Saturday, 31 December 2016

Here’s a way in 2017 for Jeremy Corbyn to change the way politics is done and also get his own message across direct and unmediated

In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn should appear monthly on a YouTube programme, on which he would meet voters and potential voters one-to-one. Each would have five minutes in conversation with him. The programme would go out live. The people in conversation with Corbyn would not have applied to take part but would have been selected so that between them they constitute a representative sample of the electorate.

Allowing “ordinary people” into the national political debate in this way would administer a much needed shot of adrenalin into the UK’s sickly democracy.

The UK’s national political debate is mostly carried out in the press and on the TV and radio. It is dominated by a select group. Members of this group almost always share all or most of the following characteristics - well-educated, well-off, middle-aged, white, London-based, male. Their agenda reflects their own background and experience and largely ignores much of importance to many others.

The YouTube programme would give a platform to people who are currently excluded from taking part in the national political debate. It would be highly democratic. 

The idea is rooted in the belief that everyone matters in society and that everyone has political concerns (even if sometimes they might not recognise or describe concerns they have about housing or income or jobs or education or health etc as “political”).

One day, hopefully, all political leaders will embrace this democratisation and take part in such a programme. However, it makes sense for Corbyn to lead the way. The mainstream media’s hostility to him is such that, if he relies on it to let people know what he stands for, he is bound to fail. This programme would be another way to circumvent the mainstream media - alongside Corbyn’s use of social media, public meetings etc - and it would reach the all important potential voters who are not already favourably inclined to Corbyn.

Below, I set out details of the proposed programme and the likely risks and benefits to Corbyn in taking part.

Details of the proposed YouTube programme

  • UK would be divided into 12 areas and would be in a different area each month.
  • An independent company would rigorously and transparently select ten people from the area of that month’s programme so that they constitute a representative sample.
  • Criteria used to obtain the representative sample would be published but they are likely to include factors like sex, income, race, age, disability.
  • If someone selected did not wish to take part, someone else fitting the same criteria would be selected.
  • The programme would have no presenter, no audience - just a minimal voice over. Corbyn would have five minutes one-to-one conversation with each of the selected members of the public in turn.
  • The programme would be shown live (with usual short delay). It would be available for viewing at any time afterwards. Edited highlights could be made available.
  • A body independent of the Labour Party would deal with any complaints or other issues.

Risks for Corbyn

The most significant possible risks are 
  • Not enough people watch. 
  • One or more of the members of the public launches a devastating attack on Corbyn, who would be trapped for five minutes and it would all go out live.

Benefits for Corbyn

The risks are worth taking as they are clearly outweighed by the likely benefits. 

The most significant likely benefits are

  • The programme would be expected to attract a good audience due to its mix of real politics with the fascination of reality TV.
  • Corbyn faces furious attacks all the time. On this programme he would have the opportunity to answer back. Even if the person attacking him is unlikely to be convinced, the watching public will see that he is not the caricature that parts of the media have made him out to be. 
  • Corbyn would be able to connect with (and to be seen connecting with) voters throughout the UK. Those watching are likely to be able to identify with “people like them” in conversation with him.
  • The programme should increase political engagement more widely. It would be good for Corbyn and good for UK democracy too.
  • As each member of the public will have five minutes, it will be possible for the discussion to go beyond the superficial and into some depth.
  • Important issues would be raised on the programme which are rarely raised in the media.
  • The programme fits in with Corbyn’s call for a new kind of politics. He would get credit for taking part.
  • Corbyn could challenge Theresa May to subject herself to the same highly democratic scrutiny. Would she dare?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Lego and Kellogg’s are helping fight the fomenting of hatred in UK & US

“Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep” - Isaiah Berlin

Something very dark is happening in the US and the UK and elsewhere in the Western democracies. Hatred towards minorities  - Muslims, women, blacks, the disabled, Jews, poor people and more - is becoming more acceptable, more mainstream. 

Some people have brought some light into the darkness. They have found a smart way to help fight the growing fomenting of hatred. They are persuading major advertisers to boycott the media outlets at the forefront of promoting it.

Under pressure from these activists, in the US, Kellogg’s have withdrawn their advertising from the so-called Alt-Right website Breitbart; in the UK, Lego has withdrawn advertising from the Mail.

“Alt-Right” is a term invented during 2016. It is used by a variety of White Supremacist groups. It can be understood as a synonym for neo-fascist. The well-funded Breitbart website has been at the forefront of the Alt-Right movement, which is closely linked to Donald Trump. It’s former CEO, Stephen Bannon, is now Trump’s “senior adviser”.

A campaign group, Stop Funding Hate, has identified three newspapers in the UK which “use fear and division to sell more papers” - the Mail, the Sun and the Express. All three are owned by tax-cheating billionaires: - the Mail by Lord Rothermere; the Sun by Rupert Murdoch and the Express by pornographer Richard Desmond.

As a result of pressure from Stop Funding Hate, Lego has withdrawn its advertising from the Mail.

Stop Funding Hate said in a statement welcoming Lego’s decision, “We are asking brands to listen to their customers when they tell them they want to stop funding hate, and that is what Lego has done. People are becoming more aware that the money they spend could end up supporting publications, whose stories, language or portrayal of certain people fuels division…These headlines harm people.”

Some express unease or even horror that outside bodies are seeking to affect the content of the “free press”. Apart from other powerful considerations, this overlooks how things have been operating up to now. 

In his landmark book Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky shows in detail how advertisers have always exerted a powerful effect over media outlets. 

Last year, Peter Oborne resigned as chief political commentator of the Telegraph in protest at the way that the paper was allowing HSBC - a very significant advertiser - to dictate coverage of its own affairs and even of matters relating to China. 

Hannen Swaffer, who worked in the old Fleet Street for over half a century from 1902 and was one of the best known journalists of his day made this telling observation: - “Freedom of the press…is freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to.”

Under attack, Breitbart is acting in the way that the Alt-Right (and Trump himself) invariably respond. They are counter-attacking furiously. Breitbart has declared “#WAR” on Kellogg’s and called for a boycott of its products. It has put out a statement: - “For Kellogg’s to blacklist Breitbart in order to placate left-wing totalitarians is a disgraceful act of cowardice…If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”  The sheer gall of Breitbart accusing Kellogg’s of bigotry is breath-taking.

