Now what?

We shouldn’t have a second referendum, Scotland shouldn’t become independent and Boris mustn’t become PM

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Having made a monumental mistake, what is a nation to do?

We don’t have any good options and of the miserable options available, it’s hard to tell which of them is the least ghastly. Even were I less of an emotional wreck, I’d have difficulty making a sensible choice between them. But these currently seem like prudent things to do:

1: Do not attempt to overturn the referendum result

It breaks my heart to say this. There would certainly be just cause for trying. Leave’s victory was small, rested on demographics that are being progressively eroded and was only achieved by telling demonstrable untruths. And there’s precedent for this:  EU related referendums have been re-run in the past. And legally speaking, Parliament could just ignore the referendum result.

But let’s be realistic about the politics of this situation. When previous referendum results have been reversed that was following a protest vote about some relatively minor treaty modifications. Voters weren’t that fussed about the substance of the issue, so getting them to change their mind about it wasn’t that hard. By contrast, the vote we just had clearly represents something of greater significance.

Trying (and most likely failing) to erase their choice will only feed a narrative that they have been disempowered by a craven elite. And it will prolong the uncertainty about Britain’s future.

If the rest of the EU offers us substantively different terms then that would be a different but they probably shouldn’t as that would invite other member states to start trying their own brinksmanship.

2: Scottish independence remains a bad idea

England and Wales have put Scotland in an invidious position. We’ve made them choose between the Union and the European Union. Rightly Scots are angry and I quite get why there are calls for a 2nd Indy referendum. I think it’s also pretty hard to disagree with the notion that a Brexit is a legitimate reason to hold another vote so recently after the last one.

But notwithstanding Brexit, the case for Scottish independence. While it does a lot of trade with the rest of the EU it does an order of magnitude more with the rest of the UK. Ditto for the movement of people. And it is far more integrated into the British state than it is with the European Union. Leaving the UK would disrupt the lives of Scots more than leaving the EU. So I reluctantly recommend to them that they stay with us even as we take them out of Europe.

Indeed, Brexit arguably makes independence a riskier proposition because it creates the possibility of Scotland being in the Single Market and the remaining UK being outside it. Tariff barriers between the two nations is not worth contemplating.

4: Johnson must not be allowed to become PM

Following Cameron’s resignation, the Conservative Party will now elect a new leader. Under no circumstances should that person be Boris Johnson. He proved himself inept in his handling of the relatively insubstantial role of London Mayor belying the notion that Conservatives are fiscally prudent with a series of expensive vanity projects. But his competence (or lack of it) is less concerning than his character. He has lost his job for telling lies. Twice. He has made racist statements. A Conservative member of my acquaintance once yelled at him for using a homophobic epithet. And he has been caught on tape giving a criminal information he can use to beat up a journalist:

 

4: Corbyn has got to go

Historians will debate whether Corbyn was a covert Brexiteer or just a crap politician.  I favour the latter option but whatever the reason his waffley, half-hearted defences of the EU were basically no use to Remain. His inability to manage his party meant it fell apart when put in the spotlight. And worst of all his tribalism prevented Labour playing a full and effective role in the Remain campaign, which in turn made the whole debate seem like an internal Tory squabble.

By taking Britain out of the EU, the Conservatives have unleashed a monster. Its negative consequences will doubtless turn many voters off the party and that creates an opportunity for Labour. But only if they choose a less useless leader.

 

5: We need economic stimulus. Lots of it.

The fundamental economic problem that Brexit creates is on the supply side. If Britain leaves the Single Market then tariffs and regulatory mismatches will raise the cost of trading between the UK and the EU. But that will not be the most immediate effect. Businesses will perceive these future losses coming and will cut back on investment and perhaps even reduce their existing activities perceiving them to now be unprofitable. That will create a demand hit.

There are steps that can be taken to reduce this impact. The Bank of England can cut interest rates and engage in quantitative easing. The Government can raise its spending and/or cut taxes. The optics of these won’t be great. They will further reduce the value of the pound and will beget a further round of complaining from savers about their terrible returns. It will also push up the deficit. But we are in a crisis and our priority needs to be protecting people’s jobs and avoiding getting the UK stuck in a prolonged downturn.

