Current Affairs

Safety and risk, and why politicians talk absolutes and bullshit

I read people complaining that politicians are lying when they say that vaccines are safe and effective. They point to vaccinated people contracting Covid-19. (This, despite the written documentation pointing out that no vaccine is 100% effective).
Politicians say absolute-sounding statements about risk and safety nearly all of the time. This is because they learned a long time ago that not talking in absolutes when the word safety is involved simply gets them into trouble.

This is because most humans cannot properly evaluate risk, partly because they often lack information, partly because most of them are statistically illiterate, and partly because they are way too influenced by the last news story that they read, saw or heard. Mathematics curricula in schools and colleges either contain no statistics modules, or cover the subject in insufficient depth.

In a situation where information is lacking, talking about levels of safety makes a politician sound negligent compared to people who bluster in absolutes. Let’s try this out.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is safe”.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is not 100% effective, but if enough people are vaccinated, a lot fewer people will be sick and dead after its passage”.

The communications consultants will give the second sentence a massive thumbs down, because as soon as the word “but” appears, the audience will tune out the rest of the statement. The message “not 100% effective” will be processed, and that will be bad. Changing the first part of the sentence to something like “no vaccine is 100% effective” really doesn’t help, because as you depart from the mantra of 100%, the cynics and doomsayers’ emotions are triggered.

Quite simply, conditional statements about perils are seen as insufficiently comforting. So politicians retreat to saying things like “of course X is safe”, even though, statistically, they should know they are talking bullshit. Nothing is 100% safe. We all know this. But we, homo sapiens, don’t want to hear that. We prefer the unrealistic bullshit to the realistic facts.

When enough humans know how to properly evaluate safety and risk, the climate might change. That is not happening now. We are in the middle of a pandemic that has a lot of people frightened. Frightened people want total reassurance, even if deep down they might not believe it.

Total reassurance allows for accountability-shifting (“They said it was safe to go out. So I went out. Then I caught Covid. They lied to me!”). It allows for more sleep at nights. There are any number of logical-sounding, if bullshit, reasons why the current level of BS being promulgated about vaccines and other safety precautions is preferable to realistically embracing facts.

In the meantime, bad-faith actors continue to capitalize on the statistical and mathematical illiteracy of the majority of the population, promoting all manner of dishonest analyses of Covid, vaccines and societal measures. They cannot be run out of town, because not enough people can see the BS for what it is. This is going to be a problem, for decades. Realistically, it will continue to be a problem until enough of the electorate is statistically somewhat literate, and is capable of assessing risk. I’m not expecting that improvement any time soon.

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Friday Round-up – 25th June 2021

  1. Brexit

Chris Grey’s blog post title is a wee bit apocalyptic for my liking, but the post is his usual careful analysis, focusing this week on the societal impact of Brexit, particularly on people who voted Remain.

His view is that this may lead to a new “brain drain” along the lines of the loss of scientists and technologists in the 1960s. I also expect to see a new “brain drain” from the UK over the next few years. Like the previous one in the 1960s, it will be led by technologists, scientists, joined by knowledge workers and creative artists (with professional musicians, whose ability to work in the EU has been decimated) at the front of the queue. As usual, by the time enough people notice, it may be too late.

As I have noted in the past, I have no intention of returning to live in the UK in the current climate, and I will only be visiting for essential family business. I do not know the extent to which my family understands the motivations and reasoning for that decision, but they can always read my other commentaries here if they want to know more.

Edwin Hayward (author of “Slaying Brexit Unicorns”) has a thread where he lists all of the upcoming changes that are going to impact the UK in the aftermath of Brexit. It’s a long list. The impacts are all likely to be negative.

Anecdotally, companies importing steel into the UK are reporting massive price increases per ton – in some cases close to 400%. World steel prices have risen in the last 2-3 months, but not by those amounts.

