Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Parting ways with democracy

Aside from the obvious, there is only one take home point from tonight's vote. Parliament is once again operating in its own private bubble where nothing outside of it exists. They are not actually thinking about governing the country or the consequences of their actions. This is all about making sure the other side doesn't win.

For sure they do not want a no deal Brexit, but that is a secondary consideration. There is no strategy here. We are limping from vote to vote. It hasn't sunk in that the deal is the only deal and that nothing is served by extending. It clearly hasn't sunk in that no deal is the default and if they are not going to ratify a withdrawal agreement then they must make the call as to whether or not they are going to honour the referendum. That's really what this is all about. While they accuse Mrs May of kicking the can down the road, this is precisely what they are doing.

This is ultimately a question of resolving the age old problem of Britain's relationship with the EU. Conniving to remain not only fails to address the issue, it very probably makes it worse. There is no way we can continue our membership of the EU without a renewed mandate. We cannot be the  member that voted to leave but is still a member.

So there will have to be another in/out referendum. To make that happen they would have to revoke Article 50 to set about that long and complex task. If they lose it, we are back where we started. If they win it, with leave starting off with a bigger base before, it will be a narrow win in which case we continue our membership of the EU with only the slimmest of mandates with nothing resolved politically at home. The EU then continues to be a festering sore in British politics.

By then we will have referendum fatigue but the forces of leave with gather once again, holding politics to ransom. Eventually it once again becomes the defining issue of politics, only this time around, nobody will trust the Tories. There will be no referendums, no Article 50 talks. We will just leave. Meanwhile there is no scenario where this doesn't turn ugly.

It won't take very long before we see projectiles thrown at MPs and they won't be safe anywhere they go. They will have to double up on security and conduct their surgeries in public locations. They will be on the defensive and some will even need bodyguards. What we then get a is a remote ruling class operating from deep within the bunker, and a culture where even the mildest criticism of MPs is viewed as potential extremism. Policing of public debate will become draconian like never before.

Politics cannot function in this way. You can't tell seventeen million people that their votes didn't count and expect to get away with it. There is no way that doesn't leave a scar on democracy. You can't drag us all the way to the exit door then have parliament tell us they don't fancy it. You can't keep us locked in a project like the EU without an unarguable majority. Unless there is, nothing done at the EU level will ever be considered legitimate.

What we then get is fring populist parties sweeping the board at euro elections with minuscule turnouts, and increasingly we see the Commission ring-fencing the European parliament to prevent it having influence. Not forgetting that the EU wants to progress beyond Lisbon and cannot do so without a treaty. There is no way the UK will vote to ratify it so they will set about it by stealth. We will be back here again.

This is not to say that leaving is not without problems but at least we can then ditch the baggage of the EU issue and our full political energies are set on resolving those problems independently. Leaving at least lances the boil. At least if the mandate is carried out, the residual trust in democracy remains. That is not so easily rebuilt should we remain.

Ultimately leavers did everything we were supposed to do. We started a party, we campaigned for a referendum and went on to win it. Twenty years of dedicated engagement. To say that this counts for nothing is to tell all those people (who were more engaged than most in the issue) that their vote doesn't count and never did, and will remain voiceless, is to say that the vote is not universal. If that is what they are saying to us then they have finally parted ways with democracy for good.

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