Third try: writing to my MP about Brexit

Sigh … Third try …

Dear Mark Harper,

This is the third time in three weeks that I have written to you about Brexit, and I have yet to receive a reply to my first message of three weeks ago or my second of one week ago.

This morning the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the United Kingdom can decide to remain in the EU. And that we don’t need the consent of the other member states. That puts the decision about our future back into the hands of MPs.

The deal on the table falls far short on what was promised, and leaves us without a proper mandate for Brexit. I urge you to vote against Theresa May’s deal, and to vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit in whatever subsequent votes may occur. We are stronger, more prosperous and more influential inside the EU than outside it.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Mike Taylor
Oakleigh Farm House, Crooked End, Ruardean, GL17 9XF

If you have a position on Brexit, I urge you also to write to your own MP. The easiest way is using WriteToThem.

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21 responses to “Third try: writing to my MP about Brexit

  1. Dear Mister MP.
    I voted Remain because I am clever. Some people voted Leave because they are stupid. Please ignore their vote, because they are stupid. They all took their opinons from the side of a bus. Not one of them had an opinion before they saw the bad stupid bus. I took my opinions from all the books I read. I have lots of books. I also read the newspaper, but not the sports section, because I am smart. They read the sports section, because they are very very stupid.
    Also, when we make their stupid vote go away, do not have another vote. They might do something stupid again. This must be the last vote, unless the stupid people win again. Please write a letter to me – I wrote a letter to you.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/27/tragedy-mps-too-busy-constituency-work

    And yup Mike, my comment lacks even the subtlety of a delicately thrown half-brick, but I hope it conveys how I see the call for a second referendum. :-)

  2. Well, if you genuinely think that’s what my letter said, then I suppose we are simply not communicating.

  3. It’s not what I think your letter says – it’s what I think your letter conveys.

    “far short on what was promised”. Crucial for the referendum but irrelevant for all other forms of democracy. You’ve latched on to this idea, and you won’t let it go. From my perspective you may as well have written

    “I think *some* people, but I don’t have numbers, will have voted Leave based solely or mostly on promises made by the Leave campaign, having never thought about this issue until then. I have no basis in fact for this belief. No numbers to back it up. Personally I don’t choose a party or side based solely on their campaign, as if I lived in a vacuum before that point – but I believe my opponents do. They’re essentially statues until a new campaign rolls around, then they vote and freeze in place again. The campaign, and the people in it, are what determines the validity of the result, not the people who voted.
    I want to ignore the first referendum because I think all elections with a dishonest or crap campaign for the winning side should be overturned. Well, only this one actually. None of the others.
    Anybody who intended to vote Leave before the Leave campaign even started has had their vote tarnished by a campaign entirely outside of their control. Their mandate now, for some reason, means nothing to me. I don’t believe such people exist anyway.”

    I hear what you’re saying, but I cannot wrap my head around the mental gymnastics required to believe it.

  4. I simply don’t recognise any part of your supposed reading of my letter.

  5. FWIW, neither do I — except that I recognize all of the original rewrite, not as having anything to do with what you wrote, but as typical populist-right rhetoric aimed at discrediting the evil smug liberal degenerate coastal urban elites.

    (Whether rjubber is in fact a typical populist-rightist doing the usual thing or not, I don’t profess to know. Some of what s/he has said elsewhere suggests not, but other hypotheses seem hard to square with this persistently dismissive and insulting missing of the point.)

  6. I simply don’t recognise any part of your supposed reading of my letter.

    Okay, just at least promise that if you do get your referendum re-run, and the result is Leave again, you will accept it this time. No quibbling about campaigns or buses or whatnot: we’ve been talking this over and over for two and a half years, nobody can claim the public haven’t had the chance to be as informed as they wish to be.

    You get you do-over, and if Leave wins — even by one single vote — you accept the result. Promise?

  7. hush little g – and thank you for all of the labels. I am one of the liberal degenerate coastal urban elites (er – the UK version that is – I voted Remain and I live in London, and my girlfriend is Polish and most of my friends are European and I’m sure I can list a whole bunch of other credentials).