Dominic Ponsford, the editor of the Press Gazette in the UK has attacked Stop Funding Hate. He asks, “do we really want advertisers seeking to influence editorial decisions?”

Given Ponsford’s job, it is hard to think he could be ignorant of the longstanding relationship between media and advertisers. His question is highly disingenuous.

Ponsford also asks,“what right do a few thousand people on social media have to dictate the type of coverage read by several million every day?”

Surely, now more than ever - with the increasing threat of toxic divisions being deliberately created in our society - it is absolutely the right of every citizen to seek to curb in any way they can the fomenting of hatred of minorities whatever its source?  

There is a moral imperative to act. It is right and proper for decent people to ask decent brands to stop funding hate.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The election of Trump

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign - with racist messages at its heart - had clear echoes of two previous campaigns. One was the Republican Richard Nixon’s campaign in 1968. This followed the passing of historic legislation three years earlier by the Democrat president Lyndon Johnson to increase the rights of blacks and to ensure that they could exercise their right to vote.

Nixon sent coded and not-so-coded racist messages to whites in the South. These had the affect that the South, which had been solidly Democrat since the Civil War and the abolition of slavery by the first Republican president Abraham Lincoln, turned solidly Republican and it remains so today. This is why the poorest states in the US, which are all in the South, all vote Republican.

The other campaign was fictional. 

Since the election of Trump, there has been a huge surge in demand for a book published in 1935. It is a novel called “It Can’t Happen Here” and is by Nobel prize winning American author Sinclair Lewis.

The book describes how Senator Buzz Windrip is elected president after a campaign based on fomenting fear and grandiose promises. After his election, he becomes a fascist dictator.

It is impossible to read “It Can’t Happen Here”, without thinking of Donald Trump.

Windrip is described as a "clownish swindler”.  He is “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his "ideas" almost idiotic…” 

The fictional Windrip has barely ever read a book, as is also the case with Trump - a fact revealed by Trump’s one-time ghost writer.

This account of Windrip could be describing Trump too: - “He was an actor of genius. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts - figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect.”

And Windrip, like Trump, was a “Professional Common Man.”  So that, “they’ll all be convinced that, even if he maybe has got a few faults, he's on the side of the plain people”.

Key to Windrip’s political appeal is the technique which has been used by the ruthless and unscrupulous for centuries. He tells the American people that their problems are caused by “the other”. He advocates restricting rights of Jews, blacks and women. He reasons, “Every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on”.

Over 130 million people voted in the US election and it is now reported that over 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump. 

However, as the world knows, it is not the popular vote that counts in US presidential elections but the votes in each state which go to decide the Electoral College votes. The result was decided by about 100,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all in the Rust Belt, an area of the US which was once a power house of industry but which has been in decline for decades. Trump won Pennsylvania by 1.1 percentage points (68,236 votes), Wisconsin by 0.9 points (27,257 votes), Michigan by 0.2 points (11,837 votes). 

The Washington Post described Trump’s victory as the “Revenge of the working-class whites”. Trump won among whites without college degrees by a huge 39 percentage point margin - much larger than Mitt Romney’s 25 point margin in 2012. No doubt this was crucial in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and elsewhere.

However, it is the white rather than the working class which was more important in deciding how people voted. Trump won white voters by an overwhelming 58:37 margin.

However, amongst voters - of all races - earning less than $50,000 a year, Clinton beat Trump comfortably 52:41. 

As the Financial Times reported, “Trump’s support lay predominantly with those earning more than $56,000, the median income.” 

Just as with Brexit, although the narrative is of the working class being responsible for the victories, in fact both the Leave campaign and Trump relied on more middle class than working class voters.

How did Trump appeal to the blue collar white voters without alienating the college educated middle class white voters? Among white voters with a degree, Trump won 49:45.

Tens of millions of well-educated, comfortably off white Americans voted for Trump. They knew about his racism, his sexism, his bullying, his links with white supremacists, his lack of respect for the democratic process and the rule of law. They knew the danger of Trump in power being authoritarian or even fascist. They still voted for him.

Don’t just blame the “poor whites” for Trump’s election. It was middle-class and rich whites too.

Monday, 14 November 2016

W.H. Auden, Martin Luther King and Donald Trump

Here is a fine poem by W.H. Auden. It is called "Epitaph on a Tyrant".

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Donald Trump has just been elected president of the USA after a campaign based on fomenting hatred and an open disdain for the Rule of Law. See how many of our “respectable” politicians and opinion-formers are eager to laugh when he laughs. Shudder at their sycophancy.

Many people in the US are fearful of a Trump presidency – not least American Muslims. We should not think that this is nothing to do with us. Here are some quotes from Martin Luther King to help dispel that idea.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

“…the greatest tragedy was not the strident clamour of the bad people but the appalling silence of good people.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

One thing we can do is to let Theresa May know that we oppose her giving Trump backing without giving him any signal at all that she cares what he does in terms of the law and the norms of a decent society.

This is the final verse of another poem by Auden entitled "1 September 1939".

Defenceless under the night                                                                          
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

We may feel despair at what is happening in the world but we need to “show an affirming flame".

Saturday, 5 November 2016

“Votez escroc, pas facho!”. Presidential elections in France 2002 & USA 2016

A foul-mouthed, racist authoritarian with unconcealed disdain for the Rule of Law is pitted for the presidency against an opponent who personifies the ruling elite and is accused by many of crooked behaviour.  Next week, on Tuesday 8 November, that will happen when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face the American people. It also happened on 5 May 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen faced Jaques Chirac in the run-off for the two candidates who had come top in the first round of the election for the French president on 21 April 2002.

Whereas it would be foolish to predict the result on Tuesday (Clinton is favourite but who knows in this time of shocks?), it is safe to say that it will be nothing like the result on 5 May 2002. Chirac crushed Le Pen by 82.2% to 17.8%. 

In the first round when votes had been split between 16 candidates, Chirac had won 19.8% and Le Pen had been only 3% behind on 16.8%. In the two weeks between the rounds, France saw mass demonstrations and was gripped with widespread feelings of horror and revulsion at the possibility that a neofascist like Le Pen could become president. 

Millions of voters who could not stand Chirac, both for his right wing programme and the fact that they thought he was corrupt, nevertheless voted for him to stop Le Pen. A famous poster encapsulated the mood of these reluctant Chirac voters. It was a picture of Chirac with the slogan - “Votez escroc, pas facho!”. “Vote for the crook, not the fascist!”

