Category Archives: Politics

Electoral College worked – and democrats must accept it

It is worth recalling that the last time the Northern Ireland Assembly voted on same-sex marriage, a majority backed it.

However, due to our complex history, the Assembly has a mechanism called a “Petition of Concern” which, if used, effectively means change can only happen if a majority of both main traditions back it. The Petition was used and, since the proposal lacked a Unionist majority, it failed.

Liberals were incandescent.

At around the same time, however, the Welfare Reform Bill was blocked using the same mechanism, this time by Nationalists.

When I put it to the incandescent Liberals that this constituted the same problem of democracy denied, it was peculiar how many suddenly changed their view. In other words, if a Petition was used to block something they didn’t like, it was fine; it was only wrong to use it to block something they liked.

But that isn’t democracy. Making your support for democracy conditional on most things going your way means you lose the right to call yourself a democrat. You support democracy, or you do not.

(The Petition system is there for very good reason, as anyone with an understanding of this part of the world will know. I do happen to believe it is now being used for purposes beyond those originally intended and thus needs reformed, but that is for another post!)

A month ago, a democratic election took place in the United States. As the name suggests, this is not a single entity but a union of States, who collectively elect their President via an Electoral College.

In that Electoral College, quite deliberately, smaller states are slightly overrepresented – just as smaller regions are overrepresented in the Spanish Cortes, smaller States are overrepresented in the German Federal Council (upper house), and Scotland and Wales were overrepresented in the UK Parliament prior to legislative devolution. It is therefore quite normal, indeed expected, for diverse countries to overrepresent smaller areas to avoid larger populations having all the say over the direction of the country.

In last month’s United States Presidential Election, my much preferred candidate Hillary Clinton received 2.5 million more votes than any other candidate.

However, there was a problem. She in fact was a whopping 4 million clear of her nearest rival in the State of California alone. This means in the remaining 49 States plus the District of Columbia, her nearest rival Donald Trump actually received nearly 1.5 million more votes than she did. These were received in smaller States which are proportionately overrepresented in the Electoral College, and therefore led to his receiving the comfortable majority of delegates to it.

In other words, unfortunately, the deliberate (and quite normal) overrepresentation of smaller areas to avoid the tyranny of the most populated ones (like California) led to an outcome I intensely dislike.

But that outcome was perfectly democratic, part of a system whose very design is to ensure the voices of those in sparsely populated states many people could not even place on a map definitely get heard. The system, in fact, worked perfectly.

As someone seriously concerned about the winning candidate, I don’t have to like the outcome. But as a democrat, I have to accept it. Otherwise I lose the right to call myself one.

Media misrepresenting Finance Minister’s solo run

The media and various lobbyists were very excited last week over the Finance Minister’s plans to allocate £22 million to social enterprise and similar good causes. This gained him quite a lot of coverage.

The obvious problem is: he doesn’t have the money.

The money is dependent on a reform of rating he announced in the Assembly.

The obvious problem is: the Executive hasn’t agreed to that reform.

So, whether it should or shouldn’t, it can’t and won’t happen.

Indeed, he had not even spoken to his DUP partners about it before he announced it. Given that proposals such as removing the rates cap are directly contrary to established DUP policy, and he did not even give them the courtesy of trying to develop a compromise before making the announcement, there is zero chance of it happening.

So a Sinn Féin Minister has made an apparent pledge of £22 million he cannot hope to deliver on.

This is the same Sinn Féin Minister who made a pledge to introduce same-sex marriage legislation, urged those pursing it through a private member’s bill to let him do so, and then had to withdraw his proposal because it lacked Executive agreement – exactly because, again, it ran directly contrary to his partner party’s policy.

