The concept of democracy is very simple, or at least it should be. It’s that citizens should be given an equal choice over their collective futures; where welfare is the social object, and normally will is the social law. Take the example of a plane crash in which 20 people are left stranded in the wilderness. Who would rule? Could the strongest and cleverest rule without the other 19 submitting to his/her authority? If their talents are used for the community, then they are the servant of the community. And the community is sovereign. If their talents are used against the community, why should the community submit to them?
In such a simple example we can see the benefit of rule by popular consent. We also see that there’s clearly a direct relationship between the freedom of choice and results. The problem is that the directness of this approach has been corrupted in a society which is infinitely complex; in a system where nothing is straightforward; where all paths are meandering even when they are meant to be straight. The fault, therefore, isn’t with the concept of democracy per se, it’s that anti-democratic things have hidden themselves within this complexity and seek to thwart and undermine it by ingeniously presenting its own self-interest to be in the democratic interest of all.
Of course, in a system that calls itself a democracy, anti-democratic elements will only be tolerable if they mask a substantial part of themselves. It’s rather like the Carnival of Venice where masks give wearers free licence to do as they please. Occasionally, however, the mask slips, and we see the true face of power in all its ugliness; we may even see the identity of those who are committing debauched acts. And in recent times, nowhere has the Carnival’s spotlight been shone more than on Parliament’s handling of the Brexit referendum.
A referendum is perhaps the purest form of this direct method of governance, so it is perhaps unsurprising that in this most indirect of systems there’s been a failure to fit the most direct of all ideas. But the clash isn’t necessarily between simplicity and complexity, it’s between sincerity and insincerity. And the battleground, as ever, is the economy. It seems the main contention to upholding the result of the referendum is that it “would be bad for the economy”, while a no-deal Brexit “would be catastrophic for the economy”.
One MP who is a loyal slave to the economy is Hilary Benn, who has motioned the Benn Bill, which essentially aims to block a no-deal Brexit. This hastily written bill has been passed by Parliament. The official position of Labour, the opposition party of which Benn is a mutinous member, is to renegotiate a “good deal”, then put that before the public in a second referendum in a binary proposition with remain. Labour first said that they will then campaign for remain because it would be “better for jobs and economic security”. Now, after attracting a considerable amount of public ridicule for this stance, they say that they will be “neutral” in that scenario. Yes, really.
To my knowledge the media hasn’t seriously analysed this prevention of the possibility of a no-deal. Lamely repeating ad nauseam that “no-deal would be catastrophic for this country”. Nor has it adequately analysed the very deliberate attempt to thwart the result of a popular vote, as we see inferred by Labour’s official Brexit policy. It merely wheels out cherry-picked expert after cherry-picked expert with dire economic forecasts; talking point after talking point that roll off the tongue like a Bishop reading the liturgy from a holy book.
Media talking points fall upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the details and obscuring features. It’s a gentle process that accumulates over time, for if the storm was more violent, it would be more visible. But because a small clearing in the wood can be worth more to us than whole forests of mere entanglement, let’s point out the obvious. To block the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is to block Brexit itself. Because all the EU needs to do to keep the UK in the union is to offer terrible deals making remain the only viable option. At the very least, the prospect of securing a deal advantageous to remaining will be successfully negated.
The Bill therefore can be rightly described as a “Surrender Act”. Because a very rudimentary understanding of the concept of bartering is clearly missing from Hilary Benn’s motion. Rather, it’s designed to immure the pro-Brexit Government in paralysis. And attempts to prevent a snap election merely deepen that paralysis. Such disingenuous prevarication has marked parliament’s stance on this issue. In what is a very clear circumvention of a democratic vote, the largest mandate in British electoral history.
To be, on the face of it, so ignorant of basic trading principles makes one a little sceptical of the judgement of those who are keen to invoke trade as a good reason to suspend the democratic will of the people. If, as I suspect, parliament is not ignorant of trading principles and has cynically passed the bill to thwart the result it, in turn, makes one cynical of their concerns. Which seem to centre around short-term economic problems and not long-term predictions. Indeed, decisions grounded in the short-term tend to fail in the long-term. But regardless, even if they were sincere and their concerns justified, it is quite immaterial to the question at hand.
Surrendering everything to trade and commerce is not democracy. Capitalism is not democracy; and is admittedly, at various gradations, rather against democracy. Did it not occur to the purveyors of sound economic planning that the vote could have been about culture and identity, and not the God of GDP? In fact, inherent in the very notion of voting is the suggestion – and what so many journalists seem so eager to forget – that the country and its economy is the servant of the people and not that the people are servants of the country and its economy.
If parliament refuses to uphold a democratic vote it ceases to be credible. Actions signify more than words. You can’t speak the words of democracy while walking the walk of dictatorship. Because it is simply not tenable that the result that failed is the same as the realities that did succeed.