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May 28, 2019



In Sonia Purnell's book "Just Boris" the name Sarah Sands appears 10 times (according to the index). On the first occasion (page 34) she is described as "a journalist who knows both Rachel and Boris well". On other occasions she is described as "a close friend" and a "colleague of Allegra" (the first Mrs Johnson). Sarah Sands became editor of the London Evening Standard when Johnson was Mayor and was a strong supporter of Johnson and all his works (especially the Garden Bridge folly).
There were even stories that Johnson was asked by the new Russian owner who he wanted to be editor of the Standard and suggested Sands.

Sarah Sands is now editor of Radio 4's "Today".

Important people in journalism are not just familiar with Johnson, they are friends of the family.

Ralph Musgrave

I don’t think Chris’s “ambiguity aversion” (i.e. preference for the familiar) explains the popularity of Johnson. It explains why people vote Tory or Labour: they’re voting for the familiar. But that leaves unanswered the question as to why people vote for a buffoon, or what seems like a buffoon.

I.e. why aren’t responsible if boring people like John Major more popular? My guess is that people vote for anyone who stands out from the crowd, long as they’re in the Labour or Tory party. If the super-model Jordan stood for either of those parties and drew attention to herself by riding around on a horse displaying her impressive assets, like Lady Godiva, I’m sure she’d get loads of votes, especially from men.


"But that leaves unanswered the question as to why people vote for a buffoon, or what seems like a buffoon."

I think its because people have learned to associate the accepted indicators of political professionalism with barefaced anti-democracy, sponsor-pleasing corruption, a transparent distain for the wellbeing of the electorate at large and underhanded collusion along class lines.

Of course all the above apply to that Ubu-like mess Johnson too but y'know, his immediate electorate is the Tory Party.


as someone who looks despairingly at the current crop and thinks Boris Johnson is the best option let me explain.

I don't like a lot about Johnson. I'm not keen on many aspects ion his personality, but ...

... I cannot describe the horror of what is happening. We are getting absolutely fucked. The EU is a hostile organisation that thinks nothing about reducing nations that cross its path to rubble (think Greece) and is an empire that understands only crushing opposition. Remaining, now, or signing the deal, now, is just the end of the UK as a single coherent nation. The notion that if we do either of those things the EU is going to sit down and allow us to negotiate in our interest is an absolute joke. Our politicians would be beetles arguing with oncoming buffalo.

The only conceivable negotiating strategy at this point is "I don't care how much this hurts me, I'm going to make sure if you don't give us something it then you really hurt too." Take security. Honestly, why are we co-operating with nations hell-bent on destroying our independence and reducing us to a colony? Seriously, the Russians can have Eastern Europe back. I simply couldn't care.

Johnson is the only political remotely close to having the balls, the chutzpah, to say "Fuck you" to Barnier and walk out. And unless you do that, you will end up being completely screwed. Any other PM is simply going to end up being Varadkar's minister for the UK. All those other nice politicians are just going to end up returning from negotiations saying how they tried but just couldn't get agreement.

When in an adversarial situation the first and sometimes only question to ask is "what do the opposition not want us to do right now". And the answer is elect Johnson.


You’re over-thinking it. It’s just game theory.

Many Conservative members perceive that Johnson is a candidate who might - only might - deliver the WTO Brexit they want. They fully realise he’s dodgy and unreliable, and might instead betray them. But they perceive Rory Stewart as the continuation of Olly Robbins by other means, and know for sure he definitely won’t deliver what they want, because he declares unambiguously that he wants the opposite. So, if you want a WTO Brexit, you have to vote for the charlatan who’s 95% likely to betray you over the upstanding gentleman who’s 100% certain to.

In the 80s, I’m sure many miners realised that Arthur Scargill wasn’t the smartest tactician when it came to a conflict with Ian McGregor or Margaret Thatcher. And the fact is, he lost that war. But the alternative option, of surrendering to their opponents ahead of time without a fight, was not an option.


We mustn't forget that Chris finds the policies of Corbyn/McDonnell "inspiring"...I wonder whether he will share that view with his readers in the Investors' Chronicle...personally I would prefer a temporary Tory buffoon.

