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By the editor, Jun 7 2018 11:47AM

The Government is committed to securing the best possible Brexit for the UK.


But we realise this is a complex business, and not always easily understood. We have been contacted by a number of people who voted to leave the EU, expressing some concern that things weren’t necessarily panning out the way they expected, and asking for updates on progress. Some Frequently Asked Questions, and our answers, are set out below.


1. Why don’t we just bloody well get on with it and leave?


- Believe us, very sincerely on this point: we are doing this, in fact we’re doing very little else, and we will be doing very little else, for years and possibly decades to come.


2. We voted to get the same benefits from the EU, with fewer costs: is that still going to happen?


- Not exactly. You’ll get rather significantly fewer benefits, with slightly greater costs.


3. Will we get more control of our borders?


- To some extent. There will be a lot more customs officials than before.


4. But we will be able to reduce immigration?


- Yes. This is a big win. We won’t actually be implementing any new measures on this, but there will be no need: our slowing economy and the hostile environment we’ve created for foreigners has already ensured a reduction in those wishing to come here, and the good news is this will self-perpetuate: lower immigration will further worsen our economy, so even fewer people will want to come here.


5. Will we be stopping the European Court of Justice telling us what to do?


- Absolutely. It will be the UK courts who’ll now be telling us to obey the ECJ.


6. Will we be reducing all that red tape from Brussels?


- Yes, significantly. A lot of that red tape will be manufactured in the UK from now on. In fact, there will be a lot more of it, so that’ll be more British jobs for British workers, especially for those with law degrees.


7. But what about all the existing EU law – when do we get rid of that?


- No, we’re keeping that. It’s just that we’ll be writing the new laws ourselves. Well, copying the EU laws, but using our words. At least, that’s our ambition in the negotiations.


8. Can we still go on holiday to Europe just like before?


- Yes, more or less. But probably less. You may want to factor in longer journey times, given the delays at ports and airports. It’ll continue to be a lot more expensive, of course, because of sterling’s depreciation. And it’ll be sensible not to get ill, or get mugged, or get into trouble of any sort, since we may not have the same reciprocal agreements on things like that. And steer clear of holiday romances, since cross-breeding is obviously discouraged now. On the other hand, holidays in the UK are likely to be a lot cheaper.


9. We will be able to sign lots of new trade deals with countries from outside the EU?


- Yes. In theory. In practice, this won’t happen straightaway. In some cases, in fact probably most cases, if not all, it may not happen at all. A major reason other countries want to trade with us is because we’re a good means of entry into the EU, and of course we won’t be any more. Also for some reason a lot of countries have looked at the way we’ve negotiated with the EU and decided we aren’t very trustworthy. Or competent. And we don’t seem very welcoming to foreigners (see FAQ 4). On the plus side, we’ve got the royal family, who may be able to drum up support in some of the old colonies.


10. What about the £350 million a week extra for the NHS?


- There was a slight accounting error here. The actual figure was minus £350 million a week for the NHS, once the hit to our economy was taken into account. But on the bright side, there will be many fewer immigrants available to cope with staff shortages, so we may be paying less for the NHS anyway.


11. What sort of deal are we looking at?


- We’re going for something in the best traditions of British straight-talking, common sense, and premium quality bespoke tailoring. Think Geoffrey Boycott crossed with Roger Moore. Put simply: outside the CU but inside a CU, outside the EEA, but inside the SM for goods, although outside the SM for services, under the jurisdiction of the ECHR, outside the jurisdiction of the ECJ, inside Euratom, outside EFTA, inside OSCE, outside ESA, inside Interpol, outside Europol (not to be confused with EUPOL, which we’ll also be outside), and outside CFCA, CPVO, EU-OSHA, FRONTEX, EASA, ECDC, Cedefop, ECHA, EEA (not to be confused with the EEA), EFSA, EUROFOUND, GSA, EMSA, EMA (previously EMEA), EMCDDA, ENISA, ERA, ETF, FRA (previously EUMC), OHIM, and of course CdT, but nevertheless working with our wider international partners in UNECE, the ISO, CODEX, OECD and WCO in order to ensure a smooth accommodation of mutually beneficial regulatory standards. In summary, CETA+?+, with a splash of UK-specific FTA.


12. Couldn’t we get a better deal if we just threatened to leave without one?


- As a negotiating ploy, threatening to shoot yourself in the head does carry some risks. But in any event, now the EU have realised that we’ve made no contingency plans, this is rather like pointing a gun at yourself that has no bullets. Less risky, perhaps, but not particularly persuasive.