2. Eliminationism and the GOP

The Republican Party, when they agreed to let Donald Trump in through the door to lead them as the POTUS candidate in 2016, invited a malignant asshole with a corrupted and exaggerated business record. Everybody should already have realized that. Those who did not were insufficiently informed.

However, recent revelations show that by the end of last year, Trump was trying to embrace government by eliminationism.

The GOP supporters of Trump have no excuse. Their continuing support for him is an explicit endorsement of eliminationism as a philosophy. Politics is not a la carte. When you vote for a candidate, you’re going to get all the candidate’s policies. You don’t get to tick the ballot paper and say “Yeah, I like abuse of Trans people and discrimination against The Gayz, but I don’t want to execute Traitors”. That’s not how the system works.

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Wednesday Round-Up – June 23rd 2021

  1. Moorish Sovereign Citizens

The Moorish branch of the SovCit movement is…different. Unlike the more mainstream, very white SovCits, who mostly attempt to be scofflaws over matters like firearms ownership, Citizens Grand Juries, Covid-19 restrictions, vehicle licensing, and (their favorite) paying any form of income taxes to anybody, Moorish SovCits have an obsession about claiming properties owned by other people. They routinely get arrested for waiting until home owners leave a  house for a vacation or some such, then they occupy the house, sometimes filing nonsense claptrap documents with local authorities and courts containing cockamamie rationales to the effect that they are repossessing the house for the Moorish nation, claiming that it is part of their ancestral property. Alternatively, they file voluminous paper claiming bogus tax repayments.

Another Moorish SovCit has just been arrested for this kind of nonsense. As the home owner explained:

She said she had received a letter dated May 20 in the mail from a group called Al Moroccan Empire Consulate at New Jersey State Republic telling her the home belonged to them. She also received a second letter in June from the same group with red fingerprints and seals on it, the woman said.

This is SOP for Moorish SovCits. It never quite seems to work out well for them, however.

2.  The disintegration of the Libertarian Party in the USA

I am going to write about this at more length, but the Libertarian Party in the USA is currently disintegrating. The root cause is the attempted takeover of the party by authoritarians.

This is completely hopeless. The authoritarian swamp ground is already occupied by the Republican Party. For any party to have any different competing appeal, they would have to be even more authoritarian, or definably libertarian. It looks like the party is going full authoritarian, dominated by people who follow the philosophy of Ludwig Van Mises. This will not end well. It will repel most of the current party voters in elections.

In my opinion, the entire libertarian movement in the USA is fatally damaged for a generation, and will need to be rebuilt around durable principles that take into account the reality that the USA is no longer an agrarian society where every man can be an island. Covid-19 should have proved this, but the authoritarian wing of the Libertarian party has no clue about totalitarianism in practice, and as a result the party is throwing itself off the cliff, while the GOP is busy trying to gerrymander its way to permanent one-party rule in the states that it currently controls.

3. Plea Deals after the January 6th insurrection 

This week, the floodgates are opening, with a number of court hearings to ratify plea deals for participants in the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

We can see the classic pattern developing:

  1. Small fry and peripheral participants are being offered plea deals based on pleading guilty to one or more misdemeanors, with no prison time
  2. Bigger fish are being persuaded to plead out to lesser felonies. Some may end up doing jail time. Those plea deals also will contain co-operation agreements, probably with the reduction in felony charges as a quid pro quo. (Graydon Young, supposedly a member of the Oath Keepers, is due in court today for a plea agreement hearing where he is expected to plead guilty to multiple felony charges)
  3. The organizers will find themselves snowed under with evidence from the co-operating bigger fish, and will be staring at some serious felony charges

I expect this process to go on for several months, probably into the Fall. After that time, we can expect the underlying organizers to be indicted on numerous more serious charges. It will be interesting to see if the DoJ actually uses the formal laws against insurrection (my guess is that they will not, since those laws were really designed for a war situation).

UPDATE from Zoe Tillman:

Graydon Young is pleading guilty to two counts from the indictment: conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, both are felonies, the former has a max sentence of five years in prison and the latter has a max of 20 years.