It should by now be apparent that delivery is not Sinn Féin’s strong suit. We have a Health Minister who has set out “the only road map” to Health Reform but is not even consulting on that road map (far less developing a practical action plan to deliver it); and an Infrastructure Minister overseeing delay after delay on his party’s long proposed A5 and A6 upgrade projects (evidently he and his colleagues had never thought to check the processes had been carried out correctly even though they have been in the Executive for the full nine years since the first public inquiry). Meanwhile the DUP has been able to keep down household taxes, complete two major road projects in the east (one of which, the A8, really should have been well down the list), and even now put in a Unionist Justice Minister to keep half-used courthouses open.

The media and lobbyists should know better, therefore, than to report Sinn Féin ministerial announcements as if there is even the remotest hope of them happening without prior Executive backing.

The real story here is the Finance Minister is all talk. He is about to get his plans blocked again – for the second major time in just six months including summer recess, that is some going…

Executive creates airline omnishambles

The NI Executive was caught out last week and, in time-honoured fashion, tried to blame the European Union for its own failings.

It should be obvious – but, alarmingly, isn’t – that Government cannot just give public money to a business. It certainly cannot do so when the case for the service it is thus acquiring has not even been proven. And it most certainly cannot do so when the business is based abroad and has a turnover of billions.

If it were established that Belfast absolutely must have a direct air link to New York – and the case for that is dubious given the availability of 155 flights from Dublin to North America every week – then it would be quite possible to tender for one. Airlines could compete for a reasonable subsidy in return for a reasonable service of clear economic value.

What is outrageous is for the Executive simply to hand money to an airline, which has not proven that it is uniquely placed to deliver value for money and when, in any case, the economic value of such a service has not been demonstrated.

Worse, the relevant Minister and the Executive as a whole were told all of this by their own civil servants. The Minister issued a “ministerial direction” overruling the advice of his officials in order to subsidise an American company already worth billions with our money. He need not act surprised now that this has proven to less than legal – he had already been told this.

Then the First Minister sought to make a European point out of it, but actually this is about basic corporate governance.

Thank goodness that this outrageous throwing away of our money was blocked. It turns out the European Commission had little directly to do with it. More’s the pity – it would have demonstrated its value if it had!

Brexit negotiations will not feature Border – at all

When I ask people their biggest concerns about “Brexit”, the common response in Northern Ireland is “the border”.

An important, brief point here: in the negotiations between the UK Government and European Council, the border will not feature at all.

So, if you hear anyone telling you what they intend for the border, beware! What happens to the border will be determined by the law of unintended consequences.

The key aspects of the negotiations which are relevant will be free movement – of goods and services (primarily covered by the Customs Union), of people (primarily covered by the Common Travel Area) and of labour (primarily covered by the Single Market, or “EEA”).

If the outcome of those negotiations results in anything short of free movement on all of those counts, then the border will need to be manned – quite obviously. Again, beware anyone who suggests otherwise!

If the UK leaves the European Union Customs Union, then there will need to be some sort of customs control at the border (unless the UK maintains exactly the same Customs arrangements as the European Union – something which would surely defeat the object of leaving it). That need not necessarily be immediately at the border itself; it could be well to either side of it (and indeed it could be so far north of the border that it effectively takes place at the ports).

If the UK leaves the Common Travel Area (probably consequent to leaving the Customs Union), then there will be passport checks. This, it has to be said, is very unlikely; furthermore, even if it did happen, it could even be managed in such a way that the checks take place at ports and airports.

If the UK leaves the Single Market, then again there will be tariffs on goods going in either direction which will mean border checks to apply them. It would be no use Northern Ireland remaining within the Single Market, because then it would face tariffs with Great Britain. Again, the scale of these checks will depend on what precisely tariffs are applied to.

The key issue here is that what happens to the Border will be determined by other parts of the negotiation. It is not, itself, part of the negotiation.

Liberals need to stop moaning and start winning

I watched the reaction of the Liberal (in the American sense) keyboard warriors to Donald Trump’s election with interest. Everyone who had voted for him was wrong-headed; it was (only) because the Democrats had the wrong candidate; and anyway the good guys were cheated by the electoral college.