Trump is every bit as dangerous a man as Le Pen was in 2002. Clinton is as flawed a candidate as Chirac. 

So, why will we not see Trump crushed in the way Le Pen was crushed? Personalities and policies matter but far more significant for an explanation, I believe, is how the circumstances have changed between 2002 in France and 2016 in the USA. Karl Marx was right when he said: -“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

Here are three ways the circumstances are different.

First, since the Financial Crash of 2008 there are many more people in Western democracies who have been reduced either to penury in the case of the poor or to deep insecurity in the case of the middle class.

Secondly, since 2008 the elites in the West have continued to do very well. Those in the middle class who have not done well - or who see their children struggling - and those in poverty have increasingly bitterly resented what they have seen as the elites’ indifference or complacency to their plight.

Third, the level of political abuse in the USA over the last few decades has robbed the language of meaning. Trump is a highly dangerous man, unqualified to be president who will imperil democracy in the USA and, indeed, the future of the world itself. That is the truth. 

However, mainstream Republican politicians and operatives have been saying similar things about Obama for years. Much the same applies to the rhetoric of mainstream Democrats about their opponents. Now when the mainstream say that of Trump it is hardly surprising people do not believe them. 

If Trump loses, we can celebrate - but not for long. The circumstances that allowed him to flourish will not have gone away. Imagine how much more dangerous, electorally, would be a cleaned-up Trump - someone much like him but more disciplined. 

This has happened in France. Jean-Marie Le Pen was replaced by his daughter Marine Le Pen. She is a cleaned-up version of her father. Polls are indicating that she will actually lead in the first round of the presidential election in France in 2017. It is expected that she will lose the second round just as her father did. But no one expects that she will be crushed 82:18 like him. It will be much closer.

These are dark times, indeed.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Labour should not put up a candidate against Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park

It would be an extraordinary step if Labour were not to put up a candidate in Richmond Park where Zac Goldsmith has triggered a by-election by resigning over the Government’s decision to expand Heathrow. However, it is a step that Corbyn and the party should have the courage to take. The issue here is much wider than Heathrow.

Goldsmith has resigned as an MP and is running nominally as an independent. His main challenger, the Lib Dem candidate, shares his policy on Heathrow and the Tory party is not running a candidate against him.

It is not only the Tories who are supporting the "independent" Goldsmith, it is also UKIP. Goldsmith, who is a long time Brexiteer, is the candidate of Hard Brexit.

Only a few months ago, Goldsmith ran an unpleasant and disastrous campaign to be mayor of London. Critics - including some Tories - called his campaign “racist” and “disgusting”.

Labour cannot win in Richmond Park. The only party that can hope to beat the Tories there are the Lib Dems. Before Goldsmith won the seat in 2010, it had been held by the Lib Dems. 

The Tories and UKIP are forming a pact to help Goldsmith. Labour should do so too to help the Lib Dems defeat him. If there had been such a pact in the recent Witney by-election it is possible the Tory could have been beaten.

Of course, any such move by Labour would need to be reciprocated by the Lib Dems at a later date.

None of this would be easy. It could only work if there was trust between Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron (and potentially the Greens and other anti-Tory parties). 

This highly pragmatic approach may be the only way to stop the Tory’s grip on power.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part Two - what the main players did

Historical background to Brexit

The UK (with Sweden) is one of only two out of the 28 states in the EU which have not been invaded and/or been under a fascist or communist dictatorship within living memory. Unlike most Europeans, the UK does not value the EU for its role in keeping the peace or supporting democracy in the states themselves.

In the UK, the EU has been seen primarily as merely an economic organisation and transfers to and from Brussels have been seen as zero-sum rather than mutually beneficial.

The EU’s own role 

The EU itself clearly bears some blame for Brexit. It is an imperfect organisation. It suffers from a lack of transparency and a democratic deficit.

On occasions it has behaved appallingly. The treatment of Greece - driven into penury for political rather than economic grounds by Angela Merkel and others - was a case in point.

The sensible Remain argument was that the UK should remain in despite the EU’s faults.

David Cameron

Cameron bears primary responsibility for the Brexit debacle (and the complete lack of planning for the result). 

He offered the referendum because he was spooked by UKIP and as a sop to his own backbenchers. He did not offer it because he thought it was in the best interests of the country. He was unforgivably insouciant. He was weak.

In the campaign Cameron said (correctly) that Brexit would be disastrous. It is unsurprising that the voters ignored him - after all what PM would voluntarily offer the country a disastrous choice?  Answer: a PM who is a shallow chancer.

The newspapers

Murdoch, Rothermere, the Barclay twins and Desmond are all tax-cheating billionaire press-barons who between them dominate the national newspaper market in the UK. They all supported Brexit.

Journalist Anthony Hilton once asked Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. “That’s easy,” Murdoch replied, “when I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

The influence of the press-barons was not limited to the campaign. For decades their papers have ridiculed and derided the EU and not given the EU credit for anything. They effectively poisoned the well for pro-EU arguments in the UK.

Boris Johnson 

Johnson and the other leaders of the Leave campaign told a number of blatant lies. 

The UK Statistics Authority even formally asked the Leave campaign to stop claiming that £350 million is contributed to the EU by the UK each week. This was simply ignored. The Leave campaign’s bus was, notoriously, emblazoned with the lie that this sum would be saved and spent on the NHS every week after Brexit.

Nigel Farage

It was Farage who panicked Cameron into promising the referendum. He is a cynical populist, happy to stir up racial tensions to advance his aims.

Shortly before the vote, Farage posed in front of a poster depicting a long line of desperate refugees with the slogan “Breaking Point”. The poster was rightly condemned for inciting racial hatred. Farage would have calculated that it helped the Leave campaign.


The BBC is by far the most respected and therefore the most powerful source of news in the UK. It made two serious errors during the Brexit campaign.

First, it allowed the need for “balance” - and the fear of being lambasted in the Eurosceptic newspapers - to mean that it did not expose the lies being peddled by the Leave campaign (or, indeed, some less egregious ones made by the Remain side).

Secondly, its idea of balance was to give the lion’s share of coverage to the two sides of the Tory party plus Farage. Not enough time was given to other voices, including crucially Labour voices.

