Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit Bremorse

When we say "when tactics become policy" it sounds like a classification error, like saying "when an adverb becomes a horse". What we mean is that the machinery of democracy can be pushed by the use of tactical maneuvers including the failure to compromise and inaction to the point of policy results that no one really wants.

Something like this just happened with Brexit in the U.K., except that instead of inaction, the result was action. Or is it? More on that later.

David Cameron decided that his best move to keep his post and hold his coalition together for last year's parliamentary elections was to promise to hold the EU exit/remain referendum that just took place, but then to work in favor of the U.K. remaining in the EU. So a tactical move for political advantage has plunged Europe into unnecessary chaos. Or should that be "the U.K. and Europe". Or "the U.K. ex Scotland plus Europe with Scotland" in chaos? Anyway, chaos for sure.


On a small scale, we recently saw a similar tactic fail in the U.S. on the issue of women registering for the draft - a person calling for a vote in a situation where that person's preferred outcome, the status quo, would have prevailed without having any vote, but the voting proceeds with the opposite result.

As reported April 28th in the Washington Post,

 ‘Right now the draft is sexist,” said Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), who filed an amendment to the House’s annual defense authorization bill to require women between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for the Selective Service, the government agency that keeps records of who is eligible to be conscripted.
Hunter, who is against the Obama administration’s recent policy change allowing women to serve in all combat roles, said he proposed the measure only to start a discussion about the draft. He voted against his amendment, arguing that anyone who favored it would be siding with the administration.
But Hunter’s gamble that committee members would shy away from forcing women into the draft backfired when a slim majority — including five Republicans — opted to endorse the measure by a vote of 32 to 30.
“We have a standards-based force now, and we don’t have a standards-based Selective Service,” Rep. Christopher P. Gibson (R-N.Y.) argued, joining Democrats, all but one of whom also supported the measure.”

The obvious lesson is to be a bit more careful forcing a vote on an issue where you are happy with the outcome that would prevail if no vote is held.

The jockeying for position of British politicians in the aftermath of the referendum will be fascinating. Legally it was a nonbinding referendum, but the outcome of the vote was accepted as determinative as if it were binding. Is there no way out? European politicians will keep pushing the British to move forward quickly to eliminate the uncertainty on the Continent. Watch over the next week or two for British politicians who start to argue that the result was never to be considered a binding result  --all in the heat of the campaign!!-- but rather should be taken as a strong showing of discontent that must be addressed. David Cameron has washed his hands of it and nobody else will want to own it.

The one great hope is that behind all that apparent chaos, there could emerge a method to the madness from behind the scenes.

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