Archive for November, 2008

Strangely, there has been little mention in the media that the Government is talking Iraq withdrawal blues again. It’s being mentioned in news reports, in passing, as if this was certain already; the dates mentioned are some time next year. Well, that’s all good; but this of course raises the question of Iraqi employees. We know some have been brought to the UK; we don’t know how many are left. Also, of course, there are many more among the refugees suffering across the Middle East, as this ICG report makes clear.

The situation may be better at a macro-level than it was last year; but it’s the micro-economics of violence these people have to fear. Assassination, not battle. And it seems that you can hire a killer in Basra for $100. There is apparently a wave of honour killings on; but you wouldn’t imagine that someone who will stab women for coins would blink at shooting foreign “spies”.

I’ve long been sceptical of the UAV future. Basically, back in 2005, I reckoned that as the things get more complicated their advantages over manned aircraft disappear; the biggest advantage is that they are meant to be expendable, and things that are expendable get expended. Therefore the loss rate is much higher, both from enemy action and from accidents. As they get more expensive (the RAF’s new ones actually cost more than the list price of a Tornado), this must mean that their advantages will be eroded. Another issue is the satcomms requirement; therefore, I thought, the successful ones would be the cheapest and most basic, as far as possible controlled directly by ground forces rather than people at Nellis Air Force Base.

Now, looky here. Yes, it’s Lewis “The navy only needs two ships” Page, but the story checks out. The British Army, and also the RAF, have been buying twin-engine light aircraft to fit out as advanced tactical reconnaissance platforms. Specifically, we’re dealing with a Canadian plane called a Twin Star, prized for its highly efficient diesel engines which give it a very long endurance. This is also likely to be used for the missions flown by Army Islanders over the UK at the moment from Northolt.

Packer vs. Kilcullen in the New Yorker. Here’s the key paragraph:

Police are another main issue. We have built the Afghan police into a less well-armed, less well-trained version of the Army and launched them into operations against the insurgents. Meanwhile, nobody is doing the job of actual policing—rule of law, keeping the population safe from all comers (including friendly fire and coalition operations), providing justice and dispute resolution, and civil and criminal law enforcement. As a consequence, the Taliban have stepped into this gap; they currently run thirteen law courts across the south, and ninety-five per cent of the work of these courts is civil law, property disputes, criminal matters, water and grazing disuptes, inheritances etc.—basic governance things that the police and judiciary ought to be doing, but instead they’re out in the countryside chasing bad guys. Where governance does exist, it is seen as corrupt or exploitative, in many cases, whereas the people remember the Taliban as cruel but not as corrupt.

Beyond that, I was struck by how much the Gesamteindruck of the whole thing reminded me of the sort of thing John Vann was saying in 1969 or thereabouts – it’s still possible, really it is, and we can probably find a reduction in the number of troops at the same time by realigning completely around a classical counterinsurgency strategy. Kilcullen is hardly optimistic, but he’s still desperately committed. (I think I’ve mentioned before that A Bright Shining Lie was this blog’s secret sauce right back to 2003, when Donald Rumsfeld was still denying there were insurgents in Iraq.)

Now, consider this story; first of all, the Indian navy was being lionised for giving a pirate vessel the good old sturm und drang off Somalia and chastening the eurosexual NATO-weenies. It was like 2006 and the Ethiopian army all over again. However, it was only a few hours before it turned out that the Indians had sunk a Thai trawler which they apparently mistook for a pirate mothership – effectively, they saw a funny looking fisherman and just executed 14 people. Now, it’s very true that foreign trawlers are a big part of the problem. Perhaps the international naval patrol could do something about it, if it can find the ships whilst also dealing with pirates.

But this is no way to do anything; I’ve pointed out before that the recent history of Islamist movements shows that given the choice, people will choose law in general over lawlessness.

Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter.

We’re still offering them the Behemoth; we’re on the wrong side of history, supporting the pirates, Viktor Bout, and a world of bent coppers. The upshot, as Arif Rafiq observes in an instant classic post, is that Pakistan is being turned into Iraq.

An interesting document was turned up in the course of the row about John Brennan, the CIA officer who was the Obama team’s original choice as intelligence chief before he was dropped as being insufficiently opposed to torture, under a volley of criticism from the blogosphere. (“Opposition was mostly confined to liberal blogs,” said the NYT.) Here’s an interview he did with PBS television.