Labour’s campaign

Labour’s campaign to stay in the EU was led by Alan Johnson but made little impact. In part, due to the attitude of the press and of the BBC.

Jeremy Corbyn

Within hours of the referendum result, huge swathes of liberal-left opinion had decided that the disaster was the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. 

This was unfair. Corbyn campaigned vigorously for Remain. Angela Eagle praised him at the time for, “pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired”.

The media did not give Corbyn proper coverage for all the reasons above plus the well-documented bias against him which has been a feature of media coverage ever since he became Labour leader.

Corbyn was heavily criticised in some quarters for saying his passion for remaining in the EU rated at only about "7, or 7 and a half“ out of 10. This is odd. Qualified approval of the EU was more likely to persuade the doubtful than blanket approval.

It is easy to understand why Corbyn was blamed for Brexit. Labour MPs wanted to challenge him as leader and they needed a pretext. Their media allies like Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland duly wrote articles excoriating Corbyn’s alleged failings over Brexit.

Professor John Curtice, political scientist and polling expert wrote an article in the New Statesman under the heading “Don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn”. He wrote: - “But in truth there is little in the pattern of the results of the referendum to suggest that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for Remain’s defeat. The referendum outcome looks more like a pretext for an attempt to secure Mr Corbyn’s removal than a reason.” The emphasis is mine.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part One - who voted for it?

On 23 June 2016, the British people voted 51.9% to 48.1% to leave the European Union. 

The turnout of 72.2% was much higher than in recent General Elections. However, 13 million registered voters did not vote and another 7 million eligible voters were not even registered. Millions of EU citizens living in the UK as well as 16 and 17 year olds were not allowed to vote, although there had been moves in some quarters to let them do so.

The vote for Brexit was a self-inflicted wound that seems likely to blight the UK for generations. The consequences of the vote are already being felt - a rising tide of intolerance and bigotry; the value of sterling has plummeted (according to one financial journalist to its lowest level since Henry VIII) pushing up the cost of imports, including food bills; Scotland is quite possibly heading for a second independence referendum, having very decisively voted to Remain.

As for the future, it is clouded with uncertainty and threat. It is clear that not only does the May government lack any plan to obtain the “best deal for Britain”, it does not even know what deal it wants. 

“Vote Leave, Take Control” may become a catchphrase for arch-stupidity.

Who voted for Brexit? Immediately after the shock of the result of the referendum, it was being said that Brexit was due to the votes of working class Northerners. This narrative has been much repeated and is now widely accepted as true. It is not true. 

Professor Danny Dorling has looked at the results of the only large scale survey carried out with voters on the day of the referendum by Lord Ashcroft. He found that the typical Leave voter is likely to have been middle class and living in the South.

Dorling points out that 
  • two-thirds of all those who voted either Remain or Leave were middle class (social classes A, B or C1) 
  • 59% of  those who voted Leave were middle class
  • 52% of those who voted Leave lived in the South of England
  • proportion of Leave voters in lowest two social classes, D and E, was just 24%

Here are some other results below taken from the Ashcroft survey. 

Age of voters
  • the older the voter the more likely they were to vote Leave
  • 73% of 18 to 24 year olds voted Remain
  • 60% of those over 65 voted Leave

Ethnicity of voters
  • White voters voted to Leave 53% to 47%
  • Asian voters voted to Remain 67% to 33%
  • Black voters voted to Remain 73% to 27%

How supporters of political parties voted

In favour of Leave
  • Tories - 42% Remain; 58% Leave
  • UKIP  - 4% Remain; 96% Leave 
In favour of Remain
  • Labour -  63% Remain; 37% Leave
  • SNP     - 64% Remain; 36% Leave
  • Lib Dem  - 70% Remain; 30% Leave
  • Greens   - 75% Remain; 25% Leave
There are many more supporters of some parties than of others. Here is the make up of the Remain and Leave votes by party affiliation

How Remain vote was made up 

Labour - 39%
Tory - 31%
Lib Dem - 12%
Greens - 7%
SNP - 6%
Other - 2%
UKIP - 1%
Plaid Cymru - 1%

How Leave vote was made up

Tory - 40%
UKIP - 25%
Labour - 21%
Lib Dem - 5%
SNP - 3%
Green - 2%
Other - 2%
Plaid Cymru - 1%

Almost 4 in 10 Remainers were Labour; 4 in 10 Leavers were Tory. Although there are comparatively few UKIP supporters almost all of them voted in the referendum so that they made up 25% of the Leave vote.

Reasons for voting Leave

The top three reasons for voting Leave were
  • principle that decision about UK should be taken in UK                                  49%
  • best chance to regain control over immigration                                                33%
  • remaining would mean having no choice about how EU expanded membership in years ahead                                                                                                                             13%

Crucially none of these three reasons bears out the electoral wisdom taken from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign that it’s “the economy stupid”. 

In fact, a majority of voters thought that Remain would be better for the economy, international investment and the UK’s influence in the world.

Social attitudes

How did the people who thought the following a “force for ill” vote?

Multiculturalism  - 81% Leave voters 
                            - 19% Remain voters    

Social liberalism - 80% Leave voters
                           - 20% Remain voters 

Feminism            - 74% Leave voters 
                              26% Remain voters

The Green Movement  - 78% Leave voters 
                                     - 22% Remain voters 

Immigration         - 80% Leave voters 
                            - 20% Remain voters 


The typical Leave voter was not a Northern working class Mirror reader. They were Southern and middle class and read the Telegraph or the Mail. 

The typical Leave voter was also white and elderly. Many would still remember the days that Britain had an Empire. Perhaps the words of American Dean Acheson describe the feelings of many of these voters towards their country. Acheson said in 1962 that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. Their vote was a defiant assertion of their country’s greatness. Sadly, they were delusional.

Next piece

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part Two - what the main players did

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

You can see that the Tories are engaged in gerrymandering, if you know the whole story

Two hundred years ago, Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts came up with an innovative answer to his electoral problem. The governor redrew the boundaries of some of the districts in his state so as to maximise his party’s prospects. In one particular district this meant the boundary went in all sorts of unexpected directions in order to make sure that pockets of friendly voters were included. A local newspaper pointed out that this district looked just like a salamander. The paper invented a new word to mock the governor - “Gerry-mander".