    What *IS* the point I am missing? I keep coming back to this issue and, your bountiful ad hominem aside, I genuinely do not understand Mike’s position. I would like to.

    Let’s set some axioms Mike. Tell me which you agree with

    1) If no Leave campaign had occurred but the same result had happened, you would have no cause to contact your MP.

    2) If the Leave campaign had been low key and hadn’t lied at all, you would have no cause to contact your MP.

    3) If the Leave campaign had been fairly low key and only lied/exaggerated a bit, you would have no cause to contact your MP

    3) Because a Leave campaign did happen, and contained bollocks, *every* leave voter is now beholden to that campaign’s promises, and the mandate is lost.

    4) Alternatively enough Leave voters must have been tricked by the campaign that the mandate is lost.

    5) Leave voters are more prone to believing campaign promises than Remain voters? (I don’t *think* you believe this explicitly)

    6) If Remain had won, you can envisage a set of circumstances under which you believe the Remain campaign’s promises had not been met and you would have written to your MP asking for a second vote.

    7) If May loses her vote, and we leave the EU, Leave voters will not have got the Leave result they voted for. It will be the wrong sort of Leave.

    8) The stark choice on the ballot is only part of the vote. The validity of the outcome is dependent on the attendant campaign.

    9) Remain doesn’t need to get the right kind of Remain – if Remain had won, that is always the right kind of Remain result.

    10) If you get a second referendum and change the outcome (due to mass protests, mass abstentions, slicker London based Remain campaign, better framing of the Remain position, better analysis of the Leave campaign, etc. etc.) you can forsee no issues with 15 million people having their vote set aside. You believe they will accept your axioms and agree with your analysis.

    11) Democracy is important, but remaining in the EU is more important.

    12) Having a second referendum is even more democracy, so democracy wins anyway

    Obviously not all of these can be true at once.

  8. Last one, then I am out.

    The problem is not any specific detail of the Leave campaigning. It’s the whole nature of what many people believed leaving the EU meant. Many people — including at least some of the politicians supporting Brexit — thought it would be very different from what we now know it is. So it is perfectly reasonable to say “Well, now we all know what this thing is. Do you still want it?” That’s all.

  9. I understand your position – and on its own singular merits it makes a sort of sense. There is no issue with my comprehension of your basic thought process. My issue is how you can hold this thought without any of the concomitant implications striking you as even being worthy of consideration.

    After every democratic vote, new information will arise. Why do you not think other votes should also be subject to a re-run? You have never answered this question.

    How many is ‘many’? Where do you derive this value? What is the attendant level at which enough people have been offered a false promise that a new vote kicks in? You have never answered this question because an answer is impossible.

    I could go on – but we may have reached an intellectual impasse. It is my profound hope that a moment of clarity isn’t triggered by watching people turning over cars and setting fire to them on the news.

  10. So I assume that means that now the whole nature of what leaving the EU (whether with or without a deal) will mean is out in the open and available to everyone, you agree that you will not question the result of any second referendum, even if Leave wins by only a single vote.

    I still think that a second referendum is unlikely, but in the event that it happens, I shall hold you to that when Leave wins again.

  11. rjubber, there was not a jot of ad hominem in what I wrote; quite the result.