13. Will there be a “hard” or “frictionless” border in Northern Ireland?


- Whether we implement the MaxFac option, or the MinInfrastruc option, or more likely, whatever the EU tells us to implement, we are clear: whether hard, or soft, smooth or grating, this will be a red, white and blue border (on one side at least – green on the other); and borders mean borders, and we’re going to make a success of them.


14. Are we going to take back control of our fishing rights?


- What is it with Brexiteers and fish? Who gives a flying?


15. It’s not my fault though, is it? When I voted to leave I didn’t think you’d make such a complete fucking hash of it.


- That’ll be because of your trust in the administrative skill, strategic and tactical brilliance, imaginative flair, and honesty and decency of UK politicians, would it? I think we’ll just leave that one with you, if that’s okay.



By the editor, Jan 9 2018 09:35PM

Test Matches used to be run by two on-field umpires as a sort of benevolent diarchy, with absolute powers. Deference towards these despots was part of the treasured spirit of the game. But as television replays became more sophisticated, and other technology emerged, some umpiring decisions that might once have been questionable became indisputably wrong. The result has been the addition of the third umpire, sitting off-field, consulting approved technology, to assist decision-making under the Decision Review System (DRS).


Despite resistance from traditionalists, DRS is set to stay. But there remain misgivings. This blog is going to have a brief look at the relevant Laws to consider whether these misgivings might have anything to do with the way the Laws have been drafted, and how they are applied. (The current laws governing test match cricket around the world are here: https://pulse-static-files.s3.amazonaws.com/ICC/document/2017/10/05/226f919d-1bdd-4719-a32b-11b582a1c8a0/ICC-Men-s-Test-Match-Playing-Conditions-2017-Code-FINAL-051017.pdf.)


Consider for example the following scenario. A batsman given Out “Leg Before Wicket” (LBW) who reviews the decision stays Out when the ball-tracker technology (usually “HawkEye”) shows the trajectory of the ball to be just clipping the edge of the stumps; whereas if the batsman had been given Not Out to the same ball, and the bowler had reviewed, the batsman would have remained Not Out.


To some this seems perverse. Surely only one outcome should be allowed?


A CRIMINAL LAW PERSPECTIVE


The outcome of the scenario above can be justified. There is a corollary here with criminal law. There is something similar to a “burden of proof” on the prosecution – the bowler – before someone can be given Out: the bowler must usually ask the umpire for a decision. There is something similar to a “criminal standard of proof” before a defendant – the batsman – can be sent down to the pavilion. So for example Clause 31.6 of the Laws state that “If… there is still doubt remaining, the decision shall be Not out.” And although a decision by the on-field umpires is “final” (Clause 2.12), there is an appeal to a higher court in certain circumstances: to the third umpire, and his use of technology (Appendix D of the Laws).


Such a means of understanding the rules makes this scenario more understandable. There must be sufficient evidence to be sure that a batsman is Out. Neither the on-field umpire nor the technology can be relied on 100%. But if both umpire and technology conclude that a batsman is Out, then the evidence is sufficient, beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, if either the umpire or the technology (or both) conclude that a batsman is Not Out, then there is a reasonable doubt, even if it may be more probable than not that he was, in fact, Out.


To adapt a maxim well-known in the criminal law: better that 10 guilty batsmen stay on the field, than that 1 not guilty batsman is sent back to the pavilion. (Though whether bowlers would agree with this is a different matter.)


Unfortunately, this neat comparison breaks down on a detailed consideration of the Laws. There is no authoritative statement regarding the standard of proof. Clause 31.6 referred to above only concerns decisions taken following consultation between the umpires. It would be odd if other decisions should be taken on a different basis, so it may be implied that the same standard applies to all decisions. Also there seems to be an understanding, or convention, that this standard applies. But that’s only an assumption. And given the wording of other Laws regarding decisions as to when Out and Not Out decisions should be made, there remains uncertainty as to whether the criminal standard applies consistently, or whether in certain cases the civil standard of proof (more probable than not) may apply.


The authority of the higher court – when the third umpire and technology are involved – is even more unclear.


There is nothing that sets out clearly which umpire or umpires make a final decision once DRS is used. It appears to depend on what type of review, and what means of dismissal, is involved.


There are 2 types of review: 1) an Umpire Review – where the on-field umpires decide to ask the third umpire for his input before making a decision; and 2) a Player Review – where one of the players asks for a review of a decision the on-field umpires have already made.


Umpire Reviews are available for most types of dismissal except LBW. Player Reviews are available for all types of dismissal except “Timed Out”. So both types of review are available for most types of dismissal, with the exception of LBW, which is only available via Player Review. (Quite why that is, when LBW is the most technically difficult issue to determine, is yet another mystery, which I won’t go into further here.)