This morning, the presenter on Today asked someone from the independent Electoral Commission to comment on accusations that the proposed reduction of MPs from 650 to 600 and the subsequent redrawing of constituency boundaries was gerrymandering. “Has anyone from a political party tried to improperly influence you as to where the boundaries should go?” he asked. The answer, unsurprisingly, was no.

The Today presenter was asking the wrong question. The Tories are disgracefully gerrymandering but not in as blatant a way as Governor Gerry.

The gerrymandering is occurring because the Tories have deliberately ensured that the information that is to be used to decide on the new boundaries is deficient and that they will benefit from that deficiency.

Some 2 million voters who should be taken into account will not be taken into account. These voters are mostly younger and poorer and are significantly more likely to be Labour voters.

The Electoral Commission has been obliged by the Tory government to use the Electoral Register as at December 2015. Last year the Commission advised the government strongly that this was not appropriate and that it was better to wait one year and base the new boundaries on the December 2016 Register.

It is calculated that the difference between the December 2015 register and the December 2016 register could be as high as 2 million due to the transfer from the old method of registration to the new Individual Electoral Registration. In addition, there was a huge surge of registrations for the EU referendum. These people will not be taken into account.

Imagine the media outcry if a Corbyn government was acting in defiance of the Electoral Commission advice and gerrymandering like this - behaving as reprehensibly as Governor Gerry himself.

This goes to the heart of our democracy. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Labour unity is essential and possible. Needs wisdom and courage from both sides.

Last week I wrote a blogpost here, in which I called for the Labour Party to unite under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn (I make the assumption - which is widely held - that Corbyn will be elected again when the result of the leadership election is announced on 24 September).

Over 10,000 people have read my blogpost in the last week. A completely unprecedented response for me. It is understandable that people are interested in the subject; the alternative is impotence of the left and no prospect of defeating the Tories for the foreseeable future.

By no means everyone agrees with what I wrote. I had hundreds of responses which fall into three roughly equal groups.

One group say variants of “NO, NEVER, we can never unify with those Trotskyite bastards”.

Another group say along the lines of “NO, NEVER, we can never unify with those Blairite bastards”.

A third group say they like the idea of unity. However, this group is divided between those who think it a good idea but impossible to achieve and those who - like me - can see it is very hard to achieve but who recognise that it is essential and are determined, even desperate, to find a way.

Everyone who cares about the future of the Labour Party needs to be thinking about this now, it cannot wait until 24 September. What happens immediately after the announcement will have profound consequences. Corbyn must use his victory speech to reach out meaningfully to his opponents in the party. The major figures among his opponents, including Owen Smith, Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle must call for unity and agree to serve under Corbyn and fight the real enemy, the Tories.

There is deep bitterness and a profound lack of trust throughout the Labour Party. If this is to be healed it will require wisdom and courage from many individuals. Those at the top of the party can take the first necessary steps to healing on 24 September.

Corbyn should deal head on and in a genuinely conciliatory way, with all the main criticisms of him. These are not matters of policy (Smith has largely accepted Corbyn’s policies except for Trident, on which there has been a free vote). They primarily concern his leadership style. One much repeated criticism is that his own shadow ministers have found it difficult to gain access to speak to him. This is a real issue and it should and can be dealt with.

Another example, is that some of Corbyn’s critics allege he has a “problem with women”. This may or may not be true but the mere appearance that it may be true is damaging. Why not offer to appoint one of his critics to a senior role - with good access to him - to show that he takes this issue seriously?

A huge responsibility will lie on 24 September with the most senior Labour MPs who have opposed Corbyn. They all say that their primary aim is to defeat the Tories and to have a Labour Government. The only way they can demonstrate that they are genuine about that and not more concerned about endlessly waging the internal war in the party, is to immediately accept the result of the leadership election and agree to serve again under Corbyn.

The senior MPs need to be pragmatic. They need to show statesmanship. They need to distance themselves for the 10 or so MPs who have a tunnel-visioned ideological hatred of Corbyn and who will never be reconciled to him as leader and who will continue forever to do everything they can to undermine him.

On 24 September, the Labour Party will face an existential crisis. If it splits in some form or if it is plunged into further internal strife, so that the election will have solved nothing, then it will be a disaster for all Labour supporters and will delight the Tories.

Labour must learn from the discipline of the Tories, who currently present a united front despite their recent very deep divisions, both political and personal.

Unity of the Labour Party will be difficult to achieve but it is essential to achieve, so a way must be found. It will need wisdom and courage at all levels of the party but the first necessary steps must be taken on 24 September by Corbyn himself and the senior Labour MPs who opposed him.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

How to save the Labour Party - a contribution to the debate we should be having

It seems very likely that Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected as leader of the Labour Party on Saturday 24 September. It is unlikely, however, that his re-election will end the crisis in the party. It is quite possible that his opponents will not accept the result. This may mean they set up a new party or a new parliamentary group or they undermine and challenge Corbyn until they finally get their way. 

The country urgently needs a functioning Labour Party. It seems obvious that if Labour is to prosper it needs both Corbyn and Owen Smith, his opponent for the leadership, together with the other MPs who oppose Corbyn. The choice should not be either/or. 

Corbyn can do things that Smith and the other MPs cannot. He has, for example, engaged 100s of 1,000s of people into politics, so that the Labour Party is now the largest political party in Europe. It would be stupid for Labour to jeopardise this achievement.

However, many of Corbyn’s supporters overlook the importance of Smith and the MPs. They have their mandates, achievements, abilities and experience. For many, they also have a credibility that Corbyn does not.

Why is the argument within Labour so bitter?

I am a left-leaning middle-aged member of the solid middle-class and naturally I know plenty of others in the same demographic. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of this group cannot abide Corbyn; they either loathe him or damn him by patronising.

I have met, through supporting Corbyn, plenty of others who tend to be further down the social scale (I doubt there are many home owners among them) and are quite often younger. This group find Corbyn inspiring. 

At a meeting I heard a middle-aged woman who said she struggled to make ends meet and she felt that Corbyn was the first politician for a long time who really cared about people like her. She said he gave her hope. (Hope is a word you often hear from Corbyn supporters. Those who are comfortable tend to underestimate the political importance of hope for others less fortunate.)

The debate between the Corbynites and the anti-Corbynites resembles a bitter marital row. Lots of shouting. No real listening. No one caring who overhears. Nobody caring about the truth any longer - both sides just wanting victory at whatever cost.