[INTERVIEWER]:Just before 9/11, in that summer and the spring, how hard was Tenet pushing on the terrorism threat?

[BRENNAN]:I think he was pushing at every opportunity he had. … George and [former CTC Director] Cofer [Black] were very much of a mind-set that we can’t sit back and wait; we need to do things. We need to do things in Afghanistan. We need to go after Al Qaeda. We need to ratchet up the pressure on the Taliban.

George took several trips out to Saudi Arabia and other places to try to gain support from the Arab states to try to put pressure on the Taliban to give up bin Laden and others. George would knock on any door. He would pursue any course. I think what he was trying to do, prior to 9/11, was to make sure the administration was focused on that.

[INTERVIEWER]: And were they?

I think they were aware of the issue. I don’t think they, in fact, appreciated the seriousness of it, because I think they were trying to get their ducks in a line on a number of fronts to include Iraq prior to 9/11.

You heard the guy – they didn’t appreciate the threat from Al-Qa’ida because they were busy ginning-up a war with Iraq. And who was responsible for this?

[INTERVIEWER]: When did you get the first hints … that there was this movement in the direction of Iraq …?

[BRENNAN]: The train started to leave the station before the election of 2000, with the neocons putting things out. There was a real focus that we needed to do something about Iraq. It was gaining momentum and strength. And with [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi and [former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard] Perle and others feeding those fires, I do think they just had a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of doing something like that.

They’re very outspoken and vocal about the need to take action. It’s easy to execute; if there is criticism that is being made of this administration, [it] is that the decision to take action is only part of the challenge. It’s the follow-through; it’s the strategic planning afterward. Those areas really need to be paid attention to, because the U.S. military [has] no problem as far as just decimating the Iraqi army, but the people like Chalabi and the other neocons, and people like [then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Doug Feith, who I think has a very superficial understanding of some of these issues — I don’t know how much time Doug Feith has spent in the Middle East or in Iraq, but it’s a very, very complex society.

Miaow. So catty you could throw him a ball of wool!

[INTERVIEWER, talking about Paul Pilar and the Iraq NIE]: He told us that … even at the time, he wasn’t aware about how politicized it was, but he was — especially as he looks back on it, especially around the “white paper” — really embarrassed, I think is the word he used at how faulty it was. Did it feel that way at the time, or does it just look that way in hindsight?

[BRENNAN]: At the time there were a lot of concerns that it was being politicized by certain individuals within the administration that wanted to get that intelligence base that would justify going forward with the war.

[INTERVIEWER]: Could I ask you who?

Some of the neocons that you refer to were determined to make sure that the intelligence was going to support the ultimate decision.

Ah, I see. The facts were being fixed around the policy. The intelligence was being, ah, sexed up. Recognising this ought to be the criterion of seriousness for anyone seeking a post in the intelligence/foreign policy complex, or indeed anything else. That Brennan does so and says so openly is a very strong mark in his favour, as is this:

That’s where the issue of maintaining an independent intelligence organization is so critically important, because departments have certain policy objectives and goals. If you have a department such as the Department of Defense that controls the intelligence function as well, there is a great potential for that intelligence to be skewed, either wittingly or unwittingly, in support of policy objectives.

Yes. Yes. Which is also why it’s important to maintain a independent career-path there, like it is in the civil service. I was very surprised to learn that had Brennan been appointed, he would have been a rare bird as a career spook in charge of The Community. Mind you, the three best MI5 chiefs – Guy Liddell, David Petrie, and Martin Furnival-Jones, in my opinion – were respectively an army officer, a cop, and a professional spook, so British experience doesn’t necessarily corroborate this.

Clearly it was right to drop him; but it worries me that getting rid of the neocons and torture fans will require people who are a) clued-in about the intelligence service, b) committed to cleaning up, c) ruthless bureaucratic thugs, and if possible d) personally untainted.

Regarding intelligence and independence, meanwhile, this blog has often said that one of the main reasons why the UK got involved in all this is that we don’t have an independent reconnaissance satellite capability. Out of the major powers in Europe, the UK, Spain and Italy went to the war; neither the UK nor Spain has an imagery satellite, and Italy launched one jointly with France a few months after Iraq. France and Germany both have their own synthetic-aperture radar sats, and didn’t go to the war. Poland, Romania, et al have large armies but no recce capability and they went.