 

6: Britain’s young people need to be offered something

Work, study and travel within the EU now join the list of opportunities that have been snatched away from the generation that came of age during the financial crisis. This is a breach of the social contract between generations and something ought to be done to compensate them. Perhaps break the break ‘the triple lock’ guaranteeing increases in the state pensions and use the money to fund tax credits or extra education spending.

 

7: Secure the rights of EU citizens already in the UK and UK citizens already in the EU

It seems particularly cruel to evict people from lands where they have established lives. Even leaving them worrying about the possibility is unpleasant. Resolving this should be a priority perhaps even to the extent that we should make a deal with the EU on this issue ahead of a broader agreement on post-Brexit relations.

 

8: Apply for EEA membership

As I’ve written before I think that EEA membership has more or less no benefits vis a vis actually being in the EU. But keeping Britain in the Single Market would negate many of the potentially dangerous economic consequences of Brexit and would go a long way to mollifying discontent in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would also be a magnanimous gesture on the part of Brexiteers that acknowledged the fact that their victory was narrow. It would also provide a staging post for Britain to rejoin the EU at a later date.

It would be a hard sell politically as it would involve keeping intact free movement of labour (at least to some extent) and creates sovereignty problems that are arguably worse than those involved with EU membership. But as I said we don’t have good options and this seems like the least bad.

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The 3 best cases for ‘Remain’ in less than 3 minutes

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So today is the day Britain decides whether or not to leave the EU. This prospect fills me with dread. The EU is a flawed but very necessary institution. It facilitates trade, soothes political tensions and makes it easier for countries to co-operate. By contrast, the supposed benefits of exiting disappear when subjected to real scrutiny.

That’s a case that’s been made by a lot of people in recent months. But never as persuasively as by the three videos below.

First up is actress Sheila Hancock explaining why the UK can achieve more working with our neighbours against them:

And here’s entreprenuer Richard Branson explaining why most businesses – large and small – support EU membership:

 

And finally Ngaire Woods, Professor of Global Economic Governance at the University of Oxford, explaining why Leave’s notion that we will get better trade deals if we leave the EU is so fanciful:

A message for my Remain friends

It has just passed half eleven at night here in South Korea but I’m still wired awake. And I’m rather surprised why: an election thousands of miles away. Polling days have never given me trouble sleeping before. Even when the pressure’s been on me – when I’ve been the candidate, the agent or the one running the committee room – I’ve always been able to get some decent sleep at least until my alarm woke me up at 4am to go delivering Good Mornings. Maybe it’s precisely because I can’t turn my anxiety into motivation to do something constructive that it’s so much worse. I’ve donated money and turned my social media accounts into a stream of propaganda but that’s no substitute for speaking to voters. However, I think a more important factor is that I am more anxious.

As I wrote in my last post, the polls are about as close as you’re ever likely to see. And I see no reason to think they are wrong. This feels like an election that could very easily go either way.

But you guys give me hope. You are not the flashiest, in fact at times you can be downright boring. While Leave have alternated between ridiculous bravado and hyperventilating, you’ve stayed dignified and reasonable. Even, I must add, in the face of murder and violence. That’s not always an asset in a democratic system: drama is exciting and the pose of the rebel – even if it is just a pose – is an attractive one. But you guys are nonetheless an asset to the democratic system. We need people who will present the electorate with fact rather than fantasy, and force them to consider the small print of policy proposals. And crucially we need people who absorb and dissipate rather than amplify hate – or worse still succumb to it.

I am praying that you will be victorious tomorrow. I think you have a good chance. Clearly the passion gap between Leave and Remain has closed as the ugliness of the Brexiteers has become appearent. But I also recognise that much of the electorate is in an unreasonable mood – a staggeringly high proportion of Leave voters believe the election is being rigged! – and that makes reasonable arguments hard to make. But either way, it will be close and you may well be what stands between Britain and a terrible self-inflicted wound.

7 reasons why you still need to be campaigning like your life depends on it

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We can still lose. The worse case scenario can still come to pass. You are still what is standing between Britain and a disaster.

Living in Korea does rather limit the amount I can contribute to the campaign to keep Britain in the EU. I’ve given money and turned my social media accounts into a barrage of propaganda but I can’t knock on doors, deliver leaflets or ring phones. So please allow me to hector the people who can.

