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Doing referendums differently so the oiks don’t win again

The Electoral Reform Society has released a report about the conduct of the EU referendum called “It’s good to talk: Doing referendums differently after the EU vote”.

The title “It’s good to talk” suggests a conversation, a dialogue. Unlike some commentary by prominent Remain supporters, it does not seek to rule that some people are not qualified to take part in the dialogue at all and their votes should be disregarded. In fact if I chose to use this particular document in order to criticise a paternalist tendency in British politics, it is because it shows this tendency at its most well-meaning. But however reasonably expressed, the purpose of the measures suggested by the Electoral Reform Society is to stop the wild voters ever getting loose again.

So it’s time for a root and branch review of referendums, learning the lessons of the EU campaign to make sure the mistakes that were made in terms of regulation, tone and conduct are never repeated.

“Regulation, tone and conduct.” How very British, how very Sir Humphrey! Yet the people who wrote this probably object to being called “The Establishment”. The report assumes that the referendum was ill-regulated and that the referendum was something that should be regulated. By people like them.

We’ve made nine key recommendations to improve the conduct of future referendums. They are:

Laying the groundwork

1. Mandatory pre-legislative scrutiny for any Bill on a referendum, lasting at least three months, with citizens’ involvement

2. A minimum six-month regulated campaigning period to ensure time for a proper public discussion

3. A definitive ‘rulebook’ to be published, setting out technical aspects of the vote, as soon as possible after the passing of any referendum Bill

Better information

1. A ‘minimum data set’ or impartial information guide to be published at the start of the regulated campaigning period

Written by their sort of people, containing the information that their sort of people think is relevant, impartial in the sense of being in the middle of the spread of opinion that is socially acceptable for their sort of people.

2. An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made by the campaigns, as in New Zealand

“An official body” means a body with power. “Given the task of intervening” means given the power to silence. And, of course, the official body will be staffed by suitably qualified people. So some more of their sort of people will have new powers to censor the unenlightened.

3. Citizenship education to be extended in schools

I don’t really need to say it, do I?

alongside UK-wide extension of votes at 16

With the result that those who have only known a life where the majority of their waking hours were spent under the control of the clerisy will mostly vote as directed. There is another point, too. The extension of the franchise to children is no longer an anomaly if all the voters are treated as children. Like children, all the information they receive will be censored and filtered by their wise teachers, who get to decide what claims are misleading.

More deliberation

1. The government should fund a resource for stimulating deliberative discussion/debate about referendum

2. An official body should be tasked with providing a toolkit for members of the public to host own debates/deliberative events on the referendum

“Providing the toolkit” for debates is an example of the agenda-setting power.

3. Ofcom should conduct a review into an appropriate role for broadcasters to play in referendums, with aim of making coverage/formats more deliberative rather than combative/binary

It’s a referendum, for goodness sake. How can it be other than binary? Ah, I think I know. I came across many comments by Remainers saying that the simple option “Leave the EU” was too easy and the question in the corrective referendum should be broken up into multiple different flavours of Leave plus one flavour of Remain. This would have the happy effect of splitting the Leave vote.

We think our new report, ‘It’s Good to Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote’, will be a useful resource in tackling the big questions about where we go from here when it comes to referendums. We hope you agree.

I do not agree. The report suggests various measures that would reduce the chance that polite conversation will be interrupted by shouting. Another way of putting that is that the report puts forward measures to make it harder for angry, inarticulate people to be heard, harder for them to sense that they are not alone, harder for referendums to fulfil their function of yanking the people’s representatives back into contact with what the people actually want.

More than that though, we hope the recommendations we suggest lead to some genuine change so that the public get the referendum debates they deserve in the future.

The wording is revealing. Although the mention of the public getting what they deserve is meant politely rather than literally, debate is seen as something the public get given to them, not as something they do themselves, however raw and “combative” and “binary” it may be.