But perhaps this isn’t as significant as it used to be. It appears that The Guardian is the first newspaper to become an independent space-faring power. Seriously.

From a vantage point 423 miles above the Earth, the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden appear tranquil and the 330-metre-long ship sitting low under a £68m cargo looks like a tiny green cigar floating on an inky ocean.

These pictures, taken by a satellite commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second, show the Sirius Star, the Saudi supertanker which 12 days ago became the biggest prize ever seized by the Somali pirates who have claimed the Gulf of Aden as their hunting ground.

I love the “commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second” bit. That’s incredibly science-fiction, and in a good way – Arthur C. Clarke would be delighted. This has been possible for some time; who else remembers poring over GlobalSecurity.org’s IKONOS or DigitalGlobe shot of the day in the bullshit-rockin’ autumn of 2001? But as far as I know, this is the first attempt by a media organisation to acquire overhead imagery on an operational timescale. Hey, it’s Tim Worstall’s worst nightmare – Polly Toynbee in spaaace!

What might have happened or not happened had somebody tried this earlier is a very interesting question. Of course, finding the Sirius Star is a fairly easy challenge – we know where to look, she is a huge and unambiguous target, and she is nicely contrasting with the sea in a part of the world where the skies are usually clear. We still need SAR capability of our own, quite possibly more than we need Trident, and IKONOS won’t sell you that.

Quite a score for our reader “Ajay”, who I think is the first to spot that the Mumbai terrorist attack bears a very close resemblance to the coup plot in Frederick Forsyth’s The Dogs of War, which makes it the third and possibly fourth case of someone actually using Forsyth’s book as a practical handbook. The exact number depends on whether you believe the story that Forsyth actually took part in planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea in 1977 which didn’t go ahead, and recycled the work he did on it as a novel. Forsyth now semi-confesses to this, but this may be self-publicity from a man who was, after all, sacked from the BBC for making up the news.

Certainly, however, the so-called “Wonga Coup” team in Equatorial Guinea read the book, Mike Hoare’s “Froth Blowers’ Society” attack on the Seychelles apparently issued a copy to every participant, and now this. How does, say, Curzio Malaparte’s Theory of the Coup d’Etat compare to that? Forsyth can probably claim that more people have died as a direct result of his book than any other book not written by an economist.

In fact it’s closer than you might think; the Grauniad, whose coverage of the whole incident was excellent, has a neat map you might want to consult. Apparently, two of the Zodiacs used were found at the north end of Back Bay, on the west/left hand side of the map; this suggests the attack plan was very close indeed to Forsyth’s. There are two groups of targets, and each group is fairly close to a beach on that side of the peninsula, even though some of them are closer to the east (harbour) side. But doing it this way saves navigating around the headland and keeps away from the main port, where you could expect a police presence.

Very roughly, it’s about 2,050 feet from each of two landing spots near the targets to a point exactly half-way across the entrance of the bay, so you’d know when to set course – this is exactly how the mercenaries in TDOW set up their attack, launching further out to sea in a big group and using the ship as a mark to lay their course to the jumping-off point, which they identify by a transit between two landmarks. Of course, there are plenty of buildings they could line up to identify this waypoint laterally (the Wankhede Stadium looks like a candidate).

Politically, this implies that the “Deccan Mujahideen” weren’t from Deccan at all – otherwise, as someone pointed out, they’d just have taken the train in. Clearly they needed to cross a border, or else the ship and the Zodiacs would have been just more moving parts. This also suggests that they couldn’t rely on getting arms in India. I wonder what they did with the ship? One option would be to have her sink; another for her to sail quietly on, although the chances of getting away wouldn’t be great.

There was worrying reporting that a Pakistani merchant ship had been stopped by the Indian navy but fortunately, if you like your Ganges without plutonium, a search of the ship revealed nothing suspicious.

There’s another question – this wasn’t designed as a suicide attack. Suicide attackers have no need of false papers, cash, and certainly not credit cards:

A bag found in the Taj Mahal hotel contained 400 rounds of ammunition, grenades, identity cards, rations, $1,000 (£650) in cash and international credit cards, indicating a meticulously planned operation.

That certainly sounds like the equipment of someone who at least wanted to keep the option of escape open, and of course we have little idea how many people landed. It was quite possibly a suicidal mission, but that’s not the same thing. The special horror here was that the violence was dispersed and prolonged; it happened all over the place, and it kept happening.

