Yesterday – for my sins, out of curiosity given the alleged momentousness of this week and possibly also for the benefit of fellow Rusters who couldn’t be bothered to follow by-the-minute-developments – I decided to spent much of my time ‘monitoring’ the political manoeuvrings at Westminster via the UK media.
After that, if I’m honest, a combination of general ennui and a healthy slug of gin and tonic gradually took its toll as I tuned into first the Jon Snow-anchored Channel Four News at 7.00pm followed by the Channel Four Debate: A Very British Coup? chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy – the last of which I bailed out of after thirteen and a half minutes.
I’d had enough Brexit by then, as (I’d venture to suggest) had most of the British public.
It seems to me that the current crisis goes directly to the heart of what democracy is all about, if anything, plus the extent to which it is capable of coping with the technological advances of the modern world.
When individual social media ‘influencers’ have hundreds of millions of followers – and foreigner governments, multi-national corporations, AI robots and/or algorithm software manufacturers and indeed lone malcontents of every description have the wherewithal to ‘interfere’ with the voting processes in ways some of us cannot even understand – what price ‘one man, one vote’ as a proper means of governing anything?
With Brexit the battle lines are drawn so black and white that these days there is virtually nothing new being broadcast.
Listening to organised debates on the subject, there is scant chance that any argument – however cogent, sensible or articulately-put – can sway the deeply-held convictions of anyone from the other side. People are simply braying their particular points of view at each other, ever more loudly and forcibly, and nobody is listening (well, except those that agree with the speaker).
Are MPs elected to ‘think for themselves’ or simply as representatives of the people, and – if the latter – on what basis … to vote ‘the right way’ on one narrow issue or policy, or on all of them?
Another is the ‘we know better’ syndrome and its general or specific incompatibility with the principle of ‘one man, one vote’.
“My constituents may have voted to Leave, but they didn’t vote to be worse off …” is an oft-mentioned paternalistic refrain of some who are now either championing a ban on a No-Deal’ Brexit and/or (preferably?) a repeal of Article 50 and thus the UK remaining in the EU.
I’m not expressing a personal view here, but is that really true?
Many who voted Leave did so because they wanted to leave the EU, period. They didn’t care what the terms were – they were responding to the principle of ‘Remain or Leave’ put to them.
There was enough propaganda being thrown at them by adherents of both sides of the argument to satisfy anyone.
The Leave campaign repeatedly maintained that an advantageous deal with the EU was not just possible, but going to be as easy as falling off a log to negotiate – and perhaps events have proved that this was nothing more than a complete ‘pie in the sky’ wished-for concoction, never a meaningful given.
Meanwhile the Remain campaign warned – and spelled out in significant detail – that leaving the EU would mean leaving the single market, the customs union, and all the other EU paraphernalia … and probably also result in hundreds of thousands of job losses, economic hardship, huge administrative complications and possible food, drug, and other supply shortages – in summary, it would be a national disaster.
And yet still the country as a whole voted to Leave.
What’s a politician to do in those circumstances?
Well, in many cases, arguably – without, of course, every admitting it (because everyone always pay lip service to the God that is democracy) – they agitate and scheme to neutralise or paralyse the outcome of the democratic vote in order to “save the UK people from themselves’.
This reasoning inevitably drives a metaphorical coach and horses through the notion that everyone’s vote counts. By extrapolation, an individual’s vote only ought to counts ‘if the outcome is sensible’. Or logical. Or – as regards its effect – perhaps that should be expressed as ‘being in the best interests of the people’.
But wait a minute: which people – indeed who’s people – are they talking about when they put forward this proposition?
Is not the bottom-line answer that what is actually being referred to by the UK’s political elite (when they say or imply such things) is in fact the UK’s political elite’s own best interests?
Two things to add in conclusion:
Firstly, my favourite exchange – I’m not sure but I think it was on Twitter – in recent times was that between Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and current Brexit representative for the European parliament, who wrote on 28th August:
‘Taking back control’ has never looked so sinister. As a fellow parliamentarian, my solidarity with those fighting for their voices to be heard. Suppressing debate on profound choices is unlikely to help deliver a stable future WEU-UK relationship.’
Someone reacted to this statement by pointing out to Mr Verhofstadt that this was a bit rich coming from someone whose country once (in 2010-2011) went a world record 541 days without a democratically-elected government at all.
Yesterday Boris Johnson’s sudden appearance at a lectern outside Number 10 Downing Street at about 6.10pm last night – clearly heralded in advance as for the purpose of a potentially-nationally important announcement, which is why the newshounds were out in force and Fiona Bruce was fronting the BBC1 New At Six on site – was one of the biggest anti-climaxes I’ve ever seen.
Boris looked and sounded, yet again, like a bit of a buffoon [and no, I’m not going to draw the obvious conclusion here physically in print] as he blustered away in his traditional style – and then said nothing at all. Well, not what he was expected to say (i.e. that he was raising the stakes by calling a General Election).
Here are links to the reports of this episode by two of my favourite political commentators:
Tom Peck, whose piece appears today on the website of – THE INDEPENDENT
John Crace, whose equivalent appears today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN