Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Brexit part two: majorities and responsibilities

This is cobbled together from two different comments dropped into a Guardian article (Theresa May rejects £50bn EU 'divorce settlement' figure)

There is a very specific problem with the 'binding majority' claim (over and above the apparent belief of Leave campaigners that 52% of 73% is some kind of Velvet Revolution). The problem is that support for the Leave campaign came disproportionately from the elderly, while support for Remain came from the young.

[figures are here The Conversation - Brexit blog]

A wafer thin majority based on predominantly elderly voters is of course vulnerable to the impact of time. Leave and Remain voters die every day, and every day new voters on both sides pass their eighteenth birthday, but analysis suggests that the cumulative effect of the age disparity is to undermine the mandate by about 1050 voters a day.

Given that the majority was only 635,000 (ie if 635,000 voters had voted the other way the outcome would have been 50:50), it's an easy mathematical trick to demonstrate that even if no-one changes their individual mind at all the nation will be changing its collective mind round about February 2018.

This makes the government's plight even funnier. Either they abandon Brexit, in which case they stand accused of betraying the democratic mandate by their own supporters, or they implement it in the face of opposition from a public that no longer want it.

Their only hope is to persuade Remain voters, abstainers and/or new voters that Brexit is a good thing. Unfortunately the steady drip drip drip of bad news from the real world makes that particular conjuring trick less and less likely. In fact, polls suggest we're passing the point of no return already, without having to maintain any kind of vigil outside nursing homes and sixth form colleges.

If it was anyone else you could almost feel sorry for them. As things stand, it's thrilling. And a political opportunity, the kind of economic and electoral own goal the right don't score too many times in a lifetime. No wonder Boris looked so horrified the day after.

[one commenter suggested that this effect might be illusory because if age makes people more likely to vote Leave then the rest of the population is slowly changing into Leave voters with the passage of time. I don't think Leave voting is caused by ageing, I think it's caused by being a member of a generation that is old now, because whilst it's a known thing that people become more rightwing as they age I would be surprised if it makes them more racist, nationalist or unable to grasp basic economic facts, but if I'm wrong then the passage of time will make that apparent]

As the debate shifts towards "whose fault is this dog's breakfast anyway?" it's worth remembering the following points.

First and foremost, the Tory right caused this. If it wasn't for them it would never have happened.
Cameron's regime can't be excused though. They called the referendum to resolve their internal party dispute, and they made a pig's ear of it. Firstly they made it advisory rather than mandatory, thus stranding us in a legal quagmire. Then they made it too vague to be any use - was it for hard or soft Brexit? No-one knows, and it could so easily have been spelt out. Even Leave voters would probably agree with us on this.

Finally, they ran a feeble Remain campaign that never took on the Tory right directly. This was obviously unwise, but they ignored advice to that effect before the vote.

Theresa May is seen in some quarters as the unlucky inheritor of other people's mess. It should be constantly emphasised that she was a member of the Cameron Cabinet that signed of on this.

I know I promised something on Boris, but trying to write it made me too ill. I think I may be one of those sensitive snowdrops we hear so much about.

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