That’s all very comforting, but it shows that peculiar Liberal disdain and unwillingness to learn that means they lose an awful lot of elections to supposedly less educated people. How about just considering that it was nothing to do with any of that?

Could it actually be that Liberals just don’t know how to win? Could it actually be that they are inferior campaigners, out-thought and our-strategised at every turn by their Conservative opponents? Could it be that their naive and frankly lazy view that elections can be won and influence can be gained only through the power of rational argument is completely flawed? Could it be that Liberals lack a fundamental understanding of what motivates people? Could it even simply be that Liberals lack passion, do not work hard or smart enough, and are not actually “fired up” after all?

Could it even be that Liberals aren’t half as clever or rational as they think they are?


There is also, perhaps, a fundamental intellectual flaw in modern Liberalism, as outlined here by David Goodhart.

On my recent trip to the States there was only one person I met who was convinced the election was rigged. He told me the Russians would hack the computers to show Trump had won Ohio and he would thus be fraudulently elected. He was a college-educated Clinton voter.

Let that sink in, Liberals.

It means you can be just as tribal (and just as pre-disposed to shaping the evidence to your own views rather than the other way around) as anyone else.


Liberal commentators told me, quite vehemently, that my tweet above was nonsense on the basis it was “not backed by any reputable pollsters”, even though it was basic common sense. Even after the last 18 months, Liberals (and by extension much of the media) would rather put their faith in pollsters than actually get out and speak to people.

Could it be that it is time for a fundamental rethink? Maybe our campaign techniques aren’t as clever or modern as we think they are; maybe our communications are over-complex or even just shambolic; maybe we are simply not motivated enough to put the work in? If we are as clever as we think we are, we would at least consider each of these points before just condemning our opponents as unthinking bigots.

By the way, it is absolutely right for Liberals to be completely furious about what happened on 23 June and 8 November – and at the setbacks to international cooperation, women’s rights and basic human compassion which have accompanied these defeats. That fury should never be forgotten and should drive us

All of which means it’s time to stop moaning and start winning.

That means need to learn from where it has gone wrong, put it right, and maybe even get out and meet a few Conservatives to see if we can persuade them to join our side for the greater good rather than demeaning them from behind a keyboard.

And remember, as a wise Liberal once said, “We do these things not because they are easy…”

Guide to US Election

Americans go to the polls on Tuesday to elect their House of Representatives (lower legislative house, from 435 districts electing one each), a third of their Senate (one from two thirds of states), various State legislators… and of course their President (and Vice President).

The President (and Vice) is elected by an Electoral College of 538 delegates; 435 from each State in proportion to population, another 100 two from each State regardless of size, and 3 from the District of Columbia (the federal capital of Washington). Of the 50 States, 48 have their delegates elected “winner takes all”; thus, whichever candidate wins California gets all 55 available delegates from California voting for them. The remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, appoint two delegates based on the State-wide result and the remainder (two in Maine and three in Nebraska) individually based on the winner in each Congressional District.

A candidate requires only a plurality of votes to win the state (i.e. more votes than anyone else, regardless of whether this constitutes an absolute majority), but needs an absolute majority of the Electoral College (270 delegates) to win the election. Should no candidate attain this, regardless of who wins the overall popular vote or who has most delegates, the President is elected by the House of Representatives and the Vice by the Senate.

The two main candidates are Hillary Clinton (D-Democrat) and Donald Trump (R-Republican). The only other candidate running in all 50 states is Gary Johnson (L-Libertarian).

The United States is of course spread across numerous time zones and, in any case, each State manages the election. Thus electoral law varies across the country, including what the arrangements are for balloting, the circumstances under which a candidate may appear on the ballot paper, and the time at which polls close.

Additionally, there are variations in when networks feel content to “call” States for one candidate or another, bearing in mind the embarrassment caused by the erroneous early call of Florida for Al Gore in 2000. Nevertheless “calling”, based on early vote counts and exit polls, remains a feature of the night.


