“We are the first societies in human history where the old outnumber the young”

How Boris Johnson’s Brexit Won

In the link above Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker interviews Professor David Runciman of Cambridge. I must confess that I only have to see the New Yorker‘s distinctive Irvin typeface to see the famous “View of the World from 9th Avenue” cover. I need to get over myself. It is a good and wide ranging interview, with a focus of the parallels or lack of them between the UK and the US. Stick with it, the best parts are at the end.

Updated: 15th December 2019 — 6:09 pm


  1. Interesting article, Natalie — but the punter misses an important point:

    “… the left is going to lose, because there are more old people and people who haven’t been to college.”

    This is like the GM argument from yesteryear that because most Cadillac buyers were older, sales of Cadillacs would go up as the population trended older. In reality, the young BMW buyer simply bought a more expensive BMW model when he got older, and Cadillac sales declined.

    The idea that young Lefties are going to stop being Lefties when they get older is highly debatable — despite Winston Churchill’s famous quote.

    A more interesting issue is the leftwards rush of the “Conservative” Party. Witness the priority Boris J is putting on expanding the size of government to deliver on the Left Wing priority of making the UK “carbon neutral”. Does it matter if Labour loses when the “Conservatives” are basically adopting the priorities of the Left?

  2. Professor David Runciman of Cambridge, labour Party member, is honest enough to admit that Boris Johnson has repeatedly surprised him by winning when he, and people like him, and conventional wisdom generally, felt sure he would lose. Reading that reminded me of Dominic Cummings line, that

    There is a collective lack of imagination which makes the system very susceptible to disastrous shocks. They share a narrow set of ideas about how the world works which mistakes their own view as the only possible sensible approach. They are aways writing about how ‘shocking’ things are to them – things that never were as low probability events as they imagine.

    I suspect Professor Runciman would rather write about Johnson’s remarkable ability to win. and so give stature to a politician he dislikes, than write about his own and his class’s remarkable inability to understand the world and so forecast it.

  3. “Does it matter if Labour loses when the “Conservatives” are basically adopting the priorities of the Left?”

    Boris is adopting the priorities of the general public. That’s how you get elected.

    Stop thinking of it as a “Either he’s totally with us or against us” situation. The Conservatives are not libertarians, any more than Labour are. If you’re going to sulk because none of the parties are exactly to your taste, there’s no point in participating!

    Dominic Cummings made their strategy perfectly clear. There are a handful of subjects on which the population have got sick and tired of the ruling elite’s policies, and on which they are willing to vote for any alternative (i.e. UKIP). Their strategy is to focus very precisely on what the public want, *and nothing else*. They deliberately dropped all the usual Conservative interests and priorities, because those lose votes. They deliberately dropped anything at all controversial with the public that they could be attacked on. They’re doing Brexit, free trade, the NHS, and ‘levelling up’ the rest of the country to catch up with London. They’re not interested in anything else because the public aren’t. Pushing climate scepticism, as laudable as *we* would find it, loses them votes, power, and the ability to do those few bits of the agenda that the public *do* currently support.

    And maybe, if they can deliver on that, and build up a bit of trust and popularity, maybe they can move on to some of the other more controversial policies we’d like to see.

    But this isn’t our usual ‘design a perfect utopian libertarian government’ game. Purist libertarianism gets no votes – as the libertarian party demonstrates every time they stand. This is the bit where you hold your nose, compromise on purity, and get *some* of your agenda into actual policy, as opposed to none. We’re going to get out of the EU trap. We’re going to get free trade (or at least, ‘freer’). We’re going to get a policy of at least *trying* to get the northern/rural poor *off* benefits and dependency on the state. We don’t get perfect.

    Moan about it, by all means. But it’s not true that there’s ‘no point’ in supporting them just because they’re not perfect.

