Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Why AC Grayling is wrong

Anthony Grayling, celebrity scribbler, sets out five points as to why MPs should bin democracy. The first is telling.
The first is that the 23 June referendum was not a democratically binding decision on EU membership. It was held under the terms of the (poorly drafted) 2015 Referendum Act as an explicitly advisory referendum – a test of opinion – only. The fact that a number of MPs regard the decision as binding is astonishing for a number of reasons, but the first of them is that not only was the exercise intended as advisory, it is also obvious from a consideration of the numbers involved that it provides no mandate for the UK government to take the country out of the EU. For: 51.9% of those who voted, in a turnout of 72%, represents 37% of the electorate, and less than a third of the UK population. Let us leave aside the fact that in all other mature democracies a referendum considered as having mandating status would require a supermajority – typically a two-thirds majority – and ask whether a Remain vote of that size would have put an end to Leave aspirations. We know from the record that it would not; Mr Nigel Farage of UKIP publicly committed himself to regarding so small a majority of those voting as by no means settling the matter. As that correctly suggests, the referendum result is in no way a mandate.
If we are looking at numbers in this way then we must ask just how representative our representative democracy is. Numbers games work both ways. For instance 76% of the UK electorate did not vote for the ruling party. In many constituencies fewer than 20% voted for the sitting MP. In the House of Lords, nobody was elected at all. If we are talking about thin mandates then at least a third of our MPs have no right at all to speak in our name.

In many instances MPs enjoy safe seats whereby any hapless biped wearing the right colour rosette can win a seat - and with the advent of political appointeeism, seats are often awarded by party HQs. So what we actually get are bland, compliant functionaries who have been "marinated in political correctness and are happy to regurgitate the platitudes and attitudes of their political masters. And are well-rewarded for doing so".

The purpose of a referendum is to secure legitimacy for decisions where Parliament alone can not secure that legitimacy. It can't in these such instances. With only small mandates, themselves in hock to an SW1 bubble mentality, MPs cannot be trusted with such extraordinary decisions. If there is such a massive gulf between what the public thinks and what politicians think then we can say with some justification that our representative democracy is neither representative, nor democracy.

Throughout our establishment there are questions of legitimacy where the offspring of famous MPs can now expect to sail into a safe seat, particularly on the left which now has its own hereditary band of MPs.

And then there is the EU itself. Our politicians pulled every stunt in the book to avoid a referendum before signing us up to the Lisbon Treaty which is a major constitutional change and a massive transfer of powers.  Our consent was never sought. In this, it is not a matter of deliberation over technical minutia. It really is a far simpler question. Do you want to be ruled by a supreme government for Europe? In that estimation all opinions are entirely valid.

It's not actually worth fisking the rest of Grayling's sophistry. It's really a matter of opinion as to whether you view the nest of cronies in Westminster as legitimate or not - and whether you think taking us this far in to the EU without popular consent is legitimate. Moreover, let's not pretend for a moment that 52% would not settle the matter had the vote gone the other way. They would bury the issue for good had they won. This is just losertalk.

In the end Grayling falls back on catastrophising Brexit. The bread and butter of remainers. I'm not buying it. The bottom line is that I do not consent to be governed by a supreme government for Europe and I never wanted it. I am well aware there are costs and risks associated with leaving it. The fault lies with those who connived to hand the country to Brussels. The fact that we lack the capacity for self-governance is a direct consequence of our membership - but that is no justification remaining in the EU. To my mind it points to the urgency of doing it now before the rot sets in further because our eventual departure from the EU, one way or another, is guaranteed.

In most instances we are happy to delegate the minutia of day to day governance to our "representatives" but in more existential constitutional affairs the only real legitimate voice is that of the people as a whole. We knew the referendum was coming, we had a long and well financed national conversation about it, we weighed up the risks and we voted to leave. Deal with it.

Please don't tell me I was deceived. I wasn't. I knew the risks and complexities better than most. I just want decisions that affect the UK to be made in the UK by people who live and work here and I am willing to endure whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to get it. The experts might well be right. There may well be an economic cost and it may take a long time to recover - but this is ultimate a question of resolving the questions of legitimacy in governance. That starts with leaving the EU in the first instance as a precursor to further democratic reforms. Were there not a crisis of legitimacy and confidence in government then we wouldn't have had the referendum in the first place. So what does that tell you?

If anything the referendum was a safety valve that protects our democracy. It is a corrective. A yank on the leash to remind our politicians who they serve. If then they choose to treat the will of the people as advisory and continue as before, taking us deeper into a system of governance largely immune from the democratic will, then so be it. But they must do so in the knowledge that there will be consequences they will like a whole lot less than renegotiating beef subsidy quotas.

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