A review of Tetlock’s ‘Superforecasting’ (2015)

Spectator Review, October 2015

Forecasts have been fundamental to mankind’s journey from a small tribe on the African savannah to a species that can sling objects across the solar system with extreme precision. In physics, we developed models that are extremely accurate across vastly different scales from the sub-atomic to the visible universe. In politics we bumbled along making the same sort of errors repeatedly.

Until the 20th century, medicine was more like politics than physics. Its forecasts were often bogus and its record grim. In the 1920s, statisticians invaded medicine and devised randomised controlled trials. Doctors, hating the challenge to their prestige, resisted but lost. Evidence-based medicine became routine and saved millions of lives. A similar battle has begun in politics. The result could be more dramatic.

In 1984, Philip Tetlock, a political scientist, did something new – he considered how to assess the accuracy of political forecasts in a scientific way. In politics, it is usually impossible to make progress because forecasts are so vague as to be useless. People don’t do what is normal in physics – use precise measurements – so nobody can make a scientific judgement in the future about whether, say, George Osborne or Ed Balls is ‘right’.

Tetlock established a precise measurement system to track political forecasts made by experts to gauge their accuracy. After twenty years he published the results. The average expert was no more accurate than the proverbial dart-throwing chimp on many questions. Few could beat simple rules like ‘always predict no change’.

Tetlock also found that a small fraction did significantly better than average. Why? The worst forecasters were those with great self-confidence who stuck to their big ideas (‘hedgehogs’). They were often worse than the dart-throwing chimp. The most successful were those who were cautious, humble, numerate, actively open-minded, looked at many points of view, and updated their predictions (‘foxes’). TV programmes recruit hedgehogs so the more likely an expert was to appear on TV, the less accurate he was. Tetlock dug further: how much could training improve performance?

In the aftermath of disastrous intelligence forecasts about Iraq’s WMD, an obscure American intelligence agency explored Tetlock’s ideas. They created an online tournament in which thousands of volunteers would make many predictions. They framed specific questions with specific timescales, required forecasts using numerical probability scales, and created a robust statistical scoring system. Tetlock created a team – the Good Judgement Project (GJP) – to compete in the tournament.

The results? GJP beat the official control group by 60% in year 1 and by 78% in year 2. GJP beat all competitors so easily the tournament was shut down early.

How did they do it? GJP recruited a team of hundreds, aggregated the forecasts, gave extra weight to the most successful, and applied a simple statistical rule. A few hundred ordinary people and simple maths outperformed a bureaucracy costing tens of billions.

Tetlock also found ‘superforecasters’. These individuals outperformed others by 60% and also, despite a lack of subject-specific knowledge, comfortably beat the average of professional intelligence analysts using classified data (the size of the difference is secret but was significant).

Superforecasters explores the nature of these unusual individuals. Crucially, Tetlock has shown that training programmes can yield big improvements. Even a mere sixty minute tutorial on some basics of statistics improves performance by 10%. The cost:benefit ratio of training forecasting is huge.

It would be natural to assume that this work must be the focus of intense thought and funding in Whitehall. Wrong. Whitehall has ignored this entire research programme. Whitehall experiences repeated predictable failure while simultaneously seeing no alternative to their antiquated methods, like 1950s doctors resisting randomised control trials that threaten prestige.

This may change. Early adopters could use Tetlock’s techniques to improve performance. Success sparks mimicry. Everybody reading this could do one simple thing: ask their MP whether they have done Tetlock’s training programme. A website could track candidates’ answers before the next election. News programmes could require quantifiable predictions from their pundits and record their accuracy.

We now expect that every medicine is tested before it is used. We ought to expect that everybody who aspires to high office is trained to understand why they are so likely to make mistakes forecasting complex events. The cost is tiny. The potential benefits run to trillions of pounds and millions of lives. Politics is harder than physics but Tetlock has shown that it doesn’t have to be like astrology.

Superforecasting: the art and science of prediction, by Philip Tetlock (Random House, 352 pages)

Ps. When I wrote this (August/September 2015) I was assembling the team to fight the referendum. One of the things I did was hire people with very high quantitative skills, as I describe in this blog HERE.

On the referendum #20: the campaign, physics and data science – Vote Leave’s ‘Voter Intention Collection System’ (VICS) now available for all

‘If you don’t get this elementary, but mildly unnatural, mathematics of elementary probability into your repertoire, then you go through a long life like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. You’re giving a huge advantage to everybody else. One of the advantages of a fellow like Buffett … is that he automatically thinks in terms of decision trees and the elementary math of permutations and combinations… It’s not that hard to learn. What is hard is to get so you use it routinely almost everyday of your life. The Fermat/Pascal system is dramatically consonant with the way that the world works. And it’s fundamental truth. So you simply have to have the technique…

‘One of the things that influenced me greatly was studying physics… If I were running the world, people who are qualified to do physics would not be allowed to elect out of taking it. I think that even people who aren’t [expecting to] go near physics and engineering learn a thinking system in physics that is not learned so well anywhere else… The tradition of always looking for the answer in the most fundamental way available – that is a great tradition.’ Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s partner.

During the ten week official campaign the implied probability from Betfair odds of IN winning ranged between 60-83% (rarely below 66%) and the probability of OUT winning ranged between 17-40% (rarely above 33%). One of the reasons why so few in London saw the result coming was that the use by campaigns of data is hard to track even if you know what to look for and few in politics or the media know what to look for yet. Almost all of Vote Leave’s digital communication and data science was invisible even if you read every single news story or column ever produced in the campaign or any of the books so far published (written pre-Shipman’s book).

