On leaving the EU with no deal: Potential disruption to air travel

In her Lancaster House speech, Theresa May said:

And while I am confident that this scenario need never arise – while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached – I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.
(emphasis added)

Given this position, it’s worth knowing what the consequences of “no deal” would mean. In the worst case scenario (e.g. talks breaking down) this means looking at the consequences of Britain reaching the Article 50 deadline without any sort of agreement whatsoever having been struck with the EU.

In this scenario, on the day before Brexit, Britain will still be a full member of the EU enjoying all the privileges and subject to all the obligations that entails. On the next day, Britain will be outside the EU completely, treated in the EU’s parlance as a “third country” and having to deal with the EU on the default terms they apply to any non EU/non single market country. When references are made to a “cliff edge” in the media comment on Brexit, it is this sudden transition from full EU member to being outside the EU (and the single market) that is being referred to.

Here, I consider the consequences of leaving without a deal for the airline industry, where recently the Guardian reported that UK airlines may have to open bases of operation in other EU states and/or sell off shares to EU nationals post Brexit or lose major routes.

I conclude that if there is literally no deal, the likely consequence will be considerable disruption to UK/EU airline industry. This is in neither the UK or EU’s interests, though and a deal that ensures the UK remains part of the regulatory system for aviation in the EU should be feasible. Read the rest of this entry »

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The EU referendum was not intended to be advisory

I contend that, contrary to the claim that the EU referendum was intended to be advisory, it was in fact the clearly and repeatedly stated intention of the government to honour the result of the EU referendum, that our Parliamentarians knew this was the intention when they passed the legislation and voters were told clearly that this was the case in the campaign itself.

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It’s too early to assess the impact of Brexit

Since the vote to leave the EU on the 23rd of June there have been a number of reports in the media on the state of Britain’s economy.

On the positive side, the reports have included:

On the negative side, the reports have included:

I have a few problems with these reports:

  • We haven’t left the EU yet! The indicators at best indicate what the impact of the vote to leave has been, and will in fact be some combination of that and other factors. To the extent they reflect the impact of the vote, they will be indicating the uncertainty that has arisen as a result of the vote but prior to even the beginning of negotiations which won’t start until 2017.
  • Some of the indicators are likely to be lagging indicators that will not yet show the impact of the June vote, e.g. figures relating to employment/unemployment will be showing mainly the impact of pre-vote decisions/factors.
  • There’s huge amount of uncertainty that will persist until we know what the outcome of the negotiations with the EU will be.

To claim that predictions about the impact of Brexit, whether positive or negative, are now being proven true (or false) is thus extremely premature.

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Labour’s dilemma regarding Corbyn

With Labour MPs voting 172-40 for a motion of no confidence in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Corbyn resolutely staying put, citing his solid majority when he was elected leader by Labour party members,  we have a stand-off between the leader and the party’s MPs when unity is needed to form an effective opposition and to fight the next general election properly.

On one side we have the bulk of Labour MPs who say they’ve lost confidence in Corbyn, accusing him of a lack of leadership, and who are afraid Labour will lose  the next general election with Corbyn at the helm.

On the other side we have Corbyn and his supporters claiming that he has the backing of the party’s membership, that it would be a betrayal of the members for him to step down and that his opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party have organised an unconstitutional coup against him.

This conflict can only be resolved if one side concedes defeat to the other, and the longer it continues the less impressed voters are likely to be with the party. How might a stable resolution of this conflict come about? I see only the following possibilities for a stable solution:

  1. Corbyn resigns, opening up a new leadership contest. For this to happen, Corbyn and his supporters would need to be convinced that he would lose if he were to contest a leadership election should one be forced on him. In this context, this means that there would need to be solid evidence presented that the party membership has deserted him. How that evidence would be gathered without a leadership election is unclear.
  2. Corbyn contests a leadership election and is reelected with a solid majority, ideally (for Corbyn’s side) with an increased majority of the party’s members. Those seeking to oust Corbyn would then have to concede defeat at least until the next election. It would however make for a difficult period for the party, as it would open the party up to attacks from the media and the government based on the fact that the bulk of the PLP have expressed no confidence in Corbyn.
  3. Corbyn contests a leadership election and is comprehensively defeated. This would allow the party to unite behind a new leader and put the Corbyn era behind it. But if Corbyn is correct about his support amongst the members how likely is it this will happen?
  4. The PLP decide not to mount a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership after all and to back down and see how he does at the next election. This will leave those MPs looking foolish and weak. Corbyn’s position in the party would be stronger, but he wouldn’t have an effective parliamentary team – who’d take them seriously?

Only possibilities 1 and 3 would really minimise damage to the party. 2 would at least make it clear Corbyn has the confidence of the party at large, but would leave the parliamentary party with a bit of a credibility problem or alternatively might see the party split in two. 4 would be leave the parliamentary party looking like a complete joke.

