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Europe gives Scotland another chance

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland - gets another chance for independence?

Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland – gets another chance for independence?

Interesting that the EU referendum on 23 June gives a new lease of life to the case for Scottish independence. It was Europe that was the cause of its failure two years ago.

As the argument for Scottish independence developed in recent decades, it slowly became more British. It started out as pacifist, republican and isolationist, against NATO, the monarchy and the EU. By the time of the referendum, the SNP plan was to stay in NATO, the Queen would stay on the throne, and protecting against a possible future English vote to leave the EU was put forward as a positive reason to vote for independence.

Even on TV, the plan became more British. The right of the Scottish people to watch BBC programmes such as £&& was to be preserved after independence, one way or another. When preserving cultural union with England had become an explicit goal of the SNP, it was clear that a major plank of the independence case had died.

What truly killed independence, though, was the currency. The SNP did not have a coherent plan for what to do with the pound.  Keep it?  Swap it?  Nobody really knew.

There were essentially four options.

First, share the pound with the rest of the UK (rUK). This would be the best for trade – England is by some distance Scotland’s biggest trading partner, accounting for perhaps two thirds of Scottish exports – and was the proposal backed by the Scottish government.  However, there was a big hole in the Scottish government’s plans, namely that it would require the agreement of the rUK, and that agreement was likely to require some kind of fiscal pact.

Experience of the eurozone was that countries sharing a currency had to observe mutually agreed limits on government borrowing: without such limits, there was the danger that one country would go on a borrowing binge with the costs of repayment being, in effect, shared by the others.  A Scotland that voted for independence in order to escape English austerity could hardly submit to such a fiscal pact, limiting its ability to borrow and spend.

Worse, the fiscal pact would likely be asymmetric. The rUK would have been 10 times the size of Scotland and being asked to accept a fiscal pact at Scotland’s request.  A very possible outcome of sharing the pound would have seen Scotland subject to fiscal rules limiting its budget deficit that did not apply to the rUK.  How could an independent Scotland have accepted this humiliation?

But without a fiscal pact, Scotland might have found itself using the pound as a foreign currency.  This could have been even worse.  The problem here is that the Scottish government would have been issuing debt in a currency that it did not control.  The last resort for a government in difficulties of devaluing the currency and reducing the size of its foreign debts would have been unavailable.  This is fine in the good times, but possibly a serious problem in the bad (as the Greeks have discovered).

And the bad times would have come quickly.  The rapid collapse of Scottish oil revenues that we have seen in the last year, from £1.8bn to £60m, would have blown an enormous hole in the Scottish public finances, a hole that could only have been filled by borrowing at foreign rates.  Scotland would have escaped austerity imposed by the English only to impose something even more severe upon itself.

The third option was to create a new separate Scottish currency. If there is to be a separate Scottish army or set of embassies, why not a Scottish pound?  This option instantly creates a difficulty: it is a continuing theme of this website that fluctuating exchange rates are an obstacle to trade (imagine if the foot varied in length against the metre).  For Scotland to have a different currency from England would introduce a major new cost into the Scottish economy.

Furthermore, a country that borrows in its own currency can devalue that currency and reduce the size of its debts that it has to repay.  International markets are aware of this threat and will charge a higher interest rate to account for the risk of what is effectively a partial default.  A country that gets into difficulties will see the risk premium on its borrowing rise, which will plunge it into further difficulties, so its risk premium rises still further, and so on.  That way lies national bankruptcy (again, as the Greeks have discovered).

The fourth option is of course to join the euro.  It creates a trade barrier with England, but a smaller one than an independent Scottish currency poses because it at least means a common currency and fixed exchange rate with the eurozone.  The EU currently represents around 15% of Scottish exports.  To join the euro would imply joining a fiscal pact, but a fiscal pact shared by the whole of Europe and not one imposed by the English.  It would also imply issuing debt in a currency that mimics a foreign currency, which we noted previously has been the Greek problem.   But there are plenty of countries in the eurozone that issue such debt without difficulty: the problem is Greece, not the currency.

Of course, the euro was not popular in Britain, but the SNP needed to make the case.  The economic and constitutional problems posed by options 1, 2 and 3 were surely insuperable for a newly-independent Scotland.  It could not have voted for independence, only to subject itself to an asymmetric relationship with the rUK again, and would have risked crashing very quickly with a currency of its own.

