The Economy: why is Vote Leave so timid?

Last week, an important event happened that neither side in the EU Referendum campaign has decided to address.

An agreement was reached between “the Troika” (made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank [ECB] and The International Monetary Fund [IMF]) and the Greek Government in its sovereign debt negotiations. What emerged from the agreement was another short term fix for what is a dangerous and pressing structural problem – namely, whether the Eurozone is viable without a substantial and costly restructuring of the entire sovereign debt of the peripheral Eurozone countries. This would, of course, have to be paid for by EU taxpayers.

For the last six years, “the Troika” and the Greek Government have been putting off the day of reckoning. The steps that have been taken over the years involve what economists call, “kicking the can down the street” – the short term financing of Greek sovereign debt as opposed to a fundamental restructuring of it. The latest agreement continues the same strategy, accomplishing the important additional goals of removing the issue from the UK Referendum campaign and allowing EU leaders to announce yet another end to the Greek sovereign debt crisis.

There is no basis for such optimism – kicking the can down the street is simply politically expedient, while being an extremely dangerous way to approach a critical supra-national economic and financial crisis. Leaked communication (see Wikileaks) between IMF officials makes clear that the European Commission’s double-dealing in this crisis should be an essential issue in the EU Referendum.

The IMF, led by Christine Lagarde, argues that the ECB must take an immediate “haircut” of Euro 52 Billion (i.e. writing off the debt) so that the Greek Government and the Greek people can make a new start with a viable future. Meanwhile, the ECB/European Commission position – enforced by Germany – has been to oppose the IMF in the sure knowledge that German tax payers (and no doubt others in the wider EU by indirect means) will have to take the hit and that is politically unpalatable. It was Chancellor Merkel who promised the German people that all loans would be paid back with interest – it was never going to happen, and many would say she knew it full well.

(And then of course, there is the fear that Spain and Portugal would seek to follow Greece’s lead in writing off some of their own sovereign debt burden as well.)

No one in the institutions of the EU has ever taken any responsibility for the naïve stupidity that led to the self-inflicted wound of the Euro crisis. So far, the debt burden has been quietly transferred from mainland European international banks (UK banks had very little exposure to Greek sovereign debt) to European taxpayers. But the problem remains – the question is not if there will be a debt “haircut” but when and who pays.

British taxpayers should be made aware that this profound problem exists, is unresolved, and has no prospect of a successful resolution by present means – and crucially when the day of reckoning comes, this is going to be incredibly expensive. The idea that the UK would be able to avoid contributing to this financial restructuring is beyond being credible.

So far, the Remain campaign has presented itself as the safe option, “Why take the risk of a Brexit?” Vote Leave can now answer that question without holding back.

I can well understand why the Remain campaign wants to bury this issue in a fog of half-baked economic analysis about the short term impact of Brexit on the British economy, but why has Vote Leave not pounced on this agreement to make clear to voters the very real and unchartered risks of remaining in the EU?

If Vote Leave wants to take on the Remain campaign on economic grounds then this is the issue and the time to do so is right now.

The ECONOMY, stupid!

If the now established EU Referendum communication pattern of competing claims and counterclaims continues, then Vote Leave will lose the referendum on 23 June.

In an environment of chaos and uncertainty, undecided voters are likely to lack the courage to vote for fundamental change – and it appears that the Remain campaign is well aware of this. The latest HM Treasury report this week that simply omitted the best case scenario for a Brexit is yet another example of the Remain campaign’s basic approach – tell the electorate loudly enough and often enough that a vote to leave will hit their wallets and they will accept it as true. The fact that the Treasury’s assumptions in its modelling are highly questionable simply gets lost in the noise and the confusion.

To win this referendum, Vote Leave has to make the economic case for Brexit. Its economic message so far has been fragmented, unfocussed and delivered by the wrong people at the wrong time. The proposition that there will be an economic shock following a vote to leave is becoming an established truth, even though there is scant evidence to support the proposition.