This of course carries some information as to what kind of group carried it out. Clearly, they weren’t the sort of people who you recruit because all you need is someone to carry the bomb. They had to take independent action, and they had to sustain their will over an extended period of time. Good relations between India and Pakistan don’t really provide much net information; when things are bad, you’d expect terrorism, and when things are good there are people who want them to be bad again.

Meanwhile, the Dogs of War parallel holds in another way – the mercenaries’ exit strategy is the weakest bit of the plot, and had it been put into action the endgame would probably have been a lot like the last day or so in Mumbai, with the coupsters being gradually picked off around the presidential palace as they ran out of time, ammunition and ideas.

The Rude Pundit has a very good point.

You can’t even picture Obama pardoning a fucking turkey. Sure, he’ll probably do it. But unlike Bush, who approached such obligations with dunce-like glee, for Obama it’ll be like a kick in the groin.

As usual with Rude, there’s a serious point here, sneaking past the guards while all the noise and snark and chainsaw dust draw their attention. Pardoning a turkey is, let’s face it, exactly the kind of stupid crap most British people look at as just the kind of stupid crap Americans get up to. Can you imagine a British prime minister trying this? He or she would be laughed out of the country; probably they’d end up doing a John Profumo and choosing a life of deliberate monkish obscurity.

But it’s not just ridiculous; it’s morally repellent and politically more than dubious. After all, what is the turkey’s crime? Being a turkey? Pardon implies that you committed a crime, and also that you were punished by some legitimate authority, which has now offered you mercy out of the goodness of its heart. It’s a sort of reversed sacrifice – rather than killing a goat to expiate your sins, it’s not killing a turkey so as to go off and eat millions of ‘em with a clean conscience.

Pardon is also interesting because it can’t be separated from executive power. To pardon someone means that the head of state decided, whatever the law happened to be, whatever the judiciary thought of the case, whatever the jury thought of the evidence, just to intervene and make an exception. It’s only possible, after all, because the executive has the power to execute. It also means that the executive agreed to all the other executions; what, after all, would happen if the president pardoned everyone? That would be about as likely as pardoning all the turkeys. Executive clemency is the flip side of executive cruelty. (Note, of course, that a British prime minister isn’t the head of state.)

It’s therefore a profoundly anti-rational, authoritarian custom; no wonder it’s a holdover from absolute monarchy. And this, I think, is what worries me about this ceremony – it’s the sacralisation of the executive branch. Like the King’s touch for scrofula. (He can even un-turkey a turkey!) No wonder, as Rude so wisely points out, Bush loves it.

Before we go on, here’s a video from Talking Points Memo in which you can see both Bush doing the turkey thing and also Sarah Palin’s now-notorious performance in which she pardoned a turkey while a worker slaughtered turkeys in the background. It will help your comparative turkeyology to watch closely.

Now, what about the well-known cockup in Alaska? A couple of points come to mind. For a start, as befits an anti-rationalist movement, neoconservatism has no culture of competence. They never run anything; their natural habitat is the thinktank, the university campus, the elite circle. Hence the Schlamperei that follows them around, like a drugfuddled burglar in a darkened room full of gym equipment. Of course they’d fuck it up – even in Washington, Bush managed to grant the bird a “full unconditional unconditional pardon”.

The second is that perhaps they aren’t trying. Looking back, when did they lie convincingly? The case for war was based not on lies, but on the unwillingness to confront the lies. Later, on things like torture and mass surveillance, they moved beyond this and simply admitted the facts while denying the form. Yes, we waterboarded the guy and pulled your call-detail records – are you with the terrorists? Of course, we do not support torture or illegal surveillance. In a very real sense, they were pardoning turkeys in front of the slaughter live on TV all the time.

Back in the spring of 1997, the sterling trade-weighted index stood at 93, exactly the average since 1990, and the deficit (PSBR at the time) was 8% of GDP (See note). This, according to the Conservative Party, was a golden legacy Labour were squandering. Now, the sterling trade-weighted index is at 93, exactly the average since 1990, and the Treasury is forecasting a deficit (PSNCR this time) of 8% of GDP. This, according to the Conservative Party, is national bankruptcy, brought about by the Labour Party for its own inscrutable ends (dog whistle: they’re all communists).

