After another Sunday morning spent in my favourite armchair flicking through the newspapers with BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show and then Sunday Politics playing on the television in the corner of the room I suppose I should feel ashamed of myself but actually don’t.
‘Rubber-necking’ is what I believe they call the apparently callous practice of motorists on one carriageway slowing down in order to observe the aftermath of some potentially gruesome but evidently fascinating car accident on its counterpart on the other side of the road and – whether it’s seemly or appropriate – that’s many interested observers of the British political scene including myself are doing at the moment. And why not? If what has happened in the last fortnight had been the proposition for a fictional drama project there’d have been a 75% chance it would have been rejected on sight by a commissioning television company for being too implausible to engage the viewers.
One current strand of comment, speculation and advice featuring heavily in the media is that which seeks to challenge the EU Referendum result on one of the following grounds:
That it was unfairly skewed by the sheer volume and outrageousness of the lies put about by the Leave campaign. That the issue of remaining (or not) in the EU was such an important one that it should never have been put to a democratic vote in the first place. That, since the result was announced, a large-enough proportion of those who voted for Brexit to alter the Referendum result is now openly admitting that they’ve changed their minds and (e.g. in a theoretical re-run) would vote to remain.
Separate to, but effectively supporting, the above are the agitators who, whilst paying lip service to the sanctity of the democratic referendum process, now seek to undermine the 23rd June EU Referendum result by pointing out that (legally or constitutionally, or in practice) only Parliament can actually sanction a move to invoke Article 50 – the EU device whereby a member state formally initiates a move to depart the EU. Or alternatively that, in the current circumstances, the ‘correct’, moral or appropriate pre-condition to activating a Brexit is for any new Tory leader to first call a General Election, in order (presumably) to ensure that the British people are quite sure they know what they’re voting for.
Personally I feel that all such offerings, however well-intentioned or indignant, are misdirected to the point of absurdity because they effectively amount to an attack upon the very democracy (and/or our way of life) that they’re supposed to be defending.
I’m rehashing old ground here, but every democratic election ever held has involved the protagonists on all sides making false claims or promising things that they’ll never deliver if they ever happen to get elected.
If somehow it was decreed that every election policy or promise had to go through some official quality-threshold-stroke-truth filter before it could be made, none would be … and there’d be a total paralysis of the political system at election times.
Just think about it for a minute. If ‘the Establishment’ did somehow manage to engineer some circumstance whereby the EU Referendum had to be re-run, or its result stymied so that the UK either never left the EU and/or those representing us ended up negotiating a deal whereby somehow the post-Brexit UK effectively remained subject to all the laws and regulations of the EU despite having left, then it would set a very dangerous precedent.
For example, how would the Tories like it if – after some future General Election they had ostensibly won – the Labour party (or even some coalition of opposition parties) was entitled to ask for a re-run because it was so against the interests of ordinary UK voters that the ‘Nasty’ party was allowed ever to go into government at all?
Or – alternatively – if Labour should win some future General Election, the Tory party was immediately entitled to demand a second election because (supposedly on the lesson of history that every Labour government in history has presided over a self-inflicted an economic disaster which a later Tory government then had to spend five to seven years rectifying) it was self-evident that Labour should never be allowed to govern?
Because that’s effectively what it would amount to.
Yes, over time voters can change their minds and throw governments out. But you cannot go in and out of something like EU membership every five years or so just because a country’s government has changed. That’s why referenda supposedly exist as a concept.
Democracy is inherently frustrating and imperfect. But if you have it at the core of your political system there’s no point in bemoaning its outcomes because, at the end of the day, they come with the territory.