Corbyn’s weaknesses are preferable to May’s consequences

With her ruinous trajectory on the economy and public services, Theresa May has made it easier to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, I winced.

It wasn’t just his naiveté on terrorism, antisemitism, and foreign policy. It was also that as a Labour member, I want Labour to win. The Corbynistas didn’t seem too fussed. I didn’t understand.

By the time the election was called, Corbyn struck many in the country as half surrealist punchline, half dystopian nightmare. “If 38 per cent of voters genuinely go for pro-IRA, anti-nuclear, pro-mass-nationalisation Corbyn,” Andrew Lilico huffed,“UK voters are no longer mature enough for democracy.” 

And yet, as the campaign has gone on, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with the idea of voting for him, and the polls suggest I’m not alone.

The reason is simple: I prefer Corbyn’s weaknesses to May’s consequences.

The economy

Start with the economy.

Unlike Labour, a vote for Theresa May is a vote to leave the customs union, without a deal if necessary. Almost half of European businesses already say they are considering cancelling their contracts with British suppliers, worried about tariffs. The consequences for red tape are also worth thinking about. 10,000 trucks a day go through Dover alone, for example. Just one day’s holdup would mean queues stretching all the way round London to Stansted. ‘No deal’ would necessitate an extra 300 million declarations there a year.

How many jobs will May’s decision to leave the single market cost?

30,000 in finance and professional services, says the Bruegel Think Tank. 232,000 from the financial sector alone, says the CEO of London Stock Exchange. Passporting is over. A vote for May is an endorsement of the biggest act of economic self-harm undertaken by any government since the war.

By comparison, a vote for Corbyn looks like a reasonable last-ditch attempt to prevent it.

Public Finances

Then consider May’s consequences for the public finances. Achieving her immigration target would mean less tax paid in to the tune of £6 billion. It’s hardly a defence to say she expects not to be able to meet it.

Public Services

Then consider public services.

Today, one in every five people who are rushed to Accident & Emergency then wait four hours or more, sometimes in the back of ambulances. Two years ago it was one in twenty. The Royal College of Physicians recently felt compelled to write to the Prime Minister about “patients waiting longer on lists, on trolleys, in emergency departments and in their homes for the care they need.” You do not need to be a Corbynite to want to prevent May’s planned cuts to real age adjusted per-capita spending making the situation any worse.

Nor do you have to be a Corbynite to worry about what schools will look like after five more years of cuts.

The Public Accounts Committee already says that defective electrics and external walls, windows and doors are now common. So many school buildings will reach the end of their life over the next Parliament that the cost of fixing them will double. Ever more teachers are leaving the profession and ever more parents are being asked to chip in to supplement school budgets. One London school has even asked pupils to vacuum at the end of the day because it can’t afford a cleaner.

Prisons also deserve mention, precisely because their lack of visibility makes them an easy target for the Treasury’s knife.

A fifth of the budget has gone since 2009/10, and many now struggle to find the staff to keep prisons and prisoners safe. Assaults on staff are up 70% since 2009, with order breaking down completely at HMP Bedford and HMP Moorland last November. The Institute for Government’s conclusion is damning: “short-term belt-tightening measures that produced efficiencies in the early part of the last Parliament are no longer working.”

This is not strong and stable. It’s shabby. You don’t have to be a Corbynite to want to protect hospitals, schools, and prisons from further damage.


In calling the election, Theresa May hoped to get a stronger mandate for Brexit. Instead, she has given us a second chance to survey her trajectory on the economy and public services and vote to change course.

The story of the Tories’ shrinking poll lead is the story of millions of people, especially the young, looking at Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May and deciding that it is five more years of the latter which would be the nightmare.


Leaving the EU won’t do what the Leavers say

Firstly, a plea. If you’re a Remainer and you like this, please share it with someone who’s still on the fence, so it might make a difference. 


Over the last few months, many people have tried to persuade us to vote to leave the EU tomorrow.

They’ve said that if we do there’ll be more money for the NHS, farmers, and tax cuts. That we’ll have fewer forms to fill in, cheaper houses, and more school places. Some of them have painted the EU as some kind of octopus whose tentacles throttle every street, office, and pub in the land, injecting a toxic mic of petty directives, political correctness, foreigners and foreignness into the bloodstream of British life. Cut off its tentacles, they say, and we’ll be able to manage our own migration, write our own laws, choose our own politicians, and spend our own money.

Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But my point is serious: by now, I do understand why people want to vote to leave.

But my argument is simple: leaving the EU won’t do what the Leavers say it will.


Let’s start with the simple question of sovereignty. Who’s in charge.

The Leave campaigners say the EU are in charge, and we have to take back control.

But they’re wrong. The EU isn’t in charge of us. It’s a club we joined. We joined, and we can leave. Yes, there are club rules and we follow them. Yes, there’s a membership fee and we pay it. But if we leave, we won’t have more control. We’ll have less control.

Whatever we decide, there’ll still be British criminals who flee to the continent from time to time. There’ll still be too much carbon in the air around the world. There’ll still be international companies who dodge taxes, international cybercriminals who try to hack our systems, and international banks which might take down the global economy if they fail. Again.

These aren’t one country’s problems: they are world problems. Britain will never control them alone. All we can do is try to control them by working together with our neighbours. That’s exactly what this club is for. If we leave it, other countries will just decide how we deal with those things without us. They’ll decide what we do and how much we have to pay to do it. But we won’t be in the room when those decisions are made.

That’s not more control. That’s less control.

Whether we remain or leave, you’ll still buy German cars, I’ll still subscribe to Swedish Spotify, and we’ll still drink Spanish wine and Belgian beer. Right now, those countries aren’t allowed to put extra taxes – tariffs – on things they sell us because it’s against the rules of the single market. But most of the people who want to leave the EU want to leave that club too. That means we’ll have less control over the prices of things we buy from those countries. They’ll be able to make things more expensive for us. And if they can make money from it, they probably will.

That’s not more control. That’s less control.

We could, of course, stay out of the single market and try to sell into it, like Switzerland or Norway do. But the rules are pretty clear about that: if you want to sell to its members, you have to follow some of its rules. That’s why even though Norway isn’t in the EU, it still implements three quarters of EU laws. Norway’s just not in the room to help decide what they are. It’s why even though Switzerland isn’t in the EU, a third of its laws came from the EU. Switzerland’s just not in the room either.

Needless to say, that’s not more control. That’s less control.

Some people will feel that all this is missing the point. They’ll tell you that being in the EU means being part of a European superstate. But that’s just wrong. The EU isn’t a state today. It won’t be. And even if it does integrate a little more, we won’t have to: EU leaders signed an agreement that is clear: “the United Kingdom… is not committed to further political integration into the European Union.”

In short, as long as there’s crime, climate change, tax-dodging, and other international challenges, we will always need to control them by sitting down with our neighbours. Voting Leave will mean we leave. If we wanted that control back, we’d have to turn around, knock on the door, and hope they let us back into the room.


Leavers say we have to leave the EU to control immigration.

But the truth is: leaving the EU won’t control immigration.

Today, British companies want to hire people from outside the UK to do certain jobs. There is a big list of skills which are in short supply in this country. (It looks like this). Leaving the EU won’t change that.

But if we leave, but let companies choose who they hire, we’re not controlling immigration.

And if we leave then restrict them too much, we’ll just hurt our economy.

The right answer for immigration isn’t leaving the EU, it’s for companies and taxpayers to fund more training for people to do those jobs, like other countries do. We should also reconsider EU freedom of movement, as David Cameron and Yvette Cooper say, and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has implied.


The third big thing Leavers say is that if we leave the EU we’ll have more money to spend on the NHS. Not just the NHS. On everything. Tax cuts, school places, housing. You name it, someone on the leave campaign has said that leaving the EU will help us pay for it.

But the truth is: leaving the EU won’t save money. Cancelling our membership might save us pennies, but the loss of income would cost us pounds. About a third of the businesses in the UK say that if we leave the EU, they’d cut jobs or move. Even if only half actually do, it would hurt the economy. Less tax would be paid. As the BBC’s Reality Check page puts it: ‘the reduced tax take for the government would wipe out the savings from budget contributions.’

In short, leaving the EU wouldn’t mean more money to spend on the NHS, or anything else. It would mean less.


Then there is the question of farms. This deserves a lot more attention than I think it has got.

Farms don’t work like most businesses. For good reasons, farmers don’t just earn income from selling food. A lot of their income comes from the EU. How much of their income? More than half. 54% in 2014.

