Democracy – the worst form of government…

Democracy – the worst form of government…

… “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, as Churchill reminded us.

People are still talking about #Brexit, as one might expect given the severity of some potential consequences of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the EU. But some people – including one that I have great respect for, Prof. A.C. Grayling – are arguing that UK Parliamentarians should vote against any motion to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Article 50 would start the official clock on an EU exit, whereas what we have now is a non-binding advisory reflecting the will of the voters. As the English lawyer and respected legal commentator David Allen Green puts it:

What happens next in the event of a vote to leave is therefore a matter of politics not law. It will come down to what is politically expedient and practicable. The UK government could seek to ignore such a vote; to explain it away and characterise it in terms that it has no credibility or binding effect (low turnout may be such an excuse).

Of course, it might not be politically possible for Parliament to reject the vote, even if the majority of parliamentarians wanted to, given that doing so would be acting expressly against what the voters have asked for.

A separate question is whether the voters knew what they were doing. Another is whether the referendum was constructed appropriately, in that you might want to require a larger (perhaps 2/3) majority for a decision of this magnitude.

My concern is that you can’t like democracy only when you happen to agree with the decisions taken by an electorate. To say that voters didn’t have access to all the information they needed to make the “right” choice here is to my mind false – they had the information, but some of them perhaps didn’t access it until too late, and some of them perhaps never thought about it enough.

No amount of “buyers remorse” proves the point that the will of the people was not expressed in the #Brexit vote, whether or not you regard the people as fools or sages for making the decision they did.

So I’d disagree with Grayling here. A choice has been made, and according to the rules of democracy, Parliament would be acting without a mandate if it were to ignore the vote. Sometimes the electorate makes decisions that suit you, sometimes it doesn’t – you don’t get to change the rules when you don’t like the outcome.

If I were supreme leader, I’d want to ignore the will of the people in this case, as well as in many others. And that, in short, is why the majority vote gets to decide – because even when “they” make the wrong choice, you’re still protected from having to suffer the whims of a dictator.

1 comment
  • David Barber

    I have only just come across your article, Jacques, so you may not get my reply. But thank you, anyway, for the voice of sanity. A real believer in democracy is someone who supports the majority decision even if he or she does not agree with it.
    Critics of the Brexit result keep saying it was a close result (52% to 48%). But in real terms this is not true. Those who voted to leave were put under extreme pressure by the Establishment to remain: all the political parties except for UKIP, including a huge majority of Members of Parliament campaigning in their constituencies, the Anglican Church, the Bank of England, the trade unions, the CEOs of most of the UK’s major international businesses and most of the UK’s major national businesses, the UK’s very influential financial sector and most British newspapers.
    Under such a bombardment, many of the people I met (and, as you can imagine, we were all discussing which way to vote with total strangers everywhere we went!), wanted to vote for leave but in the end changed their minds and voted to remain ‘Because not all these important people can be wrong’! In other words, had the Establishment kept out of it, the vote to leave would have been very much higher. In fact, it is amazing that the Brexiters actually did win in the face the onslaught they faced.
    One has to question whether the British Establishment acted within the spirit of a referendum. Surely the whole point of a referendum is to find out what the ordinary citizens feel, without undue pressure from the Establishment, which can only skew if not ’emotionally blackmail’ the results in its favour?
    Also, Scotland voted 62% to 38% to remain. Scotland, as I’m sure you know, is a special case for two reasons. First Nicola Sturgeon, its First Minister, and Alex Salmond her predecessor, are two hugely influential figures and many Scots will have voted to remain simply because they did. Second, Scotland is likely at some stage to leave the UK. So if you take their vote out, that, too, would boost the exit figures.
    To their credit, the Members of Parliament, most of whom had wanted to remain (including our new Prime Minister, Theresa May), behaved in a responsible, honourable and properly democratic way, respected the wishes of the majority, and overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50.
    It is the likes of Grayling and his ilk who have proved to be irresponsible and anti-democracy, and they should be ashamed of themselves. The fact is that all genuine and honest exiters and remainers agree on one thing: no one knows which was the right decision to make, and we will only ever know in hindsight. So to pretend otherwise is simply arrogant and intellectually dishonest. However, the remain camp is behaving in a very underhand and dishonest way, so it remains to be seen whether Britain will leave the UK or whether the remainers will scupper the negotiations.

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