It would have been understandable if Boris Johnson had allowed himself a celebratory fist-pump when he appeared before the press in London on Friday morning. After all, the former Mayor of London was the de facto leader of the Out campaign, which against all odds had just won the European Union referendum. It was an extraordinary achievement, given the sheer weight of forces ranged against him. The supporters of the In campaign included the Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Bank of England, the IMF, the OECD, Goldman Sachs, the leaders of the EU, the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the President of the United States.
Yet he looked shocked and ashen-faced. (To read more, click here.)
“I am devastated and I am angry,” announced Tim Farron in a hastily rushed-out press release this morning. “Today we wake to a deeply divided country.”
Not a very statesman-like response to what may be the largest democratic event in Britain’s history. Which is a shame, considering he may be the only party leader left standing by the end of the week.
But he was positively Churchillian next to some other die-hard Remainers.
“To quote a friend, ‘Today is like waking up to find out the Nazis won the Second World War’,” tweeted Dr Helen Williams, an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Nottingham. (To read more, click here.)
On the eve of last year's general election result, many pundits predicted the demise of Britain's two-party system. The likeliest outcome was another hung parliament in which a smaller party -- the Lib Dems or the SNP -- held the balance of power. These same pundits pointed to the steady decline in membership of the two main parties, as well as the success of insurgent parties in the European and regional elections, as evidence of this sea change.
In the event, the pundits were ridiculed for getting it wrong. Yet is it possible they were just a year too early? At the time of writing, I don't know the outcome of the EU referendum, but some kind of political realignment looks likely, whatever the result.
First, let's deal with the impact on Labour, which -- contrary to expectation -- I think will be worse than on the Conservatives. Roughly half of Labour voters are Euro-sceptics, but, unlike their Tory counterparts, they had no one at the top of their party to speak for them. In addition, Labour MPs are nearly all pro-EU. When you bear in mind that the vast majority of Labour's Eurosceptic voters are C2DEs, a demographic the party has been struggling to hang on to, the consequences could be disastrous. (To read more, click here.)
For the first time this week, the remainers came up with an argument against Brexit that gave me pause for thought: George Osborne’s threat to cut the schools budget by 2 per cent if we vote leave on 23 June.
I immediately thought of the four free schools that I’ve co-founded and what impact a 2 per cent cut would have on them. Given the real-terms cuts already planned in this Parliament – not to mention the impact of the national funding formula and increased national insurance contributions – it certainly wouldn’t be welcome.
But then I realised that I was succumbing to Project Fear. Would Osborne really have to introduce an emergency budget if the vote doesn’t go his way? According to the IFS, the entire austerity programme in the 2010-15 Parliament saved £36 billion. In the same period, our net contribution to the EU was £42 billion. So if we weren’t in the EU we could have avoided any austerity and still had enough money left over to cut income tax by a penny.
Yes, I’ll concede that that argument rests on a controversial historical counterfactual, namely, that the UK would be economically no worse off if we hadn’t joined the EEC in 1973. But then, Osborne’s threat relies on several dubious assumptions too, not least that he’ll still be at the Treasury if leave triumphs next week. Even if David Cameron does manage to cling on – presumably by making a big, open and extremely comprehensive offer to Boris Johnson – I doubt he’d be able to save his chancellor. (To read more, click here.)
I’ve never been a great believer in Karma. After all, in the absence of some kind of cosmic enforcer of Karmic justice what guarantee is there that good deeds will be rewarded or bad deeds punished? Let’s not forget that Joseph Stalin was responsible for between 34 and 49 million deaths, depending on whose estimate you accept, yet died of natural causes in his own bed at the age of 73. Karma? What karma?
But events of the past fortnight have caused me to revise my opinion. It’s all to do with the massive ‘Vote Leave’ billboard outside my house in Acton and an incident that occurred 42 years ago during the October 1974 general election.
It’s rather shaming to admit, but back then I was a Labour Party supporter. I was only a boy and firmly under the influence of my parents, who were both staunch socialists, but that’s hardly an excuse for what’s coming next. As a 10-year-old Labour “activist” I took it upon myself to tear down a poster of our local MP outside the Conservative Party’s HQ in Highgate. A blue rinse immediately leapt out of the door, caught me by the scruff of the neck and threatened to call the police. Being a typical Labour supporter, I burst into tears and threw myself at her mercy, whereupon she ordered me to cough up my address and then frogmarched me to my house. She told my mother about this act of “mindless vandalism”, rightly dismissing my claim that it was a “political protest”, and my mother stopped my pocket money for a week.