UMPIRE REVIEWS


Regarding Umpire Reviews, the Laws state as follows (Appendix D, para 2):


In the circumstances detailed in paragraphs 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4 below, the on-field umpire shall have the discretion to refer the decision to the third umpire or, in the case of paragraphs 2.2, and 2.4, to consult with the third umpire before making the decision.


This suggests two categories within the Umpire Review umbrella. Regarding the first category (applying to paragraphs 2.1 – 2.4), a decision is referred to the third umpire, i.e. it is the third umpire who makes that decision. Regarding the second category (applying only to paragraphs 2.2 and 2.4), the third umpire is only consulted before the on-field umpire makes the decision.


Having pored over paragraph 2.2 (“caught decisions, obstructing the field”), I’m at a loss to understand the circumstances in which second category decisions, as opposed to first category decisions, should be made. The processes seem to operate in one way only, and sub-paragraph 2.2.3 states: “the third umpire shall determine whether the batsman has been caught, whether the delivery was a Bump Ball, or if the batsman obstructed the field.” In other words, it seems that despite what is stated by para 2 above, in fact the final decision under para 2.2 is always that of the third umpire, not the on-field umpires. Paragraph 2.4 (“Batsmen Running to the Same End”) doesn’t concern a decision whether to dismiss, though it too suggests that the third umpire makes the final decision.


So on balance, it seems likely that, despite the wording of Appendix D paragraph 2, where there is an Umpire Review, it is always the third umpire who should make the final decision. But the lack of clarity could obviously give rise to uncertainty, so the position is far from satisfactory.


PLAYER REVIEWS


Regarding Player Reviews, the position appears to be different. Appendix D para 3.3 sets out the “Process of Consultation”, and paras 3.3.8 to 3.3.9 state that, following consultation:


3.3.8 The on-field umpire shall then make his/her decision based on the information provided by the third umpire, any other factual information offered by the third umpire and his/her recollection and opinion of the original incident.


3.3.9 The on-field umpire shall reverse his/her decision if the nature of the supplementary information received from the third umpire leads him/her to conclude that his/her original decision was incorrect.


These provisions appear – fairly clearly – to reserve the final decision to the on-field umpires. It would seem that the third umpire acts here in a consultative role, akin to an “expert witness” in a criminal trial. In theory, it would appear open to the on-field umpire to stick to his decision even following a clear conclusion from the third umpire, based on the technology, that the original decision was wrong.


But why should the third umpire make the final decision following an Umpire Review, and the on-field umpires make the final decision following a Player Review?


But before we can start speculating about that, unfortunately there are other features of the decision-making process under Player Reviews that suggest that the on-field umpires are not free to take the final decision in all circumstances.


REVIEWS OF LBW DECISIONS


There are numerous provisions of the “Review of LBW Decisions” at para 3.4 that, in effect, force the on-field umpire’s hand. For example, regarding the use of ball-tracking technology to determine where the ball pitched, para 3.4.4.4 states: “…the batsman shall be Not out if the ball pitched outside leg”. The point here is that the Laws make it clear, albeit by inference, that whether the ball actually did pitch “outside leg” is determined by the technology. In this case, the batsman “shall be” Not Out. The on-field umpire – and the third umpire for that matter – appears to have no discretion at all to overrule the verdict of the technology.


Regarding two other issues – where the ball impacted the batsman, and whether the ball went on to hit the stumps - the on-field umpire’s original decision is certainly given considerable weight, since the technology reports whether the ball was predicted to be only partly within the impact Zone and whether only a part of the ball was predicted to have hit the stumps. In both cases, these are “Umpire’s Calls”, and the on-field’s umpire’s decision would stand either way, provided other conditions are met.


It is unclear, though, in what way the on-field umpire has any deliberative role in the review process on any of these 3 factors. (The third umpire clearly has no such role: he is simply a messenger, relaying what the technology tells him.) With one possible exception, it appears that the review process regarding these 3 factors is simply a matter of the technology reviewing whether the original decision should stand, irrespective of any further determination by the umpires. The one possible exception is set out in para 3.4.9, which states that “the predicted height of the ball after pitching… shall remain a judgment of the bowler’s end umpire”. Does this give scope for the on-field umpire to decide whether the ball would have hit the stumps? It’s hard to see what this would be, given the provisions that treat the technology’s predictions as conclusive. And even if there is this power, why does it only apply regarding height, and not regarding any other matter?