Young has promised to cooperate with the government as part of his plea deal, incl. testimony before the grand jury and at a trial, and interviews with law enforcement (and waived right to counsel)

UPDATE 2 – The terms of the deal include the option for the DOJ to file a petition to reduce Graydon Young’s prison time from the sentencing guidelines (currently 5 years minimum) based on his co-operation with law enforcement. So the more he tells, the less jail time he will have to serve (probably).

UPDATE 3- Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a minor participant, has been sentenced to 36 months of probation and a fine after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor count. We can expect this pattern for the minor players.

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Illegal immigrants in the USA

Pew Research, unlike most politicians, actually knows a lot about illegal immigrants in the USA, because they actually, you know, do research. 

Some interesting findings in this document:

  1. The majority of current illegal immigrants are not Wetbacks and other recent arrivals via the Southern border. They are visa overstays, people who arrived legally and some of who may have been in the USA illegally for decades.
  2. Immigration across the Southern border is balanced (and sometimes exceeded) by emigration.
  3. The fear-inducing estimate of up to 40+ million illegals, routinely passed around by the nativist fringe, is sensationalist garbage that deserves nothing less than ridicule. There have never been that many illegals in the USA.
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Round-Up – Monday 21st June 2021

  1. Poison Ivy 

Mary and I are suffering from Poison Ivy poisoning. We are covered in spots, welts, lines of spots and other symptoms, from when we unwittingly handled a plant 2 weekends ago. We both look like prime candidates for exclusion from a Middle Ages English town on the grounds of being “unclean”. Doctors tell us that it will take 1-3 weeks for the ugly rash to completely vanish. Mary is sleeping downstairs as I write this, because she has not slept properly for 2 nights due to discomfort and pain. I did not sleep much, mainly because the blotchy pink patches all over my torso arms and legs make it feel like I have sunburn. Plus, itching. We are both on anti-inflammatory drugs and creams to damp down the symptoms.

Stay away from poison ivy, folks. It ain’t going to be fun if it contacts your body.

2. Brexit 

Brexit continues to be a shambles, as predicted by many (and similarly ignored by many). However, the opinion polls seem to show that the previously large margin of people thinking that Brexit was bad has diminished recently. This is counter-intuitive for me, since the news continues to be bad. However, the government’s blaming of the EU for all of the problems may be finding a receptive audience. I suspect that the support for Brexit will continue to hold steady as long as the effects are largely confined to the professional classes or artistic communities. If essentials like food and medicine start to disappear, then things will change rapidly. People expect governments to assure the supplies of essentials.

Despite being beaten up by the EU, and pressured by the USA, Boris Johnson is sailing along as though all is well. However, on the other side of the Irish Sea, the DUP, the most hardline Protestant group, is in disarray, having forced out its new leader, Edwin Poots, after only 20 days in the job. Poots apparently alienated most of his supporters by nominating The Wrong Guy as First Minister (translation: somebody way too sympathetic to the Irish language). Poots came to office talking a tough game, threatening to get tough with Ireland and generally strutting his macho Protestant stuff. Now he is gone, and the DUP has to look for its third leader in 4 months.

The DUP continues to threaten the UK government over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the decision to put a logical border in the Irish Sea is starting to look more and more impractical and dangerous with each passing day. The problem is that the UK government cheerfully signed up to it, and it is now part of the Withdrawal Agreement. That, plus other conditions in the UK-EU trade deal, which have in turn led to The Sausage Problem (caused by an impending EU ban on the movement of chilled meats between the EU and third countries), have backed the UK government into a small box of its own making.

Boris Johnson can huff and puff and threaten the EU, but he has no real leverage, because the UK folded on a lot of issues in order to rush through a deal before the end of 2020. The negotiating style of “talk tough, then fold” is proving to be dangerous for the whole of the UK. At the present rate, Northern Ireland is likely to be more of a challenge than Scotland. Unlike in Northern Ireland, the Scots have not taken to bombing and shooting to get their point across recently.

