A glimmer of sunlight for Britain and for Labour

by Rob Marchant

The first thing to observe about the current political situation in Britain is that it is incredibly difficult to predict. At every point of the mathematical decision tree, there are unknowns and strange distortions (more of that later).

So the starting point for us, like Sophocles, is this: the only thing we know is that we know nothing. And the one thing which is usually true about politics is when there is an “everyone knows that…” conventional wisdom, it is more often than not completely wrong. Whoever would have predicted the success of Donald Trump? Or John Major, or Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter?

That said, if we look incrementally at what has changed in the last ten days, it would seem that Britain, and Labour, are both in a slightly better place.

First, Britain: whether you are a Leaver or a Remainer, unless you are frothing at the mouth, you cannot be looking at a no-deal Brexit as an attractive outcome for the country.

Therefore, the fact that Theresa May has finally, two years into her premiership, dared to put “no Brexit” back on the table, augurs well for moderates in both camps.

If Chequers succeeds, which looks increasingly unlikely (both from the UK side and taking into account the difficulty of ratification across each of 27 countries, such as Spain and Ireland), at least Britain has a “least worst” route to Brexit which will cause only modest harm to the economy.

Now let us look at what happens if Chequers fails.

If you are a Remainer, May’s statement is a matter for some contentment: whether or not No Brexit is achievable, it is at least now acknowledge to be possible (as, of course, it always was if we wanted it – European leaders have been at pains to say they would really like Britain not to leave, even now). If Chequers dies, there is now at least the chance that the country will, staring into the abyss, decide that it must have a People’s Vote and, perhaps, vote to stay.

If you are a moderate Leaver – that is, neither of the Corbynite nor ERG variety – you will realise, although perhaps through gritted teeth, that however much you wanted Britain to leave, this is really not what you signed up for and, if Chequers dies and the choice reduces to this or No Deal, you would probably not choose economic suicide and therefore vote for staying in (or, at least, abstain). In theory, of course, the government has the option to propose another deal but, in practice, what would that be, if they couldn’t get this one to work after two years?

In other words, if MPs are rational beings (a stretch, perhaps, but stay with me on this one) they will not choose the madness of something no developed country has ever tried in modern times: a sudden jolt to a scenario of practically no trade deals and an abysmal negotiating position to get any. It is an Armageddon scenario where a properly-negotiated Brexit might merely have been suboptimal. Now for the nerdy bit.

A decision tree marks a network of possible outcomes, a value for each and a probability of each. You navigate your way through the tree by events that happen. In the massively complicated decision tree of “Brexit: negotiated, no or No Deal?”, for example, which way a parliamentary vote goes, general election, change of PM, public opinion change, etc. all count.

Now, it is reasonable to assume that, no matter how stupid and/or craven the worst of our MPs might be, that only the real dogmatists on left and right would vote for No Deal. For example, the moderate Caroline Flints of this world, who take the opinion that they cannot support a People’s Vote because The People Have Spoken Already, would surely not say the same if the options were No Deal Brexit or No Brexit.

Proposition: No Deal is actually unthinkable. Because you would have to go against all sensible logic, the advice of business, all your major trading partners without exception, all living British Prime Ministers, trade unions, and presumably almost all macro- and microeconomists.

In this decision tree, in other words, the value of the No Deal outcome should be “minus infinity” or, at least, minus a large number. Now, the problem with such outcomes is that they distort the decision tree. For example, in a tree for hostage negotiation or healthcare strategy, you might take the loss of any human life as “minus infinity”. But it can’t be, because then you can’t make any calculations at all and it all gets a bit, well, silly. So this is why it’s interesting: if your Armageddon is a really big negative outcome, it will distort the calculations of the others.*

In short, you might think of No Deal as like having a nuclear weapon. No sensible person would propose ever to use it, but it doesn’t half shape the debate. That distortion is a big part of what makes this whole thing so madly impossible to predict. Normal logic is suspended.

After all this, we come to the second thought: May’s inclusion of “No Brexit” and the potential for failure of Chequers is good for Labour.

Why? It leaves a disingenuous Corbyn exposed. If he has a choice of No Deal Brexit or Remain (or, People’s Vote leading to Remain), he is forced to choose. It is almost unthinkable he will choose Remain, because he is a dogmatist, not a pragmatist (and even John McDonnell is gradually shifting course on People’s Vote; not because he is a pragmatist but because he is a dogmatist pretending to be a pragmatist. It could also be the perfect way for him to defenestrate Corbyn).