The whole point of the EU is to make life easier for small countries.  They preserve their independence in some ways, sharing powers and interests in others.  The sharing is based on a mutual polling of sovereignty and not on the unilateral cession of power.  The case for Scottish independence only made sense in the context of a uniting Europe, but the independence campaigners could not quite bring themselves to do it.

English euroscepticism has given them another chance.  Maybe this time they will take it.

Can MPs vote against article 50?

Being played out in court at the moment is a case regarding the powers of parliament. Does the government have the constitutional right to trigger British departure from the EU on the strength of an explicitly non-binding referendum without parliamentary assent?

For the record, the votes cast were these

Leave 17,410,742 37%
Remain 16,141,241 35%
Did not vote 12,948,018 28%
Total electorate 46,500,001

And the campaign was one of the most atrociously dishonest in British political history.

So, one can see why the mandate given to the government might be less than overwhelming. Equally, one can see that it is nevertheless a mandate.

But a mandate only to leave the EU, not a mandate to do anything else. And that’s the point.

Leaving the EU is only a part of the story: what comes next matters too. And it is entirely correct that parliament might not embark the nation on a risky journey until the destination is settled. They might, but they might prefer not to.

There is a precedent for this.

In the late 1990s, when the new Labour government was proposing to remove hereditary peers from the House of Lords, there was bitter resistance from the cross-benches. Yes, there is a mandate to remove us from the House of Lords, they said: this is a democracy. We will agree to go. But we will not agree to go until we know what will replace us.

And it was the replacement that had not been thought about. In the end, the compromise was to remove all but 92 hereditaries and those that remained were elected from amongst the total. Now, when a hereditary member of the Lords dies, there is a by-election to choose a replacement from amongst the members of the same party. Most recently, John Boyle, 15th Earl of Cork and Orrery, was elected to fill a vacancy among the cross-benchers.  He won his seat by 15 votes to 8, so congratulations to him.

But is this not absurd? And the places vacated by the hereditaries who left were filled by political party nominees, appointed by party leaders. Tony Blair nominated 162 Labour peers, Gordon Brown 11, and David Cameron 110 Conservatives.

If this is better than a house full of hereditaries, it is not by much. And it is not what was in the Labour manifesto of 1997. The Lords resisters were entitled to point that out.

Government by mandate can be a dangerous thing. Far better is government by argument. MPs could be forgiven for thinking the same.

See you in court

The Lord Chief Justice, baffled

The Lord Chief Justice, baffled

I am having difficulty explaining to people from other countries what’s going on in the High Court at the moment.  There is a case brought by Gina Miller, a fund manager, arguing that the government cannot invoke Article 50 of the TEU (the procedure for leaving the EU) without parliamentary approval.  The government disagrees.

The mystery is how come this is not clear.  The Article sets out that

Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

But what are the UK’s constititutional requirements?  Nobody knows.

The government says that the Royal Prerogative applies.  This is the power of the government to conclude international treaties.  The EU is established by an international treaty, so the government acting on its own can withdraw from it.

Not so fast, says the other side.  It may be an international treaty, but itEU tr is established in the UK by virtue of an Act of parliament and gives rights to British citizens as a result.  It is wrong that a decision of parliament can be overridden by a decision of the executive, particularly when it comes to the rights of the citizen.  There is a string of examples of statutes and laws that enunciate this principle, going back as far as the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Union of 1706.

The Lord Chief Justice was reported as “baffled” by aspects of the government’s case.  The law requires that amendments to the EU treaties require the assent of parliament, so why not their annulment?  When a senior judge declares himself “baffled”, that is not a good sign.

As far as this website is concerned, it is an open and shut case.  OK, the government has a point when it says that the legislation creating the referendum (non-binding, let us remember) did not explicitly rule out the use of the royal prerogative, but that legislation also made the referendum non-binding in the first place.  It is odd for the people whose complaint was that the House of Commons did not have enough power to object to the idea that it should have more power.

