As part of my MPhil, I studied a unit on political philosophy. Being a political science course, naturally, we looked at the debates relating to democracy, including John Stuart Mills initial assertion (later repudiated) that certain competent citizens should have extra votes. He was dubbed a democratic elitist.
If that isn’t the tendency running through the, mostly middle class, remain voters I don’t know what is. The number of people who have thrown out the idea that the Leave voters were some combination of simple-minded, misinformed, deluded, racist, bigoted idiots, whose views can not be considered to be legitimate is astounding. Even I am shocked by the anti-democratic sentiment and utter hypocrisy that I have seen. I thought the mood after the General Election was bad.
Right Answer or Choice?
There was no ‘right’ answer to the EU referendum. I repeat there was no right answer that the voters should have chosen.
There was a choice between two alternatives – to remain or to leave. This simple distinction between right/wrong answer and choice is eluding far too many right now.
If you believed remain was the better choice, fine. If you disagree and still disagree with the argument that Leave is a better choice, fine. But to argue there is a right answer which everyone should mindlessly rubber stamp to give the illusion of democracy is nonsense.
Well-Informed or Ill-informed?
Let’s tackle this one from the top. The notion that some people were better informed to make a decision and others just should not have been allowed a say is contemptuous. Compared to me – with a degree incorporating European History, Politics, Law – most people’s understanding of the EU, it’s history and treaties is woeful. You probably don’t know your arse from your elbow when it comes to the ECSC, EEC or EU. No, let’s go the whole hog here. My MPhil involved years of studying the British constitution, sovereignty, and devolution – I should get at least twice as much say as most people if not more based on the ‘well-informed’ criteria. In fact, why should anyone without a degree or equivalent which did not have an element of studying the European Union be allowed a say at all. You are far too misinformed. If you don’t know that Vernon Bogdanor is the authority on the British Constitution then minus votes for you.
Except that is not how democracy works. There are blatantly people who know more than I do on any particular aspect of all the above. In the intervening years, things have changed in the EU for better and at times worse. Well-informed is a matter of opinion. I can set my criteria; you can set yours. It is not objective. That’s why it is not a criterion for being eligible to vote. Just as well too as it would disenfranchise the majority of the world’s population in an instant.
I voted Remain in the end because I have benefitted from being part of the EU and I did not want to pull up the ladder behind me. However, the idea that others should think or feel the same way is ridiculous. It’s not their experience, and no one has to take what I think into consideration while voting whether they were voting the same way as me or the opposite. Take the NHS – the idea that £350 million a week is going to be spent on it is ridiculous, but I took those claims with a pinch of salt and to mean that we ‘could’ in theory. On the other hand, the idea that the NHS is completely safe if we had stayed in the EU is equally ludicrous given TTIP. No one, and I mean no one, had a definitive handle on every single aspect of the all the issues. That’s arrogance talking.
I’m most bemused by those remain teachers who argue against a more academic education for working class or poor children because of its irrelevance, then wonder why as adults they have not made ‘better informed’ decisions. Then use this as a justification to undermine their vote and negate their choice.
If you think that we should all follow our hearts and that rational thought is an imposition, you can hardly complain that it’s the basis of some of the voting that took place. If you believe that we should only teach children what’s relevant based on their socio-economic background, then you can hardly complain if they vote as ‘little Englanders’. Not that I believe this was the case for most of those who voted Leave but if it was then so be it. People have the vote and can use it as they wish.
Accept and Agree
No one has to agree on the issue of the EU now or at any future point but it is one of the foundations of democracy that we all accept the democratic decisions that have been made. The way that some people are trying to find technicalities to try and get out of this vote is disgusting and shows a genuine shallowness of their commitment to democracy. It also tells me how little cause these people can have for arguing they are ‘well-informed’ when they can ignore the horrific realities of undemocratic regimes around the world and throughout history. The consequences of Brexit might be bad, but the effects of undermining democracy are far greater.
Racism and Xenophobia
I get that many people are gutted, for themselves, their children and their futures, but this is the same feeling that some on the Leave side have been contending with for decades. I have a whole group of friends that I would not know if it hadn’t of been for Erasmus.
Also, I can see how we have ended up here. Setting the parameters narrowly on what could and could not be debated in this country, in particular on the question of immigration. Are there white racists out there being violent, horrible and displaying the worst kind of nastiness? Yes, but they were there last week too. The laws in this country have not changed to enable them to get away with it. If remain had won, the same incidents would have taken place with slightly different slogans.
Even here, I would argue that those on the left, in particular, have lost any moral argument against the thugs. Those on the far, and even moderate, left betrayed universal liberal values decades ago. How many times have I seen people agree that ethnic minorities can’t be racist? How many people, especially BAME complained about this poster?
I found myself in the rather odd position during the referendum campaign of agreeing with Paul Nuttall of UKIP over this. Saying UKIP’s poster of refugees was racist but not uttering a word about this is the kind of hypocrisy that the far right feed off. Both posters are wrong for the same reasons, but only one got criticised. No amount of virtue signalling or belief in one’s righteousness hides the reality that the principle of treating people equally regardless of race has been wilfully abandoned in some quarters.
The vast majority of those who voted Leave did nothing at all that was threatening or racist and neither are they responsible for the actions of those who did. Having talked to @5N_Afzal yesterday, I accept that some leadership from Leave would help to at least calm the situation down. But it does not invalidate the vote of those who voted to Leave anymore than the views and actions of SJWs or anti-semites invalidates those of the Remain voters.
The reality is that every single group in our society was split on this issue, including ethnic minorities. But of course they can’t be racist so they must be deluded, ignorant or worse still ungrateful. I felt tested a few weeks ago when confronted by a Sikh UKIP member whose argument was that he believed Britain was better off out of Europe because he thought it was better for his business. He was right to vote Leave based on his circumstances. It might give some succour to the far right, but if we wanted fascists to dictate how we act and behave, we could have saved ourselves the trouble of fighting at least one world war. He was born here, he works, he contributes, and he can exercise his judgement to use his vote. If this causes some to abandon their commitment to anti-racism well, it was never meant all that much to them in the first place.
My favourite tweet today has got to be the one claiming that working class people have been duped by the elites and that middle-class people were working in the interests of the working class. This Marxist nonsense holds no truck in many parts of the country.
The Labour Party has decided to return to the 1980s and simply can not fathom that the society they are in is a totally different one.
Liz Kendall spoke eloquently months ago at a Progress meeting that Labour could not rely on its traditional base, not the white working class, not ethnic minorities, not the moderate left – they were out of touch with all of them. I couldn’t agree more. None of these are not homogenous groups if they ever were, and certainly, they are more fragmented now than ever.
Jeremy Corbyn also seems to have missed the point that he appealed to the far left, would be radicals, revolutionaries and rebels, and not to the aforementioned groups who no longer see the Labour Party as their natural home.
Individuals and groups in society are entitled to form alliances on issues as they wish. Why should the working class or any other group vote dutifully in a particular way?
To continue with the story of my philosophy lesson, we argued between ourselves and hammered out every reason why it might be better if certain people had a greater say. In the end, it was clear that nothing excused minority rule because that is, no matter how benevolent the particular ‘elite’ think they are, a dictatorship not a democracy. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to throw democracy or the principle of one person one vote under the bus. It is sad how many have argued to do just that this weekend from the Remain camp.
If there is a second referendum called, so people make the ‘right’ decision, I am going to do what I think is right. I’ll just switch my vote to support Leave because I just don’t agree that those who voted for Brexit deserve to be delegitimised by those who display the kind of contempt for democracy that I would expect from the ruling elite in a tinpot dictatorship.