And so Corbyn would be exposed as such for all to see, in a party where the vast majority of members are Remainers (even though many of the wider supporter base may be Leavers, especially in the North). It could easily be the end of him.

So, there is modest good news for moderate thinkers across Britain, especially in Labour; despite living in political times whose mercurial unpredictability seems more comparable to that of revolutionary France than dull old post-war Europe.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

*Incidentally, heaven knows how the resident eggheads in the Pentagon used Game Theory in the Cold War for a similar simulation, because there the outcome is really the same distortion, if you value the outcome of real nuclear war as minus infinity. One suspects therefore that they substituted finite negative outcomes for infinite ones and therefore treated people at least to some extent as expendable, which is a little scary. But we digress.

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11 Responses to “A glimmer of sunlight for Britain and for Labour”

  1. Alf says:

    Brexit is the one single wedge issue that splits the Tories and Blairites. They agree on practically everthing else (e.g. attacks on the unions, the poor, and the disabled). So I think Corbyn is playing the Brexit game cleverly to divide his enemies.

    It’s working. The Blairites can do little more these days than shout into empty rooms!

  2. Anne says:

    I like the idea of a decision tree, because we are living in unpredictable political times, but I fear we have too many dogmatists among us who are unwilling to look objectively at the situation – “I’m always right, of course I am not going to change my mind.” This is the problem – some have become entrenched in their views. Sarah Wollaston uses a good analogy when she talks of informed choice. Much has changed since the last referendum. However, I do support Labours position in a general election first before a people’s vote. I am not opposed to a coalition of parties striving for a minimum of a customs union and access to the single market.

  3. John P Reid says:

    as someone who thinks Corbyn is more the symptom rather than the cause of Momentum taking over the party ignoring Anti Semitism, thinking the working class are thick and racist and the identity politics that lead to Rotherham abuse and Karen White in Women’s prisons

    this Article is true, but your headline and last paragraph, exclude one thing, as Being A moderate leaver (What ever that is) you assume that Critics of Corbyn would prefer him to be humiliated as he’ll have to tell the Party in January to vote No deal and will have maybe 120 who will do that at the most( assuming someof the better ones on the Front Bench Louise Haigh Tom Watson, Naz Shah will do that,

    or he’ll have to admit To Momentum full of ultra remainers who think if the public are told enough times that they’re thick and Racist for voting leave, they’ll say “oh yes those middle class liberals who haven’t a clue about life or our situations, were right we want to Be Like them and we’ll vote remain now, now they’ve called us thick” It’s not as if Momentum remainers are dumb for thinking we’re thick when they haven’t a clue what our lives are like”

    As for the possibility of no deal there’s maybe 200 at a push Tories some who actually voted remain in the referendum who will go with no deal so if there was a combined of DUP, a few ultra remainers who think if they voted for a no deal in January and 120 Labour, it could go over the 323 line to get A No deal.

    Corbyn will blag his way through saying as labour hasn’t enough MPs he couldn’t manage to get the peoples referendum to get him to vote remain a Second time, LOL.

    I saw a great quote on Line as Ned Flanders from the Simpsons, Dad said when Ned was a boy and he couldn’t Stop Ned form Being Naughty-

    “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas”!

  4. Richard MacKinnon says:

    You say “First, Britain: whether you are a Leaver or a Remainer, unless you are frothing at the mouth, you cannot be looking at a no-deal Brexit as an attractive outcome for the country”.
    That is incorrect. There is a case that a No Deal Brexit will be good for the UK. Here it is.
    Once we are out and the reality of our situation kicks in, whatever that is, no one knows, then the UK will require to face up to our circumstances and our politicians will be forced into actually doing what they are paid for, creating a long term sensible economic plan for the nations future .
    What we do know is that after March 29 2019 there will still be a 2 trillion debt (still rising) to service. That will require prioritisation of our out goings. What can we afford as a nation and what we cannot afford. The big money tickets such as, the NHS and military spending will require immediate and serious re-evaluation. Lesser expensive ‘luxuries’ such as The House of Lords, The Royals will come under scrutiny. Is there anything of value we can sell? The BBC?
    Please be reassured Rob, I am not frothing at the mouth. There are plenty of us including many one time Labour voters that think a no deal Brexit will be a good thing.
    I never read your article beyond your gratuitous insult. No doubt there will be the usual hand wringing about Jeremy and stuff about all the options and convoluted scenarios left to us.
    Maybe I will go back and read it. To confirm my prejudices of you. I bet you dont even give an opinion as to what you think will be the final outcome come at the end of March 2019. To you its only; No Deal Bad.
    I feel as if I have got to know the way you think, through your articles. You dont think positively. It is always a negative. You only criticise other peoples thinking. You never come up with original or creative ideas of your own.
    Here is a wee test for you. If I were a betting man and I some times am, at this stage and with the cards stacked the way they are, if I can get evens I would have a punt on a No Deal Brexit. What about you? Whats your money on?