Fast forward to the beginning of the EU Referendum campaign and the delivery of my Brexit billboard. I must have ticked the wrong box on the ‘Vote Leave’ website because all I wanted was a simple placard. Instead, I got something that wouldn’t look out of place on the side of a motorway. It’s literally bigger than my VW Transporter. Where on earth was I going to put it? At first, I propped it up against the side of our house, protected from the street by our front garden. But then something strange started happening. Whenever I returned from work, it would be lying face down on the grass. Was it the wind? I tried securing it in place with two wheelie bins, but that made no difference. Rain or shine, it would always end up toppling over. (To read more, click here.)
If you’re a proper football supporter, getting excited about England on the eve of a major tournament is considered hopelessly uncool. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to engage people in conversation about England’s chances, only to be greeted with a look of bored condescension. “I’m not really interested in international football,” is the inevitable reply.
Well, sorry, but I’m pretty fired up about the Euros – although, to be fair, I do conform to the stereotype of the inauthentic, prawn-sandwich-eating fan. When people are polite enough to respond to my opening gambits, it isn’t long before I reveal my appalling ignorance about the game. For instance, there was the time I found myself seated across the aisle from Glen Hoddle on a British Airways flight to Tel Aviv to watch England play Israel in a Euro qualifier in 2007.
“How come Craig Bellamy’s not in the squad?” I asked him, referring to the Liverpool striker who’d racked up seven goals that season.
“Er, because he’s Welsh?” (To read more, click here.)
When Michael Gove was asked whether he had any ambitions to succeed David Cameron on Sky News on Friday night he gave an unequivocal answer.
“Count me out,” he said.
Yet many people watching the programme – a question-and-answer session about the EU in which Gove made the case for Brexit – will have been disappointed with that response. The Justice Secretary was calm, polite, attentive, reasonable and persuasive. You might even call him Prime Ministerial.
He was also funny. At one point, Sky News political editor Faisal Islam asked him if he could guarantee that no on would lose their job if we leave the EU and Gove admitted he couldn’t.
“Who’s going to lose their job?” asked Islam, moving in for the kill.
“Well, 73 members of the European Parliament will be losing their jobs,” he shot back. “Our European Commissioners will be losing their jobs. And as far as I’m concerned I wish them well in the private sector.”
That got a big laugh from the studio audience. (To read more, click here.)
Should we be surprised that friendship isn’t always mutual? That is one of the findings of a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University who’ve just published a paper in an academic journal called PLoS One. They asked several hundred students to identify which members of their peer group they considered to be “friends”. On average, half of the people included in this category by each respondent did not feel the same way about them.
According to the researchers, this news would come as a shock to most people. The students in the survey thought that 95 per cent of the people they regarded as “friends” would identify them as “friends” too. But I can’t say I’m surprised. In fact, a 50 per cent reciprocity score strikes me as suspiciously high. The researchers cite another friendship survey in which the score was only 34 per cent. That feels about right.
I haven’t always been so cynical. Before I got married, I was a fully signed up member of the friendship cult. Like many young men, I regarded my close friends as a kind of substitute family, with all the accompanying ties and responsibilities. If one of them was in trouble, you did everything in your power to help them and if you were in trouble you could expect the same of them. As far as I was concerned, we had a lot in common with the mafia, save for the need to do something unspeakable before you were admitted. Loyalty was the supreme virtue, with other virtues coming a distant second.
It was on my stag weekend 15 years ago that the scales fell from my eyes. (To read more, click here.)
Click here to buy Just Say No: The Spectator on the 1975 Referendum. It’s an anthology, edited by Constance Watson and me, of material that appeared in the Spectator in the run up to the last referendum on Europe. It includes contributions from Enoch Powell and Tony Benn, as well as wonderfully virulent anti-EEC letters from Spectator readers, rude verses and the thoughts of all the leading eurosceptics of the day, such as Kingsley Amis and John Osborne. And it comes with an excellent introduction by Fraser Nelson. A steal at £1.99!