The royal prerogative has previously featured on this website in cases of peace and war.  It became apparent in the case of the war in Iraq in 2003 that the government could commit to war without the explicit approval of parliament.  As we know, in the event, there was a parliamentary debate and vote, but the notion that such a vote could be avoided offended against democratic sensibilities.  Promising to enshrine in law the right of parliament to vote on such matters was a key part of Gordon Brown’s positioning of himself as different from Tony Blair, but such a law was never in fact introduced.  David Cameron made and broke the same promise, although he himself nevertheless turned to parliament for authority for war in Syria in 2013 (and didn’t get it).

In the case of the EU, the crucial point is that it is not simply an international treaty.  Membership of the EU is a fundamental part of our constitution and of our democracy.  To throw it away lightly is mad, to do so without a vote of parliament is scandalous.

Given the result of the referendum, I should imagine that MPs would be hard-pushed to vote against a motion invoking Article 50, but they would be entitled to know what was coming next before deciding not to oppose.  The government has no idea what is coming next, and suspects that if people did know, they would not like it.  Hence the attempt to shut parliament out.

For my part, I think that big decisions should be taken by MPs in parliament rather than by government ministers in cabinet committees.  Take.  Back.  Control.  That’s not so hard, is it?

In praise of hard Brexit

Gisela Stuart cares about the NHS, apparently

Gisela Stuart cares about the NHS, apparently

It is now 16 weeks since the referendum on 23 June. Since then, according to that bus, we have given £5.6 billion to the EU, which Gisela Stuart, among others, would have preferred to spend on the NHS. If a new hospital costs £500 million, we could have had 10 of them. What are we waiting for?

We could, on 24 June, have initiated the process of leaving the EU by starting the process envisaged in Article 50. For the more fastidious among us, a parliamentary vote could have been held first, which would have delayed notification to the Commission by a week. It would have cost us £350 million, which would otherwise have gone to the health service, but you can’t put a price on parliamentary democracy, can you?

Leaving the EU would in fact be quite easy. Hard Brexit is straightforward. We cut all links with the EU and act as if it is simply a foreign country. That’s what reasserting national sovereignty means.

And if we want to reassert our national sovereignty, we have to allow the others to reassert theirs. As long as the UK remains a member of the EU, once it has decided it would rather not stay, it is impinging on the national sovereignty of the other member states. It should do the decent thing, accept the logic of its own position, and get on with getting out.

Why hasn’t it?

The reason is that leaving the EU is the easy bit. It’s what happens next that is difficult.

Complex and detailed trade agreements don’t write themselves. Security cooperation depends on trust which the British people have magnificently not shown. Political relationships need nurturing and don’t survive the abuse and ignorance that the new British government thrives on.

That’s why we’ve not chosen hard Brexit. Because it’s not really what we want. There remains residual need for some aspects of EU membership, even now.

The danger remains nevertheless that hard Brexit is what we get. Anything softer requires a credible and coherent approach by Theresa May and her leading ministers, which will be tricky, and unanimity among the 27 member states, which will be trickier still.

There’s a certain justice that the advocates of a soft Brexit, who face being undone by this unanimity requirement, are the same people who said unanimity was a good idea when we were a member.

A quick decision

Nissan production line, Sunderland

Nissan production line, Sunderland

I was asked the other day by a Leave-supporting politician whether business wanted a quick decision. The doubt about Brexit hard or soft must be difficult for you, he said: wouldn’t you prefer just to get on with it and know where you stand?

Yes, if the outcome is a soft one. The reason for the delay is that everyone is haggling for a good deal. Car companies want to stay inside the customs union. Banks want to carry on passporting their services across the EU. Many employers want to keep their EU27 citizens in their jobs.

A swift decision risks losing all that. International trade negotiations are complicated. A lot rests on the detail. A quick agreement would likely be a bad agreement. 40 plus years of negotiation can’t simply be replaced overnight.

The cost of the delay, though, is the uncertainty. Investment decisions will be delayed, key staff will leave and go to other countries, and the economy will gently slow down and become less productive. And this, don’t forget, is the good outcome.

What’s it going to take for Leave supporters to admit they have made a mistake?

On leaving the European Union

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

If I had to pick a period of time to be out of politics for various personal reasons, I couldn’t really have chosen a worse few years than those just gone.  Vladimir Putin was making his first moves on the Crimea, with all that implied about Russian assertiveness, European security cooperation and the abuse of referendums in the interest of nationalism.