Today we have made a software product available for download – Vote Leave’s ‘Voter Intention Collection System’ (VICS) – click HERE. It was named after Victoria Woodcock, Operations Director, known as Vics, who was the most indispensable person in the campaign. If she’d gone under a bus, Remain would have won. When comparing many things in life the difference between average and best is say 30% but some people are 50 times more effective than others. She is one of them. She had ‘meetings in her head’ as people said of Steve Wozniak. If she had been Cameron’s chief of staff instead of Llewellyn and Paul Stephenson had been director of communications instead of Oliver and he’d listened to them, then other things being equal Cameron would still be on the No10 sofa with a glass of red and a James Bond flick. They were the operational/management and communications foundation of the campaign. Over and over again, those two – along with others, often very junior – saved us from the consequences of my mistakes and ignorance.

Among the many brilliant things Vics did was manage the creation of VICS. When we started the campaign I had many meetings on the subject of canvassing software. Amazingly there was essentially no web-based canvassing software system for the UK that allowed live use and live monitoring. There have been many attempts by political parties and others to build such systems. All failed, expensively and often disastrously.

Unfortunately, early on (summer 2015) Richard Murphy was hired to manage the ground campaign. He wanted to use an old rubbish system that assumed the internet did not exist. This was one of the factors behind his departure and he decided to throw in his lot with Farage et al. He then inflicted this rubbish system on Grassroots Out which is one of the reasons why it was an organisational/management disaster and let down its volunteers. After Vote Leave won the official designation, many GO activists defected, against official instructions from Farage, and plugged into VICS. Once Murphy was replaced by Stephen Parkinson (now in No10) and Nick Varley, the ground campaign took off.

We created new software. This was a gamble but the whole campaign was a huge gamble and we had to take many calculated risks. One of our central ideas was that the campaign had to do things in the field of data that have never been done before. This included a) integrating data from social media, online advertising, websites, apps, canvassing, direct mail, polls, online fundraising, activist feedback, and some new things we tried such as a new way to do polling (about which I will write another time) and b) having experts in physics and machine learning do proper data science in the way only they can – i.e. far beyond the normal skills applied in political campaigns. We were the first campaign in the UK to put almost all our money into digital communication then have it partly controlled by people whose normal work was subjects like quantum information (combined with political input from Paul Stephenson and Henry de Zoete, and digital specialists AIQ). We could only do this properly if we had proper canvassing software. We built it partly in-house and partly using an external engineer who we sat in our office for months.

Many bigshot traditional advertising characters told us we were making a huge error. They were wrong. It is one of the reasons we won. We outperformed the IN campaign on data despite them starting with vast mounts of data while we started with almost zero, they had support from political parties while we did not, they had early access to the electoral roll while we did not, and they had the Crosby/Messina data and models from the 2015 election while we had to build everything from scratch without even the money to buy standard commercial databases (we found ways to scrape equivalents off the web saving hundreds of thousands of pounds).

If you want to make big improvements in communication, my advice is – hire physicists, not communications people from normal companies and never believe what advertising companies tell you about ‘data’ unless you can independently verify it. Physics, mathematics, and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting which satisfies neither of the necessary conditions – 1) enough structure in the information to enable good predictions, 2) conditions for good fast feedback and learning. Physicists and mathematicians regularly invade other fields but other fields do not invade theirs so we can see which fields are hardest for very talented people. It is no surprise that they can successfully invade politics and devise things that rout those who wrongly think they know what they are doing. Vote Leave paid very close attention to real experts. (The theoretical physicist Steve Hsu has a great blog HERE which often has stuff on this theme, e.g. HERE.)

More important than technology is the mindset – the hard discipline of obeying Richard Feynman’s advice: ‘The most important thing is not to fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.’ They were a hard floor on ‘fooling yourself’ and I empowered them to challenge everybody including me. They saved me from many bad decisions even though they had zero experience in politics and they forced me to change how I made important decisions like what got what money. We either operated scientifically or knew we were not, which is itself very useful knowledge. (One of the things they did was review the entire literature to see what reliable studies have been done on ‘what works’ in politics and what numbers are reliable.) Charlie Munger is one half of the most successful investment partnership in world history. He advises people – hire physicists. It works and the real prize is not the technology but a culture of making decisions in a rational way and systematically avoiding normal ways of fooling yourself as much as possible. This is very far from normal politics.

(One of the many ways in which Whitehall and Downing Street should be revolutionised is to integrate physicist-dominated data science in decision-making. There are really vast improvements possible in Government that could save hundreds of billions and avoid many disasters. Leaving the EU also requires the destruction of the normal Whitehall/Downing Street system and the development of new methods. A dysfunctional broken system is hardly likely to achieve the most complex UK government project since beating Nazi Germany, and this realisation is spreading – a subject I will return to.)

In 2015 they said to me: ‘If the polls average 50-50 at the end you will win because of differential turnout and even if the average is slightly behind you could easily win because all the pollsters live in London and hang out with people who will vote IN and can’t imagine you winning so they might easily tweak their polls in a way they think is making them more accurate but is actually fooling themselves and everybody else.’ This is what happened. Almost all the pollsters tweaked their polls and according to Curtice all the tweaks made them less accurate. Good physicists are trained to look for such errors. (I do not mean to imply that on 23 June I was sure we would win. I was not. Nor was I as pessimistic as most on our side. I will write about this later.)

VICS allows data to be input centrally (the electoral roll, which in the UK is a nightmare to gather from all the LAs) and then managed at a local level, whether that be at street level, constituency or wider areas. Security levels can be set centrally to ensure that no-one can access the whole database. During the campaign we used VICS to upload data models which predicted where we thought Leave voters were likely to be so that we could focus our canvassing efforts, which was important given limited time and resources on the ground. The model produced star ratings so that local teams could target the streets more likely to contain Leave voters.

