Friday, 11 June 2021

Understanding numbers


Following the opening salvos in the Great Sausage War of 2021, as it will surely come to be known, the PM told us yesterday, in relation to his belief that it should be possible to avoid barriers to trade either in the Irish Sea or on the island of Ireland, that he’s “very very optimistic about this” and that he thinks that it is “easily doable”. He’s right, of course. Conceptually, it’s extremely simple, just like crossbreeding a narwhal with a horse to produce a unicorn is conceptually very simple. The devil is in the detail of how to make it happen in practice. In fairness, he is at least being unusually consistent: what he’s calling for is what he’s always believed that the UK is entitled to – completely free trade with the EU whilst not following any of the EU’s rules. The problem, from the outset, has been that Europeans simply don’t understand how special and unique the UK is, and are making things unnecessarily difficult.

Achieving what he says he wants simply requires one of two things to happen. Either the UK agrees to align its controls on food quality with those in operation at the EU border, or the EU abandons its regulations and allows sausages to flow freely from anywhere in the world. Of the two, it is entirely obvious to everyone (well, everyone of any importance in the eyes of English exceptionalists) why it is the EU which should surrender. Not only are British Sausages inherently superior to all others (you can tell by the union flag on the packet), but more importantly the UK market of 66 million is bigger than the EU market of a mere 450 million, giving the UK the upper hand at all times.

Purist mathematicians may quibble slightly at that, but they need to get with the programme and understand the NewMath which is now the dominant strain within the government party. It’s far from the only example, and nor is it anything new. We were also told yesterday by a Welsh Conservative that 16 is bigger than 43, and the current Welsh Secretary is on record as believing that 1 is bigger than 7. And in relation to a comparison of votes received, they believe that winning 365 seats out of 650 in 2019 gives them an absolute right to rule, whereas the 71 seats out of 129 won by pro-Indy parties in Scotland in 2020 shows that independence has been resoundingly rejected.

One of the problems with NewMath is that, faced with two numbers, none of us can ever be certain which is the larger, or how to interpret them, until the Tories have explained it to us. Then the truth becomes obvious and inarguable. As obvious as the fact that there was never a time when the UK did not exist and that we have always been at war with the rest of Europe over sausages. What Orwell thought was a dystopian novel has become an instruction manual.

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