There are other factors that may affect LBW decisions – for example, whether there was a No Ball, or whether the ball hit the bat before hitting the batsman. The third umpire shall “judge” those matters (para 3.4.1), though perhaps we should assume the principle in paras 3.3.8 – 3.3.9 still applies: the third umpire and technology are there to assist, but ultimately the decision is for the on-field umpire.


If so, it seems odd that the ball-tracking technology is to be treated as determinative, but the other technology as merely informative.


Besides, this distinction doesn’t seem to be followed in practice. Witnessing DRS in action, it seems that the same deference is shown to technology indicating whether there has been contact between bat and ball as there is to technology indicating whether the ball was likely to hit the stumps. The difference in practice is that the latter technology sometimes appears less than definitive, and so the third umpire’s own interpretation comes into play.


And note also that it does seem to be the third umpire, rather than the on-field umpire, who makes the final decision. This appears to contradict what is stated in the Laws.


And finally, the admission of at least some technological evidence as determinative is likely to contribute to confusion as to the correct standard of proof. Consider Pitching, for example. Here, the technology is treated as infallible. There is no “Umpire’s Call”. So if the original decision was Not Out, on the basis that the umpire thought the ball probably pitched in line, but wasn’t sure, and the technology indicates that the ball just pitched in line (and all other conditions for LBW are met), this in effect confirms the umpire’s view (ie the ball probably pitched in line, but it was too close to be sure), but appears to change the decision from Not Out to Out. The justification for this may be that the technology is more reliable than the umpire on this point. But if so, why is it less reliable on other points? This muddies the conceptual waters. If the on-field umpire still has doubts whether the ball pitched in line, and given that the technology can’t be trusted 100%, isn’t that sufficient to amount to reasonable doubt? It’s unclear if there’s any scope for the on-field umpire to overrule the technology on this basis.


WHAT DOES IN FACT HAPPEN IN THESE SCENARIOS?


What really happens under DRS appears much simpler than the convolutions described above, no doubt in part as a pragmatic response to the difficulties of interpreting the Laws. The third umpire consults the technology, and when it provides evidence that the batsman was probably out or not out, the original decision is confirmed or reversed accordingly (subject to the “Umpire’s Call” provisions on LBW decisions).


When the evidence is inconclusive, there is usually a significant delay while the third umpire makes up his mind, while several technological aids are played and replayed (it never appears to be the on-field umpires making up their minds). This is despite the rule in para 3.3.6 of Appendix D stating that, on Player Review at least, inconclusive evidence should mean “that the on-field decision should stand”.


WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?


Regarding the standard of proof, it seems that in theory there needs to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt before a batsman can be given Out. But that principle is not laid down with certainty in the Laws. And the provisions on DRS appear to dilute it. In practice it seems likely that review decisions are made on the balance of probabilities.


It is difficult to pin down who is responsible for DRS decisions. But it seems that in theory there are 3 different ways that such decisions should be made, depending on the type of review, type of dismissal, and element of dismissal to be determined: 1) the final decision is made by the on-field umpire, 2) the final decision is made by the third umpire, or 3) the final decision is made by the technology. In practice it seems likely that the decision is made by the technology whenever it comes to a clear conclusion, and by the third umpire whenever the conclusion is unclear.


So the umpires are now the servants of the technology, even if the reverse might have been intended. Marginal decisions are now agonised over off-field, rather than being decided on-field, in favour of the batsmen. So it’s the machines and the bowlers who’ve ended up in the ascendant. A system that was meant only to stop blunders has ended up fundamentally altering how decisions are made.



By the editor, Sep 4 2017 12:05PM

Payments made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority have been in the news recently, particularly because of a payment made to Jemma Beale for what turned out to be false claims of rape and other sexual offences, for which she has subsequently been convicted. (An excellent analysis of that case can be found here: http://barristerblogger.com/2017/08/30/ian-watkins-jemma-beale-cases-make-us-uncomfortable-justice-system/#more-2303.)


This blog considers a number of features of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which the CICA operates, that may strike those who are unfamiliar with it as surprising and perhaps disturbing. The full scheme can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/243480/9780108512117.pdf.


There's already been comment on what many would agree to be a low sum for a "standard" rape, which was awarded to Ms Beale, £11,000. If you take a look at Annex E to the Scheme, there is a comprehensive list of the tariffs for each injury, from £1000 for a perforated ear drum up to £250,000 for quadraplegia. (Interestingly, death comes at the lower end of the scale. Payments to bereaved relatives are fairly token.) The full calculation may need to take account of multiplier tables and other factors. The maximum anyone can get is £500,000.


