(I don’t often comment on politics these days, so make the most of this one!)
We’ve seen a lot of milkshakes recently. In my day it was eggs. Although it still didn’t get you anything, unless you tried it on John Prescott, in which case you might end up with a black eye!
Earlier this week a friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook to go take a look at his newsfeed. He had resigned from the political party of which he had been a loyal member and staunch supporter for over twenty years. Brexit was a big part of that very difficult decision. He and I sit on different sides of that question, but we are still very civil to each other because we have more in common than separates us.
I have been a follower of British politics for over 45 years and for many of those I was actively involved. I now turn off the telly. Ad hominem has taken over. (For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, go Google it.) The sheer level of personal abuse now being thrown around, at both local and national level, shows the paucity of real debate. The use of chopped logic (“You voted to leave and that makes you a racist” being a particularly repugnant example) seems to prevail. The reaction of some to Thresamay’s resignation last week left me deeply saddened. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. I lived through Thatcher’s reign and I detested her and all she stood for, but I never once doubted that she sincerely believed in what she was doing.
The referendum was a binary choice – the most powerful and direct form of democracy. The arguments put forward since then that seek to invalidate the result are red herrings. The Boris Bus £350 million claim? Nobody other than the terminally gullible seriously believed it because we’re used to politicians of all tribes making outlandish claims. (And we should not give any real credence to those still predicting dire consequences, although they do seem now to have stopped just short of the frogs and the locusts and the death of all the first born). The overspending and breach of electoral law was just a side issue. It happens more often that you’d think in elections for the UK Parliament, but only rarely gets reported and doesn’t nullify the whole result.
Then there’s those who play the numbers game – the idea that you must count all those who can’t or didn’t vote. Well, the maxim of the law is Qui Tacit Consentire – which means in this case that they can be counted either way. Not only is it facile to assume that they would all vote in one direction, to consider them as supporters for one view or another effectively renders every elected government we’ve ever had as illegitimate.
And then there’s those who want to re-run the referendum. What is the point of having a referendum if you’re just gong to have another one because you didn’t like the first result. What, then, becomes the point of voting? And what happens if the new referendum is even closer? Do we have yet another referendum to check the pulse after the first two. As for the idea that whatever deal we end up with should be put to a confirmatory vote we had members of Parliament who clearly didn’t understand what they were voting on in the indicative stages, so what chance would the Person on the Clapham Omnibus have? And, in any case, that’s not how government works. We didn’t have a referendum on the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, the European Constitution or the Treaty of Lisbon.
And finally there are those that pop up every few minutes demanding a general election. Fine, but that would only take the temperature of a few hundred thousand voters in swing constituencies. And voters tend to become tribal, as a general election is not fought on a single issue.
It has become virtually impossible to have a serious debate in this country over Brexit without it turning into a slanging match. I don’t blame Cameron for getting us into this bastard shitstorm. He knew that sooner or later we would have to lance the boil of discontent around membership of the EU or one day Nigel Farage would be spitting venom across the floor at Prime Minister’s Questions. (Just let than sink in for a moment, please, Remainers!)
It is ingrained into our politics that the winner takes all. This manifests in the “yah-sucks-boo” nature of what passes for political debate, where I’m right and you’re wrong, so there, ner,ner. That has to change. A plebicite sets the broad direction and it’s then up to the politicians to make it work. Our Parliament has failed us miserably in that.
Maybe it’s time to take a tip on governance from the Vatican. Lock our MPs up in the Palace of Westminster and don’t let them out until there’s white smoke.