Any outcome that doesn’t comprehensively resolve the issue would mean the battles will rumble on.

This conflict thus risks the party splitting as it did in the 1980s or otherwise being seriously damaged, but with greater peril since this time round Labour’s already lost Scotland and has UKIP breathing down its neck in both England and Wales. If there is a leadership challenge and a resulting election fails to produce a decisive majority either way, that could actually make things worse.

I conclude therefore that it is not looking good either for Labour or for Corbyn.

 

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Can the Scottish parliament veto Brexit?

In short: in my completely non-expert opinion, based on plain reading of the Scotland Act and the evidence used to suggest this in the first place, no.

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On Britain’s debt and deficit

The new economics foundation recently claimed that is a myth that Britain is ‘broke’ citing several points in support:

  •  The national debt to GDP ratio is low compared to ratios seen in the last 300 years and low compared to other countries, e.g. Japan, the US and Germany.
  • The amount the government spends on debt interest payments as a %age of GDP is lower than at any time from WWII up to the year 2000.
  • The interest rate of government debt is low and has dropped since 2008.
  • They also cite the fact we have our own currency and central bank and thus more flexibility than places like Greece.

It seems to me that the argument presented fails on several grounds:

  • The fact that we’ve had high levels of debt before does not mean that it was a good thing or that there were not deleterious effects from such high levels of debt. I also note that Britain had an empire for much of the period concerned which will have provided opportunities to mitigate those consequences (in the later stages by letting the colonies go to ease finances by reducing the costs of running the empire) but that’s no longer the case.
  • That some other countries have higher levels of debt does not mean we can assume the current levels of debt are safe or that increasing them won’t cause harm.
  • They ignore the high deficit – spending £120 billion per year more than is received in taxes cannot be sustained for very long before the size of the debt interest payments starts to impinge on the ability of the government to spend money on welfare, public services, etc and on the economy as a whole to produce wealth. This gap has to be closed either through increased tax receipts or reduce spending. Realistically it’ll be a combination of both.
  • National debt effectively represents the total future tax bill that’s been run up by current and previous governments, and thus constrains future governments spending and tax policies. The fact that we have a high debt level implies a drain on national resources stretching far into the future. The fact we have a high deficit implies that the future tax bill is rising quickly too.
  • The official debt figures ignore “off the books” items such as PFI liabilities, pension liabilities, etc that weren’t major issues in the past.
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How would the independence of Leveson’s regulator be guaranteed?

An independent regulatory body should be established, with the dual roles of promoting high standards of journalism and protecting the rights of individuals.(Leveson Report, Executive Summary, Section 57, page 14, emphasis added)

My earlier article summarised Leveson’s proposals with respect to this body, the aim of this article is to examine the question of how independence is to be achieved. As the executive summary makes clear, the new body should be independent of both the press, MPs and the government. Leveson proposes to achieve this by:

  • Ensuring that a majority of the board are “independent” of the press with no serving editors, MPs or members of the government on it.
  • Requiring the appointments panel to have a “substantial majority” of members independent of the press, and no more than one current editor of a publication that could be a member to be on the panel.
  • Restricting the role of legislation to that of specifiying a process for recognising the regulator (via a recognition body) and certifying that it meets certain criteria laid out in statute.
  • The recognition body will not play any role in regulation of the press.
  • Leveson suggests Ofcom as the recognition body.

Thus we can envisage the following happening if Leveson were implemented in full:

  • Legislation is drawn up specifying the criteria for recognising the press regulator, granting the status of recognition body to Ofcom.
  • MPs will debate and vote on this legislation.
  • Once enacted, Ofcom will set up the appointments panel and they will appoint the board of the press regulator, in accordance with the legislation specifying the criteria by which both the panel and the board are to be appointed.
  • The press regulator, having been set up would oversee drawing up code of conduct, agree funding arrangements with the press, whilst the press would join the regulator based on the benefits Leveson sets out.

The level of independence achieved can thus be described as “operational independence” – its decisions about the code of conduct, whether a member has violated the code, whether to investigate violations of the code and what punishments to apply would be made by the board or by the arbitration service. However MPs will determine the criterion by which the regulator is judged and recognised when they legislate, and Ofcom will be charged with putting these criterion into practice and e.g. whether all “significant news publishers” have become members.

It seems to me this means that the regulator will be no more “independent” of the government than any other quango. It may have operational autonomy, but its role is still determined by MPs. Can we trust the MPs not to frame the criterion by which the regulator operates in a manner that protects their own interests?