These assessments of the financial value to be attached to different injuries will inevitably strike the observer as being inadequate and unbalanced to some degree. One obvious criticism to make is that all the sums look too low. The response of the Government here (the CICA is an agency of the Ministry of Justice, and the Scheme is the responsibility of the MoJ) would be that at a time of intense pressure on public funds, there isn't scope for increasing amounts across the board. People are likely to differ as to what sums look relatively too high or too low. This writer is slightly surprised at what appear to be relatively low sums for sexual and mental injuries compared to the others, but it is possible to see arguments the other way..


It is actually two other aspects of the Scheme that are more worrying. The first aspect concerns the CICA's powers to withhold or reduce awards. The second aspect concerns what constitutes a "criminal injury" for the purposes of the Scheme.


Powers to reduce or withdraw compensation otherwise payable


There is the following provision in paragraph 25 of the Scheme: "Annex D sets out the circumstances in which an award under this Scheme will be withheld or reduced because the applicant to whom an award would otherwise be made has unspent convictions."


So the effect of this is that those who themselves have been convicted of an offence are liable to lose all or some of the compensation they'd otherwise be entitled to (unless the conviction is "spent"). Note that's it's irrelevant whether the earlier conviction has any connection with the crime that led to the injury. It's not limited to convictions resulting in imprisonment, or violent crimes. The rationale presumably is that those who've caused harm through criminal activity should not be compensated - or not to the same degree as others - when they themselves suffer harm.


But this does in effect impose a double punishmemt on those convicted. Their original sentence determined the full extent to which they should be punished. It seems unfair and disproportionate to punish someone again, particularly when it results from an injury, for which they may be entirely blameless. Also, is it a sensible social policy? Imagine if someone has been convicted, and has seved their sentence, and is trying to get their life in order, and then gets attacked and permanently disabled, or raped. Why shouldn't they get as fully compensated for that injury as anyone else in order to help them get their life back on track? Arguably the value to society of that compensation is at least as high as that given to any other person.


The suspicion here is that, whatever the official rationale, the real reason for this provision is to limit the potential for tabloid stories about criminals getting payouts from the taxpayer.


But at least it's possible to see the theoretical basis for this provision. Other provisions are more opaque.


In paragraph 25: “An award may be withheld or reduced where the conduct of the applicant before, during or after the incident giving rise to the criminal injury makes it inappropriate to make an award or a full award.”


It's possible to see here that if, for example, the applicant was a person who was involved in a fight, and provoked the assailant, or struck a few blows himself, there may be some contributory blame, and it may be fair to reduce any compensation. But the provision is worded incredibly widely. It leaves it entirely up to the CICA to determine what type and level of "conduct" might make it "inappropriate" to make a full award. For example, if one of these officials disapproves of women getting drunk. mignt he decide to withdraw an award to a date rape victim? And how long "after" the incident might such conduct be relevant? Could this concern conduct that has nothing to do with the crime, concerning assessments of a person's general character?


Such a provision encourages officials to look beyond what a court has determined at trial, and make their own value judgements about the suitability of an applicant in determining whether they deserve compensation.


What constitutes a "criminal injury" under the Scheme?


The second worrying aspect of the Scheme concerns how it defines a "criminal injury" in the first place. This is simultaneously narrower and wider than might be expected.


It's narrower because some injuries - however severe - will not be compensated because the crimes will not be classified as a "crime of violence", and so are excluded from the Scheme (see paragraph 4 and Annex B). "Crime of violence" is a slight misnomer, because violence isn't a prerequisite, although the description does gives a flavour of what is included (as well as offences causing physical violence, sex offences are included, as are offences including threats of violence). Crimes such as fraud will be excluded, whatever mental suffering might have resulted. In addition, a crime "will not constitute a crime of violence unless it is done either intentionally or recklessly". So if the prosecution is only able to prove that a crime was committed negligently, for example, compensation probably wouldn't be payable, however serious the injury..


It's also wider in scope for two reasons: firstly, no conviction needs to have occurred, and secondly, conduct that is not actually capable of being prosecuted as a crime is also included.


Paragraph 10 is unequivocal on the first point: “A person may be eligible for an award under this Scheme whether or not the incident giving rise to the criminal injury to which their application relates has resulted in the conviction of an assailant…”


So this means that CICA officials can decide that a crime has been committed in the absence of any determination by a court, and compensate accordingly. There are of course many reasons why a conviction does not occur after someone has suffered, or says they have suffered, harm. It may be lack of reliable evidence, for example. Perhaps the CPS decides not to prosecute, or perhaps a trial collapses for some reason. There's obviously a very careful process in place to test this. But under the Scheme, all that can be bypassed, for the purposes of determining compensation.


