Log in

No account? Create an account

Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
Previous Entry Share Next Entry
We the People, Ewe the Sheeple
I suppose people have always insulted their political opponents: "Tory scum" is hardly a new coinage. But it's only recently (in this country, at least) that people seem to have started suggesting that their political opponents are so irresponsible/evil/stupid that they should not be allowed to vote, or that their votes should be ignored.

I won't say it began with Brexit, but it's been very noticeable in its wake. The narrative that those who voted Leave should be overruled because they were a) too racist, b) too stupid, c) have probably changed their minds by now, etc., kicked in pretty much immediately after the vote. Even if all these things were true, though, it doesn't change the result: in a democracy, even stupid people get a say. If you don't like it, then why not just come out and say honestly that you would rather have a different kind of political system - a government of technocrats, for example, like Mario Monti's or Xi Jinping's? A case could be made, I'm sure. What you don't get to do is call the result democratic. Yet, in a wonderful but it seems unconscious irony, one of the movements to overturn the referendum result and take the power to decide on Brexit away from the voters has named itself "the People's Challenge". That kind of double-think is not untypical of political discourse in the UK today.

The result of the last Labour leadership election (and probably the next) is another case in point. The determination of many people not to see Corbyn's victory as legitimate, except in the trifling and legalistic sense that he got more votes than anyone else, is bolstered by a move to delegitimize the views of those who voted (or intend to vote) for him. Here I don't refer to the literal disenfranchisement of 130,000 Labour members by the NEC, though that's not irrelevant, but to the dismissive way in which those who support Corbyn's position are routinely described: they are members of a cult, they are bewitched, they are too young to understand the issues, they have had their arms twisted by Trots, they are Trots, they are "Nazi stormtroopers", or simply (as Financial Times journalist Janan Ganesh has it) "as thick as pigshit". Otherwise, they wouldn't be voting for a "lunatic",* would they? Given that, their views and votes can be safely ignored, and we can start undermining the result the day after it's announced, secure in the knowledge that we are defending democracy, war is peace, freedom is slavery, etc.

* Copyright Owen Smith.

As mentioned in the post, you can certainly make a case against a democratic system, and indeed you just have. Any election is a snapshot of a point in time, after all, and I can't remember one in which politicians didn't lie, so your criticisms are by no means specific to the EU referendum. Feel free to advocate an undemocratic alternative: all I ask is that you acknowledge it as such.

I'm not going to get into the rights and wrongs of either Brexit or Corbyn's leadership here, as that's not what the post is about. Simply on a point of fact, however, he was allowed 10 months rather than a year before the coup was triggered.

Edited at 2016-08-24 11:41 am (UTC)

Personally I'm with Churchill when he said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

We normally operate by the system of representative democracy. That is we elect our MPs who then devote themselves to running the country. To help them do this they have the Civil Service, who know what's possible and who, by means of Permanent Undersecretaries, advise the government.

This system generally works and means that I can concentrate on running my own life without having to know everything about economics and international politics. Things only went pear-shaped because we switched from this tried and tested method to having a direct referendum where people (and I include myself here) were voting based on limited knowledge.

With regard to the Labour Party, as I understand it, something similar has happened. In the past the electorate elected the MPs and only a limited number of people then voted on who was leader. Throwing the leadership vote open to all party members has resulted in the complete collapse of the Labour Party. So basically, democracy is good up to a point, but it seems you can have too much of it.

But the referendum was the creation of the system you approve, being brought into being by those very elected representatives in the European Referendum Act 2015. In that sense it wasn't a switch from the representative system, but a decision devolved from it, after an election won in no small measure on the promise of such a move.

Do you also disapprove of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, as a matter of interest, or is your distaste more selective?

Ironically, the change in the Labour party rules was loudly applauded by the right of the party, who saw it as a way to take power from the unions. I would suggest that the "collapse of the Labour party" (if such it be) was precipitated not by the rule change but by the refusal of some in the party to accept the consequences of their own decisions. To that extent I would suggest that more democracy, rather than less, would be helpful in this case.

I wouldn't use the word "distaste" to describe my feelings about referendums. I just think they are problematical.

I'm not at all sure that democracy and referendums have anything to do with each other. I regard holding a referendum as an abdication of responsibility on the part of a government. I hire them, damn it, to make decisions on subjects of which I don't know enough to come to an informed conclusion. I no more expect them to delegate that duty to me and to even worse informed people than I expect to hire a builder and then find myself and my equally hamfisted neighbours carrying hods.

Well, I tend to agree that referenda should be used sparingly for the reasons you give, but I don't think one can easily argue that they're undemocratic! And there are some decisions where it's hard to see how else they could be made - Scottish independence, for example..As far as I can see, the only other way that independence is ever won is through violence, and a referendum is definitely preferable to that.