Thursday, 3 November 2016

MPs are playing dangerous games with democracy

Ian Dunt, histrionics editor at is pleased by today's ruling.
Whether it’s water-tight or not, the government is appealing and it will go to the Supreme Court, where this could all still be shot down. But for now it feels like the partial return of the Britain many of us are used to. One of stability, checks and balance, due process and the rule of law. One where massive, generation-defining political decisions are not based on popular polls on vague questions and a government issuing meaningless platitudes, but by sustained evidence of specific popular demand, careful, economically-literate policy-making and consensus.
This being the parliament where most MPs cannot tell the difference between the single market and the customs union and couldn't define either. The parliament of Jess Phillips, Owen Smith, Kate Hoey, Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall and Caroline Lucas. Some of the thickest people ever to enter parliament. My question is what value does it add?

MPs know full well there is no stopping Brexit lest they face the wrath of the electorate and there is no way they kind bind Mrs May in a negotiation. All they can do is compel her to seek a particular type of settlement which she is most likely considering anyway. Hard Brexit is not on the table. What is the actual point of this?

Dunt is not so impressed with the leaver reaction though.
Britain’s new political class of angry, borderline hysterical campaigners are already on the warpath. “I now fear every attempt will be made to block or delay triggering Article 50,” Nigel Farage tweeted. “They have no idea the level of public anger they will provoke.” Whenever Farage raises the spectre of public anger and violence, as he did during the referendum on immigration, he makes it out to be a warning. It is in fact a threat. He is trying to incite that mob mentality. He wants riots in the streets.
In this I think Mr Dunt is correct. It's not a warning. It's a call to arms. And though I detest Farage for a number of reasons, on this, I really don't have a problem. I have made similar warnings myself with an implied subtext. I am completely at ease with it. This is basic civics.

Democracy is a substitute for violence. We only have a civil society because of a social contract. It is only because decision making is legitimate that the government has any moral authority to exert force over us. Remove that legitimacy and government authority no longer applies. The government can no longer legitimately apply force.

The state has a monopoly on violence - which we accept and respect. Underpinning every law is the implied threat of violence. Even something as basic as a council tax comes with a threat of imprisonment. Police will use force to that end.

But that social contract works both ways. If government no longer acts according to the social contract then it loses legitimacy and forfeits the right to govern. If politicians dispense with democracy then we are obliged to revert to the default. Violence. That is of course in the most extreme cases, and this is not even close to an extreme case. Yet.

Spent force though he is, Farage does have a certain sway with a sizable portion of the electorate for whom he is a spokesman. From this position he is issuing a veiled threat, ratcheting up the rhetoric in the knowledge that someone somewhere, willing to do as he alludes, is hearing him loud and clear.

It's not exactly subtle but it is a clear warning to MPs not to even think about derailing Brexit. We had riots over the poll tax so if MPs think they can cynically use process to defeat what we Eurosceptics have worked all our lives for and invested in, then they open up a Pandora's box.

The bottom line is that we had a referendum, a free and fair referendum where the advantage was stacked strongly in favour of the status quo. That was the mountain for the leavers to climb and we climbed it. We won. It was a slim win but a win nonetheless.

As it happens 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. But we accept that thin gruel as representative democracy. If we accept that then we absolutely must respect a direct consultation.  

There are times when "representative democracy" cannot produce a legitimate satisfactory verdict. 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.

We have had a direct consultation, we had a year between the election and the vote, we had a national conversation about it and we presented our verdict. The House of Commons through normal process agreed to defer this decision to the people.

Because the great and the good does not now like that verdict they seek to water it down and interfere with it with a view to preventing the instruction being carried out. They'd have done it already - in a heartbeat - if they thought they could get away with it. The only thing that keeps them honest is the underlying periodic reminder that if they don't do as they are told (for that is what they are there to do) then they can reasonably expect to be strung up by the balls.

Now you can whine, as indeed may hacks do, that this creates a "toxic" atmosphere in the public debate - the sort which by their estimation is responsible for the death of Jo Cox. I will not be blackmailed in such a way. MPs are the ones playing dangerous games with democracy, not us. Owen Smith stated quite clearly his intent to use any vote as a vehicle for overturning the referendum.

It shows that there are MPs who see themselves as rulers not servants. Such extreme hubris warrants a more robust threat than the threat to kick them out at the next general election. Whether Dunt likes it or not, Brexit is deadly serious.

This is about self determination. It is an intergenerational struggle spanning decades. We eurosceptics live this cause, we will fight for it for as long as it takes. We are fanatics. We will do, in the long run, whatever it takes to ensure that Britain is not ruled by a remote antidemocratic technocracy.

So now MPs have a choice. They can do as instructed or they can spit on what we regard as sacrosanct. A direct consultation is as legitimate as legitimate gets. If the MPs get the idea that they are somehow better, wiser and more informed than the rest of us then they are in need of a little reminder. Farage in his own crude way has done us a service. MPs are now acutely aware that this is one of those times where it is best not to wake a sleeping dragon.

No comments:

Post a Comment