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How Leveson’s press regulator would work

On Thursday, the long awaited report of the Leveson inquiry into the “culture, practice and ethics of the press” was published. Based on reading the executive summary, Leveson proposes:

  • an “independent self regulatory” body be established to:
    • promote high standards of journalism and protect the rights of individuals
    • be responsible for a code of conduct for all subscribers, including requiring them to have fast complaints procedures, plus appropriate, transparent internal governance processes.
    • be advised on the code of contact by a code committee that can include serving editors.
    • hear and complaints, with serving editors being barred from advising the board on such complaints
    • provide a low cost arbitration service related to civil claims in relation to breaches of the code of conduct
    • have the power to investigate serious or systemic breaches of the code of conduct by subscribers
  • the board of the regulatory body would comprise:
    • a majority of people independent of the press
    • “sufficient” people with experience of the industry but not including serving editors, MPs or members of the government.
  • the board would be appointed in a “fair and open” process by an appointments panel that itself would be independent of the press and the government. Leveson proposes that the panel be established by Ofcom
  • whilst membership of the body would be voluntary, Leveson envisages that all “significant news publishers” would subscribe to the the new body. In the event of failure for this to happen he suggests Ofcom could operate as a backstop regulator
  • the main incentive for publishers to subscribe to the body would be the provision of low cost arbitration which should be cheaper than going to court in the event of disputes
  • according to recommendation 8: “the code must take into account the importance of freedom of speech, the interests of the public (including the public interest in detecting or exposing crime or serous impropriety, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being seriously misled) and the rights of individuals. Specifically, it must cover standards of:(a) conduct, especially in relation to the treatment of other people in the process of obtaining material; (b) appropriate respect for privacy where there is no sufficient public interest justification for breach and (c) accuracy, and the need to avoid misrepresentation.”
  • Leveson also suggests consideration be given to amending the code of conduct to equip the regulator “with the power to intervene in cases of allegedly discriminatory reporting, and in so doing reflect the spirit of equalities legislation” (recommendation 38).
  • The role of legislation in all this is restricted to:
    • enshrining a legal duty for the government to uphold the freedom of the press
    • providing “an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met” (a role leveson suggests would be given to Ofcom)
    • “by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed”
    • Leveson summarises: “What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership.” (section 73)
  • Leveson emphasies that the legislation would not establish the new regulatory body itself or give rights to the regulatory body, parliament or the government to prevent material being published or to require material to be published, except that the regulatory body would be able to require corrections and apologies to be published and direct how such corrections or apologies are placed.

It seems to me this raises quite a few questions such as:

  • how independent can the body really be?
  • when would a web based site (e.g. a blog) be considered a “significant news publisher”?
  • won’t web based publishing undermine this, if only because web based publishers can easily be based outside the jurisidiction of British laws let alone the regulatory body?
  • given that the the press would be held to a code of conduct rather than merely be required to obey the law, isn’t there an inherent threat to freedom of speech there?
  • will this setup actually stand a chance of addressing the problems Leveson was set up to address, namely the lying, disregard for accuracy, invasion of privacy for trivial reasons, intimidation and cosy relationships with politicians and police?

I intend to comment on these questions in later posts.

Does AV make some votes count more than others?

But, in many ways, your vote alone is not enough. In the days and weeks ahead, you also need to challenge your friends and colleagues who are thinking of voting “Yes”. Ask them why they are voting for it. I bet you none of their arguments will stack up – and you need to take them on.So when they say: “AV will make every vote count”, tell them it won’t. It will actually make some people’s votes -especially those who vote for extremist parties – get counted more than others. [David Cameron arguing against AV in the London Evening Standard].

Is the Prime Minister correct with this line of argument? I don’t believe so. A clue to the argument I’m about to advance that Cameron is incorrect lies in the fact that AV is also referred to Instant Runoff Voting.

In full (i.e. non instant) Runoff Voting, what happens is that if in the first round of voting, no candidate obtains a majority of the vote, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and another round of voting occurs. This process repeats until a candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote.

AV/Instant Runoff Voting aims to approximate this process by replacing multiple rounds of voting with multiple rounds of counting. If you assume that voters who voted for a candidate in an earlier round will vote for the same candidate in later rounds unless that candidate is eliminated and that voters for eliminated candidates will redistribute votes according to their preferences, then by asking at the outset what those preferences are, and then performing multiple rounds of counting until a majority winner is found, you can eliminate the need for several rounds of voting but can still retain the essential point of Runoff Voting, namely trying to achieve majority support for the winner (admittedly the majority is only of those votes making it through to the final round).

Note that in full Runoff Voting, every voter gets a chance to vote in every round, and all votes count equally in each round of voting. By comparison, under AV, every voter gets a chance for their vote to count in each round (by stating their preferences should their preferred candidates get eliminated) and each vote counts equally in each round of counting, it’s just that some votes are first preference and some votes are later preferences, just as is the case under Runoff Voting.

