Today, January 31 2020, at midnight Central European Time, Brexit will happen, even though it is unclear what the British voters think about it. Brexit is neither “by the will of the people” nor “against the will of the people” but merely “without the will of the people“.
A proto-democracy generates uncertainty
The UK is only a proto-democracy and no proper democracy, see this evaluation in the APS Newsletter Physics and Society, January 2020, p18-24, which looks at the USA but the argument for the UK is quite similar.
On Brexit, uncertainty abounds:
- The Brexit Referendum Question of 2016 was a political manipulation and unacceptable for a decent statistical questionnaire, see here p14. The situation was “garbage in, garbage out”, with ample opportunity for populism.
- The UK preferences were rather dispersed about the options for Leave or Remain, see here p6.
- See my summary about Brexit’s deep roots in confusion on democracy and statistics p18.
- The UK election of December 12 was for the House of Parliament and not about Brexit. Boris Johnson had all candidates for the Conservative Party pledge to support Brexit, which runs against the principle that members of the House must represent their district. These elections thus violate the very principle of the UK proto-democracy.
The UK proto-democracy has “district representation” with “first past the post“, which means that a party may get a majority in the House of Parliament without a majority in the electorate. In the UK 44% voted for the conservatives but they still got 56% of the seats. Thus 56% of the UK voters do not want a government by the Conservatives.
Thus we still do not know what voters think about Brexit too. While Brexit was much discussed, and caused voters to switch to the Conservative Party, it still was not the only issue on the table, and it still is unclear what voters think about Brexit on balance.
The UK has the curious phenomenon of the “Re-Leavers”. These voters chose Remain in 2016 but now switch to Leave merely because this was the majority outcome in the referendum, and they “want to respect the outcome”. However, this is not how democracy works. A vote is about what you think yourself and not about what the former outcome was. Obviously these Re-Leavers are free to exercise their democratic right to think whatever they want, but this kind of thinking destroys the possibility to determine what people actually want.
The YouGov tracker is the best summary information about the general sentiment on the issue, but it is a poll and no electoral statement. Let me quote the tracking at this moment, because it always changes:
Adam McDonnell and Chris Curtis of YouGov discuss a post-election survey of December 17 2019, and here are their underlying data (for us page 3). The dynamics between the UK parties are remarkably large. Their key graph for our purposes is the following. For example 27% (figure not printed) of the Conservatives voted Remain in 2016: 22% (shown) of those switch to the LibDem, likely because LibDem are Remain. However, 65% of the Remain Conservatives stick to their party, perhaps because they regard the issue less relevant than other issue of the Conservatives, or perhaps they are ReLeavers. Of the LibDem who voted Leave in 2016 still 46% voted LibDem though it had become a Remain party, perhaps because they thought that LibDem would not gain power anyway.
Labour and LibDem could have made a deal to oppose the Conservative candidates with only one candidate from Labour / LibDem, in proportion to the forecasted vote shares. In that case, the LibDem could have assured a referendum on Brexit. During the elections, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised that he did not take a stand on Brexit, but his party was clearly divided, and his offer of a referendum was a fair option. At most five years from now there will be new elections. These are the Conservative “battlegrounds“, where this party could lose a seat by small number of voters.
Beware of John Curtice
“This is pretty much a binary election. Hung parliament, then we’re almost undoubtedly heading towards an extension and a second referendum, and lord knows what the outcome of that will be. Or we get a majority and we go out on January 31 and Boris is charged with the task of negotiating an alternative outcome. Ironically at the end of the day we’ve kind of stumbled into this election, but as the way it’s turning out, it’s actually providing us with a fairly clear binary choice.”
The latter is clearly nonsense, already before the election outcome. Above dynamics of UK voters shows that voters did not see a binary vote on Brexit and clearly had various considerations other than Brexit.
John Curtice is a renowned professor who on Election nights predicts the district outcomes with amazing accuracy. The problem however is that Curtice doesn’t see or explain that the true problem for the UK lies in the lack of equal proportionality in the general election. Curtice is locked in his electoral worldview like a hamster in a running wheel. Whatever he thinks and says here is in service of the current disproportionate electoral system in the UK, and then still produces nonsense.
In sum, it is the current electoral system that created the mess on Brexit and its misleading referendum question in 2016. If the UK had had equal proportional representation (EPR) like in Holland to start with, then Nigel Farage could have gotten his 12,5% of the seats in the House, and then the political discussion would have had greater restraint on the truth of the matter.
Brexit is still a mess, and now the eggs are scrambled
The solution for the present mess lies not in a new referendum on Brexit, as Curtice accepts, but in equal proportional representation (EPR). Referendum questions are manipulative, and voters cannot negotiate in polling stations. With EPR, representatives in the House can deconstruct manipulation and can negotiate. The current UK system gives only district winners, and they may be locked to a party line and cannot represent the diversity of views within their districts. The latter was already a fairy tale in 1900 and even more in 2020. Again, see my evaluation in the APS Newsletter Physics and Society.
Let the UK reboot itself. A big problem for UK voters now is: if the UK would rejoin the EU then it would have to accept the euro.