    rjubber, I am not Mike and he shouldn’t be assumed to agree with anything I say, but the main reason I am inclined to think a second referendum would be a good idea is simply that we have a whole lot of information now that we didn’t have at the time of the first referendum. That would be true even if there had been no disinformation in the campaign at all; the fact that there was so much bullshit thrown around makes the case stronger (because not only has everyone gone from not knowing what deal(s) would be available to knowing, but anyone who believed any of the bullshit in the campaign that has now been refuted should by now have gone from knowing-what’s-not-so to knowing). In an earlier discussion H argued that the information we now have is more or less what the Remain campaign was saying all along; I am sympathetic to claims that the Remain campaign had a pretty good idea of what was likely to be ahead, but still there is a difference between “some people say X will happen” and “X is in fact happening”. Anyway: I am quite happy with the general principle that if The People vote for something, and then a whole lot of new information comes along that might reasonably change a lot of people’s opinions, then it’s likely to be a good idea to ask them again, especially if the original vote was close. It doesn’t seem to me that holding this opinion incurs an obligation to be able to give a precise criterion for how you divide things that want a re-run from things that don’t. (If it did, then people saying “we should have a referendum on leaving the EU” in 2016 — which was also a rerun, since when the UK went into the EU it did so on the basis of a referendum — should have been given the same challenge…)

    H, I don’t know what the best thing to do is in the present volatile political situation, but in general terms what should have been done was to say something like “if Leave gets 55% we leave, if Remain gets 55% we stay, and anywhere in between we ask again in five years”. You shouldn’t make big disruptive changes just because there’s a hair-thin majority for them.

    H, I am not Mike and he shouldn’t be assumed to agree with anything I say, but my guess is that he would agree with me that there is more than one reason why we should not treat the original referendum as determining exactly what we should do. One is that it was made before a lot of relevant information was available (and under the influence of a lot of disinformation; we can of course argue about how much influence it actually had). Another is that big disruptive changes should not be made as soon as opinion passes from 49.9% to 50.1%. The first of those reasons would not apply to a second referendum. The second would. (But the political reality might be that holding a second referendum on any terms short of “if a majority says leave then we leave” would lead to rioting in the streets. It is unfortunate for policy to be determined by which people are most willing to riot in the streets if they don’t get what they want, but sometimes it has to be.)

  12. g – “not as having anything to do with what you wrote, but as typical populist-right rhetoric aimed at discrediting the evil smug liberal degenerate coastal urban elites” – rather feels like a shot at the man and not the argument. But let’s assume otherwise – your subsequent response was measured and had substance. You also said that I’m intentionally (and insultingly) missing Mike’s point – but I don’t know how many different ways I can ask for clarification on what defines “a whole lot of new information”, “many people now think” and any number of other fuzzy characteristics of the justification for a second referendum, a mere two years after the previous one. You don’t think you need to give a precise criterion. Precision is a strawman. Something other than your (or Mike’s) say-so would be a nice start.

    Your argument that the 2016 referendum, more than a generation after the last one, would fall at that hurdle ignores that “a lot has changed” wasn’t cited as the reason for the vote, but rather one party with a majority having campaigned with a second referendum as an election manifesto pledge – so the referendum already had a mandate. (the weaknesses in the UK’s vote dispersal system are not lost on me, but that debate can wait I think)

    As an aside, I don’t believe Leave voters will riot in the streets, I rather fear instead millions of people deciding that democracy is a sham, doesn’t apply to them and isn’t worth investing in. If you want to sell them the notion that Democracy is a plaything of the rich, this is how you do it. A friend recently posted on facebook how 150 of the UK’s top lawyers were demanding a second vote and I wondered if he understood how that would look. If I might briefly be allowed the indulgence of mischaracterising the Leave vote, I wonder if 150 of the UK’s top northern bin-men will be getting together to campaign for no second referendum – if they’ll be phoning their rich clients and media chums to ensure Leave happens. And if riots do happen it won’t be because Leave voters didn’t get what they want – but that they had what they wanted, and it was taken away from them.

    I voted Remain. I want what a lot of Remain represents and I will do better out of us remaining in than out of the EU. My daughter’s half-Polish, for one thing. But I’ll gift that result to Leave if that is what the vote demands, because the alternative should make any fan of John Locke shudder. You say 52 percent is too close for ‘big’ decisions. I say 50 percent exactly and one extra vote is enough to change direction because we still don’t have a better system.

  13. Pingback: A response from my MP on Brexit | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  14. I was describing what your argument (pretending pro tem that we can call it one, though it really wasn’t) sounded like, and I explicitly noted that other things you’ve written are hard to square with your being the sort of person one would expect to produce such an argument. Not sure how much less ad hominem it’s possible to be.