Vote Leave’s slogan, “If you want to save the NHS – Vote Leave” is weak. It is weak because it is not true, it doesn’t address the economic case that Remain has made and public services are not the main issue of concern for voters. In producing this slogan, Vote Leave seems to have forgotten that the Labour Party has just lost a General Election after focusing on the NHS in the face of a Conservative Party onslaught on economic competence and issues of governance.

Vote Leave has about a week to sort its economic message out. If it applies its mind to the problem, it will discover that the Remain campaign is vulnerable on the economic question because its message has already been partially discounted – though not rejected – by voters. Rather than ramping up the rhetoric about the NHS, Vote Leave needs to challenge the basic assumptions that staying in the EU with its malfunctioning Eurozone and uncompetitive single market is the risk free option.

It is long past time for Vote Leave to get its economic heavy-weights into the ring to challenge this basic assumption.

Is the Remain Campaign in trouble?

With six weeks to go before the vote, the opinion polls are too close to call. After an initial strong showing by the Remain campaign’s “shock and awe” approach (its so-called “Project Fear”), it now seems to be losing some traction.

The Remain Campaign’s early attempt to define the referendum as a purely economic decision, rather than a more complex democratic, cultural and economic choice initially met with success. Its well-organised and well-coordinated campaign of dire warnings from the political, economic and business elite really hit home with electors.

The problem that has now emerged for the Remain Campaign is that in seeking to create shock and awe, it has also parted company with any sense of balance. When David Cameron tells us that a vote to leave the EU risks a return to conflict in Europe, the claim seems outlandish, if not a touch hysterical.

The facts on this matter are clear: it is America’s military might and vast nuclear arsenal – directed through NATO rather than the EU – that has kept the peace in Europe and no balanced view of the matter could truly argue otherwise. Yet this pro-EU argument is the one that David Cameron chooses to make.

Making a weak argument weakens every argument – this is a basic principle of adversarial communication.

If we believe the dire warnings of the Remain campaign, we can only reach the conclusion that exercising our simple democratic right to self-determination will be a total catastrophe, leading to economic meltdown, political disintegration and a war in Europe.

However, once the shock and awe has passed, the Remain campaign’s lack of balance and its overblown rhetoric may herald its ultimate failure.

Lynden Alexander is a forensic communication consultant and an expert in adversarial communication.  

The Fundamental Importance of Legal Tests in Expert Evidence

By Giles Eyre, Barrister, 9 Gough Square

When presented with an expert report, a lawyer will often turn straight to the opinion section. The purpose is to identify what the opinions of the expert are before working through the entirety of the report, giving the lawyer the opportunity to see how and to what extent the facts presented in the report lead to the conclusions that the expert ultimately expresses. One consequence of this particular legal habit is that the expert’s ability (or inability) to express his/her concluded opinions using the appropriate legal test, becomes immediately apparent.

A legal test may derive from a statutory provision (from primary legislation or secondary regulation), a term of a contract or a common law rule. Examples of legal tests include the standard of proof (the applicable standard against which any alleged breaches of duty are to be measured) and remoteness, causation and the consequences of damage. The legal test to be applied is ultimately an issue for the lawyers, even though in many cases the expert will be well aware of which test needs to be applied.

If the expert is unsure what test to apply, the first step is always to contact the instructing lawyer and ask. Unfortunately most experts, no matter what level of experience as expert witnesses they may claim, seem not to understand the critical importance of applying accurately (and therefore expressly applying) the appropriate legal test to each opinion expressed in the report. The wording of the test should also be expressed precisely – it should never be paraphrased or glossed.

Once the legal test has been identified, it is the application of the test to the factual basis of the case that often becomes the real challenge. Whether the case requires a forensic accountant to assess the application of an accounting standard to a company’s accounts, a doctor to assess the duty of care owed to a patient during treatment, or an engineer to assess why a structure failed, it is the responsibility of the expert first to accurately express the test in the evidence and then to explain how the court needs to approach the test in the light of the facts of the case.