  5. Tafia says:

    I watched the pantomime in Westminster yesterday on BBC Parliament right through to the end.

    For those that didn’t, what was truly shocking is the sheer quantity of MPs that are genuinely scared of having to run the country and take responsibility themselves for their decisions and the total lack of faith and respect in British workers that a large amount of Labour MPs have.

  6. John P Reid says:

    As I said Corbyn won’t be humiliated as his worshippers at momentum, will suddenly turn round and so ,”ah well we tried, but couldn’t stop Brexit, at least Jeremy did all he could to do so” and the thing is they’ll convince themselves that is true

    Tafia, was spot on, that was why so many of the SDP never joined the liberals, they twigged the liberals never wanted the power to really run the country,

  7. Anon E Mouse says:

    All Corbyn has to do is shut up and the Labour Party will landslide the next election by doing nothing.

    I am a Labour Party member who votes for the local Conservative MP who is good on local stuff but since he now supports Mrs May’s deal I’ll vote for anyone tactically to get him out even if that includes silly Momentum candidates.

    The only thing that could go wrong would be Labour jumping the gun and banging on about second Referendums. If they can just shut up they will storm it by default

  8. john says:

    ‘Why? It leaves a disingenuous Corbyn exposed. If he has a choice of No Deal Brexit or Remain (or, People’s Vote leading to Remain), he is forced to choose. It is almost unthinkable he will choose Remain, because he is a dogmatist, not a pragmatist’

    I only visit this site occasionally, as I was getting a bit bored of the wild-eyed ramblings, but I am still astonished to see this doozy, which ignores all recent precedent and goes back to the ‘Corbyn is a liar’ routine, first mentioned by Kate Hoey (of all people to be singing from the same sheet as Rob, here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36039925). Corbyn campaigned for Remain, voted Remain, and has said that, given the same options, he would again.

    Rob, I don’t know what your privileges are on this site, but it’s possible that you can access my email address, or the admin can pass it on to you. If so, please email me (or you can do it via the comments section, whichever) and we can agree a £100 bet on – if when the Remain/No Deal option is on the table – whether Corbyn goes for No Deal. I bet not.

    I don’t normally bet like this, but a) it’s such a surefire winner on my part, and with Xmas coming up, it’ll really help, and b) maybe, just maybe, it’ll discourage you from writing such egregious nonsense in the future.

    Blimey, I’ve just read it again, in the hope that I missed something. Nope, it’s still just as bad an analysis as the first time.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Anon e mouse, I wonder how many members fo vote for people of another party, I knew a few labour members who voted SDP in 83 and Livingstone for mayor in 2000 and dan hodges backed Boris in 2012 and tony benn backed an independent in 2009 for the EU election, of course many people get expelled for this
    I spoilt my ballot paper once, but in,y ever voted labour in my 30 year membership, now I’m out the party I’ll probably not vote

  10. John P Reid says:

    John ,your link to the BBC claiming Kate hoey calls Corbyn a liar, she says no such thing, yes Corbyn did say he would vote remain again he also has said he can’t get another referendum, so he can say what he likes about another referendum if he’s not going to try to get another one

    Kate also says here when she goes for dinner with Corbyn in about 45mind in that Jez is very pro Brexit

    Your view this site is anti Corbyn therefore the Blairites here are reminding everyone that Jez Has been anti the EU for 40 years so, he is secretly s brexiter as away of upsetting his guardian reading middle class fans, and they’ll be Blairites when they twig this too

    Overlooks the fact that labour can’t keep on fudging it,and Corbyn critics be they leave or remainers,know that one side will be upset in. 108 days time, and that labours eeither gonna lose WC leave votes or middle class London remain votes

    Labour is down 2% in the polls since the election excluding people dying or emigrating thats 1% to the libdems ,0.5% to the greens and 0.5% to either abstaining or a right wing or nationalist party

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