Data flowed in on the ground and was then analysed by the data science team and integrated with all the other data streaming in. Data models helped us target the ground campaign resources and in turn data from the ground campaign helped test and refine the models in a learning cycle – i.e. VICS was not only useful to the ground campaign but also helped improve the models used for other things. (This was the point of our £50 million prize for predicting the results of the European football championships, which gathered data from people who usually ignore politics – I’m still frustrated we couldn’t persuade someone to insure a £350 million prize which is what I wanted to do.) In the official 10 week campaign we served about one billion targeted digital adverts, mostly via Facebook and strongly weighted to the period around postal voting and the last 10 days of the campaign. We ran many different versions of ads, tested them, dropped the less effective and reinforced the most effective in a constant iterative process. We combined this feedback with polls (conventional and unconventional) and focus groups to get an overall sense of what was getting through. The models honed by VICS also were used to produce dozens of different versions of the referendum address (46 million leaflets) and we tweaked the language and look according to the most reliable experiments done in the world (e.g. hence our very plain unbranded ‘The Facts’ leaflet which the other side tested, found very effective, and tried to copy). I will blog more about this.

These canvassing events represented 80-90% of our ground effort in the last few months, hence some of the reports by political scientists derived from Events pages on the campaign websites, which did not include canvassing sessions, are completely misleading about what actually happened (this includes M Goodwin who is badly confused and confusing, and kept telling the media duff information after he was told it was duff). There was also a big disinformation campaign by Farage’s gang, including Bone and Pursglove, who told the media ‘Vote Leave has no interest in the ground campaign’. This was the opposite of the truth. By the last 10 weeks we had over 12,000 people doing things every week (we had many more volunteers than this but the 12,000 were regularly active). When Farage came to see me for the last time (as always fixated only on his role in the debates and not the actual campaign which he was sure was lost) he said that he had 7,000 activists who actually did anything. He was stunned when I said that we had over 12,000. I think Farage et al believe their own spin on this subject and were deluded not lying. (Obviously there was a lot of overlap between these two figures.) These volunteers delivered about 70 million leaflets out of a total ~125 million that were delivered one way or another.

While there were some fantastic MPs who made huge efforts on the ground – e.g. Anne Marie Trevelyan – it was interesting how many MPs, nominally very committed to Leave, did nothing useful in their areas nor had any interest in ground campaigning and data. Many were far more interested in trying to get on TV and yapping to hacks than in gathering useful data, including prominent MPs on our Board and Campaign Committee, some of whom contributed ZERO useful data in the entire campaign. Some spent much of the campaign having boozy lunches with Farage gossiping about what would happen after we lost. Because so many of them proved untrustworthy and leaked everything I kept the data science team far from prying eyes – when in the office, if asked what they did they replied ‘oh I’m just a junior web guy’. It would have been better if we could have shared more but this was impossible given some of the characters.

VICS is the first of its kind in the UK and provided new opportunities. It is, of course, far from ideal. It was developed very quickly, we had to cut many corners, and it could be improved on. But it worked. Many on the ground, victims of previous such attempts, assumed it would blow up under the pressure of GOTV. It did not. It worked smoothly right through peak demand. This was also because we solved the hardware problem by giving it to Rackspace which did a great job – they have a system that allows automatic scaling depending on the demand so you don’t have to worry about big surges overwhelming the system.

There were many things we could have done much better. Our biggest obstacle was not the IN campaign and its vast resources but the appalling infighting on our own side driven by all the normal human motivations described in Thucydides – fear, interest, the pursuit of glory and so on. Without this obstacle we would have done far more on digital/data. Having seen what is offered by London’s best communications companies, vast improvements in performance are clearly possible if you hire the right people. A basic problem for people in politics is that approximately none have the hard skills necessary to distinguish great people from charlatans. It was therefore great good fortune that I was friends with our team before the campaign started.

During the campaign many thousands of people donated to Vote Leave. They paid for VICS. Given we spent a lot of money developing it and there is nothing equivalent available on the market and Vote Leave is no more (barring a very improbable event), we thought that we would make VICS available for anybody to use and improve though strictly on the basis that nobody can claim any intellectual property rights over it. It is being made available in the spirit of the open source movement and use of it should be openly acknowledged. Thanks again to the thousands of people who made millions of sacrifices – because of you we won everywhere except London, Scotland and Northern Ireland against the whole Government machine supported by almost every organisation with power and money.

I will write more about the campaign once the first wave of books is published.

PS. Do not believe the rubbish peddled by Farage and the leave.EU team about social media. E.g. a) They boasted publicly that they paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for over half a million Facebook ‘Likes’ without realising that b) Facebook’s algorithms no longer optimised news feeds for Likes (it is optimised for paid advertising). Leave.EU wasted hundreds of thousands just as many big companies spent millions building armies of Likes that were rendered largely irrelevant by Facebook’s algorithmic changes. This is just one of their blunders. Vote Leave put our money into targeted paid adverts, not buying Likes to spin stories to gullible hacks, MPs, and donors. Media organisations should have someone on the political staff who is a specialist in data or have a route to talk to their organisation’s own data science teams to help spot snake oil merchants.

PPS. If you are young, smart, and interested in politics, think very hard before studying politics / ‘political science’ / PPE at university. You will be far better off if you study maths or physics. It will be easy to move into politics later if you want to and you will have more general skills with much wider application and greater market value. PPE does not give such useful skills – indeed, it actually causes huge problems as it encourages people like Cameron and Ed Balls to ‘fool themselves’ and spread bad ideas with lots of confidence and bluffing. You can always read history books later but you won’t always be able to learn maths. If you have these general skills, then you will be much more effective than the PPE-ers you will compete against. In a few years, this will be more obvious as data science will be much more visible. A new interdisciplinary degree is urgently needed to replace PPE for those who want to go into politics. It should include the basics of modelling and involve practical exposure to people who are brilliant at managing large complex organisations.