Most experts do not appreciate the importance of this two-stage analysis of the evidence that correctly expressing the legal test requires. For example, the ‘Bolam test’ (the basic test used for assessing breach of duty in a professional negligence case) is not a test of what the reporting expert ‘would have done’ or indeed what the defendant ‘should have done’ but rather is a test that requires the expert to give opinion as to what ‘no reasonably competent professional’ would have done. Therefore, the Bolam test is a test of exclusion. Unfortunately, many experts do not produce precise evidence in straightforward cases and fall profoundly short of expressing a proper opinion when dealing with more complex factual situations.

It is fundamental to the expert’s role to know how to apply legal tests to the evidence and to express these tests properly. If an expert is unsure what a legal test is or how to use it, it is essential to remedy this lack of forensic skill before writing his/her next expert report.

Giles Eyre

9 Gough Square

23 March 2012

Giles Eyre will give a presentation on Legal Tests in the Professional Solutions Advanced Report Writing Workshop on 19 June 2012:
http://www.prosols.uk.com/training/expert_witness/expert_report_writing_advanced.shtml

Personal Development 02 Feb 11

In the Undiscovered Self Carl Jung writes, “There can be no self-knowledge based on theoretical assumptions, for the object of self-knowledge is an individual – a relative exception and an irregular phenomenon.” [Whenever I read Jung, I find myself staggered by the depth of intellect he brings to his work – even though I do not agree with some of his fundamental concepts!]

If Jung isn’t your cuppa, Monty Python address the same point in The Life of Brian: Brian tells an assembled multitude gathered outside his mum’s house, “You are all individuals!” to which the adoring crowd shouts back with one voice, “We are all individuals!” – until a lone voice pipes up, “I’m not!”

So, here is one of the essential paradoxes at the heart of personal growth and human development: on one hand, we need to seek out general principles in search of answers that will help us “to understand ourselves”, while on the other, we know that many of these general principles will simply be wrong for our own unique expression of being an “irregular phenomenon”.

To approach any personal growth work without holding this paradox in mind will ultimately lead to disappointment, sometimes embarrassment and even humiliation. The phenomenon of the utterly convinced ‘apostle’ of whatever faith (religious, philosophical, psychological or scientific) trying desperately to convince us that he/she “has the answer” is often a product of a profound need for reassurance (i.e. the desire to find safety in numbers) or a personal denial of the inner contradictions arising when trying to follow the generalised principles of the adopted creed. 

If we allow ourselves to hold the paradox without trying to resolve it, we soon discover that finding out that something “doesn’t work” is still useful learning. We can deconstruct each ‘negative’ learning experience to find why it didn’t work and then assess future learning opportunities against this benchmark. If we find a learning experience valuable, we can do the same process. In this way, we can begin to define our own unique path of human development, all the time recognising that there are going to be some wrong turns along the way and treating each new experience with due respect and a pinch of salt.  

For me, my stumbling block is always belief: if belief is fundamental to knowing the truth of something, I simply count myself out. (I don’t do faith!) However, give me something I can experiment with, something I can experience the truth of directly – well, then I am interested.

Practical experience is one of my key benchmarks – what about yours?  

In the next few days, why not take a look at a learning experience you have participated in recently – if you found it worked for you, what benchmark(s) did the experience satisfy? If not, why didn’t it work? Then use these as a basis for choices in the future.

Creating online communities

Welcome to the Professional Solutions Blog!

“Who has time to read another blog?” The only credible answer I can find is someone who can learn something new, or interesting, or fun, or someone who can save time by staying in touch with like minded professionals.

This then is the purpose of creating ‘knowledge centre’ blogs on the Professional Solutions site. It is an experiment that we hope you will enjoy and participate in.  

We will review progress every three months, so if you have any thoughts or insights – please share them with us!