January 25, 2017

Our democracy must pass the Brexit test

Our democracy must pass the Brexit test

A reversal of the Brexit result would be a dramatic assertion of elite dominance, and would signal to the British people that they lack a democratic avenue for effecting change, says Henry Hill.

One of the best summaries of the reaction to Brexit on the part of some Remain supporters comes from Professor Anand Menon – not a man with whom I always agree – from The UK in a Changing Europe:

“It is hard to avoid the feeling that the sense of bereavement that ran through Remainer reactions stemmed not from its anticipated impact, but from the fact that it was not their preferred outcome.  These, simply put, are not people who are used to losing. As Manchester Professor Rob Ford put it, in my second favourite Brexit quote of the year, Remainers are now simply experiencing what UKIP voters have had to put up with for years.”

That line – “not used to losing” – puts its finger precisely on the sense of outraged entitlement emanating from certain parts of the Remain coalition. It explains their dogged refusal to abandon the cause after the referendum, and illustrates how important it is that they do lose.

I wonder if I’m alone in feeling much more strongly that we ought to leave now we’ve voted to do so than I ever did about whether or not we voted to leave in the first place. I was a swing voter in the referendum, my once-ardent Europhilia washed out by the realisation that the EU seemed unlikely ever to embrace the sort of reforms I’d hoped for.

Once David Cameron had put our membership on the line and got so little, the options looked to me as either walk the walk, or validate Brussels’ dogmatism and complacency. Not necessarily an inspiring choice but not, when it came to it, a very difficult one.

Once the Leave vote was in, I found my residual concerns gradually giving way to excitement at the prospect of bringing control of so many areas of policy back to London – a sense of unfolding horizons brilliantly expressed by Andrew Marr in the New Statesman. There was also a sense of slightly giddy disbelief that something so obviously opposed by the powers that be had actually happened.

But of course, it hasn’t happened yet. And when the High Court first upheld Gina Miller’s case against the Government triggering Article 50 there was a real sense that Brexit might run aground against an unnavigable reef of sheer, elite disbelief and disapproval.

This sense of entitlement isn’t confined to the Brexit vote: it’s been very apparent in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s blindside victory in the United States, to pick just the most obvious example. If you’re a connoisseur, you should check out the Twitterati rending their shirts after Colombian voters rejected a peace deal their President had negotiated with the FARC guerrillas. Most of those objecting hadn’t had the slightest involvement with the Colombian conflict, and few had a clear idea about the terms of the ceasefire or why a bare majority of voters rejected them. But still the familiar cry went up: democracy had got it wrong. Again. Damn it, 2016.

That it is very difficult to stop some things happening once the powerful have decided on them, especially in the EU, was well-known before Brexit – see all the running jokes about Ireland voting again until they get it right. But last year marked the first time in recent history that opposition forces, albeit of rather different sorts, appear to have scored actual victories against the settled opinions of those in charge, and the prospect of the results getting overturned isn’t quite so funny.

Brexit highlighted the breadth of the gulf between the political world and much of the country, and engaged a huge number of normally indifferent or under-motivated voters. If the sole result of leaving the EU was to make our leaders and parties more responsive to that body of opinion which they’ve previously overlooked, it will have been a very good thing for our democracy.

On the other hand, a reversal of the result would be a dramatic assertion of elite dominance, and the dangers of that were well laid out by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional expert, in a letter to the Times. It would alienate a huge number of voters and signal to them that they don’t have a reliable, democratic avenue for effecting change. That could well be the spur for the rise in this country of the more radical populism we see blossoming on the continent, but have been largely spared to date.

Brexit is about more than trade deals, or benefits, or even immigration. It is a test of whether British politics is a sport where, when everybody participates, the insiders can lose. If not, they’ll have nobody but themselves to blame if turnouts slump or radicalism rises. Nobody has much patience for rigged games.

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Henry Hill
Henry Hill is a freelance journalist. He is assistant editor of ConservativeHome and also works as a communications officer for a Tory MP, as well as a commentator for BBC radio and television. He tweets at @hch_hill.
  • Nockian

    No article ? Maybe it’s spread to comment central ?

