June 7th 2019
When I was a student at Warwick University, we had a vote on whether or not to ban smoking at the Union (this being a year or two before the national smoking ban came into effect). We voted in favour of the ban, as you can read in this Warwick Boar article from the time, "despite a massive campaign by senior Union officials claiming that a smoking ban would force huge budget cuts." Andy Dyer, the Finance Officer, apparently "said it was 'unlikely' that the Union Executive Committee would veto the new policy on financial grounds."
A few months down the line, and the Boar published a follow-up article noting that "the Union has decided not to implement the smoking ban passed in a student vote". Andy Dyer had something to say in that one as well: "Maintaining the Union's commercial surplus is more important to me than implementing a policy just because it's passed in a referendum."
I was never much interested with student politics (although I did have a letter published in the Boar around this time, noting the smoking ban volte face as well as the underhand reversal of the Union's "no stance" on abortion - the original vote getting a mention in the first article linked above), but this obvious affront to democracy clearly had a more profound effect on me than I'd realised at the time. It has stayed with me, and I'm apparently not the only one: the two articles I've linked to above are the only ones on the Boar website from the three years I was at Warwick. My point is, if I didn't already believe that it's important to follow through on democratic votes, I certainly did after that.
Which brings me on to Brexit. I voted Remain in 2016, after hemming and hawing for a while, but my belief that we'd be better off (all else being equal) in the EU is vastly outweighed by my belief that Parliament needs to honour the rest of a democratic referendum. And, since I'm sure no one is tired of hearing about Brexit and I've not yet troubled the blogosphere with my thoughts on the topic, I thought I'd do so today, addressing the different arguments I've heard and explaining why I hold the views I do. To be clear, this is not intended to be a way of persuading people to my point of view, still less to belittle the arguments of others. It's just what I think.
Leaving the EU would be bad for the UK, so surely we should stay?
There is strong evidence that leaving the EU would be financially detrimental, yes. When I made my vote in the referendum, I weighed that up against the benefits of leaving, including no longer being subject to the sillier rulings of the ECJ, and having more sovereignty in setting our own laws. In the end I decided that the benefits of staying outweighed the benefits of leaving. I had my vote. It counted one. Even if I believed now with all my heart that the EU was an earthly paradise, my vote would still only count one. I lost; I got over it. Whatever the drawbacks of leaving the EU, I think they pale into insignificance against the drawbacks of denying our own democracy.
But the Leave campaign lied
They did. So, in fact, did the Remain campaign. Remember George Osborne saying that we'd need an emergency budget immediately after the referendum if we voted to leave? (If you read the Boar articles linked above, you might enjoy the uncanny parallels of the Union insisting that swingeing cuts would be needed to their own budget in the light of a smoking ban.) Or how about Nick Clegg insisting that there was never any possibility of a European army, only to have Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel enthusing about the idea this year?
Perhaps the Leave campaign lied more than the other side, even if you discount the supposed "lies" that are really nothing more than different interpretations or beliefs. Unfortunately I don't think you can negate a vote because the winners weren't wholly truthful: if you could, then I'm not sure any political party would be able to claim power. For example, should Jeremy Corbyn's claims that rising fees have dissuaded lower income students from university - factually and demonstrably untrue - prevent the Labour party from taking power?
More people want to Remain now. Isn't that the "will of the people"?
Firstly, if the last few years of politics have taught us anything, it's that polls cannot be trusted. Even if recent polls have put Remain above Leave - and there seems little evidence of a huge swing in that direction - that doesn't mean that they'd win a referendum. And, to be honest, even if the majority of people did want Remain now, I don't think that should make a difference: political opinions swing back and forth all the time, and you can't just do whatever the last poll said. Recently there was a poll indicating that the Brexit Party would get the most votes in a general election - should they become the ruling party? Of course not.
If there genuinely was evidence of a huge swing to Remain - and, given the inaccuracy of polls, it would have to be huge - I could concede that a different course of action should be taken. But there really isn't, and given the rise of the Brexit party (notwithstanding the Lib Dem and Green votes) it doesn't look like there will be any time soon.
We know a lot more now than we did in the referendum
Well, yes and no. I agree that we voted in the referendum without any real idea of what "Brexit" might be, or how difficult it would be to achieve it, or even how big an issue the Irish border (for example) would be. Frankly, I don't think we should ever have had the referendum - that's a longer blog post - but the fact is that we did, and if we had another one tomorrow I'm not sure there's masses more clarity than we had the first time. I've heard plenty of claims that it's now clear just what a bad idea Brexit is, but a lot of these are just restatements of arguments that were made by the Remain campaign in 2016 and were unsuccessful then.
Even leaving that to one side, it is naturally true that we know at least a little more as time passes: that's true after all votes. If Labour won the next general election, but it was then decided a bit later, with more information, that a Labour government was actually a bad idea, this would not be a reasonable argument for overturning the election result.
Besides, when we voted to join the EEC in 1975 - well, I wasn't born, but you know what I mean - we didn't have anything close to the full information on what would morph into the EU. This in itself wasn't enough to overturn the result; there was just a 41 year wait before the question was asked again. I wouldn't argue against a referendum to re-join in 2057.
Would you have opposed the (initially) democratic rise of Hitler?
This is a genuinely testing one. There comes a point where even democratic outcomes have to be challenged - not just the obvious case of Hitler, but also any example of oppression and injustice that is officially sanctioned throughout history. Do I think that leaving the EU is an example of this kind of thing? No, of course not. It's an administrative arrangement between nations. Switzerland isn't in it. Norway isn't in it. Not being in the EU is a perfectly reasonable position for any nation to find itself in, and is not a harbinger of fascism.
