Brexit or Bremain – An Algorithmic Approach

David Cameron faces 27 of his peers in Brussels tonight hoping to persuade the European Union’s leaders to accept a new deal for Britain. If there’s a deal there’ll probably be a referendum in June. The stakes are high, and whatever happens tonight and tomorrow, the referendum may still lead to Brexit.

I’d say the odds on Brexit and Bremain are close to even. I certainly wouldn’t put money on the issue. Cameron was a fool to promise a referendum, and I don’t doubt he regrets it bitterly, though perhaps he would have lost the General Election if he hadn’t. So, as people say nowadays, ‘we are where we are.’

brexit

News junkies aren’t starved of news and opinions, but it’s hard to know what to believe. I’m usually convinced by the most recent passionately expressed opinion I’ve heard. So I’ll attempt an algorithmic approach and assign a score to a few of the most commonly expressed opinions to reflect the extent to which I believe they recommend Brexit (0) or Bremain (10) and their weight in the overall argument. In respect of some of the more important considerations (economic, for example) I’ve listed a cluster of interconnected opinions. An average below 5 means Exit and an average above 5 means Remain.

First, I’ll make the calculation based on my own judgement, and then again based on my impression of what middle England might believe. Note that all these judgements, both mine and mine about Middle England, are formed two or three inches beneath the skull in a region where both logic and emotion contend (is there any place in the brain where these don’t contend?).

  • Brexit would lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom, with Scotland demanding a second referendum on independence [8]
  • Brexit would mean economic disadvantage for Britain [6]
  • Brexit would allow Britain to pursue economic policies less ‘statist’ than Europe’s [5]
  • Brexit would strengthen the global role of the City of London [4]
  • Brexit would weaken the global influence of the UK [6]
  • Brexit would enable Britain to control and curtail immigration [8]
  • Brexit would return powers to Westminster [6]
  • Brexit weakens Europe’s political stance in relation to Russia (6]
  • Brexit would slow the regional and global advance of human rights and common cultural values [6]
  • Brexit strengthens the cultural identity of the UK [6]
  • Brexit weakens the military influence of the UK [5]
  • Brexit would lead to the dissolution of the European Union (8)
  • Brexit would lead to German hegemony in Europe (6)

So, my average is 6.15. I’m clearly for Bremain.

What do I think middle England thinks?

  • Brexit would lead to the dissolution of the United Kingdom, Scotland demanding a second referendum on independence [6]
  • Brexit would mean economic disadvantage for Britain [6]
  • Brexit would allow Britain to pursue economic policies less ‘statist’ than Europe’s [5]
  • Brexit would strengthen the global role of the City of London [5]
  • Brexit would weaken the global influence of the UK [4]
  • Brexit would enable Britain to control and curtail immigration [3]
  • Brexit would return powers to Westminster [4]
  • Brexit weakens Europe’s political stance in relation to Russia (5]
  • Brexit would slow the regional and global advance of human rights and common cultural values [5]
  • Brexit strengthens the cultural identity of the UK [4]
  • Brexit weakens the military influence of the UK [5]
  • Brexit would lead to the dissolution of the European Union (4)
  • Brexit would lead to German hegemony in Europe (7)

 

Middle England’s average is 4.85, marginally for Brexit.

It’s going to be close.

But that’s looking at it largely from a British point of view. What’s very clear to me is that Brexit would be a disaster for the European Union. Frankly, I think that matters enormously, but I live in Prague in Middle Europe, not in Middle England.

Behind the scenes – expense@work at IPSA

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I’ve just returned to Prague from London, where I and my colleagues played a very minor role on the fringes of the UK’s General Election, helping to prepare expense@work, our expense management software, for the new intake of MPs and for the management of Winding Up expenses for those who were defeated or are standing down.

parliament

This was a good test of the design we implemented five years ago for the then new statutory body, IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority), which was set up to prevent any repetition of the scandalous abuse of the House of Commons’ former expenses regime. We had to come up with a design capable of expansion, extension and modification of the rules.