Please, please, please, please, please, please do not relent in anyway. I know the polls are looking better but there’s still a very real risk of this all going very wrong. Please maintain the sense of panic you felt when Leave first took a poll lead – it’s still justified.

Perhaps the best summary of the narrative that seems to be emerging in response to the polls over the weekend is that provided by Anthony Wells, Director of YouGov’s political and social opinion polling, who wrote that:

…the movement [towards Remain] may be … to do with people worrying about the economic impact of leaving the European Union. In the Sunday Times poll 33% of people said they thought that they would be personally worse off if Britain left the EU, up from 23% a fortnight ago and easily the highest we have recorded on this question.

The pattern of public opinion on the EU referendum is looking very similar to the Scottish referendum in 2014. Back then there was a long period of little movement when most ordinary voters were paying little attention, this was followed by a period of movement in favour of Yes, as people were excited by the prospect of change, followed by a sharp correction back to the status quo as, in the final days, people worried about the risks associated with it.

This is a reasonable analysis and it’s probably right. Nonetheless, I don’t think it justifies the notion that Brexit is now implausible or a remote possibility. Nor do I think Wells would claim it does. It could very well still happen. Indeed, was I betting I would probably be putting money on Brexit. That doesn’t mean I think it is likely but I do think it is significantly less unlikely than the betting markets are suggesting.

Here’s why:

1. The polls are still really close

I would suggest that if you looked at those numbers without some kind of prior conviction that Brexit was unlikely or that the polls are understating support for Remain then you’d conclude the situation is more or less a wash. Yes, Remain has been ahead in the last three polls but never by enough to be outside the margin of error and by less than Leave was ahead during its moment of ascendancy.

2. There’s still plenty of stuff that could go wrong

If Remain’s lead is as narrow as the polls are suggesting it wouldn’t take much to wipe it out.

There are multiple TV debates during which Remain could hit a banana peel. The leader of the opposition might open his mouth and say something typically unhelpful like: ‘EU free movement means no immigration limit’. [What’s that? He’s already said that? Well that was daft of him!] A high-profile business leader could come out for Leave and muddle the message on that issue. God forbid, there could even be (another) terrorist attack.

3. The polls could be wrong

They were in the General Election and those are easier to poll because the pollsters have more experience with them because they occur more frequently. The assumption up till now has been that they are understating Remain because Leave supporters appear to be easier to contact and may therefore be being oversampled. But pollsters appear to be correcting for this and it’s possible there’s some other wrinkle they’ve not detected that means they are understating Leave.

4. We can’t put too much weight on the evidence of previous referendums

Part of the reason that such narrow poll leads have begat such confidence from some people is that historical precedent seems to be on Remain’s side. Peter Kellner, recently wrote that “referendums in Britain have tended to produce a late move to the status quo. The record from six such contests in the past four decades is striking”. That’s persuasive evidence, especially given that it seems to be coming to pass, but it’s hardly definitive. Six is not a huge sample size to draw inferences from and the political context of this referendum is different. Kellner also admits that in one referendum there was no movement towards the status quo. We should be alive to the possibility that this referendum could be another exception.

5. Turnout is a joker in the pack

Generally speaking the impact of turnout on British elections is pretty simple to understand. A higher turnout helps Labour. Tory voters draw disproportionate support from older and more affluent voters who tend to turn out reliably. The question therefore becomes whether Labour can get enough of its flakier supporters to the polls to overcome that advantage.

The Brexit vote scrambles that. Remain appear to lead with more affluent and better educated voters whilst Leave do better with older voters. It’s therefore, hard to predict how turnout will affect the result.

But one strong possibility is that Leave supporters will be more motivated to vote. It may be that part of the reason pollsters are finding them easier to contact is that they are simply more enthusiastic about telling people what they think about Europe. And as Wells’ description of the situation makes clear a lot of Remain support seems rather grudging. If it had a clearer lead Remain could be more sanguine about that but it doesn’t so this modest handicap could prove fatal.

6. The perception that Remain is ahead could actually cost it votes

If there are a body of voters who want to vote Leave but fear the consequences of doing so, and that notion rings true to me, if they start to think that those consequences will never actually materialise, they may feel secure in unleashing their political id.