Perhaps the party is gripped by “the narcissism of small differences”. This term was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917. It was his term for his observation that people with minor differences between them can be more combative and hateful than those with major differences. 

The differences between the two camps are relatively small. Corbyn and Smith substantially agree on all policies, except one; Smith has effectively adopted Corbyn’s platform. The exception, replacing Trident, is important but has nothing like the salience now that it did during the Cold War. In any event, Labour MPs were allowed a free vote on this.

This leadership contest has been triggered not because of disagreement over policy but fundamentally because Labour MPs do not like Corbyn’s leadership. Smith’s pitch is that he can deliver Corbyn’s policies better than Corbyn because he would be a better leader than Corbyn.

Compare this to the division in the Tory party only some weeks ago. Ministers lied over the most serious issue to face the country for decades. Ministers accused each other of lying. And now with the discipline that has made the Tory Party the most electorally successful party anywhere in the world, the Tories are, seemingly, united again.

Those who cannot see beyond their opposition to Corbyn should reflect. If Corbyn is re-elected, breaking the party would be an act of political madness. Under First-Past-the-Post divided parties cannot prosper. Challenging Corbyn again would be another act of wilful self-harm. The members will go on re-electing him as long as they see the MPs - and the media - as having undermined him.

So, this is how to save the Labour Party.
  1. Corbyn to show magnanimity in victory
  2. Smith to announce that he will now pursue his desire for a Labour Government by serving under Corbyn and to make it clear that he fully accepts the result
  3. All those who left the Shadow Team to do the same as Smith 
  4. Everyone in the Labour Party up and down the country to seek out the common ground with those who opposed them 
  5. Everyone to stop the insults (each side thinks the other side is worse and this applies to mainstream media as well as social media and elsewhere)
  6. Target the Tories morning, noon and night. 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Response to media distortion of Corbyn will be a test of strength of our democracy

There have now been three academic reports documenting the systematic distortion of Jeremy Corbyn’s message - not only in right wing papers such as the Telegraph, Mail and Sun - but also in the Guardian and at the BBC. The BBC is the most worrying because people trust the BBC more than any newspaper and the BBC is acting in contravention of its own editorial guidelines. The reports are linked herehere and here.

The reports do not highlight opposition to Corbyn (which newspapers are free to exhibit if they choose, but not the BBC) but something very different - the deliberate distortion of Corbyn’s views. This is done in a wide variety of ways including only quoting Corbyn’s opponents, quoting Corbyn out of context, repeating baseless smears and ignoring Corbyn’s side of a story altogether.

It is hardly surprising that people who rely on the newspapers or the BBC for their views on Corbyn tend to strongly oppose him.

Meanwhile there are millions of people who do support Corbyn and it is likely that they do not trust the so-called mainstream media and inform themselves either direct or through social media.

All who care about democracy in the UK should care about media distortion of Corbyn. Our society’s response to the three reports is a test of the strength of our democratic culture.

Democracy is not an either/or state. Instead countries can be placed on a sliding scale between “no democracy” and “perfect democracy”.  One important element to make up a properly functioning democracy is that there is a media which gives voters the necessary information so that they can make an informed choice. This is clearly not happening in the case of Corbyn.

Corbyn is not a fringe politician. He is leader of the opposition. Under his leadership millions of people cast votes for his party, which received more votes than any other party in the local elections in May. 

Corbyn is not an extremist politician. His central economic policy of anti-austerity has been adopted by his current opponent Owen Smith and may well soon be adopted by the Tories. Indeed, many of his policies have been adopted by Smith who is described as the choice of the “moderates”. 

Everyone knows the saying attributed to Voltaire: - “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”   Anyone who cares about democracy should care that Corbyn’s views are distorted whether or not they support Corbyn.

Monday, 25 July 2016

GUEST POST Resisting the lie machine by William Bolton

An academic study by the LSE has detailed how the mainstream media has forsaken its duty to be society’s watchdog to take on instead the role of the establishment’s attackdog against Jeremy Corbyn.

The study shows systematically how the Fleet Street attackdog does its work.  Here are some quotes from a typical piece by Carole Malone in the Daily Mirror last week: 
Jeremy Corbyn's supporters are like Lenin style bully boys who'd send women to the gulag
No Corbyn rally is complete without violence or the threat of it.

And so on it goes.  Corbyn is a bully boy, he incites violence, he's an anti-Semite, he’s a misogynist.  This weekend we discover he’s a burglar.  (He particularly likes to bully and burgle women, we are being led to believe.)  

We have been here many times before.  It's from exactly the same playbook used by the media in the miners’ strike, about Hillsborough, and in 2003 during the build up to the invasion of Iraq. It was used too against the ‘Yes’ pro-independence campaign in Scotland.  

We, who think ourselves more sophisticated consumers of Fleet Street’s bile, affect to be unaffected by it.  But the spin doctors know that if they throw enough mud, some of it sticks, and a little nagging doubt is created: maybe the Corbynites do have a problem with women, or Jews, or Asian women being strong and standing up for what they believe in. 

The strategy of “sowing the seed of doubt” was invented by the PR industry for big tobacco and has been pursued relentlessly for over a decade by professional climate change sceptics funded by the fossil fuel industry. 

But it’s not just about the crudest propaganda.  The Guardian also wants Corbyn out and it uses a more insidious approach.  

In this post I want to pick up a small example of how the nasty anti-Corbyn stuff is being blended in with “nicer” anti-Corbyn stuff – “more in sorrow than in anger” material that is aimed at Labour people who may think themselves immune to the crude propaganda, but whose vote in the leadership contest might yet be swung away from Corbyn.   

Reporters need to report on something, so they act in cahoots with the PR industry and the Parliamentary Labour Party, which has geared up to feed them a steady stream of anti-Corbyn stories.  Craig Murray explained how the system works: showing how a single heckle from an employee of Alastair Campbell’s company Portland Communications gets to be a front page story in The Guardian. 

My example from today is the story by Guardian political editor Anushka Asthana currently in pole position on the Guardian’s worldwide website, the news that the Labour  leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Angela Smith, has decided she can no longer support Jeremy Corbyn.  This Labour peer, who is little known to the general public, comes out against Corbyn with the absolutely standard-issue line that has been doing the rounds for weeks: "I support his politics but he has proved an ineffective leader":
Smith said she had worked hard to support Corbyn after his election, including appearing on television to welcome his new style of politics. But she claimed that he had failed to prove himself a strong leader.  Smith was particularly critical of Corbyn’s performances at shadow cabinet meetings. Asked if she was impressed by him, she said: “No. I wanted to be, I would have liked to be, but I wasn’t. And I wasn’t alone. He was good at giving people their say, but I wanted to see more engagement in the debate. He listened politely but the role of leadership is to bring those strands together.”