On the second point, under Annex B paragraph 3:


"In exceptional cases, an act may be treated as a crime of violence where the assailant: ... (b) is a child below the age of criminal responsibility who in fact understood the consequences of their actions."


So the CICA can determine for themselves that an act that's incapable of being a crime in law - because the child concerned is too young to commit a criminal act - is nevertheless a crime for the purposes of the Scheme. Under an earlier version of this Scheme, this resulted in one case in the CICA giving compensation regarding an injury allegedly inflicted by a three year old child. Only "allegedly", of course, because this was never tested at a criminal trial, because three year olds can't be prosecuted. It was the CICA officials who made that finding. And note they would have had to be satisfied that the three year old had acted "recklessly or intentionally".


Of course opinions differ about the correct minimum age of criminal responsibility. But a line has to be drawn somewhere - for criminal trials, anyway. For the CICA, it's up to them, to determine on a case-by-case basis.


This brings us to what may be the most troubling aspect of all this. Under Annex B paragraph 2 (d), a "crime of violence" for the purposes of the Scheme includes "a sexual assault to which a person did not in fact consent".


The words "in fact" are important here. They're added for a reason. They mean that it may be insufficient that a criminal conviction for rape or some other sexual assault has occurred. If the CICA believe that the victim (or alleged victim) "in fact" consented, even if for example a jury took a different view, they're entitled to refuse to pay compensation. Why has this provision been added? The Ministry of Justice clearly believes that despite the law on what constitutes consent, there are some cases where the alleged victims do "in fact" consent, even if "in law" they do not or cannot. What sort of cases are those? Where the victim was below the age of consent? (Paedophiles often complain that their young victims were really gagging for it. Does the Government think they have a point?) But the age limit is there for a reason, surely? Does the Government believe that the law is too lenient to victims of sexual abuse?


Why should Government officials be given all these powers - and indeed encouragement - to base decisions on compensation on matters of personal judgement rather than in accordance with the carefully constructed rules governing the criminal law?


Final thoughts


The Scheme has been approved by Parliament. So at least it's been through a democratic process, and could be changed again if necessary? Well, yes and no. It's a piece of secondary legislation, so it got minimal scrutiny, and with such legislation, Parliament only gets the option to approve or reject the whole thing, rather than suggest amendments. It's doubtful many MPs gave it much thought, and just rubber-stamped it. It'd be up to the Government to decide if it wanted to introduce a new Scheme. Even if it was persuaded of the merits of any change, that may not be high on its list of priorties at the moment.



By the editor, Jul 22 2017 05:01PM

Just before the EU referendum, one of this writer’s neighbours said he’d be voting Leave because he thought there could be a good deal “if we get the right leadership”. This qualification neatly captures a key issue at the time and foretold a key element in the current state of play. No one – whether Remainer or Leaver – thinks we’ve got the right leadership at the moment. No one could have foreseen precisely the rudderless situation we find ourselves in, but it wasn’t that hard to envisage that all would not be plain sailing.


As a blog here before the referendum set out – http://www.inkspring.co.uk/blog/4590596332/A-Dog's-Brexit/10304973 – a responsible decision to vote Leave should have taken into account the range of possibilities that such a vote might trigger, and considered how probable they were. Part of this assessment should have factored in the chances of the UK running into difficulties during negotiations over the terms of exit, and the difficulties of resolving different views as to what exiting should entail. To do this in a very informed and detailed way is of course difficult for the average voter who (like this writer) has limited time and knowledge. (That is one reason why the referendum should never have been called.) But it would not be beyond most people’s capabilities to work out that the chances of significant damage from leaving are considerable, given the range of different possible outcomes. A vote to leave was only justifiable if there was a high chance of an outcome that conferred considerable benefits.


To be fair, there are respectable arguments that such benefits might result. The free trade Brexiteers (Dan Hannan, Douglas Carswell and so on) have argued with some force that the UK may well expect to do increasing amounts of business outside the EU, and the EU could be an impediment to free trade with those countries, and therefore a drag on the UK's future prosperity. There are plenty of other valid objections to membership of the EU, including the problem of democratic accountability, and a range of wrongheaded policies, from big noticeable ones like agricultural subsidies to a plethora of minor ones, which can slip under the wire, like attacking vaping. To all of these arguments, there are good counter-arguments. But regardless of which arguments are stronger, a free trade Brexit is only one option. It has very little in common with its uncomfortable bedfellow in the Vote Leave campaign, the anti-immigration vision pushed by UKIP. One outcome was all about breaking down barriers, and the other was all about putting more of them up. And neither had much in common with a hard left Brexit, freeing the UK from the shackles of a capitalist club so that we could ditch free trade altogether and get back to nationalising industries. And none of those three had anything in common with a Norweigan soft Brexit either.