We originally implemented expense@work in just six weeks, following publication of the new MPs’ Expenses Scheme. It was the most intense and exciting system implementation project I have ever worked on. and we went live just in time for the new Parliament in May 2010.

expense@work has worked well over the last five years, tracking MPs’ expenses against budgets for staffing, office costs, accommodation and travel expenses, capturing and storing images of invoices and receipts.

The rules are complex, taking account of each MP’s family circumstances, the location of their constituency and their choice of main residence (London or constituency). And expense@work must work with payment cards, stationery retailers, travel websites (such as Trainline) and enable automatic validation against the rules at every point of entry. Workflow must ensure multi-level authorisation procedures where appropriate, and must enable export to IPSA’s public website:

IPSA’s Publication Website

Every year the rules change a little, so the last few days have been about simplification as well as managing the election process. We closed down the system on Wednesday at lunchtime and were ready for the MPs on Friday morning, however bleary-eyed they might have been after a long night of victory or defeat.

Whither Socialism?!

The results of Thursday’s election in the UK took us all by surprise. None of the P’s predicted it, neither pollsters, nor politicians, nor pundits. As the exit polls came in and the final results were predicted, political leaders vowed to eat their hats, or their kilts, if they were right, and now they must make good on those promises.

To my mind there was only one interesting surprise, the Labour Party’s failure outside Scotland.

That the Scottish National Party did well was no surprise at all. It was accurately predicted. The Referendum on Independence had energised politics in Scotland and Scottish consideration of Scotland’s interests. But I hope that the rejection of the Unionist parties doesn’t mean that Independence is the goal of all those who voted SNP.

The shocking collapse of the Lib-Dem vote (to which I would have added my own if I were not disenfranchised by 15 years’ residency outside the UK) was predictable, if not its appalling extent.

UKIP polled more or less as expected, and, unjustly, won only a single seat.

The real surprise was the failure of Labour. After the left-centrist politics of the Blair years, and encouraged by the Unions (whose influence won Ed Miliband the party leadership), the Labour Party moved consciously to the left, towards the ground it occupied in the 1970s and 1980s, both in policy and in language. Ed Miliband’s rhetoric, no doubt milder and more digestible than that of his Marxist intellectual father, was still based on an academic vision of class war, of the proletariat asserting its power. He saw the financial crisis of eight years ago as the predictable result of unfettered capitalism, a manifestation of its theoretical evils ,to be improved, if not entirely replaced by a socialist economic system designed in the university laboratory. New Labour’s cool about people becoming filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes, has no place in Ed Miliband’s emotional palette.

EdM

This old-socialist model is the prism (red and dead) through which Ed Miliband sees the world, but I suspect it’s not a vision that appeals to the ‘working families’ of today to whom he repeatedly referred in his speeches (though, who are they?). In reality he’s no more comfortable having tea with the ‘working classes’ than David Cameron, though I fancy Dave can eat a hamburger more elegantly. But I don’t think the geeky academic other-worldliness lost him the election, rather an ideology that doesn’t make sense any longer, that doesn’t chime with how people see themselves, and that can’t be applied to the economy we live and work in.

Of course, socialism can be a good thing, even without the Marxist theory. Let’s regulate capitalism, but not replace it. (To her credit, Margaret Thatcher saw that what ‘working people’ want is not class war, but a share of what the richer folks have – property and possibility. Fairness, not collective ownership.)

Whither Sociialism?!

Ed is now out, so what comes next? I’d suggest the Party put aside Das Kapital, but take some account, instead, of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. There’s a good argument to be made that inequality is a danger in itself. So, keep the proposals for an asset-value-oriented Mansion Tax, abolish the Non-Dom status, keep bashing down the walls of privilege and exclusion, don’t pander to xenophobia, but don’t be the Party of ‘working people’. Forget class. Take the vision and argue the case with everyone. The Labour Party needn’t be the party of ‘working families’ alone.

As for a new leader, jump a generation. Don’t choose between the Blair-ites and the Brown-ites. Choose someone new. I’d vote for Chuka Umunna myself.

chuka

And as for the SNP, whoever rules must now bow to the pressure for devolution. It’s fair that Scotland is asserting its own interests (I’m sure it’s that sense of making Scotland heard in Westminster rather than the ‘progressive’ aspect of Nicola Sturgeon’s policies that won the SNP their seats). But let’s keep the Union. Don’t let legitimate regionalism mutate further into toxic nationalism.

Why didn’t anyone foresee what was going to happen? Why were there so many ‘shy Conservatives’, saying one thing to the pollsters and then doing another? Could it be because Labour misguidedly puts itself forward as the ‘moral’, rather than the ‘pragmatic’ choice, and that we tell the pollsters how we would like to vote, not how we will.

Socialists don’t accept human nature as it is (Marx supposed that it could be transformed through Socialism). They have a generous but unreal idea of our human capacity for altruism. When we get to the ballot box we usually vote in our own narrower interests. At that moment, in private, we vote as we are, not as we would wish to be. The new Labour leadership must recognise that.

Polls and Polls – Reading the Tea Leaves

As the UK’s General Election approaches and the polls, and polls of polls, and polls of polls of polls, proliferate, the media have become desperate to tell us something new. But there’s nothing new to say. The polls haven’t budged much, nor indeed the polls of polls, or polls of polls of polls.

statistics

‘It’s probably going to be a hung Parliament. The Tories may get a few more seats than Labour, but they won’t have sufficient seats to form a Government, even with help from the Lib-Dems.’

That was what they told us five weeks ago. It’s still true.

So I was amused by the BBC’s recent Panorama programme on who’s going to win the election. In desperation they’d hauled in the most famous, and famously successful, pollster in the world – Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight – who got every state right in his prediction for the last Presidential Election. A fresh pair of eyes, and particularly this pair, must surely bring new insight to the game.

The BBC traipsed him around the UK, a sleek silver American caravan in tow (did it contain a statistical number cruncher?). He asked a few questions of the kind that any of us might ask, in markets, bingo halls, casinos, and the like, and made some unremarkable observations: ‘He’s a shy Tory,’ ‘She’s not going to change her mind,’ ‘He’s not telling you what he’s really thinking,’ and so on. They talked in a sophisticated way about the usual drift towards the incumbent party in the last few days. I think he may even have said, ‘It’s the marginals that really matter.’

And at the end of it, when the algorithms had done all their brainy statistical work, and I at least was fully hooked and desperate for a prediction, there came something like this:

‘It’s probably going to be a hung Parliament. The Tories may get a few more seats than Labour, but they won’t have sufficient seats to form a Government, even with help from the Lib-Dems.’

Well, that’s good to know.

A Note on UKIP and the Illogic of Voting for It

At least one of my friends and one of my relatives are considering voting for the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) candidate in next week’s General Election. As far as I can tell, both may do so largely as a protest against ‘interference’ from Brussels.

ballot

But this doesn’t make sense to me. Never mind that UKIP has put forward some very unsavoury candidates, whom their ‘normalisation’ project hasn’t quite succeeded in disguising. Rather, I take issue with any argument based largely on ‘interference’.

Doesn’t all government ‘interfere’, whether at village, town, county, regional, national or supranational level. Isn’t that what we elect a government to do? There’s undue pettiness, admittedly, in almost every  human institution, and we should constantly reform the machinery of state wherever we can, not least at EU level, but better to get on with that than get out of it.

I fear and distrust UKIP and any party that represents a particular national interest. I see no reason to believe that interference at national level is acceptable and at supranational level not. It all depends, of course, on the extent to which you feel you belong at one level or another. I am English, British, European, and human, so I accept the legitimacy of ‘interference’ at all of these levels, including, at the highest level, the United Nations. I have great difficulty in thinking of myself as British alone.

True, I don’t fully know what’ it means to feel European, but don’t ask me to say how it feels to be British either. Both notions, I hope, will always defy definition. Define them, and you start to hear the baying of thugs. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Britain can be more easily geographically defined than most countries.

UKIP, with its little Britisher mentality is certainly not for me.

So, don’t pretend the argument is about ‘interference’ alone. If you don’t want ‘interference’ vote Anarchist, if that isn’t a logical contradiction.