PPPS. One of the projects that the Gove team did in the DfE was funding the development of a ‘Maths for Presidents’ course, in the same spirit as the great Berkeley course ‘Physics for Presidents’, based on ideas of Fields Medallist Tim Gowers. The statistics of polling would be a good subject for this course. This course could have a big cultural effect over 20 years if it is supported wisely.

On the referendum #19: Final message from Vote Leave HQ to our supporters

 

Below is the final message from the Vote Leave HQ team to our supporters.

I will be blogging about the campaign at some point over the next few weeks / months.

Best wishes

Dominic Cummings

***

Dear XXX

WE TOOK BACK CONTROL!

Last week you changed the course of history. Vote Leave took on almost every force with power and money and we won. Britain chose to Vote Leave.

This victory would not have happened without your amazing help and generosity. Thousands of you donated. Thousands of you volunteered. Thousands of you spoke to friends and family on our behalf to spread the message. THANK YOU!

In just ten months we built from scratch an unprecedented national movement that took our campaign to every corner of the country. We got to places that ‘politics as usual’ ignored. People who have been ignored, and have never been involved in politics before, suddenly spoke out and took action.

In 2008, the worst financial crisis since 1929 hit the world. The people who paid the bills were mainly those on P.A.Y.E. They are still paying. They are also paying the bills for the EU’s and the euro’s dysfunction. Meanwhile many with power and money who were responsible for the mistakes and were completely wrong in their predictions dodged their fair share of the bills and got rich out of the EU system. We spoke for those on P.A.Y.E.

We did new things. Nobody in the UK has ever successfully built a web-based electoral database. Companies have spent millions and failed. We did it in a few months and succeeded. The combination of this database, our digital communication effort and our ground campaign broke new ground for political campaigns. This database product is worth a lot of money. We will shortly put the code online so that everyone can use it for free in the future (keep an eye on Github if interested). Hopefully it will help other campaigns give the public a powerful voice as we have. We’ve shown political parties how they can change and stop ignoring large parts of the country.

Why is this important? The British political system is broken in many ways and needs big changes – the EU is not our only problem. Our campaign was never controlled by any party though there were great people from all parties who helped us. All the parties have very deep problems. The way they are structured incentivises MPs to focus on themselves and their party – not the public interest.

It is important that the Conservative leadership candidates accept that the vote must be respected. Both the leading IN candidate (Theresa May) and the leading OUT candidate (Michael Gove) have made clear that if they win they will respect the vote and deliver a new UK-EU deal. This could mean, among other things, democratic control of immigration policy. This could marginalise extremists and allow a fair, sensible, and humane new policy. It could mean new trade deals and new jobs. It could mean more money for health, education, and science.

But we cannot be sure it will happen. In particular, while there are many wonderful civil servants there are also many who regard our victory as a disaster. They will try to stop or minimise changes. Not all the candidates in the Conservative leadership campaign have shown an ability to deliver big changes in the face of civil service opposition. Many in Labour are in complete denial about the real state of opinion and the real problems of the EU. Few MPs have the skills needed to manage normal government departments – never mind the EU negotiation and complex problems that implementing the referendum result require. Many MPs are desperate to ignore any lessons from the referendum and go back to politics as usual. The situation is very worrying.

Westminster cannot be relied upon. Taking back control to Britain is just the first step. The next step should be major political changes in Britain so that the broken Westminster and Whitehall system has to focus on the public interest in a way it does not now. If we increase the power of MPs and officials without changing how they behave, we will not solve our problems. We need organisations like Vote Leave to operate permanently to give a voice to those who otherwise won’t be heard.

This campaign did not win because of support in Westminster – it won because of support in the country that has forced Westminster to listen. But three MPs in particular worked closely together and helped us win: Michael Gove (Conservative), Boris Johnson (Conservative), and Gisela Stuart (Labour) who was also a wonderful Chair. We want to thank all three of them too. They put their careers and reputations on the line. THANK YOU Boris, Gisela, and Michael. Thank you too to other MPs of all parties who helped, such as Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Graham Stringer.

It’s been a privilege to have your support throughout this campaign. Your dedication brought victory.

On behalf of the team here at Vote Leave, and on behalf of the public, THANK YOU – and goodbye.

Best wishes

The Vote Leave HQ

P.S. If you want to keep in touch with events after we have won, then follow the private blog of our Campaign Director, Dominic CummingsCLICK HERE. If we ever want to send up a ‘bat signal’ that Westminster is cheating the vote and we need to form a new movement, you will see the bat signal there…

P.P.S. The website will remain online for many years. We are not using your data for any other purpose. All personal data will be permanently destroyed as we promised at the start. If you want to contribute to our ‘lessons learned’ investigation, then please take this survey – CLICK HERE

 

 

On the referendum #18: the ECJ uses the Charter of Fundamental Rights to take more power over the UK, this is just the start

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg today issued a series of judgments of considerable importance for the UK and the upcoming EU referendum.

Firstly, in a case called Delvigne, the ECJ held that some prisoners must obtain the vote in elections to the European Parliament. Rejecting the UK Government’s submissions and agreeing with those of the European Commission and Parliament, it held that it had jurisdiction under article 51 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights to rule on the legality of a French law depriving some prisoners of the vote. Overruling two recent decisions of the Supreme Court in R (Chester) v Lord President of the Council and Moohan v Lord Advocate, the ECJ held that the Charter gives EU citizens the right to vote in certain elections.

Although the ECJ accepted the French law was a ‘proportionate’ limitation of the right to vote, there is little doubt that the UK’s 1983 legislation is not ‘proportionate’ and is thus contrary to the Charter. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has consistently said as much, and article 51(3) of the Charter states that the Charter must be interpreted to conform to Strasbourg rulings. The ECJ found the French legislation was ‘proportionate’ because unlike the UK, France only removed the vote from prisoners sentenced to more than five years, and gave them a right to review their disenfranchisement. The UK has no right of review, and removes the vote from all prisoners.