Regret is not a policy

I just heard, on the telly, the leader of the Lib Dems repeat his support for a return by Britain to the EU. Other Lib Dems on the same show are echoing him. The Empire Loyalists of our time. They’ll attract a small lump of enthusiasts, who will spend the rest of their lives insisting that they were right to oppose Brexit. And everyone else will watch and say: so what? Even most of those who voted Remain themselves. Regret is not a policy.

Brian Micklethwait

This was too perfect not to warrant a little post of its own.

Samizdata quote of the day

Let’s be clear: No deal is better than a bad deal.

Richard Tice, discussing Brexit.

How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

A friend of mine reckons that Ex-Prime-Minister David Cameron’s plan was, all long, to extricate Britain from the EU. This theory reminds me of the similar things that were said about Gorbachev and the collapse of the old USSR. If Gorbachev had been a CIA agent, working to contrive the exact USSR collapse that happened, what would he have done differently? Very little. It’s the same with Cameron and Brexit. How could Cameron have done a better job of contriving Brexit than he actually did do?

You may say: Cameron might actually have argued for Brexit, in public. But if he had done that, then many of those north of England Labourites who hate Cameron might have voted Remain instead of Out, just to stick it to those out-of-touch Etonian bastards, the way they actually did feel they were sticking it to the Etonians by voting Out. And Britain might now be chained to the sinking ship that is the EU rather than liberated from it.

But, whether by design, as my friend thinks, or by accident, as most others assume, Brexit has unified the Conservative Party. With that observation, I move from the territory of undisprovable speculative diversion into the land of out-in-the-open truth. And I am not the only one who has noticed this.

For all of my adult life, the Europe issue has divided the Conservative Party. Until now.

→ Continue reading: How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

Trade does not require trade agreements

Douglas Carswell makes some excellent points about the perils of any post-Brexit trade agreements with the EU:

So let’s spell it out. Access to the single market means being able to trade with single-market countries. Membership means being bound by single-market rules.

Why is this difference so important?

Because access is consistent with the vote to leave the EU. Membership isn’t.

Access clearly doesn’t require membership. Countries around the world trade with the single market. Many do so freely, with no tariff barriers, via bilateral free-trade agreements. Britain can do the same. We don’t need to be part of the single market to trade freely with it.

In fact, we will have freer trade once we leave the single market. Because the single market doesn’t enable commerce, but rather restricts it.

The single market is a permission-based system. It stops suppliers from selling things people want to buy unless they conform to standards set by bureaucrats in Brussels. Rather than remove trade barriers, the single market creates them. Not between countries, but between producers and consumers.

The effect is to limit competition. Big corporations with expensive lobbyists rig the rules to shut out disruptive innovation from upstart rivals. Economic progress is impeded.

Indeed, and as Peter Lilly wrote not all that long ago:

How important are trade deals? As a former trade minister it pains me to admit – their importance is grossly exaggerated. Countries succeed, with or without trade deals, if they produce goods and services other countries want. Thanks to the Uruguay Round, tariffs between developed countries now average low single figures – small beer compared with recent movements in exchange rates. So the most worthwhile trade agreements are with fast growing developing countries which still have high tariffs.

Quite so. The sooner we are out of the EU the better.

Samizdata quote of the day

There is nothing new about this; it mostly started fifteen years ago, in 2001, and again the Irish were the main target. Ireland in the early 1990s had a high general corporation tax rate of 40%, but it introduced a special low 10% rate for finance companies in its Dublin-based International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). The Commission ruled that this was effectively an improper subsidy to the finance industry under the State Aid rules, and ordered its abolition.

That was really the root cause of the EU’s current row with Ireland, because the Irish response to the IFSC being declared illegal was to reduce all its corporation tax to 12.5%. Because that wasn’t targeted at a particular company or industry sector, it wasn’t illegal State Aid and so the EU Commission could do nothing to stop them, much as it wanted to.

So the EU Commission’s current action against Ireland over Apple is largely “Round Two”, a repeat of what it did fifteen years ago.