More seriously, it is a case of horses for courses. What made Churchill a poor peacetime politician made him a great wartime one. IF you want a "clean" Brexit then Johnson MAY just be the only person with the will to deliver it...may be...


@dipper: Yeah, the EU has screwed us comprehensively over the last forty years: no investment, no veto, the Euro, Schengen, trade lock-outs - all of these have been enforced upon us by an over-mighty unelected Brussels bureaucracy.
Oh, wait, no they haven't. They didn't even really demand straight bananas.

And, historically, the UK hasn't ever really been a single, coherent nation. Scotland was effectively coerced (if not actually forced) into a union with England thanks to unwise investments; Wales never had much of a choice and Ireland is still broken. Oh, and we've got these weird pseudo-colonies right on our borders (IoM etc.) that seem to have their own rules and exceptions. Meanwhile London* carries on sucking the lifeblood out of the rest of the country and politicians don't notice.

Yeah, I'm terrified of what the EU might do to us. It might bring us to our senses.

*as someone who has lived in London for all of their adult life, I love it. But I'm not blind to the damage it has done to the rest of the country.


“the notion that people much prefer the familiar to the unknown, and known risks to unknown ones”

Curious to read Chris use this argument. Because Remain is perceived as the familiar and Brexit the unknown.

Oxford theoretical physicist David Deutsch is pro-Brexit largely because he thinks we need to embrace the unknown, and then error correct as we go.



1) If you think amalgamating/homogenising Wales and Scotland into the UK was bad for Wales and Scotland (and maybe even bad for England), why do you think amalgamating/homogenising the UK into the EU will have exactly the opposite effect? I don’t follow your reasoning.

2) Most Remainers argue that being in the EU gives the UK influence, and that’s a Good Thing. But you think the UK is so crappy that the last thing you’d want is for us to have any influence in the EU. If we have influence we can infect the other 27 with our crappiness, dragging them down to our level of vileness and wretchedness.

So the only option which might actually work for you would be a permanent UK-wide backstop, in which we withdraw from all EU decision-making but apply whatever laws and rules the infinitely benevolent commission designs for our self-improvement.

As Theresa May discovered, it’s a hard sell.

Tynnie Todgers

IME working class tories actually prefer patrician leaders and dislike leaders from their own class (or close enough to resemble people they might know). Last place aversion perhaps? Whatever, yer Boris Johnsons and JRMs seem to get it.


The EU is not an empire - it is an association of states. It is an institution for collective action - see a recent post on this blog.

There are however a large number of people like Dipper who have persuaded themselves that the EU is a hostile empire and are willing to leave it at any price - even if it throws the UK in chaos. Many of these people are Tories which raises the question - why did the Party of Europe that led the way in linking the UK to Europe and creating some of the institutions of Europe start viewing the EU as a hostile empire? Did they not understand the implications of these institutions for collective action? Did they think that the rules wouldn't apply to the UK?

I think that Dipper should try to find and read an article by Ferdinand Mount in the latest London Review of Books ("Causes for War") and tell us what he thinks.

Probably the attraction of Johnson to the Tory faithful is that he comes nearest to having a narrative about the fantasy of a buccaneering Global Britain.


I think Scratch's point above needs more attention. Boris's buffoonery isn't a bug, it's a feature, because the public have come to intensely dislike and distrust the sort of politician who only ever uses carefully measured words to express thoroughly focus-group-tested opinions.

The assumption has become that if a politician only ever says the right thing, they must be hiding their true opinions and therefore are probably up to something sinister. Blair did a lot to reinforce this assumption.

Thus, someone who can't open their mouth without offending someone is perversely seen as being trustworthy - not in the sense that no one thinks they will misbehave, but in the sense that if they do misbehave, they won't be able to hide it. And better a known crook that you can catch than an unknown crook that you can't.