This diagram from the Washington Post, showing how the States voted last time (blue Democrat; red Republican) demonstrates that it is State population, not area, which counts – beware the standard maps!

So, what are we looking out for (with thanks to the Washington Post and APCO Worldwide), all times GMT (EST+5, PST +8, CET -1)?

Closing times refer to the whole state, given with the relevant number of Electoral Votes and the winning party in 2012 in brackets. Clinton can afford to lose 62 Electoral Votes versus 2012 and still win.


Rumours usually fly about exit polls at this stage, but no States have all polls actually closed before midnight.

Be very careful with such rumours. They usually have no basis in fact whatsoever! Wait for actual counts before making any assumptions as to the winner.

Now closed: Georgia (16-R), Indiana (11-R), Kentucky (8-R), South Carolina (9-R), Vermont (3-D), Virginia (13-D).


Kentucky (8) and West Virginia (5) will by now be called for Trump.

Vermont (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Virginia (13) may be formally deemed too close to call at this hour – if it is called for either candidate (probably Clinton), that is a very good early sign.

Otherwise, realistically we are still stuck with entirely unreliable rumours for another hour or so!

Now closed: North Carolina (15-R), Ohio (18-D), West Virginia (5-R); Alabama (9-R), Connecticut (7-D), Delaware (3-D), DC (3-D), Florida (29-D), Illinois (20-D), Maine (4-D), Maryland (10-D), Massachusetts (11-D), Mississippi (6-R), Missouri (10-R), New Hampshire (4-D), New Jersey (14-D), Oklahoma (7-R), Pennsylvania (20-D), Rhode Island (4-D), Tennessee (11-R).


Texas (38), Indiana (11), Tennessee (11), Alabama (9), South Carolina (9) and Oklahoma (7) will by now be called for Trump.

Massachusetts (11), Maryland (10), Rhode Island (4) and the District of Columbia (3) will by now be called for Clinton.

Illinois (20), Connecticut (7) and Delaware (3) should by now be called for Clinton; any significant delay is a real problem for her.

New Jersey (14) may initially be deemed too close to call but should soon be called for Clinton.

Georgia (14) should initially be deemed too close to call but may soon be called for Trump.

Maine‘s state votes and one of its districts should be called for Clinton, but its other district may be too close to call.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) should at this stage be too close to call – an early call for either candidate in either state, particularly for Clinton in North Carolina, would be big; do not expect either to be called soon, however.

Trump should be on at least 98 and Clinton 64 at this stage if all is as expected.

Now closed: Arkansas (6-R); Arizona (11-R), Colorado (9-D), Kansas (6-R), Louisiana (8-R), Michigan (16-D), Minnesota (10-D), Nebraska (5-R), New Mexico (5-D), New York (29-D), South Dakota (3-R), Texas (38-R), Wisconsin (10-D), Wyoming (3-R).


Arkansas (6), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6) and Wyoming (3) will by now be called for Trump, as will Nebraska‘s state votes and of its districts (but not the third).

New York (29) will by now be called for Clinton.

Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should at this stage be deemed too close to call; they will probably not be called for some time.

Virginia (13) may still be deemed too close to call; because of the vagaries of counting there, nothing is to be read into that.

Trump should be leading at this stage on at least 123, but Clinton closing on at least 93.

If, however, this is not the case and a landslide is apparent, the winner may be formally called over the next hour or so.

Now closed: Iowa (6-D), Montana (3-R), Nevada (6-D), Utah (6-R).


Louisiana (8), Montana (3), North Dakota (3) and South Dakota (3) will by now be called for Trump.

Pennsylvania (20) will be deemed too close to call; if it is close, this state may well be decisive, but the winner may not be known for some time.

Ohio (18), Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should also at this stage be deemed too close to call.

New Jersey (14) should by now be called for Clinton and Georgia (14) for Trump; ongoing delays in either signify real problems for the supposed winner.