    Also, you’ve got quite a nerve accusing others of ad hom when your first move here was to pretend that Mike’s letter to his MP, which was entirely focused on the issues (note: this is a separate question from whether what he said was sensible, was right, etc.), was saying “look at how clever I am”.

    If precision is a strawman, then what do you want? I don’t think anythingdefines “a whole lot of new information”, etc.; I think that no matter how you define such terms, the difference between (1) having no idea what sort of EU-exiting deal might be possible, with one set of people saying that the UK would hold all the cards, that it would be easy to get good terms, etc., and another set of people saying it would be painful and leave us much worse off and without getting most of the things the Leave campaign said we should have, and (2) having a specific deal on the table, should count as “a whole lot of new information”.

    (I agree that it would feel bad to hold a new referendum just a couple of years after an earlier one. But the problem here isn’t that having a second referendum is a bad idea, it’s that the plan should all along have been that if the first referendum said we should leave the EU, then the next steps should have been to figure out what specific terms we could leave under and then see whether The People still want to do it. And the plan should all along have been that if the first referendum gave a very close result, we would kick the question down the road for, say, five years, and attempt to explore further what leaving might mean so that we could be better informed next time. None of that was done, because the referendum wasn’t a carefully thought out attempt to do the best thing for the country but a desperate attempt by David Cameron to placate euroskeptic Tories enough to keep his job. That puts us in a position where the things that would be most sensible, in a more reasonable world, may be politically infeasible.)

    Sure, the (2016) referendum only happened because a political party put it in their manifesto and then won the election. And, sure, that is sufficient grounds for doing it. But that’s the mechanism, not the underlying reason. If there’s a second referendum, the way it will happen will probably also involve some mechanism that’s sufficient grounds for doing it. Not least because “Parliament voted to do X” is constitutionally sufficient grounds for X to happen. My point wasn’t about whether it was procedurally appropriate to hold either the 2016 referendum or a hypothetical second referendum, but about whether it was reasonable, all things considered to do it. If “but we already had a referendum about that” is a good reason not to hold another one, then that was as true in 2016 as it would be in 2018 or 2019; and, in either case, what would make that argument not compelling would be that circumstances, or our knowledge of them, have changed in some way. (“The EU has grown into a monstrous would-be European superstate.” “It turns out we can’t leave the EU on terms that many of the population would find acceptable.” Etc.)

    I don’t understand your last remark about not having a better system. Referenda of this sort aren’t any part of our system, and as I’m sure you know the 2016 referendum was technically advisory only. So whether 50% + one vote is “enough” is entirely up to Parliament when setting the terms of the thing and deciding what to do in response. Again, what they actually did was to hold the referendum on terms suggesting that 50% + one vote was “enough”, and now that that’s happened it may be politically infeasible to do anything else; but that’s not because democracy demands that that be the criterion, it’s not because of anything in our “system”, it’s just because that’s what Cameron (arguably) promised and what Parliament (definitely) decided to do, and there’s nothing undemocratic or un-Lockean about thinking that those were bad decisions.

    (Though, for what it’s worth, I don’t think it matters in the least what Locke would have thought about any particular system or particular action. He wasn’t infallible.)

  15. I don’t know what the best thing to do is in the present volatile political situation, but in general terms what should have been done was to say something like “if Leave gets 55% we leave, if Remain gets 55% we stay, and anywhere in between we ask again in five years”. You shouldn’t make big disruptive changes just because there’s a hair-thin majority for them.

    You say that, but before the vote the Remain side were saying that a Remain majority of 50.1% would decide the issue for a generation.

    Democracy requires both sides to agree and accept the rules in advance of the vote.

    Unless you can provide evidence that you were prior to the vote saying that a remain win of less than 55% should result in another vote, why should anyone pay any attention to what you say when it’s plain that you change your mind and want different rules to apply because in hindsight you think the wrong side won, whereas you would have been perfect happy to claim a 52% win for Remain as a legitimate never-to-be-questioned win?