A hard or clean Brexit now looks increasingly unlikely. The proponents of any of those options are in a minority among the electorate, in Parliament, and anywhere else with influence. Before the last general election, the free trading Brexiteers had a chance because they had sufficient power within the Conservative Party. Now, with the Government having lost its majority, and with signs that the electorate is less keen on Brexit than a year ago, the Remainers and the Soft-Brexiters are more vocal and have more influence. The deal between the Conservatives and the DUP is significant, because the DUP wants both a hard Brexit and a soft border with the Republic of Ireland. Achieving both is impossible, and it is most likely that the soft border will be preferred. The tabloid press – which had cowed many Conservatives before the election – has now, after its failure to secure Theresa May’s patriotic landslide, lost a lot of its pro-Brexit swagger. Business (the Conservative Party’s paymaster) is pushing the Government towards a softer exit.


A transitional phase, after the exit and before a new trading agreement, seems to have been accepted by all Brexiteer ministers. They had worried that this would be a slippery slope towards a soft Brexit or an eventual re-entry. And they were right to worry. As another blog here – http://www.inkspring.co.uk/blog/4590596332/Correxit-please/10792802 – set out, there is a real chance that a period of partial engagement with the EU will eventually develop into a form of associate membership, if that is what both the UK and the rest of the EU decide they want. Quite clearly some of those who voted Leave would regard this as a democratic betrayal, and they would have a point. (This is yet another reason why the referendum was such a bad idea: it asked far too simple a question, at one particular point in time, about a massively complex issue, and risks poisoning democracy by failing to deliver what it promised to resolve.) But it may well be that if this comes to pass, the majority of the electorate at that time would prefer such an outcome to any of the others available, having been exposed to some of the consequences of partial disengagement and alerted to the potential consequences of a fuller disengagement. There would still be a very good argument that democracy hadn’t been subverted, since the EU referendum question only asked whether the UK should leave the EU, not the terms on which it should leave (and by explicitly leaving the result as advisory rather than binding on Parliament, implicitly left it to Parliament to determine those terms). The difficulty would be that whatever the true constitutional position, many Leavers would feel that they'd been done over. But that may well be the case whatever the eventual outcome, given that it was never clear what a vote to leave actually entailed, so there are bound to be disappointed Leavers anyway. Resentment at perceived democratic failure may simply be something we have to live with.


In the 1970s, the UK was called the Sick Man of Europe. We’re not that sick now, at least not yet. Our economy has been doing okay, although it seems to be slowing, comparatively, which may well be caused, in part at least, by the prospect of Brexit. (Perhaps what has stopped a more severe economic slowdown since the EU referendum is a hope among businesses that the sort of semi-disengagement referred to above will be found once the politicians are forced to choose it.) But it is clear that the UK is not a happy place politically. Even the Brexiteers have lost their optimism, and are sliding into internecine conflict. As we now stumble towards a compromise that appears to suit neither Leavers nor Remainers, other EU countries regard us with pity (if they’re charitable) or amusement (if they’re less so) rather than anger. We picked a fight with Europe, and now we’re fighting with ourselves. It seems unnecessary now for the EU to punish us for leaving, so as to deter others, because they can leave it to us to do the job for them. There are unlikely to be many countries eyeing us enviously at the moment.


The blame game among Leavers is already beginning, and we haven’t even left yet. They will say that it’s not their fault that we ended up with the wrong sort of Leave. It wasn’t the Leave they voted for. There just wasn't the leadership. How could we have known it would be messed up so badly?


Well they could have thought about that at the time. There was always a good chance of a bad outcome. In fact, the Leavers have got the leadership they deserved. The rest of us will suffer alongside them, and we can just hope that something serviceable can be cobbled together from the ruins.


By the editor, Jun 17 2017 11:46AM

Another poll, another surprise result, more widespread disappointment, cynicism and uncertainty. Turnout actually increased at this election, suggesting that it might have generated a bit more interest than usual. But still: more than 3 out every 10 eligble voters didn't vote. Those who do vote generally disapprove of non-voting. But the non-voters might say, what's the point? Elections don't really change anything, politicians don't keep their promises, and anyway, my vote wouldn't make any difference.


Perhaps we shouldn't be too keen to dismiss these views. As has been pointed out before, the chances of an individual vote affecting the outcome of an election are so close to zero as makes no difference. This general election was in fact notable for the number of very close results, one of which was decided by only 2 votes. Notable, though, because so rare. And even if one person more, or one person less, had decided to vote in that North East Fife constituency, it wouldn't have affected the result (assuming the votes were counted correctly, of course). Contests where one vote might affect the result might happen once in a century. And even then - even in an election as close as this one - the fate of one constituency is extremely unlikely to affect who ends up in Government.