It is now a virtual certainty that some prisoners will gain the right to vote in European Parliamentary elections. Either the UK’s 1983 legislation will be set aside altogether, or prisoners denied the vote will win damages under the EU law doctrine of ‘state liability’. This is a legal certainty for as long as the European Communities Act 1972 remains in force, regardless of what the Government might say. In 2011, Parliament voted overwhelmingly against allowing any convicted prisoners the vote, and Cameron has said the prospect makes him ‘physically ill’.

Secondly, in a case called Schrems, the Court invalidated the 2000 EU-US safe harbour agreement on procedural grounds, with big implications for British companies which store data outside the EU. More importantly, the Court engaged in a significant discussion about the compatibility of government surveillance programmes with the Charter of Fundamental Rights (see paragraphs [87]-[95]). In a little noticed case in July 2015, the Divisional Court in London struck down the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 for inconsistency with the Charter. Nothing in today’s ruling suggests the Government’s appeal against that ruling will be successful. In fact, the reverse is true. Despite ‘security’ being the theme of the Conservative Party conference, a foreign court, rather than the British Parliament, will now decide what is necessary to protect the UK’s national security. The EU has long desired to scupper the US-UK intelligence sharing agreement that has been in place since 1945. The ECJ now has the tool it needs to start doing this.

The ECJ has been given more power over the UK by the Charter than the US Supreme Court has over the American states. Although pro-EU lawyers claim the Charter only applies when the UK ‘implements EU law’, the UK Supreme Court made clear in 2011 that that potentially limitless phrase ‘is to be interpreted broadly’. Even pro-EU bodies like the CBI admit than over half of new British laws originate from the EU. The ECJ will increasingly use the Charter to do whatever it likes without any democratic accountability. The Blair Government wrongly claimed that it had an ‘opt-out’ from the Charter, which it alleged would have the same legal status as ‘The Beano or the Sun’. Subsequent cases in the ECJ and UK Supreme Court have made clear these claims were entirely false, and that the Charter has ‘direct effect’ in UK law. David Cameron once claimed that ‘we will want a complete opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights,’ a promise repeated at p. 114 of the 2010 Conservative Manifesto, yet the Charter does not appear to be part of the renegotiation.

Today’s judgments also demonstrate that the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto promise to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and reform the ECHR is pointless within the EU. As Mr Justice Mostyn observed in a 2013 judgment, the Charter contains all the rights in the ECHR and this ‘much wider Charter of Rights would remain part of our domestic law even if the Human Rights Act were repealed.’

Thirdly, the Advocate General issued an opinion in a case where the Commission was suing the UK over the requirement that claimants of child tax credits and child benefit must be habitually and lawfully resident in the UK. Amazingly, the Commission argued that claimants didn’t need to be lawfully resident in the UK: an argument that the AG rejected. However, the ECJ isn’t bound by this opinion, and might still accept the Commission’s extreme arguments, as it did today over prisoner voting.

However, the AG stated that any checks on the lawful residence of EU citizens had to comply with the principle of ‘proportionality’, and could not be carried ‘out in every single case, something which, in my view, is prohibited’. The AG stated that the UK must apply a presumption that EU citizens resident in the UK for more than three months are here lawfully. This undermines a pledge by David Cameron that EU jobseekers who haven’t found work within three months will be forced to leave the UK.

The opinion makes it crystal clear that for as long as Britain remains in the EU, the ultimate arbiter of whether migrants can stay in the UK and claim benefits will be the EU institutions like the ECJ, not the British people.

For many decades, Whitehall has deceived itself and deceived the public about the true nature of the EU project. Their ability to keep doing this is crumbling…

On the referendum #17: The state of the campaign

Below is the Business for Britain Bulletin sent out this morning.

Back in the summer, various people including Matthew Elliott, some MPs, and some businessmen, including Stuart Wheeler, asked me to help get a new campaign off the ground that could fight the ‘leave’ side of the referendum.

We need a campaign aimed far beyond the fraction of the population that already supports UKIP. I have yet to meet anybody, whether a UKIP supporter or not (including Nigel Farage), who disagrees. This campaign will go public shortly.

The BfB bulletin clarifies some of this.

The Times leader today is also on this subject.

Dominic Cummings

 


Business for Britain Bulletin, 26 September 2015

Before the summer recess, the EU Commission published the Five Presidents Report, their plan for another Treaty transferring many more powers to the EU. The EU has been at the forefront of the political agenda after recess. On the Commons’ first day back, MPs voted for a series of amendments to the EU Referendum Bill, allowing for a purdah period and changing the question, both of which will ensure the process is now fairer. The Conservative Party has also in recent days announced that it will remain neutral during the referendum campaign and will not give money or data to the ‘IN’ campaign. A series of business polls have revealed that business is divided about whether to leave the EU and large majorities want Britain to regain the power to make our own trade deals. As you all know, in light of the announcement that there would be no Treaty change in the forthcoming referendum, BfB’s Board decided in July that we would help create the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. This campaign will launch soon.

Please see below for a more detailed update on what we have been up to over the past month.

Best,
Matthew

New polling shows business split on EU membership

There have been three significant recent attempts to measure business opinion on the EU:

1) Business for Britain (August 2015). This was a telephone poll of 601 businesses by Perspective Research Services. It was weighted by the respondents’ number of employees, region, and industry sector in order to give a representative sample of British businesses. It found that by more than two-to-one (41% to 20%) SMEs believe that the EU is harming rather than helping their business. A majority (54%) would also like to see the EU develop into a less integrated free-trade area, with only a quarter backing further integration. 74% of businesses said that Britain should regain the power to make our own trade deals. Coverage of the poll results featured across the media (above).

