I published the following post on a French website, Agoravox, which at first glance, seemed rather like the present one. I wanted to share my views on the dangers of tampering with proven democratic systems, to a French audience. The response I got was quite worrying. It was a mixture of insults and extremist remarks. I tried responding to the harsh and unjustified criticism, but this just made things worse. I subsequently found out that the site has had problems in the past and has been accused of promoting conspiracy theories.
What is extremely worrying is that these people, who will probably vote for the National Front presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, are not willing to discuss anything with anybody who disagrees with them. They are, like a large majority of those who voted Leave in the UK, set in their views, have no policies, and have a large vocabulary when it comes to insults. The reason that they will vote Le Pen is not necessarily that they agree with all she says, but is their way of “getting their own back” on the other politicians. Marine Le Pen will certainly reach the second round of the French presidential election in 2017, and will probably face the centrist Alain Juppé. It’s going to take a lot of persuading to prevent her from beating him too.
I thought, at first, that in endorsing the UK parliament’s right to vote for the triggering of Article 50, the high court ruling was a good thing. Having heard Theresa May’s views that it wouldn’t change her timetable or attitude, and other politicians saying that they were going to vote for Brexit anyway, has made me doubt the usefulness of this decision. It seems to me that the UK’s entire democratic system has been twisted and turned to suit the result of the EU referendum.
I was under the impression, maybe naively, that in a parliamentary democracy, the election candidates proposed policies to the electorate, and not the other way around. In the present situation, it seems that the electorate has decided that the government should lead the UK out of Europe and the government has responded by saying “OK we’ll do it, but we don’t exactly know how, nor do we really agree with you. And, furthermore, let’s not use parliament to discuss it.”
In asking the high court to decide whether Article 50 could be triggered without the consent of parliament, Gina Miller was only doing what others should have done. She has, barring a reversal of the ruling by the supreme court, defended the true values of a parliamentary democracy by actually getting Parliament to vote on the Brexit process. This is because people vote for policies, members of parliament represent the voters and, policies are discussed and carried through by the national parliament. This democratic process should not, under any circumstances, be tampered with. That an advisory referendum was held for such an important decision as membership of the EU does not alter the fact that the UK is a parliamentary democracy.
In 1945, Winston Churchill suggested that a referendum be held over extending the duration of the wartime cabinet until the war in Japan was over, but Clement Attlee, who formed a coalition government with Winston Churchill, refused.
‘I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and Fascism.’ – Clement Attlee, 1945
Given the fact that, in recent times, charismatic demagogues are increasingly being heard and listened to, it is becoming hard not to think that Clement Attlee’s views on the dangers associated with direct popular votes were not exaggerated. Nigel Farage, the exuberant Leave campaigner, designated June 23 as “Independence Day”. Did he mean independence from the EU or from Westminster? The first is highly regrettable, the second highly dangerous.
It is now up to parliament to decide whether the referendum should “dictate” the constitutional future of the UK. Whatever the result, it is clear that parliamentary democracy has taken a blow on the chin. A blow delivered by a democratic tool of the purest kind, but turned out to be a dangerous populist vote. It is up to parliament to get up, lick its wounds, and fight back, for the sake of true democracy.
I am convinced that the storm raging over the United Kingdom since June 23 will not stay put. A wind of isolationism, xenophobia and intolerance is beginning to blow over other countries too. Countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands all have elections in 2017, and certain political parties are already calling for a referendum like the one held in the UK. It’s to be hoped that this wind remains just a breeze and is not transformed into a storm.
The most worrying, however, might not originate from the English Channel, but much further afield. The EU and UK might be well advised to put their differences to one side and concentrate on a problem that concerns us all: a tornado is brewing on the other side of the Atlantic and threatens to destroy all that lies in its path.