And so the theory goes - the rational person doesn't vote at all. It simply isn't worth even the relatively small expense of effort involved in going to the polling station, because there is absolutely no chance in real terms that it will make any difference at all.


But it is more complicated than that.  If no one voted at all, there would be anarchy or something similarly disastrous, and the individual non-voter would suffer along with everyone else.  For the “rational person”, it has been said, it is better that others vote, but that you as an individual don’t bother.  But then there is a risk that by not voting, others follow your example. Game theorists have had fun working through the permutations.  It has been suggested that the best outcome for the rational individual would be for others to believe she is voting, thus helping encouraging others to vote, but not actually to cast a vote herself. 

 

But there are difficulties even with that.  What if the person is asked a direct question?  And follow-up questions?  “Are you going to vote?” Yes. “How do you manage to fit that into your busy life?” Oh, I’ll drop in to the polling station before catching my train.  “I thought you usually caught the 6.58?” Yes, that’s true. I’ll have to get a later train that day.  “Oh, the 7.18?  I’ll see you on it then!”  Well, I might not manage to get that train, actually, it might be the one after.  “Oh, so you’ll see my wife, then, she gets the 7.40…”  And so on.  It’s quite possible that it would cost less effort to vote than it would concocting elaborate lies to cover one’s tracks in not voting.  And there is less social risk in actually voting than in pretending to vote and potentially being found out as a manipulative liar.

 

This does also beg the question who a “rational person” is in such circumstances.  It seems to be assumed in academic circles that a rational person is one who is entirely selfish.  This is a dubious assumption not only morally, but also linguistically and logically.  There seems no reason why a “rational” person shouldn’t follow a course of reasoning that benefits others instead of, or as well as, herself.  In any event, voting is an instance where the two interests – the individual’s, and the wider public’s – are so closely intertwined that it is difficult to disentangle them.  From one perspective, voting could be seen as entirely selfish: a cost-benefit analysis that on balance works in the individual’s favour, even if the actual effect of the individual vote is worthless.  From another perspective, voting is a civic duty and a partly altruistic act, which is rational because it is rational for everybody, rather than limited to the cost or benefit to the individual.  In reality, most people are likely to feel it’s something of a mixture, to the extent that they would feel inclined to a view at all.

 

And however you explain the motives of the rational voter, can “tactical voting” be defended as rational?  Given that an individual vote effectively never counts, is it not only unprincipled, but also pointless?  There is a case for arguing otherwise.  If the act of behaving as though you’re going to vote at all has a beneficial effect, because of its wider influence, then behaving as though you’re going to vote for a particular party may have an influencing effect as well.  (Of course, you could still actually vote for your real preferred candidate – like the Labour supporter who persuades others to vote Lib Dem to stop the Tories, and casts her own vote for the hopeless Labour candidate – is that more or less principled?)  In a particular constituency, this behaviour may help stop a particular party’s candidate from being elected.  However, it still seems most unlikely in practice that the average individual on her own would have sufficient influence to persuade hundreds or thousands of people to vote in a particular way so as to alter the result.  And there is a another potential downside too: a spreading of cynicism and distrust, whether within that constituency or more generally.  For example, if a party or its supporters became associated with promoting tactical voting, the party may lose support overall, from those who prefer to view voting as a more honest transaction.  So: tactical voting is only very rarely good tactics, and even then it may well be a poor strategy.

 

Whether taking a tactical approach or not, deciding whom to vote for can tax the most rational of individuals, selfish or otherwise, particularly given the choices on offer at the last election.  Some may be less inclined to make a choice on policies or even on individuals, and more inclined to send a message or make a gesture, along such lines as not wanting to be fooled, fobbed off, ignored, or taken for granted.  Given the uncertain basis for voting at all, it's easier to understand such reactions, even if they appear to go against an individual's or a country's best interests.  That effect may be magnified when a poll is foisted on a tired electorate by a prime minister who is determined only to bolster his or her authority, as has now happened twice in the space of a year.  On each occasion the prime minister concerned has been rebuffed by the voters.  No doubt on each occasion the prime minister has been surprised by the result, wondering why so many people have voted so apparently irrationally. 

 

The truth is we don’t fully understand our own motives for voting, let alone the motives of others, but emotions and instincts are likely to play as much of a role as reason.  It shouldn’t surprise us if the results are sometimes unexpected.


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