2) The Federation of Small Businesses survey (June-July 2015). This was an online survey of FSB members which received 6,263 responses from FSB members who chose to participate. Just over 40% of respondents said that they would vote to leave the EU, compared to 47% who would opt to remain. It was weighted to reflect the regional profile of FSB members, but not by the number of persons the respondent employed. 17% of respondents relied on exports to the EU. This was unrepresentative of British companies, of which only 5% export to the EU.

3) The British Chambers of Commerce survey (August 2015): This was a survey of 2,000 ‘senior businesspeople’ who choose to respond to the British Chambers of Commerce by email. Although the results were weighted geographically, half of respondents exported goods to the EU. This survey was wholly unrepresentative of British companies, since only 5% export goods and services to the EU. Nor was the survey weighted by the number of persons employed by the respondent.

Only BfB’s is a proper poll that is properly weighted to reflect ONS statistics on the profile of British business. The other two are surveys that are not weighted to reflect these statistics and have other significant flaws. This is important. The CBI routinely distorted the debate over the euro by manipulating their own membership surveys. After this was exposed in 1999 the CBI had to admit its membership was divided and they withdrew from the campaign in January 2000.

Polls have consistently shown for over a decade that about 70% of businesses reject the rationale for both the Customs Union and the Single Market and want Britain to regain the power to make our own trade deals, which is not part of Cameron’s renegotiation effort (see ICM, April 2004 and October 2006).

Conservative Board agree Party neutrality for EU referendum
In a meeting on Monday 21 September, the Conservative Party Board agreed, following the recommendation of the Prime Minister, that the Conservative Party would remain neutral during the EU referendum campaign. In practice, this will mean that access to data and funds held by the Party – and staff – will not be available to either the ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ campaigns.

Reacting to this development, Conservatives for Britain Co-Chairman Steve Baker MP said: “I am delighted the Prime Minister and the Party Board have decided that Conservative Campaign Headquarters, its data and funds will remain neutral in the forthcoming referendum. There is a range of views within the Party about the EU, with many members waiting to see the deal before choosing how to campaign.”

Business figures speak out on EU withdrawal

A number of senior business figures have spoken out in recent weeks, expressing their views on a potential British withdrawal from the European Union:

“Our position in terms of competitiveness is driven by not only the situation in Europe in terms of whether we are in or out of the EU but more importantly the commitment of the people we have in the North East, the supply chain we have in the UK.” – Nissan Europe chairman Paul Willcox (Daily Telegraph, 3 September 2015)

BCC Director General John Longworth said the business network did not rule out calling for a British exit – or Brexit – from the EU should Cameron fail to get EU countries to agree to British businesses’ demands. “The European Union is getting further away from us. The single market was conceived for German industries and French farmers,” the BCC’s director general said (La Figaro, 7 September 2015)

“I voted for a free trade area in 1975. That’s what we should be [in]. It is absolutely crazy we are in there. I will be at the forefront of the ‘out’ campaign” – Peter Hargreaves, co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown (Sunday Times, 13 September 2015)

“I don’t think in that event there would not be a trade agreement with what was left of the EU. We’re a very, very big market for European products, goods and services, and it would be unthinkable to us as a corporation that no such trade agreement would ultimately be negotiated if this country chose to leave.” – Chairman and Managing Director of Vauxhall, Tim Tozer (Daily Telegraph, 15 September 2015)

“Regardless (of the outcome), we think that the UK is a good place for investment.” – Board member of Bentley, Kevin Rose (Reuters, 16 September 2015)

“I’ve had lots of questions in my time in a way of why aren’t you opening up a plant somewhere else… I said guys are you kidding me? This is so truly British, that it belongs to Britain and it is also part of our success story that we are from Britain.” – CEO of Rolls Royce, Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes (Reuters, 16 September 2015)

“We have plants in Luton and Ellesmere port. We will not turn our back on England… We would continue to find ways to invest.” Chief Executive of Opel, Karl-Thomas Neumann (Reuters, 16 September 2015)

EU planning further transfers of power to Brussels

The EU has published its blueprint for its next big Treaty change, which will transfer even more powers to Brussels. In their ‘Five Presidents’ Report’ (right), the leaders of the EU state that they are looking at the possibility of introducing a new Treaty after 2017 in order to fix the euro’s problems.

This is worrying, as these plans will leave Britain as a permanent second-class member state, subject to EU law but condemned to be constantly outvoted in the EU’s institutions. The French Government has already come out in support of some of the report’s ideas. With Commission President Jean Claude Juncker saying he wants a ‘EU Army’ introduced, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble this week advocating EU-wide minimum taxation rates, it is clear that the EU is going to be trying to take even more control over the coming years.

Immigration and the referendum

There is some confusion about the immigration issue and the referendum. There is no doubt that immigration tops the polls as the No. 1 issue. Contra some pundits, this is not a left/right issue. People across the political spectrum and demographic groups are very worried about Britain not having control of immigration policy. This is bound to get worse. For example, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights has given the ECJ the power to judge how the UK implements the crucial 1951 UN Refugee Convention. This is another big limitation on Britain’s ability to adapt to the huge migration underway. David Cameron originally promised to get an opt-out from the Charter but this has been dropped.

However, for a crucial group of voters, roughly 20-25%, their attitude is – ‘we don’t like the EU, we would like to leave the EU, but we are very worried about the effects on jobs and living standards’. These people are also deeply worried about immigration. However, many of them will not vote to leave unless their fears about living standards are neutralised. If they are neutralised, then they will vote to leave. This does not mean ‘they don’t care about immigration’. They do care. But they care more about their own jobs.

Our campaign

We have been working with various people over the summer to set up a professional cross-party campaign, including an Exploratory Committee of Parliamentarians that includes: Steve Baker MP, Douglas Carswell MP, Kate Hoey MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, Bernard Jenkin MP, Owen Paterson MP and Graham Stringer MP.