I come back to find Britain having voted to Leave the European Union, Donald Trump running close in the American presidential election, and Aleppo being flattened from the air.  Those same themes are still current, aren’t they?

¤          ¤          ¤

The biggest thing I’ve missed has to be the referendum on 23 June.  I’d done a small amount of leafleting and registering voters in the campaign, but had been largely a bystander.

I’d gone to bed that Thursday night told by the polls that Remain victory could only be narrow but had been woken at about 1 am by the sound of fireworks in the street.  That sounded ominous.  Remain campaigners wouldn’t have been celebrating a narrow win that way, would they.  So why was anyone else doing it?

I checked the results and saw that Leave had won Swindon, the kind of area that should have been voting Remain.  Oh shit, everything we had said about appeasement of the Eurosceptics was coming true.  But at least I could get back to sleep.

The following morning, when the full picture came clear, I suppose I was already prepared.  (So thanks, fireworks people.)  Shocked, but not surprised.  30 years of feeble pro-European leadership had its price.

The right music for the drive to work was full of anger, bitterness and betrayal (Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know) and the first thing to read was Winston Churchill’s speech in the House of Commons after the Munich agreement in 1938.

Munich, and the abandoning of Czecholslovakia, was a disaster, and a self-inflicted disaster.  Everything about it came from our own political weaknesses, our refusal to look threats in the eye and see them for what they were.  We had appeased those who threatened us for years, and finally they were strong enough to take over.

It won’t lead to world war, but David Cameron’s referendum has many of the same characteristics.  The negotiations that must follow to settle Britain’s new place in the world will see Britain weak, isolated and vulnerable.

EU negotiations hitherto, for all their flaws, have at least been characterised by a shared determination to build Europe.  The knowledge that the EU is for the long-term has created a modest atmosphere between the member states of give and take and occasional sacrifice.  (Tomasso Padoa-Schioppa’s book “Europe, a civil power” captures some of this.)  I don’t want to overstate the atmosphere, but I don’t want to deny it either.  But in the case of Britain, that atmosphere is now gone.  The negotiating parties will no longer have shared goal, or even a shared sense that they hang together, or a shared knowledge that there will be future challenges to be dealt with together.

Britain’s coming negotiations with the other EU countries will be entirely unlike those we have had before.  We have turned our back on an idea that they thought we shared; indeed by turning our back, we make it harder for them to adhere to it themselves.  This is not the way to win friends and influence people.

But, we’ve done it.  52% of the voters cast their votes that way on 23 June 2016 and there will be consequences.  There were consequences from Munich, too.

¤          ¤          ¤

Extracts from Winston Churchill’s speech, 5 October 1938

I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat

We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude

In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.

I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week – I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. … they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road;

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

The high price to pay for fuel

By Paul Glazzard, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

By Paul Glazzard, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

I wince as my gas and electricity bills arrive.  It’s so expensive now, domestic heating, despite all the penny-pinching things to use less fuel I’ve done to keep our costs down.

But another part of me thinks that it’s a good thing that domestic fuel is expensive.  If climate change is really a problem, then people should be trying to use less fuel and a high price will encourage them in their efforts to do just that.

The real problem is when the high price of fuel falls on the people who can least afford it.  Some 9 per cent of the population are said to be in fuel poverty, that is to say that to meet their energy needs would leave them with a residual income below the official poverty line.  A high fuel price, whatever its benefit to the climate, hurts these people most.

To fight climate change, therefore, is not just a matter of setting the right fuel prices but also of helping the people who would lose out the most as a result.  It is inseparable from questions of redistribution.  This is not to say what those redistributive policies should be, only that there must be some acknowledgement of the different places at which people start.

And if that is true within a country, it is so much more true between countries.  Here in the UK, we have an annual per capita GDP of $36,000.  In the US, it is around $50,000, while in Ethiopia it is only $1,200.  The carbon dioxide emitted in the UK, the US and in Ethiopia is just the same per barrel of oil, which means that the cost of the pollution from that barrel of oil would make up a much larger part of an Ethiopian’s expenditure, were fuel prices to be used as a means of reducing emissions.