7. A narrow victory is not good enough (Bonus point)

In a normal election it doesn’t really matter by how much you win. If you win, you win. But this isn’t a normal election. Don’t get me wrong I’d rather nearly lose than actually lose but if we have to eke out a victory that creates problems down the line.

Most concerningly, the Brexiteers would use it as a pretext for holding a second referendum. Heck, we don’t even know the result yet and they are suggesting it now.

I assume that the prospect of another round of regular politics grinding to a halt, divisive rhetoric spewing forth and financial markets tumbling does not fill you with joy. Each extra vote you win makes that less likely.

Conversely, a decisive vote against Brexit will be interpreted as a repudiation of putting up posters that look like they were artworked by Goebbels and just flat out inventing stuff. If the result is more ambiguous so will be the lessons drawn about the utility of such despicable techniques.

Conversely, a narrow victory for Leave is preferable to a larger one because that would make it easier to argue for remaining in the Single Market.

Conclusion

I’m not expecting that Britain will vote to leave the EU. But I won’t be surprised if it does. And neither should you. A small poll lead that only emerged recently combined with a modest set of past examples should do little to move our sense of the probabilities much off 50:50. The prospect of Britain doing something very reckless is very real. If you are in a position to do something to make that a little less likely please, please, please, please, please do.

A Very British Assassination

The violence of Jo Cox’s murder seems at odds with Britain’s political culture. It isn’t. Political violence is sadly common in British history.

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Let me start an article on the murder of a mother of two in a way that might seem inappropriate: with trivia questions. But please humour me for a moment. It is leading to a serious point. Can you tell me who was the last American president to be assassinated? Of course, you can. If you are interested enough in politics to be reading this blog you know it was JFK. Even if you weren’t you’d probably have been able to hazard a guess. If you are the right age then you can probably tell me how you heard about his death. That’s reflective of the fact that the slaying of presidents is baked into how we think about American politics. It’s happened four times including to the most celebrated occupant that office has ever had. Heck, there’s even a children’s book about the subject.

So what would have happened if instead I asked you about the last British Prime minister to be killed? I suspect many of you would have struggled. Perhaps you would have wondered if it was a trick question and doubted that such an event has ever happened. It has but my guess is that unless you have at some point specifically looked it up (or take a particular interested in the history of the early nineteenth century) then you wouldn’t have known. The answer is that it’s Spencer Percival who in 1812 was killed by a merchant aggrieved at the government’s failure to provide him with compensation.

That sort of sums up how I’d felt about violence in British politics. It was rare, remote and not really that important. America had its assassinations, the French have their tradition of street protest and direct action, we have a rather staid and ritualised parliamentary democracy. We’ve not had a civil war in modern times. And extremists have never had much electoral success in Britain. While in much of Europe Communists and Socialists vied to be the voice of the left, Britain’s Labour Party has been able to brush aside challenges from Marxist parties without much difficulty. Until UKIP came along the Tories faced little serious competition on the Right and UKIP, unlike the Front National, Golden Dawn or Jobbik, doesn’t have neo-Nazi roots. It is a product of the right rather than the extreme right. And the SNP’s brand of nationalism is clearly of the civic rather than ethnic variety and is pursued more or less wholly by constitutional means. For these reasons it’s easy to construct a view of British politics as placid and confined to the mainstream.

That’s probably why when I first saw that Cox had been shot one way my horror manifested itself was in a sense that this just wasn’t very British. I wrote to a friend back in the UK: “we’re not America. This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening”.  By contrast, when Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords was seriously injured in a shooting in Arizona that seemed horrifying but not actually surprising, not when mass shootings are as depressingly common as they are in the US.

But on reflection my instinct on this point was wrong. Murder may be more common in the US but the political variety seems at least as common in the UK.

For example, since 1945 three members of the US congress have been killed. One was not deliberately targeted but was instead onboard a commercial airliner when it was shot down by Soviet air defence under the misapprehension that it was a military plane. Another was killed by a cult. While the organisations message had strong political undertones, the principal motivation for the killing appears to have been religious. That leaves only one case with an unambiguously political motivation, the 1968 killing of Robert Kennedy.