 

The Business for Britain Board voted unanimously in July to affiliate to this campaign and throw our resources behind it. New offices are being set up. The campaign, along with a new version of the BfB EU Briefing (above), will launch shortly.

This requires an unprecedented organisation. We need to create something that can scale from a handful of people to hundreds of staff and thousands of volunteers quickly. It needs a professional media operation and a combination of old-school grassroots and cutting-edge technology. We will make further announcements on this soon.

EU news from the last month

What you might have missed…

  • The EU is important for our economy, but it’s not a one-way street – Ruth Lea, The Times
  • Conservative party machine to stay neutral in EU referendum – Financial Times
  • EU referendum – the state of public opinion – Anthony Wells, YouGov
  • Cameron suffers Commons defeat over ‘purdah’ rules – BBC News
  • The UKIP/Arron Banks campaign re-launched at the UKIP conference today. We’ve had some friendly meetings with Arron. We wish him well. – Daily Express
  • The future looks rosy for the Brexit brigade – Tim Montgomerie, The Times
  • Ignore the scaremongers, manufacturing powerhouse Vauxhall says it would be fine outside the EU – Daily Telegraph
  • Hammond raises possibility of 2017 referendum – Reuters
  • Will David Cameron deliver ‘associate membership’ of the EU for Britain? – Spectator
  • UK claims migrant crisis will help its push for EU reform – Financial Times
  • No, Brexit would not “drive” European Premier League footballers out of the UK – Robert Oxley, CityAM
And finally… yet another startup falls foul of EU regulations

Last week, the IN Campaign launched its website. Unfortunately, as reported on Guido Fawkes, the website was in breach of EU law in several places, particularly concerning the use of cookies and information sharing. They’ve seen for themselves just how hard it is for new startups to comply with EU regulations, and how the EU makes life hard for entrepreneurs…

On the referendum #16: New ICM poll shows differential turnout could be important, only a third support the failing EU project

I asked ICM to add two questions to their weekly referendum tracker (which has changed to reflect the new referendum question). These results are the first time ICM has used the new question (PDF).

2,000 people were polled online between 11 – 13 September.

The results suggest some SW1 conventional wisdom and some eurosceptic conventional wisdom are wrong.

Results are cross-referenced according to three questions.

A. The referendum question itself.

B. A question on ‘enthusiasm’. There is evidence from America that tests of enthusiasm are more accurate predictors of turnout than standard poll questions that ask specifically about turnout.

C. A question that seeks to quantify the core vote of each side and the swing vote.

Summary of findings

1. ‘Leave’ voters are much more enthusiastic about the prospect of the referendum than the ‘remain’ voters: net enthusiasts split 56-23 for ‘leave’. 33% of ‘leaves’ but just 11% of ‘remains’ rated themselves as 10/10 on the ‘enthusiasm’ scale.

2. Both ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ have a strong core support of a third each. There is a crucial fifth of voters who would like to leave but are frightened of the effect on their jobs and living standards.

3. If the ‘leave’ campaign successfully assures these swing voters that their living standards will not be significantly affected, then there seems to be a better than 50:50 chance that ‘leave’ will win the referendum.

4. The change in the question may have helped the ‘leave’ side slightly: the gap seems to have narrowed to 52:48. NB. This may be pure chance. Also it may have no long-term significance. It is important not to over-interpret such things and also important to remember this is just one poll.

The numbers

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

Total
Remain a member of the European Union 43%
Leave the European Union 40%
Don’t know 17%

Once ‘don’t knows’ are excluded:

Total
Remain a member of the European Union 52%
Leave the European Union 48%

‘How enthusiastic are you about the referendum on EU membership?’ Scale 1-10.

Total Remain Leave
NET: Enthusiastic 34% 23% 56%
NET: Neutral 41% 51% 28%
NET: Unenthusiastic 18% 22% 13%
Don’t know 7% 4% 3%

Net ‘enthusiasts’ would vote 56-23 to leave (the numbers are roughly reversed among the ‘neutrals’). 33% of those who want to leave stated that they were ‘10 – Very enthusiastic’. Just 11% of those who said that they want to remain recorded the same degree of enthusiasm. The most enthusiastic are also older. According to Gallup, questions regarding enthusiasm were much better indicators of the eventual election outcome in midterm and presidential election years in the United States.

Fundamental attitudes to the EU

Total Remain Leave
I think the European Union project is bad for Britain and Europe, Britain should pursue free trade and friendly cooperation outside the EU and I am almost sure to vote to LEAVE the EU 33% 1% 81%
I strongly support the European Union project, Britain’s future role should be to play as full a part in it as possible in it, and I am almost sure to vote to STAY in the EU 31% 71% 1%
I would like to leave the European Union but I am worried about the effects on jobs and living standards, so I may vote to STAY in the EU 18% 19% 14%
Don’t know 17% 10% 4%

Roughly one third of the British public is very hostile to the EU, one third is pro-EU, a fifth wants to leave but is worried about jobs and living standards, and a fifth doesn’t know (perhaps doesn’t care). In the 1970s, the EEC was seen as a modernising project and connected to Britain’s recovery from basket case status. Echoes of this were still there during the euro battle 1999-2002. This feeling seems to have died. Focus groups strongly support the data above and suggest that the financial crisis, the Greek euro crisis, and the migrant crisis all played an important part in changing sentiment.

If one looks at this crucial ‘swing’ fifth, they now break 59:41 for ‘remain’. This suggests that if the ‘leave’ campaign persuades these people that a ‘leave’ vote will be followed by a free trade deal and friendly cooperation, then the ‘leave’ campaign will win. The ‘remain’ campaign has many advantages, such as its grip on conventional wisdom in institutions such as the BBC and CBI (which were deeply wrong on the euro). Its fundamental position, however, clearly has significant weaknesses.