A global approach to fighting climate change (and there can be no other) needs to based not only on the state of the atmosphere – how much carbon dioxide can we emit – but also on an acknowledgement of people’s different starting places.  It is a matter of science but also a matter of politics.

There will have to be shared political institutions to take those decisions about how much and how to reduce emissions, and who should pay for it.  The predominant focus that has been given to the science in recent years misses this bigger point.  If we are to accept paying higher prices for our electricity and gas, we have to know that it is money well spent.

Why do people vote?

Going to vote - what does this man think he's doing?

Going to vote – what does this man think he’s doing?

The theory that underpins modern economics is the idea that people act rationally.  Their actions will be based on an analysis of the information available to them and they will then act in a manner that maximises their own benefit.

If that is so, how to explain voting behaviour?  Not the decision about which party to vote for, that’s easy, but why to vote at all.  Is the time it takes to go to the polling station and vote justified by the benefit that will accrue as a result?

In the last UK general election, more than 29 million people thought that it was worthwhile.  But of the 649 seats nominally at stake in the election, as many as 382 were considered safe seats and thus the result of those was known before the campaign even started.  Among the remaining 267 marginal seats, the smallest majority in any of them was 4.  Not a single voter could have changed the outcome in any seat by the act of voting.

And even if there was a seat that could be changed by a single voter, there are 649 seats to be contested.  There has been no outcome to a British general election that would have been different if one seat had been won differently.

Against that hopeless mathematics, why vote?

The reason is, goes the best theory, that people don’t only vote in order to have an effect on the outcome of the election, but also to have an effect on themselves.  To vote is to express an identity.  I’m the kind of person who votes Liberal Democrat, I might tell myself, in which case I go and vote Liberal Democrat when the election comes round.  My vote doesn’t necessarily indicate any particular sympathy for the present Liberal Democrat party and its policies and habits.  This theory explains quite a lot.

First, there is the decline in general election turnouts.  The chart below shows how turnout has been on a steady downward trend since the second world war, most notably declining in the past 15 years or so.

Turnout in UK general elections (data from House of Commons Research Papers 01/37, 01/54, 05/33 & 10/36)

Turnout in UK general elections (data from House of Commons Research Papers 01/37, 01/54, 05/33 & 10/36)

Those 15 years have also been associated with the decline in political party membership and the decline in political identification more generally.  People are not less political, but they choose their politics more eclectically and are less willing to take automatically what they are given by any particular group of politicians.

Turnout in European elections (data from European Parliament)

Turnout in European elections (data from European Parliament)

Secondly, there is the decline in turnout in the European elections.  The chart above shows the quite rapid decline in turnout across Europe as a whole: in 30 years, it has fallen by one third (with a notable exception of the UK).  The identification here that is disappearing is not a party political identification but an identification with Europe.  This is why the UK is an exception to the fall in turnout: voting never was an expression of European identity in the first place.

If one of the main reasons for voting in the European elections is weaker than it was, what can replace it?  This is where the idea of nominating party candidates for president of the European Commission comes in.

Abstention signifies not opposition to the EU as such – there are political parties to vote for if that’s what you think – but the sense that the political choices on offer are no longer relevant to daily life.  The way to deal with this is to take the most important political choice – who should govern – and invite the voters to decide.

To keep the choice of Commission president in the hands of the narrow group of the connected and powerful removes from the European elections one of the main purposes of any election.  Encouraging people simply to vote “for Europe” is not enough.  People increasingly do not feel that way and keeping the crucial decisions out of their hands will make them feel that way even less.

The Daily Telegraph should make its mind up

Allister Heath (picture Policy Exchange)

Allister Heath (picture Policy Exchange)

There is a marvellous article by Allister Heath in the Daily Telegraph today, outlining an alternative to Scottish independence.  For Scotland to vote to leave the United Kingdom would cause a great deal of uncertainty for business and be very bad for the economy and for British influence in the world.

But sticking with the current position would not be workable either: the British constitution is very unbalanced with Scotland having a devolved parliament but England having nothing.

Better to have a federal UK based on the four home nations, each with its own parliament responsible for

complete control of health care, education, welfare, pensions, labour market rules, parts of transport and energy and as many other areas as possible.


The central government should control defence, foreign policy, trade relations, monetary policy, financial regulation and a few other key areas.