Richard Teather

Reasons for the UK to leave the EU keep piling up – the EU Arrest Warrant

I have been familiar with some of the details of a Romanian case, which has taken a shocking turn, and it highlights the mess of the European Union’s Arrest Warrant. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle,  writes about the case. Even the more cynical out there will be shocked at the brazenness of the Romanian government in this case. And it raises a wider issue about governments co-operating to move alleged suspects from A to B and sharing data with one another about their citizens.

Consider a new anti-tax evasion regime called the Common Reporting Standard, under which certain governments swap data to catch alleged tax dodgers. With CRS, there is a presumption that the countries involved can move information around and that this will not compromise legitimate financial privacy. All I can say is “good luck with that”. Abuses will occur. (Governments in recent times have been happy to obtain data from Swiss banks via thieves, for example.)

The UK has an extradition treaty with the US and this has caused controversy at times because of the alleged lack of a need for a prima facie suspicion of guilt to be proven against a person before extradition (instead, a country has to show “probable cause”, which waters the test down marvellously). What may be a crime in the US, for existence (running an internet gambling site, for example) isn’t in the UK. And so on.

The Romanian case in question here is particularly noxious to a sense of justice because of the heavy-handed behaviour of Romania. Its attempt to bully news organisations that are covering controversies, such as arms dealing, is also outrageous – such an attack on freedom of the press hardly meets the sort of test one would have supposed is necessary for a country to be a member of the EU at all. And as long as this arrest warrant remains, I see zero chance of a country such as Turkey joining the EU.

I’d like to know what the UK government’s view is of the case, and of whether any MPs have taken this matter on. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, is not exactly a poster girl for civil liberty, but even she might be shocked at what is going on here. (When she was Home Secretary, she blocked an extradition of a person to the US.)

One way for Mrs May to prove that “Brexit means Brexit” is to ensure that the UK removes itself from the EU arrest warrant process immediately. The reasons why I am so glad the UK voted to get out of the whole wretched structure continue.

Addendum: As an aside, it is also worth noting that these actions by Romania are often typical of certain regimes seeking to crush alleged corruption. Much of the media will applaud this; I even spoke to a fund manager about Romania, who applauded the steps that the country has made against corruption. But as we have seen in countries such as China, anti-corruption sometimes means little more than score-settling or persecution of political opponents or those who are deemed to be embarrassing. (And needless to say, the ultimate case of this is Putin’s Russia, and Romania is to some extent under Russian influence.)

Apple replies to the EU, and it is magnificent

In an astonishing EU ruling, Apple is being told the pay the Irish state €13 billion(!!!) in retrospective taxation that the Irish state never asked for. And the reply from Apple is very well crafted. It is clear they are not going to take this shakedown by the European Commission lying down.

Another fail by Obama

With the TTIP, the EU and US set out trying to construct a slightly watered down version of the single market – in which corporations would be able to use the courts to force governments to open up their public services to foreign providers. It was doomed to collapse because there is such an obvious asymmetry between the US and the EU on this. The US already has high involvement of private companies in the provision of public services. As for those where the state does still retain a monopoly – like defence – there is no way US courts are going to allow, say, French missile manufacturers to supply weapons. It will be ruled out on grounds of national security.

Europe, by contrast, has a relatively high degree of state involvement in the economy, giving plenty of juicy opportunities for US firms – and plenty of reason for left wing parties in France and Germany to oppose TTIP. Britain may now be at the back of Barack Obama’s queue – though what relevance that has given that it will soon be where we stand in Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s queue that matters. But my money would be on post-Brexit Britain sewing up a trade deal with the US before the EU has managed it.

Ross Clark, having fun at the expense of Barack Obama, whose comment earlier this year that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in trade deals with Washington if it had the temerity to quit the European Union has, along with so many others, backfired.

We are often told that President Obama was going to bring us an era of smart diplomacy, unlike that that moron Bush, etc, etc. The gap between the promise, and the reality, is wider than ever.

House Of Lords to overturn referendum?