3. Covid-19 

The UK continues to transition rapidly to being dominated by the new B.1.617.2 variant of the virus, which has, in the space of a month, taken over from the B.1.1.7 variant. This new variant is more contagious, and vaccines are slightly less effective against it, although if enough of a population is vaccinated or immune, herd immunity can still be achieved.

Prof. Christina Pagel explains the latest situation in the UK in this thread. Basically, unless there is a return to social distancing and lockdown, this new variant is going to trigger a large increase in cases and hospitalizations. The number of people testing positive is rising exponentially again. 

4. The Roman Catholic Church and Joe Biden

No, the Roman Catholic Church in the USA is not going to excommunicate Joe Biden. Many priests, including his own, and main of the laity wouldn’t tolerate it. The bishops are engaging in performative posturing.

5. Yes, the Republican Party has eliminationists in its ranks

Not exactly a surprise, but it is good to have conclusive proof. The GOP is now a profoundly anti-American party.

 

 

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HST2 UK project costs are now being adjusted for reality

The estimated price tag for High Speed 2, the next-gen flagship UK rail project, has now risen from £33bn to over £106bn. This, unsurprisingly, is leading to a lot of comment in the UK, most of it negative.

Every major project I ever came into contact with in I.T. has the same challenges. Somebody cooks up an initial estimate from Cloudcuckooland, then an approved project starts with an estimate from Lalaland. Then reality slowly intervenes. The final cost is usually a multiple of the initial estimate, sometimes embarrassingly so.

Infamously, the Confirm program, a first attempt to build a multi-partner travel industry booking system that I read about in the early 1990s was cancelled half way through, with the costs having multiplied by several multiples of the initial estimate. The project had multiple stakeholders with competing interests, which made actually completing an agreed solution specification almost impossible. As a get-out they blamed the technology. This is, incidentally, a classic excuse in I.T. when projects fail. This is seldom true. Whenever I hear somebody blaming the technology for an I.T. project failure, I immediately look elsewhere for the root causes of the failure.

I remember mentioning this phenomenon to a work colleague a few years ago. His (slightly cynical) response was “Well, if they were totally honest about the final likely cost upfront, most of these projects would never be started because you wouldn’t be able to remotely justify them”.

Now, High Speed 2 is not exactly your average I.T. project, and there are multiple considerations that come into play when creating benefit statements for it. The UK, a relatively small country, has become very dependent on road transport, which creates higher emissions than rail transport. The shrinkage of the UK rail network in the 1960s, which led to the abandonment and closure of one or two rail lines which would actually have been easier to upgrade today (like the Great Central Railway, built with larger bridges and tunnels), has been proven to be a long-term mistake, officially acknowledged by the government’s announcement of the Beeching Reversal Fund. Now money is being spent to re-open lines closed to passengers or totally abandoned. So, High Speed 2 can be partially justified on the grounds of environmental stewardship, although it is notoriously difficult to quantify those kinds of benefits in money terms.

Covid-19 certainly has impacted all projects which were up and running. The government has directly or indirectly had to pay money to keep project teams active in a difficult working climate. However, I doubt that this is the major contributor to the price inflation. The more usual inflation is due to the dreaded scope creep – the addition of new features to the solution, or the discovery of activities and deliverables that nobody realized were required when the original estimate was finalized.

Scope creep is an issue that is particularly bad on government projects. In the military arena, scope creep helped to sink the entire Nimrod AEW program in the late 80s, which was cancelled in favour of the UK buying Boeing AWACS planes. The military kept changing the specification requirements for the radar, which took it beyond the design envelope of what was already a tightly packaged airframe and computing combination with little scope for expansion.

Another factor in government projects is lobbying by elected representatives impacted by the project, to get more “goodies” (“pork” here in the USA) for their constituents. Here in the USA, representatives would probably sell family members to the highest bidder if they could get a US Navy ship home-ported in their district, since that generates thousands of jobs. It is not clear to me if High Speed 2 offers members of parliament the same pork opportunities, but I would not be surprised if that is a factor behind the scenes.