Of particular concern to Allister Heath is the need to instil fiscal discipline in the devolved governments.  They should raise and spend all their own money rather than relying on handouts from the UK; they should be free to borrow money but those debts would not be guaranteed by the UK; they would thus have incentives to engage in tax competition with each other.

There are two doubts about this proposal.

The first is whether the UK could survive as a federation as long as one member state, England, is four times the size of the other three put together.  The experience of federations elsewhere in the world (for example, south east Asia or the Caribbean) suggests that the member states need to be more similar in size than that.  This website has written about English regional government in the past for precisely this reason, but that would be fraught with its own problems of public identification and legitimacy.  The failure of the regional referendum in the north east of England in 2004 still haunts us.

The second is that, as the Daily Telegraph itself told us only last week, federalism, in the sense of constitutional protection for lower levels of government, does not exist.  Reporting on a speech by European commission vice-president Viviane Reding, we were told that a United States of Europe would be a

superstate relegating national governments and parliaments to a minor political role equivalent to that played by local councils in Britain.


the commission would have supremacy over governments and MEPs in the European Parliament would supersede the sovereignty of MPs in the House of Commons.

Is this what Allister Heath wants for the UK?  Under such a scenario, Scotland would have less power than it does now, if Whitehall were to regain “supremacy” over Edinburgh and if the House of Commons were to “supersede” the Scottish parliament.  Right now, the three devolved governments have a much greater role than that of local councils: are they to be reduced in status?

The Daily Telegraph appears to be very confused about federalism and what it means.  Perhaps its editorial staff could read here and here and here.

It matters who governs

François Hollande (picture Matthieu Riegler / Wikimedia Commons)

François Hollande (picture Matthieu Riegler / Wikimedia Commons)

Politics is not only about policies but also about personalities.  The very best ideas are no good if they are implemented incompetently.  Good leaders are able to recruit the right people to follow them.  And who knows how anyone will react in a crisis?

Voter choice is based on manifestos and policy proposals, but voters will also want to choose the candidates they like best.  How else to explain Boris Johnson?

Two stories from abroad illustrate the point.

Francois Hollande was elected French president in part on the grounds that his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy had demeaned his office.  “When I am President, I will ensure that my behaviour is exemplary every instant,” he said during the final TV debate of the campaign.

But now 600,000 copies of Closer magazine were sold in a weekend containing pictures of President Hollande apparently slipping in and out of his lover’s apartment on a moped.  Is this a shocking breach of national security?  After all, the president has his hands on the launch codes for the force de frappe.  No, not really, but it’s interpreted as a reflection on his character.  He’s not sticking to the things he promised.  That’s also true of his economic recovery.

And across the Atlantic, New Jersey governor, and 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, Chris Christie has to explain away the cause of four days of traffic chaos in the small town of Fort Lee, whose mayor happened to be one of his political opponents.  Traffic jams can happen anywhere, but are rarely preceded by e-mails from political appointees planning them for revenge.

Governor Christie denies all knowledge (having previously revelled in the image of a hands-on manager), but he still has questions to answer.  He is understood to be a man of rages and compulsions (a 25 stone man who cannot control his instincts, who knew?) and political discussion is now about whether those are appropriate character traits for the nation’s commander in chief.  His pragmatic and folksy approach to policies is being eclipsed by his personal behaviour.

The policies of different political parties are getting more and more similar, which means that the search for difference has to look elsewhere.

This is not due to the squeezing out of democracy, but rather to a growing understanding of what does and does not work.  Tax and spending plans increasingly now unite government and opposition rather than divide them, given the implacable force of the bond market and the need to reassure investors.  The skills needed to be a politician are becoming more and more specialised, so that the members of the political class come from similar backgrounds.  What’s left are their personalities.

This has consequences for electoral systems and also for party systems.  And it has consequences for European democracy, too.  If the personality of the president of the European Commission is going to matter more in the future, then so should the voters’ choice of that president.  The current and previous presidents were awarded the post after discussion behind closed doors among the heads of national governments.  Voter choice was largely excluded.

This summer, as the European elections get closer, there is the chance that we ordinary citizens can have a say, too.  The parties will present not just manifestos and policy ideas but also the people they ask us to trust in implementing them.  Personality increasingly counts, and we should be given the choice.