Brexit and the British Democratic Soundbite
One of the disturbing features of Western democracy is for the most part it’s not meaningfully there. Previously, I’ve touched upon what democracy means and distilled it in essence to people power – that the people manage government for themselves.[i] The mechanics can be detailed later, but the voting of elected representatives is not necessarily the same thing as democracy.
The overwhelming majority of government decisions, big, small or otherwise, entertain absolutely no citizen input. The British people don’t decide if income taxes should be raised, though they can express their views. They don’t decide if the defence budget should be reduced, though again they are welcome to say whatever they wish. And finally, they have no input on whether we should go to war – which is a pretty big deal. Protest all you want, but that decision is firmly entrenched in Westminster.
So, here’s a curious thing. In June 2016, some 17.4 million Britons voted to leave the EU and another 16.1 million voted to remain. The vast majority, being 32.2 million, didn’t express themselves one way or the other. The argument that the British people voted in 2016 to leave the EU is highly selective. And those that deploy it to justify Brexit either don’t know what they are talking about or are misrepresenting the underlying reality. Almost as many Britons did not say what they wanted as those who expressed what they preferred.
The second curve ball is that British democracy surrendered to Parliament. Parliament is sovereign, not the people, the Queen or Gordon Ramsay. Is it not odd that suddenly Parliament has abdicated its sovereignty just for this specific expression of 2016 but maintained its sovereignty for tens of thousands of other expressions, some of which are pretty important?[ii] Pollsters canvas the Britons every day on many issues. By a ratio of two-to-one, Brits wanted a general election in October 2019, but that didn’t happen.[iii] Parliament said no. So why the Parliamentary double standard?
All of this leads to the third point - there’s nothing stopping the government from saying, “Look, we heard some of you in 2016. Given the scale of the Brexit decision, and now that we have had more debate, information and analysis to reflect upon, we want to hear you again.” If we are to allow the people to run government, let’s hear the expression again given that we all agree Brexit is not a small deal. Since January 2018, every single poll has suggested that those who want to remain in the EU comfortably outnumber those who want to leave, with the exception of a tiny number where Remain and Brexit camps are equal.[iv]
In a political system which is starved of democracy, Parliament’s incredibly selective management of the people’s voice with respect to Brexit is as good an indication of what the political classes think of democracy – it’s a great soundbite, let’s manipulate it without ever embracing it.
[iv] https://whatukthinks.org/eu/questions/should-the-united-kingdom-remain-a-member-of-the-european-union-or-leave-the-european-union-asked-after-the-referendum/; https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/10/31/political-trackers-29-30-oct-update