North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) may finally be called around now; they are both significant, particularly if they change hands (on the basis of the last election, the former should go for Trump and the latter for Clinton).

Trump must be extending his lead on at least 151 and probably 166 at this stage to win; Clinton must be on 107 and probably 111.

Now closed: California (55-D), Hawaii (4-D), Idaho (4-R), North Dakota (3-R), Oregon (7-D), Washington (12-D).


California (55) and Hawaii (4) will by now be called for Clinton.

Missouri (10) and Idaho (4) will by now be called for Trump.

Florida (29) and Iowa (6) will at this stage be deemed too close to call.

Washington (12) and Oregon (7) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Clinton.

Arizona (11) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Trump.

Virginia (13) should by now be called for Clinton, if she is to win.

If it is to be a close election, the scores should now show it – with Trump on at least 180 rising towards 191 and Clinton 170 rising towards perhaps 202.

On the other hand, if either candidate has won clearly, this will be apparent by now and networks may begin to call it at this time.

All polls are now closed. Last closing is Alaska (3-R).


Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) will at this stage be too close to call.

Utah (6) may at this stage be too close to call because of a local Independent candidate McMullan, but should soon be called for Trump.

Alaska (3) may initially be deemed too close to call, but should soon be called for Trump.

Meanwhile, Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should by now have been called for Clinton; if either has not been, particularly if there is a real chance she has lost either, it is a potential problem for her.

Iowa (5) should by now be called for Trump if he is to win.

Florida (29) counts quickly, so watch for it being called any time now.

Trump could still win from 202, Clinton probably needs to be ahead now around 215228. That said, the overall scores could be affected by a range of things – the issue really is whether close States are being called, and for whom.


Ohio (18) should by now have been called for Trump; if it has not, it is a real problem for him.

Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should by now have been called for Clinton (the latter may be delayed somewhat because of a strong showing from Libertarian Johnson).

Unless it is very close, we should by now have a clear idea of the winner. If it is very close, all eyes should be on Pennsylvania (20) and perhaps Colorado (9).


Virginia (13) should be now have been called for Clinton, if she is still in with a chance.

Florida (29) may by now have been called for Trump, if he is still in with a chance.

If it is very, very close, we may even be looking at one of Maine‘s and one of Nebraska‘s districts.


We should now have calls everywhere, including in Pennsylvania (20), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), any of which could be decisive if it is very close.

If it is close, we may also have to wait in some cases for mailed votes. Some States allow these up to two weeks after polling day, provided they are postmarked no later than today. Regardless, if the outcome is still unclear at this stage, we are probably heading for recounts and the courts.

House of Representatives

The Republicans are likely to lose seats but keep control of the House; the way the districts are proportioned is hugely in their favour (they have, in effect, an in-built 40-50 seat advantage because of the way the boundaries are drawn).


Democrats needs to pick up 4-5 seats in the Senate to take a majority; this is probable, as most seats being defended (from 2010) are Republican.


It is a tricky call because this election is like no other, but the likeliest of many conceivable outcomes according to the pundits is a Clinton win declared around 6am GMT (ending on just over 300 Electoral Votes). But many other outcomes, including a landslide either way (Trump could conceivably go as high as 332Clinton as high as 370), are possible – so it may be worth being up from about 3am on!

My own instinct is Clinton will do poorly in the Mid West (perhaps even losing Michigan) but well in the South West (doing well in places like Arizona) to move over the 270 target as western states’ polls close – but that only has to be ever so slightly out for her not to win at all, an outcome I am more concerned about than many of the aforementioned pundits.

We shall see!

What is the “Electoral College”?

The US Presidential election will be decided between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and an outrageous Republican candidate (to whom I will draw no further attention, even by naming).

Oddly, however, it will be decided “in Florida”, “in Ohio”, perhaps even “in Utah”. What’s that about?

When the United States was formed, even as a 13-state union, it was huge in terms of area. At the time, travelling across it took literally weeks. Additionally, it was exactly what it said on the tin – a union of states, not a single nation-state.

