I decided it was about time to reread The Origins of Totalitarianism. I was pleased to come across her description of the role of referenda, which I have often thought of in the context of recent UK history, but whose origin I had forgotten:
The mob is primarily a group in which the residue of all classes are represented. This makes it so easy to mistake the mob for the people, which also comprises all strata of society… Plebiscites, therefore, with which modern mob leaders have obtained such excellent results, are an old concept of politicians who rely upon the mob.
I was also pleased to see this comment about Jules Guérin, the founder of the French Ligue Antisémite:
Ruined in business, he had begun his political career as a police stool pigeon, and acquired that flair for discipline and organization which invariably marks the underworld.
I think that is all the demonstration required for my honesty and good character.
A continuing series (previous entries here, here, and here) about the kind of table-thumping simple-minded blather that you sometimes hear about public policy. It depends on drawing out very superficial aspects of the problem, and waving away the core difficulties with some appeal to optimism or courage or something. With reference to a Monty Python sketch, I call this approach How to Do It (HTDI).
Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond has described Boris Johnson’s policy-analysis process, which is pure HTDI:
When the pair discussed a ‘Canada’ style trade deal, ‘Boris sits there and at the end of it he says ‘yeah but, er, there must be a way, I mean, if you just, if you, erm, come on, we can do it Phil, we can do it. I know we can get there.’ ‘And that’s it!’ exclaimed the Chancellor, mimicking the Old Etonian.
The big story in all. the UK press is about the humiliation experienced by Theresa May –and by extension the entire British nation — from being ambushed by unanimous criticism of her “Chequers plan”.
It’s unusual to have an ambush that has been so comprehensively announced in advance. Fortunately, to help unravel it we happen to have a transcript of the top secret radio communications that preceded this ambush:
UK: Maybot here. We’re coming through the Chequers Pass.
EU: Don’t come this way. We have a big force, 27 strong, blocking the way. We can’t let you pass through here.
UK: No, we have to go through here. If we turn back our own rearguard will shoot us.
EU: We don’t want to attack you, but the Chequers Pass leads into dangerous territory. We can’t let anyone through.
UK: Maybot, approaching Chequers Pass.
EU: There are multiple other passes. Please take one of them.
Warning shots are fired.
UK: Ambush! Treachery!
When the onus is on some party in a negotiation, the point is to say which of several possible parties really needs to make a move. People have been pushing the onus back and forth in the Brexit negotiation:
But now Theresa May has announced at an EU summit that
the onus is now on all of us to get this deal done.
While I grant that her claim seems orthographically undeniable — onus = on us — I wonder what the prime minister could possibly be talking about. There literally are only two parties to the Brexit negotiation, the UK and the EU, so who else could the onus be on? Or is “us” her fellow heads of government in Salzburg, who have the responsibility to take the decision out of the hands of the bumbling bureaucrats of Brussels?
Official Britain is all in a tizzy. They are going to get an exclusive Brexit deal from the EU! Different from what international hoi polloi gets!
The pound has managed to stay above the $1.30 mark, after comments from Michel Barnier boosted hopes that a Brexit deal will be struck.
The EU’s chief negotiator said “we are prepared to offer Britain a partnership such as there never has been with any other third country”.
Is Barnier a used-car salesman? Is he mocking the UK? It’s like he read pop sociology about the British, and realised, they don’t care what you offer them, as long as it’s exclusive. They’ll eat shit, as long as you tell them they’re getting special access to rare hand-selected microturds.
People in the know are starting to think a disastrous “no deal” Brexit is now not at all unlikely. According to UK trade secretary Liam Fox
I have never thought it was much more than 50-50, certainly not much more than 60-40.
The Latvian foreign minister is only slightly more optimistic:
The chances of the UK securing a Brexit deal before it leaves the European Union in March are only 50:50, Latvia’s foreign minister has said ahead of talks with Jeremy Hunt.
Edgars Rinkevics said there was a “very considerable risk” that, with time rapidly running out, Britain could crash out of the bloc without a withdrawal agreement.
But not to worry. Rinkevics went on to say that
having said 50:50, I would say I am remaining optimistic.
