2017: The ultimate development of the modern British campaign

That Tory after-action report (one, two, three) is quite the thing. Something that sticks out for me is that the 2017 election might have been the moment when the shrinking Tory membership finally caught up with them. This is something that has been promised for getting on for decades, but if it can’t go on like this, it won’t. Long-term trends have their effect through contingent moments in history.

For example:

For example, after the 2010 election, the Conservative Party held about 500,000 email addresses, which had shrunk to about 300,000 which were still usable by the time planning began again in 2013. By the end of the 2015 General Election, that list had grown to around 1.4 million through proactive gathering of addresses through online campaigns – but, by April 2017, almost two years of leakage had again drastically reduced the list.

The same went for data gathered through canvassing. CCHQ’s Voter ID and Get Out The Vote operation in 2015 had worked well, particularly in its ruthless targeting of voters in what were then Lib Dem seats. But that data was now out of date, and even the proportion of it which was still usable was now far less relevant. The 2017 battlegrounds largely weren’t in those former Lib Dem seats, and the potential swing vote mostly wasn’t Lib-Con. Data on the disillusioned former Labour and UKIP voters in Midlands and Northern seats was in short supply. The Conservative Party had played no formal role in the EU referendum, and so had no Leave/Remain canvassing data of its own. And the intervening local and mayoral elections had not yielded enough data to overcome either problem. The advent of Brexit had certainly fractured old loyalties, but the Conservative Party only had a limited idea of where this had happened, and who it had happened to.

Politics is very often a question of lists, lists that are generated by activism. The Messina/Crosby, Facebook-bomber campaign model was no different. In fact, because of its heavy reliance on targeted ad drops from CCHQ, it was much more so. Of course, a major reason for the Tories’ love of online advertising was precisely that it was a substitute for mobilisation. From the lists sprang the strategy, notably the Leave = UKIP = Tory concept, the effort to flip the North, and the obsessive focus on May herself.

What they came up with – principally via work by Messina and Textor – was a calculation that focused on winning over two groups of voters: former UKIP supporters, and direct switchers from Labour, particularly those who had voted Leave and were often part of Labour’s traditional working class vote, many of whom were to be found in seats in the Midlands and the North. Their plan, dubbed “Targeted Voter Turnout” (TVT), sat at the centre of everything that was to follow with the ground campaign (of which, more tomorrow). It dictated who the potential switchers were, it extrapolated from the consumer data to determine where they probably lived, down to individuals within households, and by looking at how many such people lived in each constituency, it drove the choice of which seats to target. While ordinarily, other specialised aspects of the campaign – such as digital – would develop their own models, the lack of time meant the whole operation rested on this analysis.

At the same time, messages were being developed and tested to sharpen the campaign’s appeal to those groups. One fateful development at this early stage was the decision to shift from a more traditional, team-based model of campaigning, to a highly personalised obsession with May herself as the figurehead – an approach we now know was recommended by Crosby and Textor in April, shortly before the campaign. We all remember the banners proclaiming “Theresa May’s team”, and anyone involved in the canvassing operation will recall the scripts that spoke endlessly of “Theresa May’s candidate”. The die had to be cast quickly, on the basis of less than ideal information – so it was.

The campaign operated largely blind once the whistle blew, both because it didn’t get doorstep feedback and because somebody – possibly Lynton Crosby – had bought into the fashionable idea that the polls are always wrong.

At this point, we need to consider how a campaign in this situation might learn that it has such a problem. It could get it from the polls – but with a time lag, with lots of noise, and with the caveat that the Conservative experience in 2015 and 2016 taught them not to trust pollsters. It could hear it from its own campaign data – but if there are movements taking place among people whom you aren’t canvassing, then you won’t hear it. Or it could hear it from its candidates and activists – but CCHQ, as we will see in tomorrow’s article, has a somewhat sceptical view of its own colleagues on the ground.

Tory target selection was also driven by a basically untried model. Even when there was feedback, it’s possible it was so patchy that it created an availability bias:

Around the country, as the results came in, numerous experienced campaigners in Tory seats with large majorities realised to their horror that while they had been travelling often long distances to give mutual aid to supposed target seats where Labour won convincingly, Tory-held seats far closer to them had been lost. In one instance, a well-resourced association saw the Labour majority in their allotted target seat increase, while a Conservative seat which they drove through regularly to get to the target was lost.