If we left the EU, either farmers would lose half their income, or the British taxpayer would have to stump up to reimburse them.

If we did, there would be less money to spend on other things.

That’s probably why the President of the National Farmers’ Union says that leaving “could devastate British farming.”

Leaving the EU would be like cutting farmers’ incomes by half and then saying to them “don’t worry, you can always ask the government to give it back. And by the way, when you do, you’ll be competing for that money with nurses, teachers, the military, and everything else.”


The Leavers seem to be saying that whatever you don’t like about Britain today, it will be fixed by leaving the EU. It’s the logic of the televangelist. Whatever you don’t like about your life – whether you want to be thinner, richer, happier, or smarter – their answer is the same: just do this one thing and it will solve everything.

Allow me to pour a bucket of cold reality over this.

Yes, we need more houses, especially in places where people want to live. But that’s not because of the EU. It’s because we haven’t built enough houses.

Yes, the NHS needs more money. But that’s not because of EU migrants – they pay more in than they take out. It’s because mental health needs more resources and the population is getting older.

Yes, we need more school places. But that’s not because of EU migrants – in case I hadn’t mentioned, they pay more in than they take out. It’s because the government has been cutting budgets.

If we want more houses built we need the government to chip in more. If we want more money for the NHS and school places, we need to keep businesses here and make sure we collect tax properly.

Remain means actually facing up to the real issues.


Until about a month ago, I admit, I didn’t have strong feelings about this referendum.

But as the campaign went on, I began to understand what was at stake. That voting to remain in the EU means voting to avoid the risk of our food, cars, and other imports getting more expensive. It means protecting our pensions by avoiding the hit to the FTSE that would follow Brexit (it already fell a lot when the polls showed a Leave lead). It means not risking farmers’ incomes or our rights to paid sick leave, maternity and paternity pay.

Remaining would deprive Scottish nationalists of an excuse to try to amputate Scotland from the rest of the UK again. It would avoid needing to build a wall to keep out immigrants, Trump-style, on the border with Ireland, where there hasn’t been one for nearly a century.

It gives us a chance to look our problems squarely in the eye, rather than succumbing to the fantasy that they’ll all be fixed if only we leave a club of countries who, after all, are our suppliers and customers, neighbours and friends.

In the end, voting to remain gives us a chance to show we’re not scared and defensive. We don’t duck challenges just because we need to cooperate with other countries to solve them. We show up, we muck in, we crack on. We stand with our friends and take control.


Will Job Polarisation Continue? I Asked Some Economists…

[I’ll carry on updating this post as I get more responses].

Over the last few decades in rich countries, the share of middle-skill jobs has been going down.

There are fewer machine operators, middle managers and so on than there were decades ago, and it looks rather like there are fewer routine middle skill jobs around to replace them.

In 1979, the most common kinds of middle skill jobs in the US – office and administrative workers, production workers and operatives – accounted for 60% of total jobs. By 2012 that figure had fallen to 46%.

The trend holds in Europe too. Between 1993 and 2010, across sixteen EU countries, the share of middle jobs went down by almost 10%.


That graph was taken from David Autor’s 2014 paper on this subject.

He also makes the striking point that in a survey in 2014, a plurality of mainstream economists agreed with the proposition that ‘information technology and automation are a central reason why median wages have been stagnant in the US over the past decade, despite rising productivity’.

If they’re right, and technology has contributed to the kind of wage stagnation that we’ve seen in the US, or even if it just means fewer opportunities for the majority to get on, it’s a serious policy challenge.

Where is this heading?

So I wondered – is this trend likely to carry on?

Are we heading toward a world where there are plenty of highly paid, high skilled jobs, plenty of low paid, low skill jobs, but not enough in between? And if so, what on earth should we do about it?

I decided to ask a handful of the economists who are closer to the data than I am.

I asked two questions:

‘With these questions, I have in mind the long term trend towards labour market polarisation in the EU and the US.

  1. Do you think labour market polarisation is likely to continue to deepen in the foreseeable future, and why? 


2. As a citizen, do you think public policy should try to mitigate labour market polarisation? If so, how?’

A few replied, their full responses are here, but this post offers a few takeaways from the responses so far.

  1. Three respondents think labour market polarisation is likely to continue, two don’t, three push back against the question.