Further, according to the Conservative Party, the State should establish “an institution to lend to small businesses”. (Hey, we could call it the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, or maybe the National Enterprise Board – that one has just the right sound to it, no?) Let’s recap: first of all, the Bank of England was right to lend taxpayers’ money to Northern Rock. Then the Government was wrong to do so. Then the Government was wrong to nationalise Northern Rock because it put taxpayers’ money at risk, and (dog whistle) they’re secretly plotting to take over all the banks. Instead, the Government should have the Bank of England pay for it because its funds suddenly weren’t taxpayers’ money any more. The same procedure was followed for Bradford & Bingley, but the Conservative Party also held that there was no need for this because everything was really OK.

Then it turned out to be not OK at all, and for a while the Conservative Party kept schtum. The Government came up with a plan, which was rapidly taken up by every other OECD nation, to (essentially) underwrite an absolutely huge rescue rights issue for several banks, to guarantee wholesale interbank lending, and to top the whole lot off with a fiscal reflation. The Tories were silent. Now, with this actually in place, they are incoherent with rage; things are so bad, apparently, that the assets of NR, B&B, RBS, and HBOS are worth absolutely nothing and the interbank guarantees will all be called in (even though most of them will net-out). However, things are still not actually so bad that we need the reflation.

Now, apparently, although the Government should not be spending any taxpayer funds, it should also be lending them directly to industry to substitute the banks, which you will recall there is nothing wrong with, but which are also worthless.

On top of this, Private Finance Initiative costs are now, according to the Conservative Party which invented the things so as not to include them in the national debt, part of the national debt. If they really believed that, this would imply that Ken Clarke, John Redwood, Malcolm Rifkind, and William Hague should be drummed out of the party as a gang of fraudsters. Hey, they were plotting to conceal the government’s true indebtedness in sinister Enronlike off-balance sheet vehicles!

All these funny figures are necessary to keep Gideon and Dave from PR from being caught deceiving the House of Commons. Why? Because he decided to say that the UK “has the debt levels of Italy”. Italy has a national debt equal to 103% of GDP; the peak forecast figure for the UK is 57%. But if you torture the data enough, by reclassifying the PFIs, by deciding that all those square miles of Victorian terraces with HBOS mortgages don’t keep the rain out any more, by capitalising all the future public pension liabilities (but strangely not the “unfunded nuclear missile liability” or the “unfunded tax break for Conservative client groups liability”) you can kindasorta get there – if you have absolutely no intellectual integrity at all, that is. After all, if you did that, you’d have to do the same for the Italian public sector as well – and can you imagine what that balance sheet would look like if it had to roll up all those retired posties’ pensions to an infinite horizon? If you want any more of this stuff, try Daniel Davies.

The ideal response to this is already available, thanks to Mark Easton of the BBC.

We might as well report that the date, 2008, is a record number of recorded years. More than in any other year since records began 2008 years ago. Beating by one the record held only last year, of 2007. And that if the trend continues we will see another record number of years recorded in the year as early as next year.

Bravo! Remind me why we have to put up with these fucking people. Meanwhile, for everything else, I think it would be better to spend more of this money on capital investments rather than a VAT cut. Which apparently puts me in harmony with the political party I’m a member of. Perhaps I should take maverick lessons.

Update: Mea maxima culpa. As part of our commitment to quality, I feel compelled to note that the figure of 8% of GDP, £46bn, was the government deficit at the peak in 1993-1994; it was down to £28bn in 1996-1997. It remains true that 8% now is no worse or better than 8% then.

Oh dear, oh dear.

A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some U.S. neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning who insisted on anonymity in accordance with diplomatic rules. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”..

The Herald Tribune is too polite to say it, for some reason, but we all know which map he’s talking about. It’s the one in this post, the one risible carta de’ll oro wingnut Ralph Peters crapped into the public water supply back in October, 2006 in this article. The map is here; personally, I still can’t get past the fact he proposed a complete re-drawing of every border in South-West Asia but couldn’t bring himself to do anything about Palestine, but left it as “status undetermined”. That’s a hard one, Miss! Not fair!

Deeds have consequences, and so do words. Now, it looks like more people are going to die in northwestern Pakistan because of fucknuts Peters’ shitty little effort. I guess he doesn’t particularly care about Subedar Khan of the Frontier Corps, or his opposite number in the North Waziristan Not-The-Taliban; but didn’t he give any thought to the actual US soldiers in ISAF Regional Command East? I often wonder whether blogs in general put too much time and effort into arguing with idiots. “Someone is wrong on the Internet”, indeed.

