So much for strong and stable

In a year when Britain decided to leave the E.U. and the U.S. decided to elect a reality TV star with a penchant for Twitter rants, it turns out voters weren’t looking for strong and stable after all. Who’d have guessed?

I for one didn’t think it could happen. I was saying to a friend yesterday that I now understood how people had so much trouble seeing Trump as a possibility – I really couldn’t see how anyone could possibly think that Jeremy Corbyn, paleo-socialist and friend of the IRA, would make a suitable Prime Minister. He won’t even sing the national anthem for goodness’ sake. But let that be a lesson that what seems impossible may just be a blind spot in your own thinking.

To be fair, Corbyn didn’t actually win – quite far from it in fact. Labour are still a long way from being able to form a ... Read More

A British Union

Beware the Ides of March.

Nicolas Sturgeon managed to upstage Theresa May’s parliamentary triumph yesterday (the passage of an unamended bill authorising her to trigger Article 50 taking Britain out of the EU) by calling for a second Scottish independence referendum, less than 3 years after losing the first one.

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Scots (65%) don’t want another referendum, Sturgeon clearly felt support for Scottish independence (and/or the Scottish National Party) ebbing away and, in the fallout of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, determined to seize what is perhaps the best chance for Scottish independence in the foreseeable future.  Even so, the headwinds are strong: thanks to collapsing oil prices, Scotland is in a much worse economic position than it was 3 years ago (an independent Scotland would currently have the largest deficit in Europe) and the prospect of being a relatively small country existing (at ... Read More

Looking ahead to 2017

Well, no one can accuse 2016 of being boring.  I managed to get the big calls right – I predicted back in November 2015 that Trump would become president, and thought that Britain would vote to leave the EU (in both cases, reluctant urbanites were up against an enthusiastic (and angry) countryside, and the countryside won).  But when your predictions align with your preferences you probably can’t claim too much credit!

Europe

Looking ahead to some of the political events of 2017, it’s harder to have a sense of the likely outcome.  Proportional representation systems like Italy’s are designed to prevent meaningful change, so the effect of the recent constitutional referendum on Italian politics (which tends to be all froth and no substance) is likely to be limited.  France’s presidential elections pose a greater chance of political disruption.  Although it’s hard to imagine the National Front actually winning the election, as with Trump and Brexit there is once again the potential ... Read More

Britain and the E.U.: a loveless marriage

Why do people settle?

So many people end up in relationships which rock along without passion, or jobs which pay the bills but are at best a way to kill time.

Of course there are lots of reasons: the need for money, family obligations, children or just an unawareness or inability to believe that things could be different.  But I reckon the biggest reasons we settle are inertia and loss aversion: we prefer not to do today what can be done tomorrow, and choose the devils we know to those we can imagine.

Inertia and loss aversion are pretty much the only reasons Britain has been given for staying in the E.U.  David Cameron, desperately trying to keep Britain in (and keep his job) has repeatedly told us all that’s wrong with the E.U.  “But we must reform the E.U. from within – the British aren’t quitters!”  Hardly a positive case.  And Jeremy Corbyn, ... Read More

The day after the night before

Wow, what a surprising night. Going into the election results last night I expected what most people were expecting: the Conservatives to win the most votes, up a handful over Labour, but unable to form a government; and Labour and Ed Miliband limping into power on the back of a shaky supply and confidence agreement with the SNP.

Which would have been a disaster, regardless of what you think of Labour, Ed Miliband and the SNP, because it would not have been a stable government: every single vote in the House of Commons would have been subject to such horse trading that in this increasingly hyper-partisan world the only measures which would be able of mustering a majority would be precisely those bills which were so short-term and pandering that they should never have seen the light of day. What a relief, then, that instead we have a Conservative majority government.

Alongside ... Read More