‘Polarisation is likely to continue’ – Georg Graetz, John Van Reenen, and Craig Holmes

‘Polarisation probably won’t continue’ – David Autor,  Andrea Salvatori

‘I recommend you don’t think about it quite like that’ – Adam Corlett, Laura Gardiner and Larry Mishel. More on this in point 5 below.

2. Unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone says that there’s a role for public policy to respond to inequality in a number of familiar ways: redistribution of income or wealth, education, retraining, insurance, and so on.

It’s not obvious, though, that this inequality is a consequence of this kind of labour market polarisation.

Also, Craig Holmes has a twist. He says:

“I don’t think pay is everything, [but] in cases where the increase in productivity or reduction in costs that new technology bring about significant losses of job quality in addition to changes in pay, I would support policies that reduced these sorts of investments in the first place.”

He also points out that

“The state, as a huge employer itself and creator of employment elsewhere, can have a big impact in terms of the nature of the work it creates directly.”

3. It’s worth distinguishing between ‘the replacement of routine jobs’ and ‘labour market polarisation.’ Yes, routine jobs are the ones most likely to be automated away. And yes, those have traditionally been the jobs in the middle of the skill spectrum. But the jobs most at risk of automation might not always be in the middle of the skill spectrum. Developed countries could start creating more middle skill jobs which are not routine jobs. In other words, the replacement of routine jobs could continue without deepening the division between low and high skilled jobs.

4. Professor Graetz points out that hollowing out of employment isn’t new: previous episodes of automation were also associated with a hollowing out of employment.

5. As mentioned, some recipients push back at the question. Their core point is that it’s not obvious that polarisation is happening, and even if it is it’s not driving inequality of income.

Here’s Laura Gardiner from the Resolution Foundation on the UK:

“I think that casting this phenomenon in terms of “polarisation” is the wrong way to think about it, because there is very limited evidence that the labour market is becoming more polarised. Even if jobs that started out in the middle of the pay distribution have declined, jobs moving around this distribution, new jobs cropping up all over the place, and earnings dispersion within occupations means that the labour market doesn’t look to be a particularly different shape now than it was 20 years ago (in contrast to what’s happened in the US, to some extent).”

And on the US, here’s Larry Mishel:

“[Polarization] has not really been present in the US since 1999/2000 though the last few years show a bit of it. But it doesn’t really matter whether it does or does not since polarization has no bearing on wage trends. “Occupational employment trends do not drive wage patterns or wage inequality.” I wouldn’t be surprised if polarization resumes but we shouldn’t be obsessed about it at all. It doesn’t tell us much.”

5. Some of the most respected economists in the field are generous with their time.

Thank you to everyone who answered. And if you didn’t, you still can. I might update this post if subsequent answers change the picture or yield other insights.

The recipients’ full responses are here.


Can you help us find a co-host for a short podcast series on the politics of law enforcement?

Can you help us find a co-host for a short podcast series on the politics of law enforcement?

It’ll be about how UK laws get enforced…. or don’t. Each episode will focus on a topic (like fraud, hate crime, pollution, sexual assault, money laundering, tax avoidance, and others) and ask how and by whom the law is enforced, whether it’s working, and if not, why not.

We’re looking for a co-host (preferably female and London-based) who loves to argue, is broadly from the centre right (The Economist, Times), is great at simplifying complicated areas of politics, policy, bureaucracy and law, and is keen to help us develop this idea into something which changes the debate. If you have a bit of broadcast experience already or have a fair bit of profile, even better.

If you – or someone you know – are interested, please drop us a line (in comments, via DM, or at telling us a little about yourself, and with a sample of something you have written or recorded on this topic.

Please give us a hand/share to spread this message far and wide, and help us find an amazing third host.

– Ben and Asher


‘A Tingle In The Plumbing – Four Stories of Love & Work’


A Camden Fringe show of new writing; four rhyming monologues united by themes of love and work, in a style somewhere between the rhythmic rhymes of Hamilton, the gentle storytelling of Alan Bennett’s monologues, and the performance poetry of Kate Tempest and Luke Wright. 

• The Free Association Comedy Room, 51 Camden Park Road, NW1 9BH, above the Lord Stanley pub

• Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th August

• 7pm (running time 1 hour)

• Tickets £7, available from from June 1st.

More information coming soon.



Book Review: ‘Curation’ by Michael Bhaskar

I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael Bhaskar’s book ‘Curation‘ for Oxford Today.