It was governed from Washington DC (from where I am writing this piece, as it happens), which did and does not form part of any state and was established specifically for the purpose of providing a neutral setting where representatives of states could meet and discuss issues of mutual interest.

It is for this reason that the United States has a “Congress” not a “Parliament”; representatives of each state come together “in congress”; the “congress” continues to refer to the notion that it is a law-making and scrutinising body representing a union of states rather than a single national legislature.

Each state is represented in the House of Representatives (usually referred to simply as “the House”) in congress by a number in proportion to its population. The smallest states (with populations only in the hundreds of thousands) have one Representative, working up to the largest, currently California (now nearly 40 million), with 53. Where a state elects more than one, it does so from single districts (thus small states can form a single district; whereas California is split into 53); elections for all 435 Representatives take place every two years.

Additionally, each state is represented in the Senate by two Senators each regardless of size (for a convenient total of 100, elected for staggered six-year terms). So the smallest state, Wyoming, adds two Senators to its single Representative to send three delegates to meet “in congress”, and California adds two to its 53 to send a total of 55. Thus, overall, smaller states are slightly over-represented.

Then there was the issue of how to elect the overall President (and Vice President) of the union. This, as with Congress, had to be done by states representing the view of their population in Washington, DC. The body set up to do this is referred to as the Electoral College, which meets early in January every fourth year. It consists of a delegation of each state totalling its representation in Congress – thus, for example, Wyoming gets three delegates and California gets 55. Washington, DC itself has also received a delegation of three since 1965, thus bringing the total to 435+100+3=538.

The election of these delegates takes place well in advance, for the historical reason that it once took delegates weeks to get to Washington, DC! Each state now elects its delegates by universal suffrage (this once varied), although exactly how it does this may vary as electoral law is determined by the states themselves.

Of the 50 states, 48 use a “winner takes all” system, meaning that all its delegates are elected to cast their vote in the Electoral College for the same candidate. Thus, all three of Wyoming’s electors must vote for the winner in Wyoming; as must all 55 of California’s. Note that the winning ticket does not need a majority of the votes cast in that state, just a plurality; so if Hillary Clinton scores 49% in California, some unspeakable candidate 41%, and two others 5% each, then Hillary Clinton still receives the votes of all 55 of California’s delegates.

Maine (itself a breakaway state from Massachusetts) and Nebraska (which is in any case unique in not generally having a party system in its local state politics) form exceptions, binding just two of their delegates (equivalent to their Senate representation) by the overall state-wide result; the remainder are elected individually by district (i.e. in line with how their Representatives are elected) and bound by the district’s result. Usually, in practice, this still results in all delegates from each state being on the same ticket, but not always (as recently as 2008, one Nebraska district voted for Obama while the others plus the state as a whole chose McCain).

Most states make it a legal requirement for its delegates to vote for both President and Vice President according to the ticket they were on. However, there is the occasional “faithless elector” (for example, one delegate bound to vote for Democratic nominee Al Gore in 2000 abstained in protest at the overall outcome).

Although candidates require only a plurality in any individual state to win the votes of that state’s delegation in the Electoral College, they do in fact require an outright majority in the Electoral College (i.e. 270 or more out of 538) to be elected. There is potential for a 269-269 tie; and also for a third candidate to win enough delegates’ votes to force even the leading candidate below 270 (though no third candidate has won any Electoral College votes since 1968).

This creates a potentially serious quirk. In the event that no candidate attains an outright majority, which candidate has the most votes in the Electoral College is theoretically irrelevant – the House of Representatives must meet to elect the President, and the Senate to elect the Vice President.

This, of course, does mean there can be occasions where one candidate receives the most votes from the electorate, but another receives a majority in the Electoral College and is thus elected. This has happened four times, most recently in 2000. Here, out of interest, is why I think that remains a no bad thing!