From the article by Ferdinand Mount in the latest LRB:-

"Brexiteers see trade wars as risk-free enterprises which are not prone to slide into actual fighting. President Trump has told us that ‘trade wars are good and easy to win.’ This is not, I think, simply one of his puckish tweets, emitted only because he knows it teases. The basis of his worldview is a partiality to the state of nature in the Hobbesian sense, in which the uninhibited competition of all against all is invigorating and progress-driving. And yet with what unnerving speed these tariffs and economic sanctions mutate into military threats and manoeuvres, from which only the most costly and ungainly extrication is possible."

Most of the article is about the reasons why the European institutions developed in order to reduce the risk of conflicts in Europe over access to resources and trade disputes.


@ Guano "The EU is not an Empire, it is an association of states". Well, its not me you need to explain that to, it is Guy Verhofstadt who frequently and loudly says it is an empire and says that the position of the UK in the EU should be the same as Florida in the USA. That's the Guy Verhofstadt who is part of the EU negotiating team.

How can you tell if a particular 'nation' is a state or not a state? Well I'd suggest that making laws and controlling borders are two principal features. If your politicians say 'we can't do anything about that as it is European law' and 'there is nothing we can do about the UKs population increasing by 25% in a generation because of FOM' then we are probably not a state in the sense you mean.

All those Remainers who says we must have no disruption on leaving and must not lose a single job. Who talk about the EU as though the current arrangement is the final state and we have a veto on further changes. Do they think we don't know how this works? The EU grabs you by both shoulders, and gently guides you step by step towards its preferred destination, warning you at each stage that any deviation from the path is going to be most harmful to you. And we all know what that preferred state is.

As for War, I'm fed up of Remainers constantly threatening us with war. War as in 'the EU has prevented war in Europe for 70 years' which is a round-about way of saying if we leave we will have war, and on NI that we must do what they say or else the IRA will be perfectly justified in returning to bombings and assassinations.

Avoiding war is easy. Every war in history could have been avoided. You just do whatever your counterpart tells you to do. There is a reason why nations decide war is preferable to the offered alternatives.


I suspect Dipper is on dangerous ground when claiming to be fed up with Remainer views given Dipper’s many repetitive posts on this forum and others. Glib comments about avoiding war are pretty typical of recent posts. As are today’s comments about not a single job being lost.

The fact remains that we are not in the Euro, and will not be for the foreseeable future, so any notion of being like Florida is flawed.

And bad though the EU may be in many ways - Verhofstadt may really be a crazy federalist - I’d really like Dipper to tell us how our future no-deal leaders will be anything other than a great deal worse. Some issues are much bigger than our largely imaginary sovereignty.


@Guano ... right, I've read that article. I still don't agree. I look forward to war being threatened against Scotland the next time an independence debate rages, or us causally residing Ireland that failure to get an agreement will result in war.

The argument Remainers use about trade with the EU is not logical and shows a clear bias. The argument goes that the proportion of our exports to the EU is greater than the proportion of their exports to us, even though we are a net importer, so they would suffer less in a dispute and win. But the argument remainders use is that the UK should not suffer at all. So where is the equivalent argument that the EU should agree a decent deal with us so that they don't suffer any loss of trade?

Throughout there is an argument,ent that the EU is a legitimate national entity that will be prepared to suffer loss in order to maintain its integrity, but the UK should not be prepared to suffer any loss to maintain its integrity. Which I find quit revealing about how Remainers view the relationship between the UK and the EU.


Dipper - have you read the article by Mount?

Mount has dug up a quote by Enoch Powell from 1990 in which Powell admits that a lot of intellectual work still needs to be done to show how there can be trade and cooperation across Europe without the rules and processes that have been devised to permit that. And here we are almost 20 years later, and that intellectual work has not been done; and there are still people telling us that we can walk out of the institutions designed to allow trade and cooperation across Europe and still be part of that trade and cooperation.


@ Guano

Well, call me naive, but if I look across the ocean and look at Canada and the USA, I see rules and processes that allow trade across that border, and I don't see Canada having to agree to pay large fees to the USA, or agree to become part of the USA giving up control over laws and borders. So I don't see why I am being offered this choice of servitude or isolation when other nations do not get offered that.

