Don’t try swinging with the pendulum
In the past few days we have had a number of requests (many of them polite, about what we as interim editors might do.) One way or another most have to be binned, but the first two items below are in response to our readers, and we have for the same reason re-printed at the end of this posting the special despatch from Montgomery Skew which reached us last Tuesday.
Non-sequitur of the year :  In the referendum on leaving the UK, a majority of the British electors voted to leave.  Therefore the next British prime minister should be someone who campaigned for the idea of leaving.
This entry scores 51·9% on the Frege-Healey Index of Logical Errors and it would thus need a change in world circumstances on the level of a world war to allow a re-evaluation which would see it overtaking A.J.Blair in the race for non-sequitur of the century – (  We’ve always had pretty good relations with Washington  Therefore it is right for me to help George in his invasion of Iraq.)
Justice for England!
Please sign our petition!
In the Euro 2016 championships England met Wales, and the result was given as ‘Wales won’. We have found everyone we asked says this is obviously the wrong result. Therefore we have launched this petition to demand that the British Parliament intervene to order a re-run of the match so as to get the correct outcome, at the earliest opportunity. Please
support us at rtrslt@powrtothegoal.
In the first five days 1,844,920 signatures!
Now that Britain *(and Northern Ireland) have decided to leave the EU (or not to leave in the case of Northern Ireland and Wales)(and of the City of London) there seems a significant chance of the UK breaking up. Among the implications that need attention and have so far been disregarded are the enormous costs involved in restyling addresses both on paper and in cyberspace. For instance British firms continuing to use co.uk might risk being ridiculed by their continental rivals, with significant commercial consequences. Re-equipping the civil service alone with stationery using ‘London, England’ would be a major undertaking. However, it is by no means simply a matter of postal arrangements or signs at ports and airports. Millions of insurance contracts and legal documents of other kinds will need clarification as to whether they hold good over the whole of what was formerly the United Kingdom or only over limited areas of Great Britain, and if so which. If for instance a travel insurance has promised free repatriation to any point in the UK after breaking your leg ski-ing, will Hamish MacRob be able to sue if the company refuses to take him safely back to Ullapool? If a manufacturer of cars, having squeezed his new model through the tests needed to claim it actually sucks pollution out of the atmosphere, runs a campaign offering a ‘special – £1,000 off bargain price (only available to purchasers resident in the UK)’ can he be confident he won’t have to deliver on this to customers living in remote corners of the reborn principalities of Wales. The sums involved in rights to aircraft routes alone could be very substantial. The suggestion that where the initials, only, appear they might be kept but understood to refer to the ‘Untied Kingdom’, can only help in a very limited number of aspects, and not at all where the name is spelt out in full. But a solution which has been calculated to involve relatively little administrative chaos and relatively low costs has been proposed by a firm of consultants in Basingstoke, building on the fact that a single lower case letter added to a name is enough to persuade a computer that it is facing an entirely new ball-game, a view with which a great many lawyers would enthusiastically agree. Thus, if for instance, Scotland and Wales are again independent then Parliament can pass a resolution recognising what is left (England) as a group of separate kingdoms (without changing any of their internal administrative arrangements). For example, Cornwall could be one, Yorkshire and Lancashire together (if such a thing is possible) another, London a third, and so on. Then Parliament can declare these to be ‘The United Kingdoms’. It can be shown that a very large proportion of the outstanding problems can now be solved by simply adding ‘s’ at the end of the name whether written in full or as initials, which in many cases can easily be done. Ordinary people might find it difficult to distinguish two areas with similar names, the UK and the UKs ? UK and US are accepted with ease. And you may have noticed widespread practice for the past century has had the ‘British Isles’ including both Britain and Ireland.