This mismatch got worse as time went on, too. Positive early canvassing returns (pre-manifesto) and the encouraging local election results led CCHQ’s strategists to start not only treating Tory-held marginals as safe, but to divert resources away from the more marginal Labour-held target seats and towards target seats further down the list, ie those with bigger majorities.

Although the highly centralised campaign model was a consequence of the need for speed and the lack of numbers, it also suited its architects down to the ground. After all, it was their decision to call an election anyway. It meant that the Conservative HQ got to pick literally all the candidates:

The immediate problem of needing to select hundreds of candidates in a very tight window was answered with special rules to override the usual, more drawn-out, process. These divided seats into two groups, with a distinct process for each. The first, Conservative-held seats where the sitting MP was standing down and Opposition-held target seats, would be presented with a shortlist of three candidates, decided by CCHQ, from which the Association had to select. The second, non-target seats, would simply have a candidate imposed on them.

Write the leaflets:

Blueprint, the online ordering system for Tory leaflets, offered a limited range of templates based on the type of seat – Tory-held, target, non-target – and the bulk of the content for each leaflet was pre-written centrally on the national message. All the target seat candidates were rushed to London to take part in a marathon photoshoot to ensure each had a picture with the Prime Minister, but there was normally only a small space for local messaging or even information about who the Conservative candidate “standing with Theresa May” was. “We were only allowed about 20 words per leaflet about local issues, rest taken up with Theresa May, Brexit, and Corbyn,” complains an officer in a target seat who used the system.

And post to Facebook:

The same centralised approach applied online. “CCHQ took admin rights to our Facebook pages, but everything they posted was “we’re better than Jeremy Corbyn/Jeremy Corbyn will lead to chaos”, as one candidate puts it.

In many ways, Theresa May’s 2017 campaign was the ultimate development of the way British political campaigns had been going for years, a genuine heir to Blair if you will. It wrote the leaflets, picked the candidates, posted to hundreds of Facebook groups over the local chairman’s name. As you might expect from that, it also didn’t pick up on some important developments. The effort to “get the band back together” and repeat 2015 missed that 2015 wasn’t all that. Despite politicising the Treasury to an unheard-of degree, ramping up rhetorical aggression, and benefiting from the unconvenanted blessings of the Lib Dem collapse and SNP triumph, the Tories of 2015 still only just squeaked over the line by pushing the campaigning rules to the limit and a bit beyond. Having turned the amplifier up to 11, there wasn’t anywhere left to go.

CCHQ’s advice on electoral law led them to believe they had found a way to avoid that problem: regional battle buses, that toured multiple seats, would, they believed, constitute national spending, avoiding the danger that a bus could wipe out a large chunk of a candidate’s campaign budget in a single day.

As the Electoral Commission and CCHQ have now discovered, that belief was wrong. The investigation that ensued into allegations that MPs had failed to properly declare their local spending as a result of the tactic proved damaging. Individuals and the party as a whole were derided as committing electoral fraud (mostly wrongly, it turned out) and MPs found themselves subjected to police interviews and negative media coverage. CCHQ was reluctant, and therefore shamefully slow, to put its hands up and clearly admit that candidates were innocent of any intentional offence precisely because it had issued them with incorrect advice.

In 2015, the polls were wrong and the modelling seemed to work. As a result, there was near religious faith that the same thing would happen. This is really astonishing:

Despite the inaccuracies which had by then become obvious, the decision was taken not to confine the GOTV knocking up to Conservative pledges – those who had confirmed their intention to vote Tory. Instead, troops in a variety of target seats were sent to knock on doors based on the inaccurate TVT data. A flawed hope still seemed to be lingering that the model might turn up voters who hadn’t been contacted yet.

“On the day, we were not using canvass data, but going to doors extrapolated from the demographics,” a long-serving campaigner tells me. Another found that “inexperienced centrally appointed campaign managers who don’t get elections, activists or campaigning…[were] telling activists not to call on pledges.” This appears to have been a central instruction, enforced by the Party’s local employees.