Ideally, there would be a full review of the entire program to see if cost savings can be made, and a tough line taken on scope, as in No More Scope. However, government projects, which are often pursued for vanity reasons by the government, are notoriously difficult to rein in or cancel once started. The loss of face alone tends to lead to the government continuing. The Nimrod AEW program was very much an exception, with the government refusing to fall for classic fallacious arguments made by supporters and contractors (principally the Sunk Cost Fallacy) and taking an unsentimental approach despite the deployment of the “British Technology” argument. They saw only continued cost escalations and cancelled the program.

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Lawyers Letter – Jan 6th

Dewey Cheatem and Howe LLP

17th June 2021

Re:       Insurrection Day Trip

We represent John and Julie Smith, who were customers of Revolution Travel LLC on 6th January 2021.

Mr and Mrs. Smith purchased a Day Trip Insurrection Package from your website revolutiontravelllc.com on 3rd January 2021. On the website, the package was described thus:

“An unparalleled opportunity to visit our great nation’s political capital, see the sights, and participate in a unique one-time only insurrection to re-install Our Type of Government”.

As true Americans and patriots, this was very appealing to our clients.

In the e-Brochure, you promised our clients that they would get to participate in the insurrection, and that it would be a unique opportunity for them to help to make history, not just read about it after it happened. However, at no time did you warn our clients that doing so might place them at risk of legal consequences. It appears that you failed to indemnify our clients

Your failure to itemize all of the potential legal consequences of participation in this day trip, and ensure that our clients understood and agreed to them, or to give them the chance to cancel their order, has resulted in our clients currently being incarcerated in a federal jail, awaiting trial on a total of 7 public order, trespassing and conspiracy charges. Their lives have been ruined, and they are not due to be tried until February 2022. This whole event and its aftermath has caused them profound financial, mental and emotional distress. When they booked the trip, they were under the impression that it would be an exciting day out in Washington DC, with the possibility that they would be identified as participants in a historical event. The event itself did not meet the advertised objectives.

Accordingly, we are demanding the following:

  1. a full refund of the total cost of the Day Trip Insurrection Package
  2. payment of all of our clients’ legal costs to defend themselves against any and all legal actions, both criminal and civil, arising from this day trip
  3. a public apology for failing to notify our clients as to the potential legal consequences of the afternoon Insurrection Party

Failure to meet these demands within 30 elapsed days, will lead us to begin the process of filing appropriate legal complaints against your company in the appropriate State and Federal courts, for misrepresentation.

 

Kind Regards,

M.A. Ko

Partner

 

 

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The sad truth about Donald Trump

The saddest and most enduring aspect of the era of Donald Trump as a pretend politician is not his lying, bullshitting mendacity, his utter incompetence as a human being, or his fascist tendencies.

It is that he operated as a human permission slip to his supporters. He gave them permission to act like the worst possible versions of themselves, in private and in public. That behavior is going to continue for years.

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GB News – misunderstandings

GB News, the new UK news network, launched this week.

There has been a lot of comment on social media, most of it based on witheringly negative assessments of the studio, the production values and other aspects of the channel. There is also already a campaign to persuade corporations to pull advertising.

The old era of media outlets being owned by corporations and hands-off old-money owners is over. The new generation of newspaper owners are not in it for higher ideals. They are a mixture of hedge funds, which expect a quick return on investment, or they will revert to slash and burn management, and oligarchs operating via front companies.

Oligarchs expect their media properties to be their personal mouthpieces. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas-based casino mogul, bought his local paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for $140 million in 2015 via News + Media Capital Group LLC, a front company. The newspaper promptly became his personal mouthpiece. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250m in 2013, which for one of the richest men in the world, was chump change. There is a pattern here.

