Another referendum and the Condorcet Paradox

No, I’d never heard of the Condorcet Paradox either but as Justine Greening has come out for another referendum with three choices listed and to be voted on in order of preference it is perhaps something we should be more familiar with.

Fortunately Jonathan Portes has a full explanation (though his article was actually written before the last (binary) referendum). Broadly, he explains that a personal preference does not, when added to other personal preferences, equate to a popular will, and that a democratic election for a person and representative democracy – for all the faults of the current electoral system – is a more logical way to operate. When that referendum was, as it was, so imprecise, it is even more the case and I’m sure the Irish could teach us a lot on the conduct of referendums. But, nonetheless, Jonathan Portes’ explanation shows that a referendum asking for ‘preferences’ would be equally flawed.

I agree.

But we are in a very ‘flawed’ place so I’m still of the view that the damage that has been done by referendum has to be undone by referendum. It is far from ideal, but I fear that with Parliament almost paralysed, there is no other solution.

My mother, a lifelong Conservative, and 98 and a half years young, has told me she will never vote Conservative again (so I suppose that’s a plus!) but she also says she hopes she will not live to see the UK leave the EU.

Again, I agree.

Parliament persists in voting for various preferences and strategies but there is no reason why the EU 27 would feel obliged or even encouraged to accept them. Parliament, including the Remainers, who are after all in the majority, is living in a Brexiter’s fantasy. Theresa May is helping that – seemingly just because she enjoys the trappings of being Prime Minister, for she has virtually none of the power usually associated with the office.

I see no alternative to another referendum.

I’d ban any campaigning – we now know all too well the (disastrous) possibilities of Brexit.

So we need a quick resolution.

And if we go in with our eyes now opened I very much doubt we will vote to leave.

But if we do then British suicide, which has taken two years so far, would at least be speedy.



  1. brian faux -

    `we all know too well the (disastrous) possibilities of Brexit`
    This is the assumption that got us into this mess. There are a lot of ignorant people out there: and I don`t say ignorant just because they want Brexit. Ignorant because they are not aware of a fairly simple rule: large abrupt changes are more likely to be harmful than good. There are few ways for any policy (whatever, in whatever field) to go right: and almost infinite ways that they can go wrong.
    In the long term Brexit may be a good thing for the UK… but in the long term we are all dead

  2. Sean Danaher -

    Interestingly I was listening to Radio 4 which was featuring Oswald Spengler, who had tremendous influence in German thinking after the 1st world war. His belief was that there was no point in giving the vote to the masses as they would just vote as the newspapers told them. Maybe there is some truth in this. Certainly there are academic studies which have shown the influence of the press can produce a 10-15% swing. SWR has an article on his blog. As the popular press right wing and is overwhelmingly anti-EU this will be a big factor.

    I am in favour if a People Vote but the people need to know what they are voting for. This is going to make things very difficult. Referendums take time to organise and we are rapidly running out of road. Steve Bullock thinks however that if a referendum is called the EU27 may be willing to extend the article 50 deadline 29th March 2019.

    The withdrawal agreement has not been signed off yet. Either the UK signs up to the Irish/EU backstop proposal or comes up with a credible alternate plan. The ERG/DUP have pushed to make the Irish Backstop proposal illegal but there is no serious alternative proposal from the UK (it may well be technologically impossible).

    The EU may not even discuss the future Trading relationship etc until the backstop is signed off. Even then it will only be a political agreement before the 29th March. hopefully it will be a legal agreement by the end of 2020

    I think it was Nick Cohen in the Guardian who said “we are in a burning building with all the exit doors locked” and Chris Grey a snooker analogy effectively saying we are “snookered”

  3. Graham -

    “there was no point in giving the vote to the masses as they would just vote as the newspapers told them” For centuries the elite have worked hard to avoid giving any political power to the masses. Even the much lauded “Founding Fathers” who wrote the US constitution were determined to ensure that the elite retained power.

    It may be that newspapers have power without responsibility but none in the elite have any intention of changing that as long as they broadly support those in power. Nor have they any intention of educating “the masses” or giving us any real power, for example, through deliberative democracy, which would take us some way back to a more fundamental definition of democracy. It’s the turkeys voting for an early Christmas syndrome, because politicians, parties and representative government are the enemy of real democracy.

    A few voices over on TRUK foresee the present chaos as the endgame of the current politics and that change will follow. I’m afraid I agree with Walter Scheidel’s thesis that transformative change has, in the past, occurred only after enormous shocks, often violent ones.

    Would another referendum with a different result change things? Would the Brexiteers go quietly? But then how can someone who allegedly was against leaving and supposedly recognised the self-harm it would inflict continue on her current chaotic destructive course? I think we’ve moved from the realms of common-sense psychology into the realm of psychiatry.

    Is it all really about saving a Party and to hell with the country?

  4. Peter May -

    Your last sentence is certainly true. The Brexiters might not go quietly but they will have been shown to be full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Perhaps we should offer them assisted passages to the land of Mr Trump?

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