They didn’t knock up voters who they’d IDd as Tories, because the computer said no. Instead they went to addresses where they hoped a potential voter might dwell – in other words, they didn’t actually do any knocking-up, just continued canvassing. Even if you have good lists, you still find people have moved right up until polling day, so the sheer waste of time involved in working from a model based on data from 2005 is awe-inspiring.

And apparently a whole bulk e-mail drop only happened the morning afterwards. I would have paid cash money to watch that.

Anyway, their conclusions are here. The point that sticks out a mile, because it is hardly mentioned, is that they need to find some activists from somewhere. How they will do that is far from obvious. On the other hand, I worry that Tory bungling played a huge role in the election and they can surely not be this hopeless again. At the very least, surely next time they will bother to knock their own likelies up.

Very real very real concerns: Derby, Ellesmere Port, and Luton

I don’t know about you, but this seems worrying.

Wednesday’s Derby Telegraph:

When Toyota announced plans to invest £240 million in its Burnaston plant, the car giant called for continued tariff- and barrier-free access between the UK and Europe. Mr Leroy expressed his concerns about the Government’s approach to Brexit in an interview with Reuters at the Frankfurt car show.

“A few months ago the Government was saying ‘we’re sure we’ll be able to negotiate (a deal) without any trade tax,'” he said. “They are not saying that any more.”He added: “It’s clear that, if we have to wait two to three more years to have clarity on this topic, we will have a big question mark about our future investment in the country.”

Mr Leroy, Toyota’s top foreign executive, said the company could not wait indefinitely before deciding whether to build a new model at the site after production of the ageing Avensis model ends. Burnaston also builds the smaller Auris.

“We cannot take this kind of decision before we have clarity on the future trade relationship,” said Mr Leroy. “We will not close the plant tomorrow morning, but if in two to three years we have to decide some future investments, of course the key point will be the competitiveness of this plant in future.”

And today, in the Daily Hell:

The fate of Vauxhall’s two UK factories and their workforce is on hold until their new French bosses receive ‘guidance’ from the UK and EU over what sort of trade deal will be in place post-Brexit.

Ministers and politicians in Britain and on the Continent need to explain ‘how they want to play the game’, before serious decisions can be made on whether to keep, close or even expand the UK plants, said Carlos Tavares, chief executive of new Vauxhall Owners, PSA Group.

’I would prefer to have some guidance from the UK government and from the European Commission about how they want to play the game,’ he added.‘It would be much better for everybody, not just the PSA Group, but also for all the other stakeholders, that we have some guidance about how this is going to unfold.

‘The sooner we have some guidance from the UK government and the European Commission about how they want to play the Brexit, the better it will be.’

Tavares also said that the PSA Group operates a five-year plan….sorry….product cycle, and the next one is up in 2021, which implies that the decision process has already started.

TYRchive! on Google’s European lobbying blitz

The case of Google bullying the New America Foundation into sacking the Internet regulation team has gone a million miles around Twitter and the world by now, but I thought I’d share something from the vault, the TYReserve if you will. This POLITICO piece, with its attendant technical appendix, was always meant to be followed up by another piece rating the Brussels lobbyists.

The outstanding result I got was that Google’s lobbying effort in Brussels was a vast transformative onslaught that was bending the usual lobbying ecosystem out of shape. But nobody at the Pol wanted to believe this, and during the edit row that followed I found I’d made a major mistake, assuming one lobbyist per lobby. I rewrote much of the processing script and came back with the result that not that much had changed – Google was still lobbying the EU Commission to such an extent they had revolutionised the PR business. But by then everyone was seriously gun shy of anything involving that guy and charts, and they would much rather have a thumbsucker where I predicted the UK would stay in the EU or such. Oy.

Anyway, here’s the final version off the spike. You’ll want to read the first piece’s conclusions first.

Five links on Syria

Here’s a fascinating, long Mediapart piece on Syria. Among much else, you’ll learn that the Russian exit strategy was meant to be a general ceasefire but ended up being scaled down to local arrangements. Also, a major obstacle to it was that Assad wouldn’t accept any restriction of violence – even proposed by the Russians.

