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April 30, 2019



"These two policies are much like Brexit, in the sense that whether they can be delivered or not is not merely a matter of a democratic mandate."

Nonsense. Brexit is not a second order end result, as the other two are. Brexit is a first order action - its the UK leaving the EU and all its accoutrements. What the outcome of that would be is irrelevant - those who are in favour think it would be good, those opposed think it would be disastrous. But either way, Brexit would have occurred, which is what the majority voted for.

Whereas attempting to raise more tax revenue by raising tax rates is not under the control of the taxer - the amount of revenue raised is a second order event - as you say, people may not react to a rise in their taxes in the way you'd like them to react. So if your aim is to raise revenue then raising taxes may well not get you what you want.

But strangely enough no one says that if Labour were elected on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthy to fund more public spending we should ignore that vote, and tell the people who voted for it that they can't have it, because it won't work. But those who voted for Brexit are told exactly that - sorry chaps, what you voted for won't work so you can't have it.

I wonder where that difference of attitude comes from?


Even the question of "what you want" is interesting, because in other spheres of life, you don't find out what people want by asking them. You use much more effective feedback loops to work out what they *really* want.

It's so odd the vehemence with which the idea that "people say what they think they want in the future" is a settlement to defend.


You say “Cameron’s great achievement was to take an issue which few people cared much about and push it so far up the agenda that it now dominates politics and has changed our political identities”

I checked out the Ipsos Mori PDF you linked to. I think it’s deceptive. As Wikipedia notes:

“In the 2014 European Parliament elections, UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.5%) of any British party, producing 24 MEPs. The party won seats in every region of Britain, including its first in Scotland. It made strong gains in traditionally Labour voting areas within Wales and the North of England; it for instance came either first or second in all 72 council areas of the latter. The victory established [Nigel] Farage and UKIP as "truly household names". It was the first time since 1906 that a party other than Labour or the Conservatives had won the most votes in a UK-wide election.”

If voters say the EU isn’t a major issue for them, at the same time as they’re voting for a single issue anti-EU party in record numbers, something’s wrong with your data. Either Preference Falsification (Timur Kuran) or Social Desirability Bias is distorting things.

The claim that David Cameron created a previously non-existent dislike of the EU simply by holding a referendum on the subject in 2016 is a bit like Shashi Tharoor’s claim that Indians had no idea what caste or religion they were until 1881, when the British conducted a census and asked them.

Apparently the 2016 Referendum and the 1881 Census both produced a kind of Wave Function Collapse of the psyche. Before those, individual Brits were an amorphous mass of low-intensity pro-and-anti-EU superpositions; and individual Indians were an amorphous mass of brahmin/khatri/dalit, and hindu/sikh/muslim superpositions.

It seems unlikely to me.


"The dominant popular conception is that politics is much like ordering something from Amazon. You say what you want, expect it to be delivered, and get the hump when it isn’t."

Maybe they're looking for penance for the time when the political class were comfortable doing what they (or their paymasters) wanted whilst openly informing the voters that they had "nowhere else to go." After all our betters seemed perfectly capable of fulfilling the bourgeoisie's every desire.

Perhaps the subtext here is "if you want to be trusted dismantle the antidemocratic raft of punishments you gloatingly inflicted on us first," that this may (or may not, I imagine the fundamental disincentive here for the political class is the fear of getting kicked out of Globalist Club with its well of sinecures and exculpating narrative of declining global poverty) resemble the labours of Hercules is neither here nor there.

Russell Davies

Georgesdelatour says that the blog claims that dislike of the EU was non-existent before the 2016 referendum, but this is to misrepresent what it does say which is that “few people cared much about” the EU until the referendum crystallised the electorate’s minds around the issue. In support of his claim that the EU was a much bigger issue than the data shows, Georges uses the results of the 2014 EU parliamentary election, where UKIP got 26.6% of the vote (according to Wikipedia), the first time a party other than the Tories or Labour had won the most votes in a UK-wide election. What he doesn’t say is that this ‘victory’ was on a turnout of 35.6%, just under half the turnout of the 2016 referendum (72.2%). The vast majority of the British electorate couldn’t be bothered to vote in the EU parliamentary election, a position it had taken consistently in previous elections. UKIP polled 4.38 million votes, while the four main pro-EU parties (and I’m including the Tories in this category, despite its sceptic wing) polled over 10 million votes in total, i.e. 61% of the vote. None of this suggests that the issue of the EU was a particularly salient factor in the minds of voters prior to the referendum. In fact, UKIP’s number of votes in 2014 was less than 10% of the size of the UK electorate at the time, a figure which happens to map quite well with the Ipsos Mori poll which shows concern over EU/Brexit fluctuating around 10% for the period before and after the EU election. Prior to this, concern had been well below the 10% figure since around the end of 2005. It is only when the EU referendum campaign begins in early 2016 that this concern begins to surge.

Gerry O'Quigley

Bernard Crick's In Defence of Politics was originally published in 1962 and was revised and updated many times. The book can be read as a very effective rebuttal of the Amazon model of politics that Chris has so ably dispatched. It's also a very necessary corrective to some of the more metaphysical strands of Marxism that assume human beings or societies can be perfectible. Politics is how we deal with complexity and difference and no civilised society can ever dispense with it.

Dave Timoney


"Even the question of 'what you want' is interesting, because in other spheres of life, you don't find out what people want by asking them. You use much more effective feedback loops to work out what they *really* want."

This sounds like revealed preference theory, which implies a transactional model of democracy. But the problem with this (and I confess I haven't read your 'Abolish Voting' so I don't know whether you adequately address it), is that we don't reveal our preferences equally, whether through consumption or other feedback mechanisms.

For example, the "just get on with it" school are clearly not plagued by self-doubt, while the statistically significant "don't knows" will include many who would welcome a dialogic approach rather than some bloodless, empirical analysis.


This is all very lovely, but I do get the impression that had the referendum gone Remain you would not be dismissive of the idea that democracy involves the people voting for something and politicians implementing it.


«Thatcher, for example, created a constituency of people with an interest in house price inflation and hostility to property taxes by selling off council houses.»

They also ensured that lots of business-attracting and job-creating spending/investment was focused on the south, thus creating a much bigger constituency, southern property rentiers, for higher housing cost inflation and lower property taxes.

Another important similar but counterproductive development has been that Labour and the trade unions won good wages and pensions for workers decades ago, and this has now created a large constituency of pension rentiers who turned around and now vote for lower wages and pensions for workers.


«UKIP’s number of votes in 2014 was less than 10% of the size of the UK electorate at the time»

That 10% is a pretty big deal if it can swing elections, and indeed that's why Cameron was terrified of UKIP: several Conservative marginals were quite vulnerable. Besides the whole LibDem party hovers around 10%, and it is not totally irrelevant.

The best that can be said of the exit issue is that before june 2016:

#1 It mattered a lot to a small minority of voters.
#2 It mattered somewhat, but not more than domestic politics, to a large minority of the voters.

I believe that has changed little, in that #1 is still the case, but now aas to #2 exit matters somewhat to a a majority of voters rather than a large minority.


"Kearney was using the politics-as-Amazon conception, in which politicians fulfil orders; Sturgeon was using my second conception, of politics as using persuasion to manage conflict."

So when a politician (say Sturgeon) tries to convince the electorate of a position that a majority are not currently in favour of thats a fine upstanding and moral position for a politician to take, but when another (say Farage) does exactly the same thing, thats low down immoral and downright undemocratic behaviour.

Yup, thats totally consistent........

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