By contrast, in the same period six MPs have been assassinated. Apart from Jo Cox, they were all victims of Irish paramilitary groups. And that hints at a larger point. The peaceful image of British politics that I and others had depends on putting a mental cordon around events in Northern Ireland. But there’s no good reason to do that. Despite Republican efforts, Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, and the conflict both drew in the British army and spilled over onto the mainland. And we should not forget how violent the Troubles were. Indeed they are one of the worst (and longest lasting) civil conflicts to have afflicted a developing country. They resulted in more than three and a half thousand fatalities and turned Northern Ireland into a virtual warzone for decades. And they very nearly broke Britain’s run of not having any Prime Ministers killed: had Margaret Thatcher been using a different part of her suite at the Grand Hotel in Brighton when the IRA detonated a bomb in a nearby room she would almost certainly have been killed.

Now the temptation might be to conclude that now there is (relative) peace in Northern Ireland, that a placid stereotype of British politics is now justified. But I don’t really see that.

You can find examples of all the kinds of violence you would expect to see in a developed country in recent British history.

We’ve had terrorism of many different varieties:

  • the men behind the 7/7 attacks were Al Qaeda supporters who’d been trained in Pakistan;
  • Lee Rigby was murdered by two men who straddled the line between Al Qaeda membership and acting as ‘lone wolfs’;
  • The Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed multiple times by an Al Qaeda sympathiser who appears to have self-radicalised based on sermons she read online;
  • the man who conducted the Soho pub bombing was a neo-Nazi;
  • an animal rights extremist has been convicted of planting ‘an incendiary device’ at Oxford colleges;
  • a potential witness in the trial of Sikh militants accused of blowing up a 747 a murdered on a busy street in Southall;
  • a number of Irish groups remain active though far less so than in the past;
  • And of course a number of British nationals have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIL.

We’ve also had plenty of politically motivated street violence with ideologically heterozygous origins. We have multiple examples of so-called ‘race riots’ like those in Notting Hill, Brixton, Toxteth, Broadwater Farm and Tottenham. Conversely, there are the actions of the EDL.

There are also cases of demonstrations on behalf of left-wing causes turning violent as happened during Vietnam War protests, the miners strike, the poll tax riots, anti-capitalist protests in the 2000s and most recently the anti-fees demonstrations in 2010.

I think it’s important that we grasp that Britons have no special immunity to violence. The UK is not a theatre in which it is safe to shout fire. If you dehumanise an other – be they immigrants or the Tories – you are putting them at risk. If you suggest that our democracy is so broken that change is impossible, you may find someone drawing the implication that it is acceptable to try and force change. And if you present ordinary political disputes as matters of extreme – perhaps existential – importance then maybe someone will take you at your word and react disproportionately. As Alex Massie wrote in the hours following Cox’s murder:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

How Brexit could create the democratic deficit it’s supposed to save us from

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In the EU, we shape the rules. Outside, we might well have to follow them without having any say in what they are.

The debate about Britain’s membership of the EU is often presented as a choice between democracy and access to the European Single Market. If we leave, the argument goes, we endanger our access but we could make our own laws without ‘Brussels’ interfering.

I don’t really think much of this distinction. EU decisions are not imposed on Britain; they are made with our input. We elect Members of the European Parliament and our government sends representatives to the Council of Ministers. We also appoint a Commissioner and the membership of the Commission as a whole must be ratified by the Parliament and the Council. Sometimes we get outvoted but that’s what happens in a democracy. Indeed, that’s going to happen less at a European than at national level because a supermajority (or even unanimity) is often required to make decisions.

However, if we leave we are suddenly faced with a very direct choice between democracy and market access.

You can be in the Single Market without being in the EU. Norway is. But as the EU makes the rules of the Single Market that means Norway accepts rules it no longer plays any part in forming. This arrangement is known as ‘government by fax’ because before e-mail that was supposedly how the Norwegian government would learn about the new regulations they would be implementing.

Even more strikingly, part of the price Norway pays for access to the Single Market is paying into EU funds, the spending of which it has no control over.

From what I can tell the Norwegians are prepared to tolerate this arrangement because it allows them to avoid participating in the EU’s fisheries and agricultural policies. But while these industries are a still big deal in Norway, they employ fewer than 2% of the UK’s labour force. Jepordising the other 98% of the economy for the sake of these industries would be a strange decision.