Leur recherche d’un cessez-le-feu sur l’ensemble du territoire n’a pas marché. Il a fallu cette approche par étape qui consiste à définir des zones qu’ils ont appelées, modestement, « de désescalade », sans encore parler de cessez-le-feu, pour mettre fin à cette catastrophe humanitaire. Cela permet aux Russes de s’attribuer le “refroidissement” du conflit.

C’est vrai qu’ils sont réellement soucieux d’en finir avec les sièges et la stratégie d’affamer les populations comme le régime s’y emploie. Ils étaient en tension réelle avec lui, trouvant qu’il est totalement inutile de se mettre dans une situation à ce point condamnable. Après avoir refroidi le conflit, ils souhaitaient qu’Astana aille le plus loin possible dans l’achèvement d’un cessez-le-feu, que des mesures de confiance soient prises, comme les échanges de prisonniers – j’ai l’impression que Moscou ne se fait pas trop d’illusions et que le régime ne lâchera rien – et, troisième point, pour faciliter l’accès humanitaire. On en est à cette phase de désescalade qui est loin d’être achevée, le régime continuant à bombarder les régions qui lui paraissent stratégiques.

When you’re too much of an arsehole for Putin. Anyway, how’s that getting on? Well, the Jordanians seem to be convinced that at least one “de-escalation zone” can work and they’re a fairly crucial actor. From Reuters:

An official and two senior diplomats told Reuters the powers have made progress in drawing up a map of the de-escalation zone, including Quneitra province bordering Israel, alongside the southern Deraa province adjoining Jordan.

The official and diplomats said Washington had also secured an understanding with Moscow that militias backed by the Syrian government’s ally Iran must be pushed 40 km (25 miles) from the border.

That might help allay Israeli and Jordanian concerns about the presence of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group in the area.

Diplomats said Lavrov also pressed Jordan to re-open its Nasib border crossing with Syria, something Amman has so far resisted, saying it needs more security. But it has strongly backed the broader de-escalation deal, seeing it as paving the way for an eventual return of tens of thousands of refugees in its territory.

Rebels say the ceasefire remains fragile and fear Syria’s army will return to attack them once it has consolidated gains in the north and other areas. Insurgents say the de-escalation zones merely free up Syria’s army to make territorial gains elsewhere.

There’s the rub, of course. War on the Rocks discusses the way this conversation of violence/potential violence between the US and Russia is being carried out through the daily operations of the USAF’s regional air movement coordination centre. A serious problem, with getting on for a dozen air forces operating in close proximity, is whether policy is driving events or tactical events driving policy. A more fundamental one is to what extent arranging a “de-escalation zone” extends a guarantee of protection to the people in it.

The downing of the two Iranian drones and the Syrian aircraft in quick succession, and the subsequent agreement on deconfliction zones in eastern Syria, raise two broader policy questions: What does the United States intend to do to protect partner forces it has relied on, up until this point, to fight the Islamic State? And how do these questions intersect with the tactical perspective, wherein aircrew and personnel will be asked to make rapid decisions to protect U.S. or partnered forces?

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis made clear that American-supported forces are going to continue to move down the Euphrates River towards the border with Iraq. At the same time, the regime and Iranian-backed forces are slowly pushing towards Der Ezour from Palmayra and from positions south of Tabqa. This will bring U.S. and regime allied forces into closer proximity, making it all but inevitable that questions of rules of engagement and self-defense will arise again.

Thus far, the United States has managed to de-escalate such situations. In the wake of the downing of the SU-22 near Tabqa, for example, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported that the two sides agreed to a 130-kilometer deconfliction line from Tabqa to the town of Karama. The arrangement is similar to the 55-kilometer deconfliction zone around a military garrison near Tanf, a border town on the highway connecting Damascus with Baghdad. The establishment of these two zones raises difficult questions: Does the United States intend to defend these areas from regime and regime-allied attack, and, if so, for how long?

You could also ask: from who? Lines are being drawn, not in the sand so much as on a tactical pilotage chart or its digital equivalent. This blog post from Jean-Dominique Merchet, now at L’Opinion, is revealing.

