise in the UK’s gross domestic product per head between 2000 and 2015 was smaller than in Germany, Spain and France. Over this period, the UK outperformed only Italy, among the EU’s largest pre-2000 members. In 2015, the UK’s GDP per head was lower relative to the average of the 15 pre-2000 EU members than in 2000: its GDP per head was a mere ninth within this group.

The UK also has the highest income inequality among these countries. Furthermore, notes Mr Tilford, UK real wages fell by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2014, before a tiny uptick in 2015, while German and French real wages rose. In 2015, only London and the South-East had higher GDP per head than the average of the EU-15 countries. Other UK regions were at or below that average. In all, it is hardly surprising so many UK voters feel left behind, as shown in the EU referendum.

True, the increase in French real wages has coincided with high unemployment. But that is not true in Germany. UK workers also work longer hours than those in other EU-15 countries. This is presumably to make up for low real wages, themselves largely due to the UK’s poor productivity. According to the Conference Board’s invaluable “total economy database”, the only EU-15 countries to have lower output per hour than the UK are Greece, Italy and Portugal, while the UK’s productivity per hour has stagnated since 2007. Again, of the biggest five EU-15 members only Italy performed worse on this measure. The UK also now runs the largest current account deficit, relative to GDP, in the EU-15.

The UK, then, has low unemployment. But it also has high inequality, mediocre real incomes, at least by the standards of its European peers, and poor external competitiveness. Above all, recent productivity growth has been truly awful.

These are hard, inescapable criticisms – particularly in terms of productivity growth and purchasing power parity, which is ultimately the only yardstick that matters in terms of whether people actually feel better off.

And concludes:

The implications of a realistic view of the UK economy is that, even without the looming shock of Brexit, the economy suffers from big weaknesses relative to the European economies that many Brexiters despise. Some argue that a real depreciation of sterling is mainly what is needed. If sustained, the post-referendum devaluation should indeed help, though it means a fall in real incomes and wealth. Yet devaluation alone will not cure UK weaknesses.

The UK has to rectify longstanding supply-side failings. The list includes: low investment, particularly in infrastructure; inadequate basic education of much of the population and the innumeracy of much of its elite; a grossly distorted housing market; over-centralisation of government; and a corporate sector whose leaders are motivated more by the share price than by the long-term health of the business. Not surprisingly, given all this, the UK economy is highly dependent on inward foreign direct investment, which Brexit would seem virtually certain to weaken.

If the UK is to thrive economically, it will not be enough for it to manage Brexit, hard though that will surely be. Its policymakers must also start from a realistic assessment of the UK’s mediocre performance. This is no world-beating economy. It is not even a Europe-beating economy, except on creating what are too often low-wage jobs. It will have to do far better if it is to deliver the higher living standards its people want in the tougher environment ahead.

The danger with Brexit was always that the sheer complexity of managing our secession from the European Union would prove too much for a mostly unremarkable generation of politicians and civil servants, nearly all of whom have never known life outside the EU and can scarcely imagine self-government. Even now, three months after the historic Brexit vote, there is little evidence that the government has started to get to grips with the challenge ahead of them.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask – as Martin Wolf does – how much mental capacity will be left to tackle other burning issues like Britain’s low productivity, the low-skill / low-wage segment of the economy or decades-old weaknesses in British management, identified by Thatcher’s Conservatives in the late 1970s but still barely tackled even now.

And I’m not sure there is a quick fix to this problem. Brexit will inevitably dominate the political agenda, probably for the next decade, to the near exclusion of all else. And even if there was excess capacity, there is precious little evidence to suggest that Theresa May’s new government has a blazingly clear vision for reforming Britain anyway – as Isabel Hardman outlines in this excellent Spectator piece.

In short: many of these problems, though long-festering, are probably going to have to wait to be tackled, unless the government surprises us all with its radical zeal and far-reaching reform plans at the upcoming Conservative Party Conference, which seems unlikely at best.

If you wake up to discover your house is ablaze and smoke pouring into the bedroom, you don’t waste precious minutes ensuring that you are beautifully dressed and immaculately turned-out before evacuating the building. Likewise, in whatever shape Brexit ends up happening, Britain will likely emerge from the EU in much the same shape as before, with the same nagging issues and weaknesses clamouring to be addressed.

Inspiring? No. Ammunition for assorted bitter Remainers, EU-lovers and anti-patriots? Sadly, yes. But that is our lot. Brexit is likely to be a grinding, painstaking, lengthy process at the end of which the same Britain will be blinking back at us, largely unchanged, with all the rest of our work to realise the benefits of Brexit still ahead of us.

But does that mean the enterprise is not worth the effort? Hell no. And it is very telling to see those who are prepared to steel themselves for the work ahead, and those who seek to use it as a whinnying justification for giving up.

 

Thousands Of People Take Part In The March For Europe

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