The EU has a clearly stated goal of progress towards a Federal Europe including a single currency. The European Commission has made a number of projections about the future population of the UK being between 75m and 80m around mid century. What is you're case for remaining in the EU? Is it that you share the aims of your fellow members and want to work with them to make those aims happen, and that you want the things the EU commission says is going to happen to the UK to happen? Or do you want to be in the EU because you don't share the aims of the other members and want to stop them achieving their goals, and because you don't think the things the EU says will happen to us will happen?


@ Scarthin

well that's pretty much the nub of the issue. Remainers say the current situation is passable and we can stop the future development. Leavers say you cannot stop the future developments.

I'm not sure how I'm being glib? I think its Remainers being glib myself about their ability to control a future in the eU.

And the crapness of our leaders is another issue on which the two factions agree about the fact and disagree about the causes and consequences. Remainers say our leaders are crap so we need to be governed by the more effective EU ones. Leavers say our leaders are crap because we are in the EU so leadership has been lost, and we need to leave the EU to get better leadership.


... Remainers could have taken a different tack. They could have said they understand that many people in the UK say they feel they have not benefitted from EU membership, and that mass immigration is having consequences that need to be managed. They could have said that they understand fully that people in the UK don't want to be part of a Federal Europe and fully commit to working against that They could have said that the large and growing trade deficit is an issue they will commit to redress, that they will commit to getting fair fishing quotas out of the EU, and that on that basis they think we should stay. But they haven't said any of those things. They have said that being in the EU is inevitable and the consequences will have to be suffered wherever they fall for the greater good.

That is a dangerous game. Telling part of a nation they have to suffer for the rest. Particularly when that part won a referendum.


The argument for the remaining in the EU is that it reduces conflict over trade - it is not about who would win a trade dispute.

Mount's argument is that Trump and Brexit are a dangerous trend because it is about weakening institutions and fighting trade wars - and that in the long-term that increases the risk of shooting wars.

Perhaps the inexplicable reversal of the Conservative Party attitude to the EU (from the Party of Europe to the Party of Brexit) is due to the die-off the generation who remember how devastating the two World Wars were.



Canada changed to the metric system because the USA told Canada that the USA was going to go metric. Canada was efficient and made the change. The USA gave up after one highway in New Mexico had its signs changed to kilometres.

There is not a frictionless border between Canada and the USA, but Canada has to keep a lot of its regulations in line with the USA regulations because Canada is for many purposes a small part of the USA market. I know someone who has just done a US professional examination in order to keep working in Canada.

The UK could have had a different relationship with the EU if it had stuck with EFTA in 1972. It could possibly have a different relationship in future if it joins EFTA, puts up with the disadvantages of that for a decade or so, and develops EFTA into a body that isn't just a rule-taker in the EEA. But so far Brexit has been all about the constraints of being in an institution without a clear strategy of alternatives.


@ Guano

"The argument for the remaining in the EU is that it reduces conflict over trade - it is not about who would win a trade dispute."

Great. I'll take membership of a trade organisation and control over immigration. Deal done. But that isn't what the EU are offering is it.

If your policy is to avoid conflict and mine is to achieve dominance irrespective of whether or not there is conflict, I win. Every time.


Dipper - I don't understand what you are referring to say in your last paragraph.



"Brexiteers see trade wars as risk-free enterprises which are not prone to slide into actual fighting."

Mount doesn't quote any statement to this effect by any Brexiteer.

Could you please quote a statement by, say, JRM or Daniel Hannan which would fit with Mount's characterisation of their opinions?

Thanks in advance.



Mount’s “War & Peace” argument for the EU is historically illiterate. It’s also based on dubious ideas about war and peace more generally.

Russia was a massively important player in the European theatres of both World Wars, because Russia has always been a crucial part of the “Concert of Europe”, at least since the time of Peter The Great. Mount can’t admit this, ultimately because Russia is too big a country to be absorbed into the structures of the EU. So he’s forced to treat it essentially as a non-European country; a mirror-USA in the East. But the fact is, Nazi Germany was defeated on the North European plain largely by the Red Army. From 1941 to 1945 Russia never faced less than 75% of the Vermacht.