Yes, I don't like the Brexit party or the pollution of racism and xenophobia that surrounds many of their most vociferous adherents. I don't like the idea that they are happy about the Brexit result. But democracy doesn't allow us to negate the votes of people we don't like, even if dislike them with very good cause. And, besides, 52% voted for it. They're not all Faragey.
More importantly, denying the outcomes of democratic votes is utterly the style of dictators. If, having voted to leave the EU, we didn't do it, we would have no leg to stand on when telling other nations - Turkey, Afghanistan, wherever - to respect their people's votes. I don't think it's possible to overstate the importance of this.
The referendum was only advisory
This is a late edit, because I forgot about this argument when I first wrote the post. It is weaker than the others, in my view, which is perhaps why I forgot it. Yes, technically the referendum was only advisory, but it was made very clear - indeed, it was explicitly confirmed - that the government would carry out whatever we decided. It is in extremely bad faith to suggest otherwise.
The Leave campaign cheated, though
I've left this one till last because I think it's the strongest argument. The Leave campaign did cheat - they've been found guilty of it - and I find it difficult that this doesn't have significant repercussions. Should it lead to a cancellation of the result? On balance I think not, because of the size of the expected impact of the aforementioned cheating, but it is one I struggle with. You can't be allowed to win by breaking the rules; it appears that the rule-breaking was not fundamental to the victory, so I guess it's not monumental enough for a re-run.
To be honest, I'd go along with this argument for annulling the vote a lot more readily if it hadn't only been leapt at once all the other arguments had been tried. There are many Remain voters who made clear that they wanted to overturn the result from the minute the outcome was announced, and they didn't much care which argument they used. They have cried wolf too often, and if this is really wolf - and, on balance, I think it's not quite lupine enough - I'm afraid it's too late.
A lot of thoughts, but they all really boil down to the same thing. If we vote to ban smoking in the Union then there should be a ban, even if the financial impact is significant and the powers that be think it's a bad idea. If we vote to leave the EU, the same applies. Once you start deciding which votes to honour and which ones to ignore, you lose the trust of the people forever.
June 12th 2019
I recently rediscovered by Exam Diary, a part of this page where I documented the process of taking exams in each of my three years at Warwick University. I read it in its entirety yesterday, and while some of it seems a trifle obscure - I rattle on a bit about limsups for a while; these days I couldn't tell you what those are, although they sound like something Co-op might sell to stave off a cold - and some of my bold predictions turned out to be way off (including one made in the same sentence that I suggest I won't be making predictions any more), there's plenty that still chimes today.
Today, in case you were wondering, was the day of my first Masters exam, on Analytic Number Theory. My first proper exam for eight years and my first maths exams for 12 years, but some things don't change: in each of the three years of Warwick exams I noted that the first exam didn't seem to go as well as hoped, and that's the case again today. Unlike those other times, though, I don't have any other exams coming up - not, at least until next year - since I'm studying through the Open University at a slow one-module-a-year pace at the moment.
Before you get too worried about me, I would say that I set the bar pretty high for myself. In terms of maths exams, anyhow. When it comes to other things - dress sense, say, or how I often I push a hoover around - the bar is resolutely low, but exams-wise I like to go into the test knowing that I can handle more or less anything they throw at me. The thing that rankles today is that, actually, I could have handled more of it than I actually did.
To begin my woes, such as they are: there were six questions, of which I had to do four. In the two practice papers I'd done all six, so hadn't really honed my skills at choosing which ones to tackle, and that was my first mistake - in the end I only left out one question (I'll explain later why 6 - 2 = 5) and, glancing through it after the time had run down, I realised that it was probably the second easiest on the paper and I should have been able to get pretty close to full marks on it without too much difficulty. Bah.
Anyways, I got stuck on the final part of one of the questions, and decided that (having plenty of time) I might as well start another one fresh rather than spend more time trying to figure out the one I was stuck on - hence why I ended up trying 5 questions rather than 4 - and, having done that, I then got stuck on the final part of the next question I chose. As above, this could have been avoided if I'd chosen the easy question rather than the hard ones - although, in my defence, it's generally not easy with a lot of these to tell if they're going to be easy or hard before you're already mired in them. Having got stuck twice, and with about 40 minutes left of the 3 hours, I decided not to start the sixth question and instead to keep working on the two I was stuck on; in the end I got somewhere towards an answer on one of them, which may or may not pick up a reasonable number of marks but I'm pretty sure wasn't what the exam-setter had in mind.
With time ticking down, I decided to check my answers. Smart, right? Well, not so much, given that I changed an answer that was probably correct to one that (as I realised as I walked back to the railway station afterwards) very much wasn't, as I'd made an entirely facile error, probably panicking a bit under time pressure.
All in all, the exam has probably gone reasonably well. I have no idea what Open Uni do with their curves, but ignoring any grade manipulation I imagine I've got somewhere in the 70s (this prediction may, like others before it, come back to bite me). But it's frustrating, because I know I should really have got about 10 marks more than I did, and I won't have another chance to demonstrate what I've learned (the assignments, for which I got an average 85, don't count towards the grade). All those evenings and weekends of study, and days of revision, and it all comes down to a couple of silly mistakes on a Wednesday morning in a Mercure hotel.
On the bright side, I did better than the other two people who were due to sit this exam in Bristol, because they didn't actually show up. Anyways. One down, five to go. I'll see you next year.
|what was I listening to?
A New Day At Midnight - David Gray
|what was I reading?
Brown at 10 - Anthony Seldon
|what was I watching?