That, then, is the Electoral College – a means of electing a President of a union by votes case by representatives of states of that union, with smaller states slightly over-represented so their interests are not simply overridden by the larger states or even the big conurbations. It is a controversial method of electing a Head of State, but it has stood the test of time – and probably will for some time yet.

Right’s response to “Gay Cake” lets everyone down

“If a gay baker was asked to bake a cake with a homophobic message on it, wouldn’t he have every right to refuse?” asks Dan Hannan MEP.

Oh dear oh dear. Of course they could refuse. Homophobic messaging, like racism for example, is a hate crime.

Whereas here’s the thing: supporting same-sex marriage is not a hate crime. Does Mr Hannan really not know the difference?

It is genuinely alarming how many people do not (or, at least, pretend not to) see this. Supporting same-sex marriage is not some deviant craze; it is a widespread mainstream political opinion (which, out of interest, had the support of most MLAs voting the last time it was tested in the Assembly).

It is in fact those making those ludicrous false parallels (as well as deliberately attempting to create a false wedge between “Christian” on one side and “LGBT” on the other, as if they were mutually exclusive) who need to look at themselves. They are the ones doing the marginalising; they are the ones doing the discriminating; and indeed they are the ones falling well short of the standards demanded by any loving God.


Issue not immigration, but volume

Two years ago I wrote a post arguing that England needs to build thousands of miles of new motorway. Transport infrastructure happens to be a particular interest of mine, but the same could no doubt be argued about a number of things – England needs a new airport runway; it needs more houses; it needs more health centres; it needs more schools.

Fundamentally, I believe it is this which led to the “Leave” vote in June. Interestingly, the regions of England which receive the lowest public funding per head were also those which were likeliest to vote “Leave”.

This has been presented as an issue of “immigration”, but actually it is more about “volume”. England, taken alone, ranks alongside the Netherlands as the most densely populated country (of any size) in the European Union. It does not much matter why England’s population is growing so quickly, the fact is that it is.

The population density issue is often presented as one of “immigration”, but actually it is one of population density. It should be called what it is. Of course, it will be jumped on by populist politicians who want it to be about immigration; and England does need to invest seriously in community relations. But let us deal with the actual issue – in some parts of England, the infrastructure in the broadest sense requires huge investment. We should not miss that point.

UK being bossed around by EU on “Hard Brexit”

Former Chancellor George Osborne returned to public view last week to warn that, although the people of the UK had voted for “Brexit”, they had not voted for “Hard Brexit”. As a matter of straightforward fact, he was completely correct.

However, what if “Hard Brexit” is the only type of “Brexit” on offer? I suspect that is the word from the grape vine of UK diplomatic channels, and is the reason the Prime Minister is creeping that way.

We need to be very clear. The invocation of “Article 50” merely determines the route by which the UK would leave the EU. It does not determine the future relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU; nor does it even clarify whether or not the UK may be able to retain membership of the European Economic Area (the “Single Market”) or the European Union Customs Union. Were it to become apparent – as it may already have through diplomatic and legal channels – that leaving the EU also automatically means leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union, this would mean “Hard Brexit”. That is a straightforward matter of fact; there is nothing that can be done about it.

Upon leaving the EU by “Hard Brexit”, the UK would then have the option of seeking further negotiations to soften the blow. However, any sort of association would be subject to ratification by all 27 remaining members – in each case at least through one legislature, usually through two, and in some cases via referendum (noting that the last such attempt was rejected by the Dutch in a referendum this year). At every stage, each country will seek to extract an extra concession or two, and even then it only takes one to reject it – leaving the UK firmly “Hard Brexitted”.

All the discussion so far focuses on what type of “Brexit” the UK wants or should go for. More important, in fact, is what type of “Brexit” the rest of the EU wants. The EU is bossing the UK around, and that is why there is only one type of “Brexit” available – the “Very Hard” kind. The “Very Hard” kind which is not in the UK’s interests, and that no one actually voted for…