Can we build a ‘leave’ campaign that can persuade people of this crucial argument on jobs and living standards? It will need an unprecedented organisation and a coalition that extends far beyond the current eurosceptic world.

We need to explain why this 1950s bureaucracy is failing and how a ‘leave’ vote by Britain will help spark a much better political organisation for Europe. Ultimately, we need a European institutional architecture that a) can accommodate the Eurozone’s attempt to prop up the euro and build a political union, b) can allow the Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries to trade freely and cooperate in a friendly way, and c) helps much greater global cooperation on issues such as technological breakthroughs, a billion new people joining the global economy, and migration. The EU has neither the physical assets or legal structure it needs to cope with the forces changing the world. A ‘leave’ vote is a necessary but not sufficient condition for doing much better.

Ps. Those working for George Osborne, Boris Johnson, and other leadership candidates will ponder the Conservative voter figures. It is extremely likely that Conservative activist figures would be even more striking…


 

Added later.

This paper, A Behavioral Measure of the Enthusiasm Gap in American Elections (Hill, 2014), discusses the ‘enthusiasm’ issue and why US campaigns look at this question re differential turnout.

On the referendum #15: Good news, Cameron changes the question – and a new poll

Today the Electoral Commission said the question should be framed as stay/leave rather than yes/no. (They have given similar advice before.) The government knew about the announcement beforehand and immediately announced they agreed. This is good news.

Cameron has been persuaded that his original desire to be the YES campaign was an error. It is unclear to me whether this nudges things in his direction or not. There are reasonable arguments either way. I suspect it will not help either side much. More importantly, I think clarity about stay/leave will avoid the confusion that I had already noticed with Yes/No, so regardless of which side it helps (if any) it is better for the public debate for this element of confusion to be eliminated.

One of the reasons why we decided in June to revive the old ‘no’ campaign logo and branding from the euro campaign 1999-2002 was so that we could get going fast without having to spend a penny on branding and without having to worry about the question being changed as it went through Parliament. When we discussed it we thought it unlikely this would happen but worth guarding against, particularly given branding processes can be expensive as well as nightmarish. The announcement today therefore is unexpected good news because of the clarity and hasn’t cost us anything.

The referendum will rest on whether the third of the public that dislikes the EU and would like to leave are persuaded that they have little to fear in terms of their jobs and living standards and that a vote to STAY is at least as risky as a vote to LEAVE given the long-term dynamics of the EU grabbing more money and power every year and planning a new Treaty after the referendum. If they are so persuaded, we will win by at least 65%. If they are not, we will lose roughly 65:35. If they split 50:50 it will be close.

Now, few MPs have heard of the Five Presidents Report and the Commission’s plan for a new Treaty (part of the reason is that it was published at the same time as the Tunisia terrorist attacks so it got almost zero coverage). When the vote happens, most of the country will know about it. Now, almost nobody in the country has heard of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights which gives the ECJ more power over Britain than the Supreme Court has over US states, and which Blair promised would have ‘no more legal effect than the Sun or the Beano‘. (NB. this is NOT the ECHR which is justiciable in the Strasbourg court). When the vote happens, most of the country will know about it. STAY will not seem like the safe status quo because it is not a safe status quo. The EU is inexorably changing as it always planned to do, adapting to the long-term plan for the euro to drive ‘political union’ – a plan that the Foreign Office understands very well but which it has masked for decades with propaganda about ‘3 million jobs’ and so on.

The choice is not between ‘a safe status quo’ and ‘a risky leap’. The choice is between whether you think it is riskier a) to keep giving away control and money to an organisation that cannot cope with the economic and technological forces changing the world, and cannot use the power it already has wisely yet wants even more power to prop up the euro, or b) to take back control and money and negotiate a new deal based on free trade and closer international cooperation with our European friends and other countries around the world.

NB. The 5 Presidents Report and the Commission’s timetable also opens up  a wild card option for Cameron that I will blog on soon…


UPDATE

Half an hour after writing the above I got this poll back from ICM.

Coincidentally, given today’s news, I asked ICM to ask a question over the weekend to probe attitudes.

The standard tracker question on the (now) ‘old’ official question shows 46(+2):35(-2) for YES, bang in the region where it has been for weeks.

We asked another question:

‘Which of the following best reflects your view?

A) I am not worried about the UK leaving the EU because I believe it can negotiate a free trade deal with the EU, and carry on cooperating in a friendly way from outside the EU.

B) I am worried about the UK leaving the EU because I believe that outside the EU it will not be able to negotiate a free trade deal and cooperate in a friendly way.’

The headline figure is 43:40 for (a), i.e. neck and neck (within margin of error).

If you look at the crossbreaks, it shows that the 43% who say YES break 76:14 for B, while the 35% who say NO break 90:4 for A.

This is interesting. Lots of polling shows the public divide roughly into a third definite OUT, a quarter to a third definite IN, and about a third who dislike the EU and would like to be out but are worried about leaving because of fears over jobs and living standards.

Today’s poll suggests that if more people are persuaded that we can get a new deal based on free trade and friendly cooperation, then the headline voting number could swing our way quite significantly.

Of course this will be hard. There is substantial fear that, I think, is unjustified. Whether you are pro/anti the EU it ought to be clear that Britain can have a free trade deal and cooperate from outside as other countries in Europe and elsewhere do.

All those who think like me that the EU cannot cope with the profound economic and technological transitions reshaping the world should reflect on this. We need to present a picture of how the world could be organised much better, with 1950s bureaucracies like the EU replaced with dynamic institutions that can adapt fast and fix their errors rapidly. If we sit around discussing ‘gene drives’ in Brussels committees the way we’ve sat around discussing the ludicrous CAP for fifty years, we are in big trouble. We deserve better and we can do much better than the EU. We need to explain how.