    Boris’s Conservatives are *not* libertarian, because the public aren’t libertarian and won’t vote for it. And the lesson Boris and Nigel have just spent the last few years teaching the Establishment is that politicians who get out of touch with what the voters want, and start trying to implement what *they* believe in rather than what the *country* wants, are vulnerable to being beaten by someone who pays attention to the voters. That’s also something we should be happy about.

    Climate change belief was *always* officially bipartisan. Both the major parties support it – just as they do in the US. In that sense, it’s not ‘left wing’. This is nothing new.

  4. NIV: “They’re doing Brexit, free trade, the NHS, and ‘levelling up’ the rest of the country to catch up with London. They’re not interested in anything else because the public aren’t.”

    So, because of those priorities, Boris puts setting up his “carbon neutralizer” new Government Department (in London) ahead of everything else.

    The old saying applies especially to politicians — Believe none of what he says, and only half of what he does. Which half is it when Boris gives priority to signing up for the “Climate Change scam? Although the “Climate Change” scam is a good excuse for adding regulations & taxes and reducing individual liberty — all in the name of “Conservatism”, of course.

  5. What, do you mean the regulator one that puts off any enforceable targets until 2037?

    “A new regulator is being given powers to take the government to court if it fails to meet agreed green targets.

    But Greenpeace lawyers point out the date for setting those targets is 31 October 2022 – and the government will then have 15 years to meet the goals.

    This means no legal action could be taken against ministers on any potential failings on water, plastic, waste or nature restoration until 2037, at the earliest.”

    Or the nuclear power one?

    ” Mr Johnson replied: “It is time for a nuclear renaissance and I believe passionately that nuclear must be part of our energy mix and she is right to campaign for it and it will help us to meet our carbon targets.”

    His comments were made just days after the Government launched a consultation into funding large-scale nuclear power stations and an £18 million Government investment into the development of small modular reactors through a consortium led by Rolls-Royce, and including the National Nuclear Laboratory, Wood and Nuvia.”

    There’s been a department for tackling climate change since Gordon Brown was in power, and as the Greens constantly complain, it’s had virtually no effect on our carbon emmissions. It’s a classic ‘Yes Minister’ move – if you want to make sure that nothing happens on something, set up a committee to address the issue.

    And as I said above this still doesn’t contradict the point that along with some negatives we’ve still got a hell of a lot of positives, far more than we could normally expect. Every government on *both* sides of the aisle for the past 20 years has officially supported action on climate change, just as is the case in the US. (The Byrd-Hagel resolution has defined the policy for both Democrats and Republicans since 97.) And as I’m sure you are aware, we’re both currently being castigated by the climate campaigners for doing nothing. This is how it works. Yes there are departments and committees and initiatives and pledges and goals and targets, but very little is actually *done*. Government inefficiency and ineffectiveness works in our favour, for a change. But as I say, they’re waiting for the public faith in climate change to fade, and until that happens expecting or demanding that they drop it or oppose it is like asking them to cut their own throats. It would be a PR disaster. When the public mood changes, so will the policy. Until then, we will have to put up with imperfect.

    They’re *not* libertarians. Libertarians are unelectable. So the only question we get to ask is do you want *some* of your favoured policies? Or none of them?

  6. I’m closer to Nullius’ analysis above than others comments, modulo drawing attention to an issue that is important if I am correct about it.

    – The “despise what the stupid voters want” politicians always had a strong element of “but tell them you’ll pay attention to it to get their votes – then ignore it”. Politically correct speech policing has made that harder, though it very much continues.

    – By contrast, Trump has an air of actually wanting to fulfil the deal he made with the voters – like a businessman who wants the customer to come back to his shop because he got value there last time. Where the PC aim to reeducate the voter to like what they should, using the power they tricked the voter into giving them, the Trump approach aims to give the un-reeducated voter something they see as related to what was promised.

    Boris and Dominic show some similar signs of wanting un-reeducated voters to feel they got something like what they voted for.