Their short version is on page 51 here, but here’s a longer version.


‘Curation.’ The word is everywhere these days. Its definition seems to have slipped its moorings. When people start calling football managers ‘curators’ of their teams, something is up. Museum or gallery curators trying to reclaim it for high culture are struggling against the tide.

If this book were just a lovingly curated collection of examples of curation, it would invite the response – ‘so what?’ Luckily, it’s far from that. The task Michael Bhaskar sets himself is to make the case that the rise of curation is consequential for the future of business, the economy, and society, and to have some fun doing so.

That case goes something like this. We live among unprecedented abundance. The internet offers more writing than we could ever read, more music than we could ever listen to, and more news than we could ever keep up with. Shops offer more choice than we could ever process – to the point where we live amongst clutter. One study found that families had, on average, 139 toys, 438 books and magazines, and 39 pairs of shoes each. The result of all this abundance is that there are now massive business opportunities in helping us filter. This isn’t about searching; we don’t always know what we’re looking for. It’s about curation; ‘selecting, refining and arranging to add value’ on Bhaskar’s definition: someone using their hard-won expertise to put in front of us only the good stuff, the stuff we haven’t yet discovered but will want when we do, and doing so with style. Bhaskar sensibly accepts that the term’s meaning is still evolving, and concerns himself with the consequences of its rise. “One of today’s most important business models,” as he puts it, “is creating the tools and means for others to curate.”

For example, take the battle between Google, Apple and Spotify over music. As they all offered a near-limitless supply, the contest was in part about which company could provide the most effective curation. Startups like Canopy and have sprung up to curate Amazon or online content. The selling points of Eataly, an Italian food retailer, or The Wine Society, a wine selection company, are the expertise they bring to the selection of their produce.

But the book’s argument is bigger than that. Bhaskar also argues that because curation is a high value activity by nature, it can also be a strategy for companies and countries to move up the value chain. He cites a medical information business which increased its value by deciding to make the curation of its stock of information a key selling point. He also tells the story of Abu Dhabi – which put its Cultural District, with a Guggenheim museum, a partnership with the British Museum, and the first foreign Louvre, at the heart of its development – a bold and successful bid to bring higher value employment and investment to the city.

There are objections to the book’s arguments, of course, but the book has a happy habit of leaning directly into them. Bhaskar realises that “much curation isn’t integral to the economy and has only limited impact, usually amongst cultural elites.” He knows that curation isn’t new, he’s just arguing that it’s becoming a bigger deal than ever before. And he knows that there are plenty of companies to whom curation won’t be relevant any time soon. But he is surely right that whilst the idea of business opportunities built on curation might at first glance sound a bit peripheral, perhaps even a bit middle class, the global middle class is ballooning, so the opportunities for new businesses based on curation will surely boom in the coming years.

As a guide to this landscape, Bhaskar is well-suited. He has a talent for effortlessly pithy explanations. I challenge anyone to write a sharper sentence summarising how the internet has affected business than: ‘‘open and low-cost, the web flicked a switch from scarcity to abundance in a host of fields.” At times, ‘Curation’ offers lightbulb moments at the rate of one per page.

Bhaskar is also a fine curator himself. He treats us to a rollercoaster of allusions and anecdotes, facts and theories, reflecting the abundance which is at the heart of the argument. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, the collapse of Blockbuster Video, Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812, the birth of hip hop, how the design of one building at MIT birthed so many innovations, and that time Beethoven met Goethe (and freaked him out) are all pressed into the service of his argument. It does occasionally feel a bit too scattergun: a paragraph on time overload runs into one on helicopter parenting and water shortages in the Punjab, for example. But for the most part, Bhaskar is a master joiner of dots.

The argument isn’t flawless. If you want to move your country from low to high value industries, it is hard to see how thinking in terms of ‘curation’ – as opposed to ‘culture’ or ‘services’ – might be actionable. South Korea’s government may have reorientated its development strategy into cultural exports, for example, but it isn’t clear that curation had much to contribute to its thinking.

But this is just a branch of the book’s argument, not the trunk. Bhaskar’s core argument is essentially right, and the book is an illuminating tour of how the shift towards a curation economy is likely to play out in many fields. I would particularly recommend it to anyone searching for inspiration as to what new business to start.

This is a rollicking, intellectually omnivorous guide to the future.