The Moral Hazard of a People's Vote


If anyone was in any doubt that plebiscites are a bad idea only has to observe British politics and British society over the last two and a half years. David Cameron’s desire to ’settle the Europe issue once and for all’ has unleashed bitterness, division and rancour. With such a close result, the answer was never going to be definitive with the country in a political mire it is hard to see how it will get out of. The issues with referendums, of course, is that they are binary, offering yes or no options to incredibly complex issues. Within that choice, people vote the way they do for a myriad different reasons.

It has exposed a very ugly side to the country, especially to the political establishment. Much has been written about the racism underlying people’s decision to vote leave, the fact they were lied to (£350m for the NHS etc.) and that they did not know what they were voting for. Whilst these were undoubtedly factors for some people, the feeling that the Vote Leave campaign tapped into was a sense of disengagement and disenfranchisement amongst many outside of the M25. Many people felt their voices were never heard - the liberal elite of London taking decisions in their own interest without regard for the rest of the country. Indeed, many politicians only find themselves outside the capital during election campaigns delivering the same platitudes and insincere commitments, they do every election. The referendum gave these people a chance to be heard. It was no longer possible for political parties to hide behind a manifesto of vague ambition and ambiguous policies but provided a direct yes or no, in or out. It gave them a chance to give the political elite a bloody nose and that they most certainly did.

What has happened since that, however, is worrying and yet expected, distasteful and yet predictable. I am not referring to an increase in racially motivated hate crimes (a sickening reaction by a very small minority of the worst citizens of our nation), or the heated debates on TV, within families and friendship groups growing the divisions in opinion and sentiment. I am referring to the behaviour of our politicians, whose answer to the result has been to either try and reverse the decision or manoeuvre for their own personal advantage, rather than acting in the national interest. This applies cross party with ambitious Conservatives manoevring to be leader/PM and Labour using the situation to try and force a general election simply to get into power.

The biggest concern, however, is a second referendum – disingenuously referred to as a people’s vote. I say disingenuous because it is the establishment pushing for this vote under the guise of handing back power to the people in order to achieve the outcome they desired first time round. This should concern not just leave voters – remainers should consider how engaged they would feel if they were on the other side of this, or any future argument. A second vote and a potential reversal of the result may give remain supporters the result they want on this occasion but it really hands victory to the establishment. It means ultimately, they will win regardless of the public’s opinion - they will get the outcome that suits them.

It is hard to see how the current Brexit predicament is going to be resolved but it should be through parliamentarians on all sides working together for the good of the nation rather than in their self-interest. In the ultimate democratic body (Parliament), we need to be very careful not to undermine that democracy by the establishment forcing through their will against the democratic result – a second vote is the first step along this dangerous route. They have not truly considered (or worse still, have knowingly ignored) why people voted the way they did – this lack of voice, of not being heard – but simply attributed it to lies, overspending etc. in order to justify their own actions. Focus should be on addressing the issues with which the electorate are unhappy rather than trying to undermine the campaign around the referendum. A failure to do so could lead to the loss of political engagement for a generation.

#Brexit #PeoplesVote

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