    Central banks don’t work any better than any other kind of soviet style producer. They produce too many tractors when we need more ploughs. This is because banking isn’t independent, it isn’t laissez faire capitalism that is being practised, but the soviet style economics of central planning. It is not, per se, the fault of the central banks, anymore than it was the fault of the Russian tractor factories for under/ over producing as a result of state diktat. Unfortunately we have a mixed economy, which is 50% socialistic and has been expanding for several decades-most of us now give over 60% of our earnings to government directly (it’s probably a bit more depending on inflation and inflexible tax bands).

    The answer is to get the state out of commerce, then the central banks will either survive or collapse within a laissez faire banking system, but first we must begin to accept the truth, that we cannot continue to sustain such a gargantuan welfare system and its associated government. If we want to produce more, we need to be taxed less, we must save not spend.

  • ratcatcher11

    If everyone saved and did not spend there would be a massive worldwide slump, so it is obvious there has to be spending. Making things for sale is thus important, services alone cannot sustain an economy. One of the biggest problems is Keynsian economics that are basically tax, print and spend socialist policies. We do not need the government to build a railway we need a private company to build the railway which will compete with air travel fairly, not by taxing air travel to make it it less profitable. Thus the governments air taxes should be scrapped and private companies encouraged to re open rail lines closed by Beeching. This is the development we need not government spending 90 billion of money on an HS2 line built from somewhere to nowhere and never stops to pick up passengers.

  • Debs

    Expansion of economies cannot go on forever no matter what so called monetary policy is. You dont need to be an economics expert to realise it.

    All I know is governments and banks seem to be constantly coming up with schemes to leave we the lowly tax payer with less of our money.Forget about the trumpeted tax cuts ,everything else is going up accordingly except real wages of course. Dont even mention the Green scam or the cheap labour scam.

    Bail ins and cashless society are two more scams I have seen trailed in various media outlets over the past few years. Gradually our hard earned money is being prised away from us to fritter away on who knows what.

    They wonder why Trump got elected.

  • Nockian

    The market will raise rates eventually, regardless of wether the central bank wishes it or not. The problem is that we have all become mesmerised at central bank control, when, in reality, at this stage they have little at all. They cannot raise rates to normal, because, firstly, we don’t know what normal looks like (it could already be normal) and secondly any increases will create an avalanche effect-let’s face it, no one but the wealthiest wants to bring down countries governments through a collapse in public spending leading to actual anarchy on our streets.

    The bogey man of fractional reserve is a myth that has permeated libertarian consciousness, in a free market banks would have to take risk or they would, by any definition, not be free market. Banks are not currently lending to private individuals because capital requirements are already so high-they have become zombified businesses that look like they function, but are like the shops we set up as kids with funny money and plastic fruit. The market is broken as far as banks are concerned, they are no longer part of it.

    Fixing the problem cannot begin by looking at the central bank, nor the main banks. It’s far too late to consider than anything can be done at this stage, we are so far beyond normal that we aren’t looking at a functioning banking system at all. It would be like bleeding the radiators to solve a broken boiler.

    The problem we have is at its heart a simple one. It’s the problem that labour refused to accept when the banks blew up. We have an unsustainable welfare system and an over sized government. We have to tackle our public spending first of all and I see little sign that any current, nor perspective government is prepared to give the public the awful news about the reality.

    Even the great Tory saviours have flunked out of the monetary boiler rooms. The situation is dire, there is no fuel left, we have been ripping up the ships timbers to maintain the illusion of tranquil sailing progress, but eventually the ship will sink for lack of substance. There is no monetary policy that can save us, all we are going to get is an ever growing war on cash, savers and anyone who tries to make a profit. We are going to end up in the late stages of a soviet style melt down whilst spinning mirrors to pretend it isn’t happening.

    We all know what’s going on, we can offer solutions, make sympathetic noises and talk up any temporary progress, but the reality of the situation is now apparent. We have to do what every debtor must eventually conclude; that our spending has unfortunaly exceeded our earning capacity and all those red letters mean some drastic rethinking is required. We are going to reach the end of the road, not by a sudden explosion, but the drift into monetary authoritarianism which will result in ever greater protectionism and falling living standards. We are in great danger of losing the West to the East and ending up as country cousins of a world of declining freedoms and the rise mysticism.

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