Over on Facebook, where I occasionally joust with Remainers who are still in shock and anger at the impertinence and evil of their fellows in voting to leave the EU, a person applauded an apparent suggestion that the result could be blocked, by the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the UK political system. I wrote this, and decided I might as well put it on Samizdata as well:

The original post applauded the fact that the House of Lords, which is not elected by anyone, but composed of inheritors and favourites of governments, is to try and block the result of a democratic referendum in which more people voted than in any election since 1992. The enormity of this should give us pause. I find it mind-boggling that it is being contemplated.

The post claimed the referendum is illegal. No grounds are given as to what supposed laws were broken by holding this referendum. None. I’d be grateful if someone could give a law that was broken to justify the claim.

One can argue that the Leave side told lies (the same applies with some of the Remain side, by the way, as they often exaggerated the effects of Leave), but disliking the conduct of those in a referendum does not invalidate the result or render it void. Some Leavers may indeed be bigots, fools, or whatever. Quite a few Remainers are hardly models of logical thought, either, from my experience. If you claim that people voted without full knowledge of the consequences, that could be used to invalidate all elections, and be an excuse for dictatorship of supposed Platonic philosopher kings.

It is quite obvious to me that, when stripped of any flimflam, that a lot of those who wanted to stay in the EU have a low view of most of their fellow citizens, and wish they should be prevented from voting on anything of significance. There are uncertainties ahead; there are also uncertainties of remaining in the EU, particularly given the weak nature of the eurozone and the continued terrible economic and financial problems of Southern Europe.

The House of Lords is an anachronism, but it is at least easier for the UK to reform such a chamber, as it should, than for 28 members of the EU to change the structures of the EU. (I think the HoL should be an elected chamber, maybe by PR, or some other approach.) I think it is good to have an upper chamber to act as a brake on the Commons; all good political systems of ordered liberty need checks and balances. (The US Founding Fathers understood this.) Blocking the results of a referendum, however, is not a step to be taken lightly.

The European Union has been a collection of nation states, but is clearly moving towards full statehood, and the eurozone cannot really work without this to make fiscal transfers, etc, acceptable (consider the rows between Greece and Germany, etc). Such an outcome is not what most Britons want, including, I imagine, some of those who voted Remain. There is no broad mandate for the UK to become part of a European state.

The UK is a parliamentary democracy, and referendums should be used sparingly, and only on matters of overwhelming constitutional importance. The fine details must remain with parliament. The fact remains, however, that the outcome of the referendum, while not overwhelming, is clear enough: Leave.

I may be informed mostly about investment and financial issues in the EU, rather than politics, (I used to be a full-teim political correspondent) but my reporting on the EU and its financial regulations gives me a good vantage point on seeing how the EU works on a daily basis – I have covered the creation of god-knows how many directives over the past 20-plus years (gulps!) and it is clear that despite some good points, it is a centralising, bureaucratic and in too many cases, unaccountable body. It is not, I believe, reformable because too many countries want to keep it as it is. Cameron tried to get concessions and he failed.

Paolo Barnard

Italian journalist Paolo Barnard thinks Brexit is just great for Britain and hopes it spreads.

I’d be interested to know how widespread this view is and how respected Mr Barnard is in Italy.

Samizdata quote of the day

A major power centre has been challenged and almost by definition power centres have some control over the public narrative. For decades EU apologists have wielded their immense budget and nomination powers to promote people with the “right” attitude and projects with the “right” purpose. Simultaneously a highly skewed PR narrative has been dished out so incessantly (complimentary of unaware taxpayers) that numerous voters now confuse this narrative with the truth. This is why so many EU apologists genuinely seem to perceive the EU as a force for everything worthwhile, and every EU-critic as either dumb, a xenophobic throwback or misled by the PR-narrative of the other side.

Mark Brolin

It is such a shame, though, that the term “metropolitan liberal” is used here. I like to think I am a liberal in the John Locke/Ludwig von Mises use of that fine word, and also glory in living in the greatest metropolis on earth – London. It is one of those terms that is in danger of becoming hackneyed. Stop it.