  7. NIV: “But as I say, they’re waiting for the public faith in climate change to fade …”

    There is a noisy minority pushing the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam — but not much sign of it being a priority for the general public. Not in a world where Brits flood the airports in summertime to generate some CO2 getting to faraway places where it is warmer.

    It would have been no surprise if Boris had given priority to taking some steps (however ineffective) to control immigration — a topic about which the public really does care. But “Climate Change”?

    Boris has a reputation as a chancer without any firm principles beyond wanting to be the guy at the top of the greasy pole. Let’s hope he does not disappoint his supporters — but it would hardly be a surprise if he does. Time will tell.

  8. “There is a noisy minority pushing the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam — but not much sign of it being a priority for the general public.”

    About a third of the population here believe in it and care about it. Most of the rest are indifferent. So if a politician opposes climate change action they lose some percentage of that third. If they support action on climate change they don’t lose anybody, because everyone who opposes it knows that’s what politicians have to say, just like the rest of us, and it’s not like there’s any alternative to vote for.

    I’m the same. I’m an arch-climate sceptic on the internet, but at work I don’t talk about it, and say nothing about all the Green rubbish they push out as part of their ‘corporate responsibility’ marketing because everyone knows that saying the wrong thing loses the company business. I’m well aware they don’t mean it either – I’ve mentioned things they could do to have a bigger effect, but which would cost actual money, and they’ve been rejected on those grounds. It’s what the Greens call ‘greenwash’. The company is about making money. They make more money if they take certain political positions, and lose money if they oppose them, or if their employees are seen to oppose them. They’ve got no interest in fighting for free speech. They’re a business. So the choice is a no-brainer.

    It’s a collective social lie. We all go along with it, even though we’re aware that most other people are also just going along with it, because doing so gives an easy life, and going against the tide brings down trouble on our heads. Politicians are just the same. Has it ever occurred to you that politicians might hate being tied by political correctness too?

    Don’t judge people by what they say, judge them by what they do. As the Greenies have been pointing out for the past 20 years, the Western powers have been assuring everyone they believe, but have repeatedly and determinedly weaseled out of any legally enforceable commitment. They’ve promised big money to the climate funds, and not paid. They’re all lying, every one of them.

    “It would have been no surprise if Boris had given priority to taking some steps (however ineffective) to control immigration — a topic about which the public really does care. But “Climate Change”?”

    His immediate priority is to reassure the voters, a lot of who are very wary of him. First impressions count. There’s a pause right now while everyone shifts mindset from following/fighting the election to whatever comes next, and he wants to fill that gap with positive impressions. He doesn’t want the opposition to be able to build up any momentum. Talking much about immigration would have been a disaster – it would have alarmed everyone worried about the ‘racism’ aspect, and given his enemies piles of ammunition to start shooting at him. He’s trying to deprive the opposition of anything with which to attack him. He’s not trying to convince the base, he’s addressing the swing voters. But this is all PR. Wait until they actually start doing stuff before you decide what his *policy* priorities are.

    “Boris has a reputation as a chancer without any firm principles beyond wanting to be the guy at the top of the greasy pole.”

    Much of that reputation comes from what his political opponents say about him. One of the things he keeps going on about is listening to the voters. The ruling elite don’t, they have their own beliefs and goals, and when Boris changes his mind on them because he’s heard there are votes to be gained in doing so, such a conclusion is inevitable. It’s what an elitist calls a democratic populist.

    If Boris had wanted to simply climb the greasy pole in the party hierarchy, he would have got on a lot better and faster by going along with the rest of the party. But he’s always been a maverick. He’s constitutionally incapable of following the crowd and fitting in. That behaviour does *not* normally do well in a bureaucratic hierarchy. It has only been exceptional circumstances that have propelled him to where he is.

    Yes, he’s always been hugely ambitious, but simply getting to the top was not enough. That was Theresa May’s problem – she wanted to be PM, but she had no plans for what she was going to do when she got there. Boris had things he wanted to do, and so was only interested in getting to the top on his own terms, not anyone else’s.

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