I suppose, technically, he is more optimistic than Hunt. Why so gloomy, Jeremy, with your exaggerated estimate of 60% chance of disaster? I think it’s more like 50 percent. That’s a glass half full if ever I saw one…
Of course, an “optimist” is usually thought to be someone who thinks the chances of disaster are significantly less than a coin flip. (more…)
Two years ago Brexit proponents were promising an easy negotiation, followed by ponies for all. Now this:
The government has demanded that companies and industry groups involved in Brexit planning sign non-disclosure agreements in an attempt to prevent alarming details leaking out.
I think it’s a characteristic of most really auspicious, well-considered government policies that everyone involved in the planning needs to be bound to secrecy to prevent panic. It’s a lot like a national surprise party. Really, nothing says “strong, stable leadership” like nondisclosure agreements to prevent alarming details leaking out. The Times article continues:
That explains why the plan to publicise no-deal preparations throughout the summer has been canned. The original plan was scrapped after a meeting last week chaired by Philip Rycroft, the senior mandarin in the Brexit department. A source said: “People will shit themselves and think they want a new referendum or an election or think the Tory party shouldn’t govern again.
The EU has recommended in a new document that member governments make specific preparations for the possibility of the UK leaving the bloc without any negotiated arrangement.
Among other issues, it highlighted what a no-deal Brexit would mean for citizens, saying: “There would be no specific arrangement in place for EU citizens in the UK, or for UK citizens in the EU.”
Asked specifically about this, Raab said: “Well, I think that’s a rather irresponsible thing to be coming from the other side. We ought to be trying to reassure citizens on the continent and also here.”
Raab said it was “far-fetched and fanciful” to think that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, the government would not act “swiftly” to secure the legal position of EU nationals in the UK.
Irresponsible to be recommending preparations for an eventuality that leading members of the UK governing party are promoting as their preferred outcome.
Utterly fanciful to think that the UK parliament would not be capable of coming to a rapid consensus, particularly when it comes to assuring the human rights of foreigners, whom the political class all hold so dear. Why could anyone suspect that the UK government would not act with the utmost humanity and sensitivity to the situation of long-time UK residents whose legal position is not clearly defined. I can’t think of a single reason. What’s the worst that could happen?
And it’s not as though the UK hasn’t specifically refused to provide legally binding assurance that Europeans resident in the UK will maintain their current status. (The most charitable explanation for this is that they wish to threaten the EU citizens in the UK in order to raise pressure on the EU in the negotiations. So much for the EU document being irresponsible and “obviously an attempt to try and ramp up the pressure”.)
Now that Theresa May has forced her cabinet to acknowledge a tiny portion of the reality of Brexit, Boris Johnson has apparently taken to moping around Whitehall to make certain that no one will think that he’s happy to now be conspiring with reality to betray his cause.
The best line is this:
Those close to the foreign secretary say that he feels he has been “bounced” into agreeing to a deal that is a world away from the hard Brexit he campaigned for. “He thinks that what’s on the table is so flawed we might even be better off staying in,” one said.
A classic joke:
A rabbi announces in synagogue, at the end of Yom Kippur, that he despairs at the burning need for wealth to be shared more equally. He will depart for the next year to travel through the world, speaking to all manner of people, ultimately to persuade the rich to share with the poor. On the following Yom Kippur he returns, takes his place at the head of the congregation without a word, and leads the service. At the end of the day congregants gather around him. “Rabbi, have you accomplished your goal? Will the rich now share with the poor?” And he says, “Halfway. The poor are willing to accept.”
I thought of that on seeing this headline:
A mere 15 months after formally triggering the formal two-year process for exiting the EU, Conservative politicians have negotiated an (uneasy) agreement among themselves about what they hope to achieve from the process. Now, all that remains to wrap up in the next nine months is to get the approval of EU negotiators, the European Parliament and 27 national governments.
Update (7pm, 7/7/18): The Guardian website now posts this article with a different headline:
So, my suggestion that the first half of the Brexit negotiations had been successfully concluded was perhaps premature.