29 November 2019

the second referendum

  Rightly or wrongly, the upcoming UK election looks like turning into the long-threatened second referendum. With Labour imploding, the Lib Dems are the obvious second choice and have effectively become the official anti-Brexit party. There is little doubt they would — if they could — deliver non-Brexit, and without being plagued by ambivalence. The Conservatives are in the role of pro-Brexit party but their level of wholeheartedness seems less clear-cut, though there is no doubting the determination of their leader.
   Three years is a long time. Are voters still clear enough on what the Brexit issues are? I know what my own position is, but that is based largely on the illiberality of the EU state, a topic that may not be of much interest to the majority. As far as economics goes, the net effect of EU membership is too difficult to quantify even to say whether it’s positive or negative. There is a lot more to EU policy than free trade, much of it market-distorting.
   Do the people who voted for Brexit in 2016 still care enough to vote for it again? Not much has happened to make the choice any easier. True, it has emerged that the pessimistic warnings of Project Fear were probably wrong. But we have also had plenty of anti-Brexit and anti-Brexiteer propaganda since the referendum. The Brexit movie painted Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings as a hero, but portrayed Leave voters as being of questionable intelligence (see Focus Group scene).
   Undemocratic it may be, to make people choose again, but that's to some extent what we are being presented with. The Conservatives may need to remind voters about the arguments for leaving, if they do not want to see major losses to the Lib Dems. That is, assuming they can sound convincing. If not, it's probably best to stay silent.

  Journalists regularly remind us that the UK is suffering from a housing crisis, but the interpretations offered tend to reveal confused thinking. If the population rises by half a million every year, the urbanisation process continues, and people increasingly live alone, a chronic housing shortfall is to be expected. Add foreign investment in properties left empty, and the problem becomes extreme. But this phenomenon gets muddled up with the separate issue of wealth inequality and the fact that property ownership has become more concentrated so that more people are having to rent. Attacking the wealth disparity isn't going to solve the housing shortage, but that doesn't stop commentators wanting to blame property owners — baby boomers, the bourgeoisie, etc.
   If the housing stock is too low and most people can only afford to rent, it follows that most new private properties will (at least initially, until the pressure has abated) need to be purchased by the well-off and rented out, in order to alleviate the problem. So perhaps it's the well-off who need to be induced to buy to let, if market demand for new property is to rise sufficiently to make builders want to build. This argument, however, conflicts with egalitarian morality.
   Rather than using carrots to encourage more letting, most commentators prefer the idea of sticks for beating second-home owners: e.g. threatening a higher rate of council tax, or strengthening tenants' rights. The Times's Libby Purves endorses the stick approach, justifying it by referring to

the morally reprehensible idea that in a time of shortage it is OK to treat dwellings as mere investments.
Ms Purves believes (among other things) that we need "better security for all tenants", an approach which seems as likely to exacerbate the shortage problem as to help. The perspective of property owners is airily waved off:
If that scares off amateur landlords, who cares? Let councils buy their assets, cheap.

  The Sun's Dan Wootton condemns Prince Andrew for seeming "aloof", contrasting HRH's BBC interview unfavourably with Princess Diana's:
[...] Princess Diana's Panorama interview proved without any doubt that she was one of us [...]
The 1995 Panorama programme, featuring Princess Diana's revelations about royal life, seems to have been stage-managed better than Prince Andrew's "car crash" interview. A woman with a sob story is of course an easier sell than a man denying a sex crime. It seems doubtful, however, that Princess Diana thought of herself as "one of us" (unless "us" means people who dislike the Royal Family), just as it seems doubtful that the average left-wing technocrat thinks of the people he supposedly wishes to help as being like himself.
   The belief that they don't think they are special, they realise they are just like us, and only want to help us — a fantasy rarely questioned by even the most cynical journalists — is surely one of the key reasons we have been ruled by leftist governments for the last thirty years. (More about the ideology of the pseudo-egalitarian elite can be found in George Walden's The New Elites, and in my own book The Ideology of the Elites.)
   Prince Andrew seems to have unwisely associated with a number of unsavoury characters over the years. Rather than being too aloof, he may not have been aloof enough.

  This blog will be back in 2020.