In the current world in which we live, with the ease of creating internet-based TV streaming channels, a newly-minted oligarch with $100m a year to burn can easily afford to fund an entire operation the current size of GB News. As I am fond of saying, disinformation networks are a lot cheaper to run than an aircraft carrier with a squadron of F-35s. The real world war is the Information War, and the West is currently losing. Some of the oligarchs and plutocrats operating in the disinformation space are almost certainly acting as fronts for governments.

The funding for GB News should be a big Tell as to its intended positioning. The majority of the funding is from corporations not domiciled in the UK, and a lot of the funding comes from the “front” corporations of oligarchs and plutocrats. This is not a benign news channel, trying to thread the needle down the middle, or engaging in fearless investigate reporting. It was intended as a propaganda channel for pluto-populism. Its presenter roster is dominated by a combination of established UK tabloid blusterers, and newer internet-based provocateurs, long on mouth and short on information.

As for the crappy production values…the cynic in me says that GBNews doesn’t mind having YouTube production values, since it is appealing to people who mostly get their news from YouTube.

GB News is not competing with the BBC, Channel 4, Sky or any of the other established UK news channels. It is a propaganda outlet largely funded by oligarchs, designed to generate dopamine clickbait for nativists and fans of plutocrat-controlled fascism. Comparing it with those channels is tempting and easy, but misses the entire picture in terms of its underlying objectives and market positioning.

The campaign to pull advertising may well succeed. However, like Fox News in the USA, the funding model of GB News is not dependent on advertising. If all they have are gold and crypto-currency snake oil salesmen as advertisers, they won’t care. The purpose of the network is not to be a commercially successful news channel with blue-chip corporate advertisers. This is already obvious from the decision by the network to launch a smear attack on Ikea, one of the corporations that pulled its advertising. Ikea is a European corporation headquartered in an EU country. Attacking a European corporation ticks all the right boxes when your intended audience is nativists, and nationalists.

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The EU-UK clash – political culture

The current dispute between the EU and the UK over the practical application of the Northern Ireland Protocol section of the EU Withdrawal Agreement has the potential to ignite or re-ignite sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, and also to cause a major trade and logistics dispute between the UK and the EU.

From a practical perspective, sectarian violence is a lose: lose for everybody, and if there is a trade dispute between the EU and the UK, there will be significant negative impacts in the UK, which is not self-sufficient in most basic supplies for a highly populated post-industrial society. A trade war, if it occurs, will not end well for the UK. it will impact the EU also, but given the disparity in GDP size, and the reality that many trade routes into and out of the UK are via the EU, the effects will be disproportionately felt in the UK.

The history of the relationship between the EU and the UK is one of initial reluctance by the EU (or the EEC as it was then) to let the UK even join in the first place. President De Gaulle famously vetoed the first UK attempt to join in the late 1960s, and in turn, there was significant resistance in the UK when it finally agreed to join in the early 1970s. The resistance to EU membership never went away, it simply went underground in the two major political parties, waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge, which happened in 2015. Both parties were crippled in their approaches to campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU as a result.

The UK’s relationship inside the EU were always contentious. Margaret Thatcher certainly pissed off the EU leaders multiple times during her largely successful attempt to negotiate a better financial deal in the 1980s. However, the Single Market in its current form was a concept that she supported and lobbied for, since at the time that the UK joined the EU, it did not exist in the form in which it exists today. So the UK, while it was an EU member, had very significant strategic influence on the evolution of the EU.

However, the EU has always tended to see the UK as a reluctant member, and strategic UK actions since the 1980s, such as the refusal to join the Euro, and the attempt by David Cameron to head off a negative result in the 2016 referendum by once again re-negotiating the terms of UK membership, have reinforced that feeling. The UK’s sense of imperial exceptionalism has not helped its relationships while in the EU, and the current post-Brexit mess is merely a continuation of a fractious relationship.