Si les Rafale ont définitivement remplacé les Mirage 2000D sur la base H5 en Jordanie pour les opérations en Irak et en Syrie, c’est à la suite d’une demande des Américains. Selon nos informations, l’état-major de la coalition dirigée par les États-Unis a considéré que les Mirage de l’armée de l’air ne disposaient pas assez de capacités air-air pour pouvoir être engagés sur ce théâtre moins « permissif » que les précédents. Les autorités françaises ont soigneusement évité de communiquer sur le sujet.

The French air force’s Mirage 2000D aircraft, pure bombers, have been withdrawn in favour of the multi-role Rafales, precisely because they might encounter hostile fighters. The SIRPA-Air statement that follows is a masterpiece of non-denial denial, then followed up by another journalist reporting that they have been restricted to permissive operations only. I feel this kind of confirms the first and second posts in the light of the third.

And then there’s this. The Hill reports on the fate of a convoy of ISIS combatants and their families evacuating that “de-escalation zone”.

“To ensure safe de-confliction of efforts to defeat ISIS, coalition surveillance aircraft departed the adjacent airspace at the request of Russian officials during their assault on Dawyr Az Zawyr,” the coalition said in a statement.

Right. On the other hand:

A U.S. spokesman for the coalition told reporters Thursday that it has been striking ISIS fighters walking away from the convoy or trying to link up with the group, estimating that 85 ISIS fighters have been struck since the start of the standoff.

The coalition has not struck the convoy itself and has allowed food and water to get through, citing the women and children in the buses.

Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition, also said Thursday that the United States had used the so-called deconfliction line it uses to communicate with the Russians to try to separate the women and children from the ISIS fighters. But Dillon said that effort had “not gained any traction.”

As Bassma Kodmani says in the first link, the idea of making Syria a “homogenous society” makes a cold shudder run down your back, and shipping jihadis from the de-escalation zone over to the Islamic State, such as is left of it, definitely fits with that. That said, the very discrimination in violence made possible by precision-guided weapons and advanced C4ISTAR systems also seems to make a new kind of refined perversity possible. Have another cold shudder. Then, there’s a reason why the Russians wanted the surveillance aircraft out of the way.

If statistical reason collapsed, it was a while back

Will Davies writes about immigration, politics, and what he calls the “collapse of statistical reason”:

The macro-economic case for immigration – that it is a net positive for both public finances and economic growth – was integral to New Labour’s tacit, occasionally explicit, support for high levels of immigration. This was a broadly neoliberal type of justification, submerging rights-based arguments within the logic of open markets, as the European Commission has done as well. This was accompanied by a sense of economic realism, that employers would not countenance any drastic political interventions in international labour markets.

What is now better understood, however, is that appeals to statistics or to some apparent economic reality (such as ‘globalisation’) have the opposite of the desired political effect. It is not simply that they do not persuade those who are skeptical of immigration’s benefits; they can result in increased antipathy. Focus groups carried out by British Future show that when presented with evidence for macro-economic benefits, people will often respond that the statistics are biased, that they are based on inadequate knowledge of who has really entered the country, and that these numbers are being used to justify the political ambitions of policy elites. Such data incites quasi-conspiracy theories, that the government is concealing the truth, sometimes leading respondents to become even more paranoid about immigration. By contrast, qualitative forms of evidence – photographs and anecdotes of ‘successful’ integration of immigrants – are met with a far more positive response.

I am not sure he is right. I cannot remember many New Labour ministers ever making such a case, for a start. I do, however, remember a lot of them climbing onto the bully pulpit to complain that nobody was talking about immigration and to boast about how tough on asylum seekers they were being. For people who thought they weren’t allowed to, they sure did it a lot. They frequently also argued, quite specifically, that it was wrong to talk about the economy and statistical aggregates instead of personal, qualitative stories about people’s neighbourhoods. In terms of method, they were famously keen on qualitative focus groups as a means of perceiving the public. This Twitter thread refers.

This also reminded me of the following quote from How Labor Scholars Missed the Trump Revolt:

Our civic life has become a doughnut, with empty calories surrounding a hollow center where questions of class, occupation, pay, and power might once have been debated and expressed. We had become a nation with little legitimate space to express either the external or the internal conflicts of economic inequality — and that is a dangerous and volatile place for any republic to find itself.