Baroness Angela Smith was a staunch follower of Tony Blair and is very firmly on the Blairite wing of the party. In order for the Guardian to be a credible unbiased source, it should have given the reader some information about what wing of the party she is from, or challenged her assertion that she "wanted to be...would have liked to be" impressed by Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of informing its readers, the Guardian is deliberately exploiting their ignorance of the facts to collaborate with Angela Smith to get one of the currently approved attack lines into the paper for the umpteenth time.  

And why on earth is this article given such prominence on the front page?  I suspect the Guardian may be worried that some people might be being put off by the surfeit of "nasty anti-Corbyn" stories which are proving to be untrue.  As the “he burgles and harasses Asian women MPs” story has collapsed during Sunday, they have hurriedly reached for one of their stockpiled "more in sorrow than anger” anti-Corbyn stories, and tried to move the news agenda on. 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Who highly values the truth? Not Donald Trump. Not Boris Johnson. Not, apparently, Professor Roy Greenslade of the Guardian.

Western democracy is threatened by the disturbing idea that truth no longer matters and that what matters, instead, is whatever wins votes, whether it is true or not. This is a “post-truth” political world. Donald Trump is the world’s prime exponent of this approach; and in the UK it is Boris Johnson.  

But politicians can only succeed in this way if the media allows them to. Too often, the media amplifies their lies; too rarely, does it undertake the role that democracy requires of it, namely to expose those lies.

On 19 July 2016, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism and media commentator on the Guardian wrote a deeply troubling article in which he appears to say that it does not matter whether what journalists write is true or not. 

Greenslade was commenting on a report published on 1 July 2016 by academics at the London School of Economics. The report is entitled - “Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From Watchdog to Attackdog.”  The study covers the following eight newspapers - Guardian, Mirror, Independent, Evening Standard, Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun. 

The findings of the report are - or should be - of great concern to anyone who cares about democracy or press standards, whether or not they support Jeremy Corbyn. The lack of reaction to the LSE report is itself a sign or how debased our political culture has become.

The report finds that most newspapers have “systematically vilified the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his idea and politics.” 

The report was careful to make a distinction between the press’ legitimate  watchdog function of probing Corbyn’s proposals from this illegitimate attackdog function. It found a failure to make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact - a fundamental distinction in journalism.

The report found that 74% of news coverage (that is news not comment), either ignored Corbyn’s actual views altogether or distorted them. 

Greenslade’s response to the report is entitled: - “Yes, Jeremy Corbyn has suffered a bad press, but where’s the harm?”  

Far from taking what the report says as a matter of concern for the press generally or for the Guardian in particular, Greenslade suggests the British people do not “hunger for unbiased political coverage.”  

Astonishingly, Greenslade then suggests that the behaviour of systematically distorting and undermining the message of the leader of the opposition is acceptable journalism because no one can “demonstrate that the negative coverage of Corbyn has unduly influenced the papers’ readerships”

In fact, as Greenslade should know, there is plenty of evidence that people believe any number of falsehoods about Corbyn, just as they did over Brexit, as a result of what they have read in the papers.

More fundamentally, what about the ethics of journalism? What about basic standards?

When such a pillar of the journalistic establishment as Professor Greenslade appears to care so little for truth in journalism, then it is welcome, indeed, to the post-truth, Trumpified United Kingdom of 2016.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

There is a way to save the Labour Party as a force in UK politics

The urgent priority for everyone concerned with progressive politics and social justice in the UK is to work to prevent the Labour Party splitting into two. People need to be hard-headed and pragmatic. (There will be plenty of time in the years to come for the arguments currently raging as to who is to blame for the current crisis.)

The Labour Party has long been an alliance of disparate views. The first-past-the-post system makes such an alliance essential. As happened in the 1980s when the SDP split from Labour, a divided left guarantees Tory rule. 

At the moment a split seems almost inevitable. On one side are 75% of Labour MPs and the entire Establishment. On the other there is, I believe, a large majority of Labour members and, it appears, Labour voters. A YouGov/Times poll today shows that 54% of Labour voters do not want Jeremy Corbyn to resign.

The reality is that neither side can win outright. Corbyn cannot function as a leader of the party if his MPs have no confidence in him, whatever the members may want. However, it is equally true that the MPs cannot demand a different leader, because the members insist on Corbyn.

I can only see one solution to this impasse.  I propose that Corbyn stands down and the MPs guarantee that John McDonnell will receive enough nominations to go into the leadership contest and that they will accept his leadership if he wins. 

If McDonnell is prepared to put himself forward, I doubt if Corbyn would stand in the way of such an arrangement as it has never been about him personally but about the policies. I would expect most members would accept this compromise.

The fact that their candidate for the leadership, Angela Eagle, is almost certain to lose to Corbyn should concentrate MPs’ minds and make them realise that it is in their interest to agree to this proposal in order to keep the party together.  

Furthermore, having McDonnell rather than Corbyn as leader substantially answers the MPs publicly stated objections to Corbyn. They have not raised any differences on policy with Corbyn (although clearly some exist); they have attacked Corbyn’s competence and related issues. McDonnell was generally considered to have had an effective campaign for Remain; he is a more authoritative figure than Corbyn and an effective communicator. 

This proposal would not be a “victory” for either side but any such “victory” would be hollow as it would necessarily lead to the disaster of the party splitting. 

Every possible effort need to be made now to save the Labour Party as a force in UK politics and this proposal may be the only way to do that.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Murder followed by disaster followed by stupid self-indulgence

In the words of Tom Paine: - “These are the times that try men’s souls”. I have never felt so despondent about British politics as I do now. All those who want a decent, socially just society must resist succumbing to despair.

It was only just over a week ago that Jo Cox MP was brutally murdered in the street. She was a strong advocate for the rights of refugees and for a tolerant multicultural society. The man who killed her was linked to an extreme rightwing group. Her murder led to a discussion about the toxic political culture in the UK. Many, rightly, criticised Nigel Farage and the Leave campaign. In my view, David Cameron, who has used inflammatory language in the Commons and elsewhere, also bore significant responsibility for the political climate.