But of course it’s worth it; or the buggers will just keep ralphing away. Political maniacs of every stripe have a weird fondness for fantasy cartography – it’s probably a relic of sympathetic magic, or else a sort of military cargo cult. If I stick pins in enough maps, perhaps someone will actually follow the orders.

Relatedly, it looks like some of the general enemy have also concluded that the e-mail bomber approach failed them in the presidential election campaign. I’ve described it elsewhere as an airpower theory approach to politics – you build a big centralised machine to deliver talking points, hurtling over an unresisting political landscape devoid of agency, and the best bit is that it’s capital intensive. You don’t need an army of volunteers – just money.

The GOP is the talk-radio party — for the most part, it’s centralized, top-down. Even though Rush Limbaugh is “perhaps the best exponent of across-the-board conservatism,” as Ruffini wrote, “he has no lists and no way to mobilize his audience directly to donate and volunteer.” (But it must be noted that Limbaugh urged his Republican listeners to vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton in Indiana’s open primary to prolong the Democratic duel. And Clinton won.)

The Democrats, meanwhile, are the party of the Web: decentralized, chaotic, bottom-up. The bloggers at DailyKos.com, for example, argue about policy and ideology, too. But all that blogging leads to raising money, which leads to organizing, which leads to having a say in the party. When Howard Dean, whose presidential primary campaign was largely funded by online donors, was elected DNC chairman in 2005, there was no doubt that a new Democratic era had arrived.

But clout didn’t come overnight for the Democratic “netroots.” In a way, its influence was predicated on being independent of the party. Says Jerome Armstrong, who created the liberal blog MyDD in 2001: “The netroots is not the DNC. The netroots challenges the DNC.” A similar dynamic needs to occur between the rightroots and the RNC, bloggers such as Ruffini and Finn say. The rightroots should push their party’s leadership and entrenched consulting class the same way the netroots lashed the Democratic leadership years ago.

Whether a party that’s spent the last 30 or so years specialising in attracting the fat tail on the social authoritarianism curve is structurally capable of doing that is another matter, and I think we shall soon see the answer. Similarly, whether a party so given intellectually to the rhetoric of authoritarianism would survive such a change in any recognisable form seems doubtful.

Still, survival is optional. If they want to start a US Christian Democratic Union, more power to their elbow – whatever happens, one day they’ll be back, and on that day it will make a big difference whether the “they” is a zombie version of the party of 2004 or, well, something less stupid, destructive, and fanatical.

And if there is anything that the last 11 years of British politics will tell you, it’s that a democracy where you can’t responsibly vote for the other lot and remain a decent human being has a problem. At some point, he’ll come up with something so stupid and abhorrent to some peculiar interest of yours that you’ll sweat purple piss (they all do), and it’s at that point you’ll see the value of opposition.

Various people asked what would happen if I excluded London and Northern Ireland from the BNP analysis. Here’s a table showing the R-squared for each factor, first for the whole data set and then excluding these two outliers. (After all, who needs statistical analysis to know those two are weird?)

Factor R-Squared R-Squared Excluding NI, London
Immigration 0.0364 0.0810
Emigration 0.0330 0.0460
Migration 0.0343 0.0843
Services % GDP 0.0639 0.0009
Industry % GDP 0.0885 0.0066
Agriculture % GDP 0.0659 0.1697
Long Term Unemployment 0.2078 0.0074
Unemployment % 0.1080 0.0235
Economic Growth %, 1991-2006 0.0782 0.0692
Density Change 1991-2006 % 0.0369 0.0035
Population Change % 0.0008 0.0160

I’m still not convinced there is any rational pattern here at all. Immigration is still astonishingly weak as a predictor of BNP membership; weirdly, economic growth is even weaker, and positive! (I’m feeling so prosperous…I’m going to join the BNP!) In fact, the only factor in the second set of numbers that has an effect measurable without going into three significant figures is the proportion of GDP accounted for by agriculture. Northern Ireland is both surprisingly agricultural (2.3% of GDP – 130% of the UK average) and unsurprisingly low in BNP members (0.0024 per 100), so we wouldn’t have seen this earlier on.

The Thatcher legacy – long term unemployment as a percentage of all unemployment – was the strongest correlate with R-squared = 0.2078, but when you drop London and NI, it vanishes, as does unemployment in general.

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