And Tom Powdrill:

However, one of the big blunders the Third Way type ‘modernisers’ (they don’t seem modern anymore, do they?) was to assume that because people spent less time thinking about their workplace identity, and more about other aspects, that the workplace didn’t matter any more. In addition, it was too uncritical of the idea that we think like consumers about all kinds of things (public services, politics) and that therefore it was smart to relate to the public in a consumer-provider relationship and encourage this more generally.

Now a major, declared goal of policy in the Blair years was precisely to fill the doughnut with something – as long as it wasn’t jam, or anything else appropriately red in colour. Various different fillings were tried.

The Home Office’s entries in this Great British Policy Bakeoff didn’t change much from Jack Straw to David Blunkett to Charles Clarke to John Reid to Jacqui Smith. In fact, it has changed very little from Michael Howard’s tenure in the 1990s to Theresa May’s in the 2010s. The proposed filling would consist of what we might call macro-security – police powers, bulk surveillance, border control. Government would perform concern for public demands by doing stuff with the police apparatus. (Perhaps the blue in Blue Labour is the dark serge of the uniform.)

An alternative flavour concentrated on what we might call micro-security. This eventually got an institutional anchorage in the Department for Communities and Local Government, but in fact it was a team effort between bits of the No.10 policy apparatus, the Treasury, the Department for Education, and the housing policy world. The iconic figure here is Hazel Blears, and the key concern was a sort of neighbourhood politics reduced to its more censorious elements. (You were very much not encouraged to concern yourself with, say, public housing.) Civic life was to be rebuilt through a succession of respectability-policing projects, from the bottom up.

You’ll observe that both flavours have a distinct savour of authority. Also, neither of them worked, either in the sense of providing political cover for a wider liberal agenda or in that they were a better alternative to statistics, either as a means of perceiving the world or as a means of persuading others. In fact, the quantitative turn in left-wing practice came later, in reaction to a British Labour or US Democratic habit of being obsessed with focus-group gurus like Frank Luntz.

Meanwhile, this starts to sound positively nostalgic:

The sense that centralized experts will ‘deliver’ outcomes to a population, who will experience those outcomes in a subjective, consumerist fashion

a hurricane, after all, is a lot of hot air moving in the same direction

Alex Massie has long served as “that guy on the Spectator it’s OK to like”, but this post of his serves as an excellent demonstration of a point made here.

When this magazine endorsed Brexit, it did so in typically trenchant and elegant fashion. ‘Out and into the world’ we said. The central thesis of The Spectator’s case for Leave was that the European Union has become a parody of itself, a sclerotic, irredeemably unreformable, set of institutions that are, at some core, fundamental, level intrinsically incompatible with this country’s instincts, traditions, and future.

So, you’re agin it? The problem here is that this is all vague, aesthetic, assertion-led attitude. There’s nothing concrete there. What “reforms”? Which “instincts”? How “incompatible”? What are these things you are talking about? Could I kick one across the street?


Those figures are accurate but misleading and, in other circumstances, I suspect The Spectator would be the first to tell you so. The relative proportions matter rather more than the absolute numbers. 44 percent of UK exports go to EU countries (a figure you may, with some reason, think depressingly high) but only eight percent of EU exports come to the UK.

Why depressingly? It’s next door!

Anyway, Massie spends most of the rest of the article pointing out that the mag’s case for Brexit was a load of nonsense without, you know, saying so. But I will.

Where do UK SMEs get technology advice?

It’s fairly well known that a lot of the productivity gap between the UK and other industrial countries is accounted for by a long tail of unusually unproductive small businesses (see ONS data here). This fascinating piece in the FT covers a project to do something about that by getting them management advice.

An interesting twitter conversation developed and it was suggested that the decline in the importance of bank managers had something to do with how innovations diffused through the economy, or not.

At Ovum, we recently did some survey research that touches on this. Specifically, we asked samples of people from SMEs about what they did with IT and telecoms technology. One of our questions was “Who do you trust for business and technology advice?” The following slide summarises the results for the 360 UK respondents, who were asked to give their top three choices.