*for those who were playing truant during school geography lessons, Scotland is geographically part of the island Britain; and by the way the name‘Great Britain’ is owed not to any illusions about power, let alone excellence, but to the contrast between a large piece of land with many Celtic inhabitants, and a smaller piece across the Channel to which a lot of Celts emigrated in the fifth century to escape the terrible Anglo Saxons (that piece now known as Brittany)
Linguistic corner : ‘Flexible’ is a good example of what linguists call an ‘autophoric’ word. This means that it describes itself – ‘flexible’ is a flexible word! Now because a word’s meaning depends on its own value plus the context where it is used, the result with ‘flexible’ is that it can have very different meanings in different circumstances. For example, when a personal trainer talks about flexibility she sees that as a fine quality which a healthy well-trained body can hope to have. But when the boss of a company says he supports government plans to bring flexibility to the labour market, he sees a chance to dismiss workers more easily, bringing major life crises to hundreds or even thousands of households, whose members therefore tend to see flexibility as quite undesirable. (Readers do not have to worry about the boss, however. He will keep his job and his salary.)
Body language corner : (from Mrs Alceste Fleghorn of 3, Tipley Gardens, Little Yarmouth) Can anyone help that poor man Nicolas Sarkozy. He has three serious problems. First, he thinks he can be the president of France again. (Recent history shows that almost anyone can be president of France, but that does not include those who’ve already held the post and been thrown out.) Second, he thinks that the way back depends on making lots of speeches with photo ops. Third, he thinks that making speeches means waving your hands around in a series of dramatic gestures like a children’s party conjuror. Personally I’m fed up with turning on the telly, and seeing Nicolas Sarkozy there with his hands held out wide as if he was checking the length of an imaginary loaf of bread. (Still he’s not as bad as that Clinton woman who believes audiences are so stupid that when she points in random directions at the crowd and opens her eyes and mouth wide, that lot think she’s recognised them and so they will feel they have a special link to her next time they vote. They aren’t really that stupid.) (Are they?)
It is sometimes amusing mental exercise to try to gauge the levels of intelligent argument and of principled conduct in the political class that governs the country where you live, whether that class has one member or hundreds. (Any claim that the class could number thousands or even in fantastically implausible cases the whole adult population should be put back into the proper obscurity that is found between the covers of textbooks on democracy.) Warning: this form of exercise can be interesting but may leave you with a bad case of depression.
As I write calls continue for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the British Labour Party. The callers accuse him of ‘weak leadership’. The calls are broadly justified but in a way almost diametrically opposite to that alleged by the callers. It is said that Corbyn should have engaged more vigorously on behalf of the campaign calling for Britain to leave the EU; had he done so, it is said, Labour Party supporters might have voted in sufficient numbers to keep Britain in the EU.
The idea that a party leader should have energised his followers to vote to stay in can only be coherently held (if at all) by people who themselves were (and in the nature of the case probably still are) committed partisans of remaining in the EU This is coherently possible for those who believe that the side they favour is right even when this conflicts with democratic principles. However, many in the Labour Party believe themselves to be staunch supporters of democracy. A principle of democracy agreed very widely (but perhaps not in the Labour Party) is to accept the result of a popular vote even when it conflicts with one’s own preferences. A referendum won by more than 1,250,000 is by democratic principle the right result. In such circumstances, the question of whether a different electoral turn-out would have produced a different result is, in constitutional terms, irrelevant.
Leaving questions of principle aside, the complaint about Corbyn’s campaigning rests on an assumption that if more Labour supporters had turned out, then the proportion of the vote in favour of remaining in the EU would have been higher. But there is evidence in bucketfuls that the mass of Labour voters (who on the whole have a tendency not to live in affluent circumstances, or enjoy incomes, opportunities, and dinner table conversations such as those enjoyed by Members of Parliament and other inhabitants of London) by a large margin wanted Britain out of the EU. Consequently more Labour voters would have meant an even bigger majority in favour of leaving. (Naturally this would have left committed ‘remainers’ even more furious and convinced, on the basis of the information acquired at those dinner table conversations, that the result reached had been ‘wrong’, and consequently even more eager to find some way to reverse the decision.)
Corbyn allowed himself to be persuaded, by partisans of ‘in’ who in all likelihood believed genuinely that their side would win and that Labour would be damaged by association with a losing cause, to support the ‘remain’ campaign, even though this was contrary to the views of most of his Labour supporters and probably against his own inclinations. Thus his mistake was precisely to go out and speak on behalf of the campaign to keep Britain in Europe.
[A footnote: the petition calling for a second referendum to decide whether or not to accept the result of the first referendum was discovered to have signatures of, among others, 39,000 inhabitants of a non-British microstate which in fact has a population of 800.]