How one vote cost us our democracy


The Palace of Westminster is falling down, and “no longer fit for purpose.” We noticed. It’s long been obvious that it’s going to take more than a bit of rewiring and scaffolding to bring back any semblance of a real democracy. Yet whilst our politics has never inspired great confidence, the rapid decline since the supposedly advisory referendum has been striking. That marginal preference to leave the EU has turned into its own peculiar demagogue, which almost everyone in the House of Commons has become beholden to.

The will of the people? Leaving aside the arguments about the costs and risks of leaving the EU, (they’re massive), one of the most striking legacies from the referendum, alongside a worrying increase in hate crime, has been how little what people say, do or think on the issue matters. On any other question, a virtually unified voice from researchers, the CBI and the unions, would usually be treated as significant. The national mood, as gauged from opinion polls has often tipped the balance. Yet when it comes to leaving the EU, any contribution to the debate that’s not 100% positive is treated as disloyal, scaremongering, and unpatriotic ‘remoaning’.
People tell us “This country voted for it. Get over it.” ‘It’ being a very simplistic ‘leave or remain’, with no chance to comment on the single market or customs union. Nor any choice as to whether ‘no deal’ would be preferred to ‘a bad deal’. Certainly no chance to substitute a change of mind when those promised extra billions for the NHS were proven to just be a tease.

Which is why it’s worth remembering how few people actually voted for ‘it’ that day. 17,410,742 people. Sounds like a big number? A mere 34.7% of the electorate, which is of course minus the 16 and 17 year olds, and ex-pats who were denied a vote. 24.8% of the population. So if people voted remain, or couldn’t or didn’t vote, or – gasp – have since decided maybe remaining would be a better idea, surely they deserve representation during this process? As might those leave voters who may have voted themselves into a lower wage, a more insecure job, and weaker rights? Don’t we still have a role in this process in some way, or is ‘taking back control’ just a once in a lifetime tick in a box?

We’re told on this, we must rely on the Burkian idea of entrusting our elected representatives to do the job for us, including by Jeremy Corbyn, who insists there must be no second referendum. Depending on your source, between 70 and 74% of these elected representatives told us when we voted for them in 2015, and again in 2017 that they believed remaining in the EU was best for the country. So with most of the country having voted against Theresa May’s Brextreme stance last year, we’d hope for some moderation. Yet when Justice Minister Dr Philip Lee recently suggested Brexit might need to be reconsidered when faced with the evidence of the likely economic costs, the government’s response was as typical as it was worrying – don’t discuss this sort of thing in public. When the government’s impact research shows all scenarios of leaving will leave us worse off, they’re told they’re “always wrong”. And when motions to protect the environment, human rights, remaining in the single market are offered, they’re voted down.

Yes, Westminster politics is broken. Taking back control has meant handing immense power to as few as 169 people. So what’s the answer? It’s a long, difficult road ahead. One that needs more of us to get genuinely political, so that whatever happens in Brexit, we have a chance of a fairer future.

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