For presentation reasons we applied a cut-off at 5%. Banks, as you can see, just didn’t come into it. Medium-sized firms seem to be much better served by ISPs than smaller ones.

That said, the general pattern was much the same globally, with IT consulting shops and value-added resellers winning out and a long tail of others. German firms were more likely to DIY, South Koreans to seek advice from either customers or suppliers, both results that fit with stylised facts, sorry, prejudices about those countries’ economies.

(The rest of the report is here and its international cousins are here, but you’ll need to pay for that.)

a couple of links about NHS management

This is a fascinating insight – the best-performing NHS trusts are the ones with more managers. That will annoy both the Tory types for whom the only people who exist in the NHS are doctors, and the Chris Dillow caucus left-libertarians who hate managers. But wait one. The researchers defined a manager as someone with decision-making power! Anarcho-syndicalism rules, OK.

Or not. Delegating more decisions might be a sign of better management, or perhaps the result of decisions based on better data analysis. Here’s a really good post from a great blog (a little more is here). Even Chris might get there.

#AllOutWar: One, We’re Agin It

So I read Tim “Not the Doctor” Shipman’s All Out War instabook on the referendum campaign and after. Shipman argues strongly for the continued importance of the old 90s Tory Eurosceptics in the whole thing – this is partly a consequence of his method, writing down stuff MPs tell him, but I think also a useful insight. Whatever happened in the country, in Westminster, David Cameron only called the damn referendum to please them and therefore you have to accept their agency.

More importantly, though, beginning the history in 1991-ish explains something very important. Stephen Bush says the talks are stalling because the government doesn’t know what it wants. This is a consequence of the broader problem, which is that the Eurosceptics don’t know what it is about the European Union they’re actually against.

Tory Euroscepticism was launched or relaunched as a project in order to oppose British membership of the Euro. When they got angry about “the veto”, the veto they were angry about was the one on economic and monetary union. When they quibbled about the details of qualified-majority voting, the issue that QMV was going to apply to was the economic and monetary union. When they argued that having one’s own currency was a defining attribute of sovereignty, that’s what they were arguing. I remember them remaining convinced we were secretly joining the Euro deep into the Blair years. The Euro was the issue. You cannot overstate the importance of opposing the Euro in creating the style, institutions, and personal networks involved.

The problem, however, was that John Major had already shot their fox way back in 1992. The UK wasn’t joining the Euro, didn’t join the Euro, will not do so in the future.

But you can’t unring a bell. A while ago I happened to discover a friend of mine was wearing fluorescent yellow underpants. Ever since, I can’t see him or think of him without wondering: has he got the hi-viz undercrackers on? Are they just for special occasions, or does he have half a dozen identical pairs? It’s impossible not to speculate. He could burn them, but it still wouldn’t change anything. He is indelibly associated with the possibility of day-glo drawers. Making an enemy of the prime minister is a bit like that. As Winston Churchill said, precisely about betraying your political party, you can rat but you can’t re-rat.

And so they had to keep going. There was no way to undo the offence caused or to rebuild the trust destroyed. That’s why so many people in All Out War seem to be on a personal mission to get their own back on Major; because they were. Having made an enemy of the prime minister and the Conservative Party both, the only option was to stay hypermobilised forever if they wanted to keep their political careers. There is a hugely important political lesson here – stump-dumb stubbornness and North Korean Mass Games loyalty often work, especially in intra-party politics.

With the Euro fox shot, they had to find something else to be furious about. The something else varied, as you’d expect from a belief that existed solely because it was useful. The enduring core, the tao, of the movement could be summed up as hating the prime minister and wanting a referendum. Prime ministers are by definition electable, the products of the electoral system. The Eurosceptics knew they couldn’t win through the normal electoral system (Nigel Farage’s seven failed candidacies are a case in point), so they sought something they could win, hence the obsession with a referendum on something, anything, even the Amsterdam Treaty.

This explains the odd vague quality of the whole business. Are they against the single market? Not really. Are they against freedom of movement? Yes, but not if that means any change. Do they want a libertarian race to the bottom? Not really, they want to have mutually recognised (i.e. the same) regulations.

It also explains a lot about David Cameron. It was often said about him that he was “really a Eurosceptic” or some such. More precisely, he adopted some of the style tropes but didn’t commit himself to any particular content. But how could he have done so? There was none. That was what was so attractive. So he repeatedly pulled on his Eurosceptic jacket when he wanted more power or more money, taking advantage of the fact it didn’t commit him to any specific course of action. Once he got what he wanted, he stripped it off and went back to his purple webcam modern dad self-presentation. This worked very well for him until it didn’t.

And one important feature of being against the EU in general but not in particular is that it allows the imagination a great deal of free play. This works well from a campaigning point of view – you can pretend the 35 hour week is in force, or that the EU is secretly trying to replace the army – but it’s problematic when the rubber meets the road, because the other side of the table can’t make concessions on things you only pretend exist.

Precisely because he – and they – couldn’t specify what they were actually against, they had a lot of difficulty forming a strategy to “renegotiate”. To begin with, all they could think of was weak-sauce stuff from the late 90s like opting out of the working time directive. This must surely have been something they remembered being in the papers back in the day. It was only later in the process that they hit on immigration, not least because Theresa May’s own version of sucking up to the far right and then doing what you want anyway now began to get in the way.

But Cameron was now committed to renegotiate a relationship he didn’t meaningfully want to change, and then hold a referendum on the results. How could that ever work?

Eton pupils exposed “cheating at life in general”

Eton College has been hit by further controversy after it emerged that boys studying there were sharing details of our most important national institutions. A major inquiry suggests that cheating may be widespread at the ancient school, with students going to extreme lengths to achieve an unfair advantage in public examinations, their future careers, and life in general.

“One of the young men concerned has been offering advice to the general public about our relations with the European Union, even though he can’t tell his arse from Brussels with both hands and a 1:25000 scale map,” said a representative of the exam board, Cambridge International Examinations, who wished to remain anonymous. “The worst of it is that he spent formative years of his life there. He can only have slipped through the net through some sort of massive, unearned privilege.”

Our own inquiries quickly turned up more cases. Another Etonian seems to have spent as many as six years in a highly paid job in the prime ministerial industry without having any detectable qualifications – except that he thought “he’d be quite good at it”. A statistical review of exam data suggests that the scandal may have been going on for decades unchecked. One witness to the sheer enormity of the fraud is this newspaper’s editor in chief, Tristram Clodthrust. When we spoke to him earlier, Mr Clodthrust said that “I don’t consider myself privileged, but to be honest the rest of my year were so pig-ignorant I’ve been coasting since 1971. Sherry?”

“Shit, you’re not going to quote me on that are you? Now I remember why I never talk to any of you reporter scum. Except Jeremy of course.”

The exam authorities are expected to discard the mark for the first part of the affected pupils’ lives, and instead award a final grade based on an average of their future marks and those forecast before the discredited examination. “Really, this is the least we could do,” said the anonymous CIE spokesperson. “I mean, it literally is the least we could do. Getting away with a major crime or incompetent bungle is an important part of the independent school experience – in the future, we expect these young people to brazen out lost elections, disastrous decade-long military campaigns, trillion-dollar bankruptcies, and of course the classics, like embarrassing pregnancies and egregiously racist newspaper columns, publicised to millions, that somehow everyone’s forgotten.”

A letter from Eton’s headmaster, a copy of which this newspaper has seen thanks to George Teign-Barton (by the way, the bleeding has almost stopped), said that details of basically everything of any importance in British society had been shown to an old Etonian teaching at another institution, one of whose pupils had communicated them among the majority of the boys after he got out of the institution.

“There is no suggestion that anyone at Eton has done anything wrong,” he said in a statement that wasn’t technically false. “As for Question 6, the 2023 general election, Marina, Marina’s husband, and the payoff probability of Rabobank No.2 Children’s AA- Mortgage Bond Trust, remember to never let a sucker get an even break.”

Note: I am not joking about the exam board’s solution. How many pompous declarations on academic offences did I sign, promising an immediate fail and possible police involvement? Yet here they are: Pupils were told their marks for the first part of the art history paper would be discarded, and the pupils would instead receive a final grade based on an average of their marks and forecast grades.