    (And by the way, I have seen a lot of people claiming that no countries allow constitutional change on bare majorities; but this is just wrong; I have yet to find any country which requires a greater-than-50% majority in a referendum. A bunch have supermajority requirements for different kinds of votes — the USA, for example, requires a two-thirds majority in its equivalent of Parliament for a constitutional change — but when it comes to a vote of the entire electorate all the ones I have found information on, like the Republic of Ireland, require only a bare majority (and incidentally, had the Irish Republic required a 66.6% majority for constitutional change, neither the same-sex marriage amendment nor the abortion-legalising amendment would have passed, and nor would the Treaty of Nice or the Treaty of Lisbon).

  16. I don’t know who on the Remain side was saying that at 50.1% majority for Remain would decide the issue for a generation. I know I wasn’t. (I also know that that infamous Remainer, Nigel Farage, was saying that in the event of a narrow result “this would be unfinished business by a long way”. Of course he was talking about a narrow Remain win, and obviously a narrow Leave win is an ironclad mandate :-).

    I can’t (I think) provide any evidence at all about what I was saying before the vote. But I’d love to know on what basis you say “it’s plain that you change your mind and want different rules to apply”: so far as I can tell, you’re just making that up. I don’t think I’ve changed my mind; obviously you might choose to disbelieve me, and it’s certainly the kind of thing on which one can fool oneself. But whether it’s plain that I’ve changed my mind as you say is not a subtle question you’d have to look inside my head to answer; it’s straightforwardly untrue, and I challenge you to show what makes it “plain” if you disagree.

    (In case it isn’t clear: Yes, I am calling you a liar.)

    I haven’t made any claim on what other countries require. It seems to me that ideally the size of majority required for a change would have some relation to how big an upheaval the change would bring and how painful it would be to reverse if The People subsequently changed their minds. E.g., the UK joining or leaving the EU, or Scotland joining or leaving the UK, would be huge upheavals and likely difficult to reverse (joining probably harder, as we’re finding, than leaving), and I think the 1975 referendum should have needed a supermajority (which it would have got, with any reasonable threshold). A change of voting system would be a substantial but fairly easily reversible upheaval if it kept existing constituencies, a bigger and harder-to-reverse one if not. I don’t have any specific formula in mind, or anything like that; in practice referenda are rare enough that it should be possible to figure them out case by case. (There are also political considerations; maybe demanding 60-40 would have been appropriate for entering or leaving the EU, but a referendum on such terms would probably not have achieved Cameron’s goal of pacifying euroskeptics in and around the Conservative Party.)

  17. I don’t know who on the Remain side was saying that at 50.1% majority for Remain would decide the issue for a generation.

    Nick Clegg. David Cameron (of course). John Major. Unfortunately it’s very hard to find the records of these because more recent discussion of a second referendum drowns out the earlier search results, but if you want, I’ll keep looking and dig up the records for you.

    But I’d love to know on what basis you say “it’s plain that you change your mind and want different rules to apply”:

    If you didn’t say before you lost the referendum that a narrow win either way should result in a second vote, but you do say that when it didn’t go the way you expect, then I think any reasonable person would say it’s plain that you want to change the rules retrospectively because you idn’t get the result you wanted.

    It seems to me that ideally the size of majority required for a change would have some relation to how big an upheaval the change would bring and how painful it would be to reverse if The People subsequently changed their minds.

    You know, and I know, that that would just devolve into people in favour of the change saying that it would be easy to reverse and therefore it should have a low majority requirement, and those against it saying it would be hard to reverse and therefore should have a low majority requirement, and how could we decide between them? Have a vote in the Commons on what the majority required should be as part of the passage of the Act? But what about when the whole point, as with leaving the EU, is that the people don’t trust that those in the Commons represent them?

    Do you think, for example, that Scottish Nationalists would for a moment accept the Westminster Parliament voting that a second Scottish independence referendum had to win a 66% majority?

  18. “If you didn’t say …” Let’s get rid of an ambiguity here.

    If I’d said “A 50.1% majority for Remain should lay the matter to rest permanently” (e.g., commenting on Farage’s statement that a 52-48 Remain win would leave unfinished business) then indeed my saying the reverse now about a narrow Leave majority would be either hypocrisy or a substantial change of mind; you’d be reasonable to suspect the former, and in any case you’d be well within your rights to say “it’s plain you changed your mind”.

    But I did not, in fact, say anything of that sort.

    If I’d merely not said anything on the topic, though — and that is in fact the case — then you have no idea what I thought, and you are well out of order saying it’s plain I changed my mind.

    I have no recollection of ever explicitly considering the question before the referendum. (Maybe it’s remiss of me not to have done. Too bad. I spend most of my time thinking about things other than politics, and of course there are interesting questions that never cross my mind.) It’s hard to know for sure what I would have thought if I had, but I can’t imagine myself saying anything remotely like “a 50.1% Remain win would mean the matter should be considered permenantly closed”.

    Yes, I agree that if we adopted the practice of requiring supermajorities when holding referenda on big disruptive changes then people would argue about what sort of majority should be needed for change as a proxy for arguing about whether to make the change. That might be annoying. But I don’t see that it would be more annoying than feeling unable ever to hold a referendum on any terms other than “we guarantee to do what the majority says, even if it’s a 50.1% majority and what it’s asking for is a huge disruptive change”.

    I don’t expect the SNP would have been happy about a referendum on the sort of terms I propose — not, by the way, requiring a 2/3 supermajority which seems to me too stringent a requirement even for a change as big as leaving the EU or splitting up the UK; I don’t think I’d ever want a requirement beyond 60:40 and the specific figure I’ve mentioned more than once in these discussions is 55:45. But given the other part of my proposal (if the result is close, either way around, we undertake to ask again after N years) I think they might have been persuadable.

    In any case, as I have said several times in this discussion, “what would be best for the country?” and “what is politically feasible?” are separate questions and it is entirely possible that what’s best for the country is politically infeasible. It’s still worth asking what would be best if it were possible.

  19. It’s hard to know for sure what I would have thought if I had, but I can’t imagine myself saying anything remotely like “a 50.1% Remain win would mean the matter should be considered permenantly closed”.

    Well we can never know for sure what you would have said, can we.

    Given your determination to find some way, any way, to cancel the Leave vote, however… well, people are free to draw their own conclusions.

  20. But given the other part of my proposal (if the result is close, either way around, we undertake to ask again after N years) I think they might have been persuadable.

    Actually the more I think about this the more I realise it is a genius proposal which manages to combine all the worst features of every possible outcome and thus guarantee that everybody hates everything to the maximum extent possible.

    For a start, there’s unlikely ever to be a more-than-55% majority for either leaving the EU or remaining, so this locks us into a recurring neverendum nightmare where every N years the country tears itself apart again, pointlessly. Joy!

    And of course while this is happening, we Remain (and get drawn ever deeper into the acquis making it harder and harder to leave). So the Leavers hate it even more.

    But the best bit is that eventually everyone will get used to this state of affairs, that every few years we have a referendum that decides nothing but keeps the hopes of both sides alive, so that if ever one side or the other does randomly win 55.2% of the vote, it will just provoke even greater hostility as the losing side claims that a mere 0.2% over the threshold is clearly not enough to settle the question and… we’re back right were we are now. Or possibly in a civil war. One or the other.

    Given the utter mess we are in now, it takes some ingenuity to come up with a way to make things infinitely worse. Well done.

  21. My “determination” is a figment of your imagination. You aren’t good at reading my mind. You should probably stop trying.

    As to the rest: Your contempt is noted, but hardly a surprise. I don’t agree with your analysis, but the likely value of continuing a discussion with someone who repeatedly makes confident but false statements about me seems low enough that I don’t think responding further is worth the effort.

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