BTW, I regard the Euro as a qualified failure; while it certainly added to trading convenience, it deprives a country in the Euro of a valuable economic lever for crisis management, namely the ability to devalue its currency. That caused major problems when Greece lurched into insolvency and could not devalue its debts by devaluing its currency; it no longer had an independent currency to devalue. The UK was right to not join the Euro.

The bigger question is why the relationship has always been fractious.

In my opinion, a major cause of the problem is that the political cultures in the UK and Europe are, in most cases, fundamentally different. Most European countries have electoral systems based on forms of proportional representation. They also have much more fluid political systems, with more than 2 major political parties, and with rapid evolution (and disappearance) of political movements. As a result, government by coalitions is the norm, rather than the exception. The EU reflects that, in that it is an unwieldy coalition of 27 countries, which for major decisions, requires unanimity.

The UK has no significant history of coalition governments. Apart from wartime, when party politics was essentially suspended, the only UK coalition of any length was the recent Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, with the LibDems very much as the junior partner.

The two major political parties in the UK have always been publicly hostile to proportional representation, claiming that a “first past the post” system is needed for what they term “strong government”. Cynically, they would say that, since a government with a majority in the House of Commons in the UK can essentially do what it likes. They do not have to take any notice of any other interest group or political party. It is not realistic to expect either of the two major parties to support the change of a system that has given them a comfortable duopoly for centuries.

People who are hostile to PR like to justify that hostility by mocking Belgium, which has had perpetually unstable coalition governments for decades. It once went nearly a year without any government at all. However, Belgium is not a credible example of the problems of PR. It is a manufactured country, formed by merging Wallonia, Flanders and part of North West Germany to act as a buffer state between France and Prussia. The reason for the instability is that the coalitions reflect linguistic community dynamics, and there is lingering distrust between the French and Flemish speaking communities. In an ideal world, Belgium would be unwound, but nation-states tend to be regarded as inviolate. (If the world was pragmatic, Kurdistan would be re-created also. But I digress).

The UK electorate had the chance to change from “first past the post” to a form of PR in 2011, but unfortunately chose to vote No. Since both major political parties were against PR, I was not surprised by the result. However, it has locked the current system in place for the foreseeable future.

The lack of proportional representation and coalition politics in the UK had persistent negative consequences when the UK tried to work within the EU. The decision-making processes in the EU are entirely coalition-based, and significant ones require unanimity. This does not sit well with the governing mindset in the UK of “we’re in charge”. As a result, the UK regarded the EU decision making processes as hopelessly cumbersome and too deferential to smaller countries, while the EU regarded the UK approach as insensitive and dictatorial. It’s two different mindsets of how to govern.

As you might expect from a supra-national grouping founded on consensus, the EU’s political leaders are almost all from countries with a strong tradition of PR, so they are experts at satisfying multiple divergent interest groups and building unanimity for proposals and laws. The UK’s politicians have little to no background in that style of politics, and more seriously, they never really showed any interest in learning how to operate that way. As a result, the relationship was marked by the bureaucrats working well together behind the scenes, with periodic public spats as the UK complained about something or other, and the EU leaders counted to a large number and said under their breath “here we go again”.

The resulting friction was always a part of the EU-UK relationship, and it still continues to this day, with the UK thumping the table after Brexit and demanding concessions from the EU. This is not a style of interaction that would have worked well while the UK was in the EU, and it is even less likely to work now that the UK has left.

The difference in political cultures has implications for any future relationship, up to and including the UK rejoining the EU, which will probably not happen in my lifetime. I consider it unlikely that the UK will even be considered for closer relationships unless there is a profound change in the current UK political culture. Whilst PR is not a requirement for EU membership, the current “winner takes all” mindset of UK politics is not a good match for the EU culture. Until the UK’s political culture becomes a lot more collaborative, I see no real prospect of any significant long-term improvement in EU-UK relations.

Right now, with a deeply authoritarian UK government in place, the two parties are about as far apart as you could imagine. Hence my skepticism that the current arguments over the Northern Ireland protocol will be resolved without further escalations.

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