The riposte of Brexiteers to this argument would likely be that the UK is bigger and more important than Norway so could get a better deal. But that’s complacent. Norway has a small population and huge reserves of natural gas, hence it may well need the EU less than Britain does.

And the mechanics of achieving an agreement are problematic. The Economist recently reported that:

The argument that the big British trade deficit makes the EU more dependent on Britain than the other way round might carry some weight with big German or Dutch exporters, but not with countries like Romania or Slovenia that export little to Britain.

Which creates a problem because:

[A] new trade deal…would need unanimous approval by all 27 countries and their national parliaments.

Is it so inconceivable that after months of seeing British politicians talking as if Romanians are an invasive species so vile that keeping them at bay is a national priority, the Roman government might well be minded to turn the tables on those same politicians. Rather than basing their decision on the unprecendentedly generous deal the UK will get in Dan Hannan’s imagination, Leave needs to face the unpalatable choice we actually face.

Part of the reason that’s true is that there’s a limit to how generous EU member states can be even if they are minded to be. A key element of the Single Market is that the regulations across the bloc are the same. That means if a British company finds an Italian customer it doesn’t need to adjust its product to make it compatible with Italian regulations because both countries share the same set of European regulations. If we want the power to make our own regulations, and Vote Leave insist that it’s imperative we do, then we are implicitly acknowledging that regulations in the UK will inevitably diverge from those of the Single Market.

You can theoretically concieve of ways to avoid this but they’re not practical. The EU could say that if a British product complies with British law then it can be sold in the Single Market regardless of whether it complies with EU rules. But that would be a ludicruosly one sided deal that a continent of 700 million would be unlikely to offer a nation of 60 million. If it did then at least one – and probably far more – of the twenty-seven member states would veto it. Alternatively, you could have a reciprocal agreement: we accept their rules, if they accept ours. That’s still unlikely: we are still the smaller party remember. And if it happened, it would involve precisely what Brexit is supposed to avoid – activities in Britain being governed by regulations made in Brussels.

In the event of Brexit, there is no half-way house in which we could assert our sovereignty while retaining economic integration. Being like Norway involves taking EU regulations without any role in making them. In order to avoid having rules imposed on us, we would have to bid a complete farewell to the European project, and opt for a relationship with our neighbours as distant as that we have countries on the other side of the world.

There is a way of squaring this circle: it’s called the European Union. It brings together the economies of its members states and enables their peoples to decide the terms on which that happens. It would be folly to choose to choose when we can decide to retain both.

 

 

 

P.S. Norway and Switzerland also have free movement of labour with the rest of the EU. So there would likely to also be a choice between staying in the Single Market and reducing immigration.

 

Trump is definitely not a moderate

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Trump is not a conventional hard-line Republican. But that doesn’t make him a moderate. It makes him a different (and more dangerous) kind of extremist.

The BBC News website currently features a curious video. In it the historian and Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley assures us that while Donald Trump’s “style might be a little crass and he’s said things people think should bar people from the White House”, he’s really a moderate.

Stanley’s opening gambit is essentially to tell us to look beyond the style of Trump’s politics to the substance of his policies. But that’s an unwarranted manoeuvre because there could well be substantive consequences to Trump’s style. In particular, when you have a candidate for President saying that he wishes that protestors at his rallies would be “taken out on stretchers”, it seems responsible to ask whether he might be normalising political violence. We’ve already seen the disturbing case of a homeless man beaten and urinated on by two men shouting “Donald Trump was right“.

To be fair to Stanley he has noticed this unpleasant underbelly of Trump’s campaign. Back in March, he wrote a column arguing not to overreact to the kind of violence we saw at Trump rallies because it “has been a part of American politics for a very long time” and cites as an example the Segregationist presidential campaign of George Wallace. While I see the parallel, I’m not sure it’s a reason to be sanguine. It’s been nearly half a century since Wallace ran for president and the fact that during that period overt racism and the inciting of violence have largely been kept out of mainstream American politics is quite an achievement. But as Trump has demonstrated, it was a fragile one. Indeed, Trump may well be more dangerous than Wallace. The Segregationist was only ever a 3rd party candidate but Trump is going to be the Republican nominee.