That’s why the 1945 Potsdam Agreement agreed a permanently neutral, permanently disarmed Germany; a kind of giant Switzerland in the centre of the continent. Such a Germany could never have threatened Russia (or France or the UK) ever again. It could also, crucially, never have been a member of a body like the modern EU.

EU enthusiasts like Mount insist that the war everyone was worried about in this post WW2 period - the period of the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, the 1956 Hungarian uprising and the Cuban Missile Crisis - was a war between France and the US-occupied half of a partitioned Germany. I disagree. I think it was always a war between America and Russia which dominated political calculation, military alliances and weapons procurement.

When the Korean War kicked off in 1950, Truman decided to try and scare the Russians by reneging on Potsdam and re-arming West Germany. Gustav Heinemann resigned from the West German government once he learned of Adenauer’s collusion with Truman to subvert Potsdam.

German re-armament gave Monnet his chance. The USA pushed West European integration largely to menace Russia. The Russians viewed the 1952 European Coal and Steel Community as an aggressive escalation specifically aimed against them, and they weren’t wrong. It was ultimately about strengthening West European munitions capacity against the East.

The great unknown in all of this is the Stalin Note of 1952. It was Russia’s final attempt to bring back Potsdam, with additional guarantees that Germany could be internally democratic, provided it was politically neutral and disarmed. Historians still debate whether the Stalin Note was a sincere offer. Had it been accepted and implemented, we’d be in a very different Europe:

1) The Cold War would have ended 37 years earlier, with Germany reunited.
2) The continent would have been prosperous and at peace.
2) There would have been no EU.



Regarding Mount’s discussion of free trade:

There are two very different ways of thinking about free trade. The first is typified by Richard Cobden, founder of the Anti-Corn Law League. Cobden argued that we could and should trade freely with countries we were politically very far from, such as Ottoman Turkey and Tsarist Russia. That’s because he saw no connection between free trade and the political amalgamation of the trader countries. Free trade with the Sublime Porte wouldn’t require us to convert to Islam or adopt the Millet system; nor require the Porte to become Anglicans or adopt the UK Parliamentary system. We’d just make each other richer, but otherwise leave each other be.

Cobden negotiated a free trade agreement with France in 1860. Compared with the EEC/EU approach, the most striking thing about this treaty was the absence of any common external tariff.

Cobden’s nemesis was Friedrich List, advocate of the Zollverein and the most direct inspiration for the EU’s approach to free trade. List believed that free trade was only really possible between provinces of the same state, essentially because he wanted to amalgamate the German Länder into one powerful state, and saw free trade as a means to that end. It’s no exaggeration to say that, for List, the common external tariff was more important than the internal free trade between the Länder, because that did more of the work of political amalgamation.

I think it’s obvious the List approach is more aggressive than the Cobden approach. List sees trade in mercantilist terms, as the continuation of war by other means. Cobden is more easy going. He’s happy for anyone to trade with anyone, and they don’t have to amalgamate politically.

If you look at the trading organisations of the world, from the EU to ASEAN to Mercosur to NAFTA to the CPTPP, it’s obvious that the EU is massively the most Listian. The CPTPP is especially interesting, because individual countries can join it, while retaining their individual membership in other trading organisations. So Canada/Mexico are in NAFTA and also in CPTPP, Brunei/Malaysia/Singapore/Vietnam are in ASEAN and also in CPTPP, and Chile/Peru are in Mercosur and also in CPTPP. But no individual country could be in the EU and also in CPTPP.


In my view, the changing attitudes of USA administrations to the EU (and its predecessors) does have something to do with the Cold War; and the changing attitudes of the Conservative Party to the EU (and its predecessors) may have something to do with signals coming from the USA. The Tories ceased to be the Party of Europe at the end of the Cold War.

I have been discussing with Dipper on various blogs for almost two years. I note that he always makes the a priori assumption that the EU is trying to dominate the UK and almost always ignores my point that the EU is a rules-based organisation for collective action. The rules of the EU may be irksome but the UK has contributed to the writing of those rules, that apply to all members with the objective of easier trade. If there is a USA-UK trade deal we will then see real dominance.

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