One politician might serve as an example of a better way to conduct politics. Jeremy Corbyn, despite being constantly vilified, has remained dignified and has never responded in kind. He practices the kinder, gentler politics which he advocates for everyone. Corbyn is nothing like Cameron, nothing like Tony Blair, nothing like Boris Johnson, nothing like any other recent leader. Millions of people like him precisely for that reason.

Last Thursday, the UK inflicted a disaster on itself. The Leave campaign succeeded with the help of lies and fomenting of hatred. The British people will suffer as a result for decades to come, economically and in many other ways. It is no consolation at all that Cameron will go down in history as one of our worst and most destructive prime ministers.

It is now said that somehow Corbyn is to blame for the result in the referendum. Here, I need to explain something. I put it in bold for emphasis. The BBC and the Guardian give as accurate an account of Corbyn as the Mail and the Sun do of the EU. I know this because I follow events involving Corbyn on social media. I know, for example, that Corbyn travelled frenetically around the country during the EU referendum but he was not properly reported on the BBC or in the Guardian (or in most of the rest of the media). 

In any event, according to the journalist Paul Mason, Corbyn did get the Labour vote out.

And now, Corbyn’s enemies within the parliamentary Labour Party are moving against him. They say, as if it was as true as 1+1=2, that Corbyn “can never win an election”. What many, probably most, members of the party believe in contrast, is that it is these same MPs' refusal to accept Corbyn’s overwhelming mandate that hampers the party’s electoral prospects.  I certainly believe that if the party united behind him, Corbyn could win.

No doubt, the MPs will depose Corbyn. There will then need to be another leadership election. All candidates will need to get the nominations of a certain number of MPs in order to go forward to then be voted on by the party in the country.

If Corbyn’s name goes forward, I expect that he will be re-elected by an electorate composed of those who voted for him overwhelmingly in September last year plus many more who have joined the party since because of him. 

If, however, the MPs conspire so that Corbyn’s name does not go forward, I think it is inevitable that the party will split. The money and the members would then mostly go with Corbyn. 

The rebel MPs have no realistic prospect of achieving any outcome favourable for them: they are being stupidly self-indulgent. They are damaging the party and helping the Tories at a time when the country is crying out for mature leadership from the political class.

And here are some questions for the rebels

  1. Who is your candidate? 
  2. Do you have any significant policy differences with Corbyn, apart from Trident?
  3. If Corbyn wins again, will you this time respect the result and work with him to beat the Tories?

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Murdoch and Brexit with thanks to Mainly Macro

I have cut and pasted the blog below, headed Mainly Macro, as it says what I want to say about Brexit but much better than I possibly could. It is written by Simon Wren-Lewis, an economics professor at Oxford.

If the UK does leave the EU, it will in significant part be due to decades of anti-EU propaganda in the 70% of the press owned by five tax-cheating billionaire press-barons.

Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful of the press-barons, has been candid as to why he wants a Brexit. The journalist Anthony Hilton once asked him why he was so opposed to the European Union. Murdoch’s reply was: -“That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

Murdoch is used to getting his way in the UK, ever since he struck a deal with Margaret Thatcher in 1981. Later he struck another one with Tony Blair in 1995. He has backed the winner of every General Election since that deal with Thatcher. In 2015, he backed the SNP in Scotland and the Tories elsewhere. 

In his last paragraph Wren-Lewis says "I hope one result of this referendum will be that otherwise sensible people will stop saying that our tabloid press is not that much of a problem. It might not be if our broadcast media were brave enough to report facts, but instead it is obsessed with balance, as well as being heavily influenced by what some tabloids say."  I completely agree, except I would not exonerate the broadsheets which can be just as bad as the tabloids. The BBC, certainly, too often allows itself to be bullied by the press.

If the UK votes to leave the EU, Murdoch and his close allies Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, will be ecstatic. It will be a very dark day for democracy in our country. 

mainly macro

Posted: 16 Jun 2016 01:21 AM PDT
Among everyone and everything I read at the moment there is a mixture of disbelief and despair over the now distinct possibility that the UK will vote for Brexit. Obviously that is partly because I tend to read other economists, and as Chris Giles noteseconomists are virtually united in believing Brexit will be bad for the economy. (If you cannot access the FT, read Paul Johnson.) But it is also because there is a cleareducational divide in support for Brexit, and I suspect most of what I read comes from one side of that divide. The only other event that I can imagine causing an equal degree of unanimous disbelief and despair would be if Trump looked like becoming President.

There is disbelief because it makes no sense. Of course there is a minority who hate the idea of sharing sovereignty, and another minority that really hate immigrants. But these two groups combined would not be enough to win a referendum. Instead we have a much larger group that are concerned about immigration, but their concern appears to be not worth very much to them. This was something I notedsome time ago, but it seems to be a robust result: in a recent ComRes poll68% say they would not be happy to lose any income to secure less immigration (perhaps because they believe less immigration will raise their income).

It makes no sense because economists are as sure as they ever are that people will on average be worse off with Brexit. But a large sectionof the population have either not got the memo or have ignored it. This will be an important point when it comes to what happens after Brexit: for many Brexit will have been a vote to control immigration, but only because a lot of those same people think that immigration can be controlled without making them worse off. In other words it will not be a clear mandate for voting against a Norway/Switzerland option, because anything else will make people worse off (as most MPs know).

There is despair because economists and others who think Brexit will make people worse off have no way of getting their message across to those that really need that information. I know Gove has said he is fed up with experts, but I’m not convinced most people are (for reasons given hereand reiterated here). But writing articles in the Guardian or letters to the Times will not get through to those we need to hear the message (see final chart here). It is why I wrote this. For academic economists I think it is part of a general problem that the media are losing interest in what we think, which is why I wrote thisfor the Royal Economic Society newsletter.

Whether we do or do not leave the EU, I hope one result of this referendum will be that otherwise sensible people will stop saying that our tabloid press is not that much of a problem. It might not be if our broadcast media were brave enough to report facts, but instead it is obsessed with balance, as well as being heavily influenced by what some tabloids say. How else can you account for 58% of people thinkingthat Turkey is likely to join the EU within ten years, which in reality is close to a zero probability event. Democracy can become dangerous when a few people have so much control over the means of information.