Nor do I accept that Trump’s policies are moderate. Stanley tells us that:

[Trump’s] no conservative. He’s a big spender, he wants the rich to pay more tax and he’s anti free-trade.

There’s a reasonable point nestling inside Stanley’s daft one. Trump has been willing to make rhetorical concessions to the notion that his white working class base needs government support and that that should be paid for with progressive taxation. But Stanley has been suckered by that rhetoric. Trump’s actual proposals on tax, reduce rather than increase the amount the richest Americans would pay. There’s still a reasonable argument that his policies in these areas don’t go as far as those of the likes of Cruz and Rubio. But that’s a flimsy basis on which to argue that Trump is a moderate.

And far from being centrist, Trump’s policies on trade are remarkably hardline. A 45% tariff on all Chinese exports to the US would be a massive step that would almost certainly provoke a global trade war.

Stanley similarly misreads Trump’s position on foreign policy saying:

If you’re worried about Donald Trump having his finger on the nuclear trigger, don’t be: he’s an anti-war candidate.

He even compares Trump’s policies to those of Jeremy Corbyn.

Once again it pays not to take too seriously what Trump says about his own positions. Trump says he opposed the interventions in Iraq and Libya. But he didn’t make any statements on Iraq until after the fact and actually said of Libya: “we have go in [sic]“. If we ignore his post-facto constructions of dovishness, it becomes clear his instincts incline – once again – towards violence. He’s proposed deliberately targeting the families of America’s enemies and occupying countries for the express purpose of stealing their oil.

The one regard in which he appears genuinely less willing to use force than his fellow Republicans is in defence of America’s allies. But rather than placing him closer to the mainstream, this fact illustrates his distance from it. The US joined NATO when Harry Truman was in the White House and its commitment to the organisation has more or less been a given ever since. Now Trump says it’s “obsolete” and “not meant for terrorism” because “NATO doesn’t have the right countries in it for terrorism.”  This analysis ignores both NATO’s role in Afghanistan and the continuing threat posed by Putin’s Russia. But it arises not just from individual errors of fact and reasoning but also from Trump’s very narrow conception of America’s interests. He seems them as a burden that America carries, not as a means to amplify its influence. And being the human embodiment of stereotypes about soulless businessmen, he quite often views those burdens in narrowly financial terms. For example, he has threatened to withdraw US forces from the Japan and South Korea unless those two countries contribute to the costs of keeping those soldiers there. This is dumb because a) the host countries already do make contributions and b) the costs involved are small in the context of the overall federal budget. Signalling to China and North Korea that the US placed so little value on its allies in the region would make it harder for America to deter them from taking aggressive actions. What is particularly alarming is that rather than trying to minimise the repercussions of what is already a big departure from current US policy, Trump seems likely to amplify them. For example, he suggested that if American troops were withdrawn, Japan and South Korea could defend themselves by going nuclear, a stance that would reverse the long-standing agreement amongst all the great powers that nuclear proliferation is a  bad thing.

What all these positions show us is that Stanley is being myopic. An expert on US politics, he correctly deduces that Trump is not a conventional Republican hardliner. American conservatism has come to be defined by a very particular policy agenda even slight deviations from which will be punished by the likes of Grover Norquist and the Tea Party. And Trump does indeed deviate from that, albeit mostly rhetorically.

But extremism comes in more than one flavour. Trump maybe a novelty in the US but his brand of authoritarian isolationism has plenty of precedents around the world. Some liken him to a Latin American “caudillo“, others to the European far right, and the new president of the Phillipines – who just told journalists they are ‘not exempted from assasination‘ – is often called ‘Asia’s Donald Trump‘. Most entertainingly, Trevor Noah suggested that while Obama was the US’s first African-American president, Trump would be its first ‘African president’ and went on to note his similarities to Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi and Idi Amin.

Trump may not adhere to any particular program but the fact that his notions are often half-baked doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerously extreme. Indeed, a significant reason his extremism is so frightening is that there seem to be few stances he will not take. Combine that with a character that seems paranoid, suspicious, hostile to outsiders, and drawn to violence and displays of machismo, and you have a very dangerous combination. Stanley is wrong to be sanguine about one of the most menacing politicians in American history.