Nudge nudge

Nudging and charity.

Reading, yesterday morning, about the success of the "Nudge Unit" (the government’s Behavioural Insight Team) in a pilot study which showed that three times more money goes to charity in people's wills when the lawyer writing the will prompts them, I relived the moment on Monday when my daughter and I thundered passed Mo Farah at the 2K mark in the BUPA 10K run through central London.

Admittedly, Mr Farah was heading in the other direction and on the point of finishing, but that didn't detract from my recollection of the atmosphere and the enormous range of charities and good causes for whom 11,000 or so other runners  were raising funds.

I wondered how many of us amateur athletes had been "nudged" into fundraising on this occasion, by whom, and indeed to which other issues the unit could be directed.

After all, it's not only the charities and their causes which benefit ultimately - the government is also a winner. As we were reminded at the launch of the Big Society, the government is relieved of funding the services provided by the charities, albeit at the relative cost of the fiscal incentives for those who give and receive. 

In addition to charities as a group, HMRC itself has already benefited from intervention by the Nudge Unit. Apparently, warning letters to those who had thus far failed to file tax returns were substituted with the missives observing that others in their area had already paid their tax – with a resultant 15 per cent increase in repayment rates. 

But what about professional advisers themselves, the solicitors or tax advisers through whom the Nudge Unit worked its philanthropic magic?

If the intoduction of the General Anti Abuse Rule wasn't a form of nudge (not to promote schemes which exploit loopholes in the tax legislation), I'm not sure what is - although a nudge possibly more akin to that which the playground bully might give to encourage the small child clutching a bag of sweets to hand them over.

I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to nudge the groups of runners whose fancy dress costumes acted more as a barrier than a promotion for their causes, but who will be the conscience for the Nudge Unit in future?

It is the first governmental policy team to be part-privatised and apparently the government is looking for a business partner to take it into the private sector. Less Big Brother and more the hired muscle?

Nevertheless, in the spirit of nudging, this was the cause I was running for: www.justgiving.com/sophie-and-midge

Sophie Mazzier is counsel at private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

This story first appeared on Spears Magazine

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.