Cameron’s argument implicitly ignores the fact that the votes obtained for a candidate on first preference in the first round get carried through to the next round unless and until that candidate is eliminated, which is the equivalent of voters sticking with the same candidate through multiple rounds in run-off voting. These votes are in fact counted once in each round just like every other vote is.

It thus seems to me that the argument Cameron advances is flawed, equivalent to claiming that full Runoff Voting makes the votes for the lowest placed candidates count more than higher placed candidates when it clearly doesn’t. Each round of voting/counting treats each vote equally under both systems.

The main thing missing from AV that you get in full Runoff Voting is actually the opportunity for voters to change their minds from round to round, i.e. vote for A in round one, but for B in round 2 despite A still being in the running. Runoff Voting thus allows voters to alter their preferences from round to round, but this opportunity is not available either in AV or FPTP, so is irrelevant to making a choice between AV and FPTP.

Will Alternative Vote lead to more coalitions?

British Prime Minister David Cameron claims that Alternative Vote (AV) could lead to coalition governments becoming the norm in British politics:

But there’s another argument I want to make – and one, again, you might find surprising coming from a Prime Minister leading the first coalition government since the Second World War: we shouldn’t vote for a system that could make coalitions the norm rather than the exception.

Cameron’s recent speech also claimed that AV would make coalition government much more likely:

The more people see a clear link between the pledges in a manifesto and the action taken in government, the greater the sense of accountability.

And the real, unavoidable truth about AV is that it would damage that chain of accountability…

…because it makes coalitions much, much more likely.

Furthermore, on Have I Got News For You this week, Tory MP Louise Bagshawe (about 16 mins in) claimed we’d end up with coalition governments under AV “every single time”.

The problem with this claim, is that the evidence for AV making coalition more likely than FPTP is inconclusive, but does suggest that a strong 2 party system makes coalition under AV unlikely, whilst under a multi-party system it will still tend to produce a majority for one party, even if coalitions occur more often in such cases. For example,  according to Channel 4’s Fact Check blog:

  • Australia has been using AV since 1919 and, according to the IPPR, has only had 2 coalition governments since then (compared to 5 for Britain since 1900, and 12 for Canada since 1900 under FPTP). However it should be noted that this comparison is complicated by the fact that the Australian National Party and Australian Liberal Party have for decades fought general elections under a coalition agreement both in and out of power, but this agreement has operated to such an extent that they’re effectively treated as one party for general elections. If you treat them as 2 separate parties, then they had coalition governments from 1949 to 1972, plus after the 1980, 1998, 2001 and 2010 elections. Whilst this amounts to a sizeable period of coalition government, it’s not the norm, not as much as you’d get with PR, and certainly isn’t a coalition “every single time”. Also, it’s not clear whether FPTP would have led to fewer coalitions under circumstances where you have a multi-party system with 2 parties having such an entrenched agreement — they could equally have had a pact not to oppose each other in constituencies where this would “split the vote”.  It does suggest that coalitions and even long-running cross-party agreements may become quite common under AV when voters move decisively away from voting for one of two big parties, but then consider how often Britain had national governments and cross-party agreements in the 1920s and 1930s when the Liberals were split and in decline but Labour had yet to decisively supplant them — that was all under FPTP.
  • The British Election Survey(BES) has run simulations of how British general elections would have turned out under AV since 1983, assuming voters preferences were the same as they were at each election. Only in 2010 does a coalition government definitely result (and we know FPTP delivered one then), though possibly we might have had one in 1992.

Of course assessing the likely outcome of switch to AV is inherently speculative, e.g.  the BES assumes voters preferences would be unchanged under AV, whilst Australia has a different political culture to that of Britain and the form of AV used there is different to that proposed for Britain making extrapolation from their experience rather uncertain.

It’s worth noting though that much speculation that we’ll end up with hung parliaments rests on the idea that the Lib Dems will benefit by being the second preference of both Labour and Tory voters, however given their rapid drop in the polls since forming the coalition with the Tories in 2010, that does not seem a safe bet anymore. Furthermore, under the projections of the BES, where the Lib Dems were often a second preference,  the Lib Dems did gain more seats but coalition rarely resulted partly because, in the simulation, AV actually increased the government’s majority in landslide elections such as that of 1987, 1997 and 2001.

In the end, given that AV will not produce a proportional outcome, and can result in amplified majorities in landslide elections in a similar manner to the way FPTP does, it seems to me that it is unlikely to make coalition government the norm, but it is possible it’ll make coalition occur more often if voters continue to vote in sizeable numbers for parties other than the 2 main parties. It’s hard to say whether FPTP would avoid coalition in such circumstances.