Brexit: Government of the people by the people for the people?

Getting Democracy Done: Brexit day on January 31, 2020, should perhaps forever be known as ‘will of the people’ day.

The health of democracy is a matter for growing concern but the responsibility for making it work better lies with the defeated as much as it does with those who have caused the injury through the way they have achieved their successes, Geoff Kitney writes.

From the moment it was clear that the “yes” case had won the Brexit referendum, the Brexit cheer squad insisted that there was a more fundamental reason than getting out of the EU for implementing the decision.

What was most fundamental was acting on the “will of the people”, they said. For “the sake of maintaining faith in democracy” the vote to leave had to be respected and acted upon.

So perhaps Brexit day on January 31, 2020, should forever be known as “will of the people” day.

It might be wise for the Brexit crowd to keep that idea alive over the years ahead in the event that Brexit proves not to deliver the bright and shiny new Britain that they have insisted will be the consequence of severing ties with the European Union. Then they can say that, whatever the long-term outcome of Brexit is for the UK, the important thing was that the “will of the people” was respected and democracy upheld.

In a troubled world in which there is growing consternation about the increase in anti-democratic tendencies, Brexit is being hailed by its supporters as a beacon of hope.

The health of democracy is a matter for growing concern but the responsibility for making it work better lies with the defeated as much as it does with those who have caused the injury through the way they have achieved their successes

Britain, the home of Westminster, The Mother of Parliaments, has successfully undertaken a great act of democratic choice in which, in spite of detractors (Remainers) attempting to usurp the People’s Will, the nation’s leaders have acted in accordance with the desire of the majority of the participants in the democratic process, expressed in the June, 2016 referendum.

The Brexit process – as an act of democratic choice – has been far superior to a lot of what is happening elsewhere in the world.

The December election, at which voters were given the chance to reflect on what had happened so far, in the light of all the new information that had been revealed about the implications and consequences of Brexit compared to what was known at the time of the referendum, saw a decisive vote for the political party promising to “get Brexit done”.

Remainers had had the chance to persuade the voters of the reasons why they believed Brexit would be a disaster for the UK but voters preferred pro-Brexit candidates to pro-Remain candidates.

The sweeping Conservative victory and the mandate this gave Boris Johnson to take the UK out of the EU on January 31 killed the case for Remaining

The choices voters made were made in a highly competitive political market place. Britain’s competitive and combative media aired all the arguments comprehensively.

As an observer of this process from Australia where Rupert Murdoch dominates the media ownership landscape and where his media has loudly argued the case for Australia to go slowly on climate change policies, which in part has been a factor in why Australia has been so ill-prepared for the onslaught of the extreme consequences of climate change, it is easy to feel envious of the British media landscape.

The sweeping Conservative victory and the mandate this gave Boris Johnson to take the UK out of the EU on January 31 killed the case for Remaining.

Had the Remain forces played their cards differently and formed an effective counter-Brexit force which succeeded in forcing a second referendum instead of handing Boris Johnson an early election on a platter, the consequences may have been very different.

It is highly unlikely that the Brexit forces would have given up their fight. The deep divisions that the Brexit battle had created would have deepened further. Instead of being seen as a triumph for democracy the campaign for and the aftermath of a second referendum might well have posed a grave threat to the democratic system.

Indeed, it is arguable that a lot of voters who had doubts about Brexit but who feared the consequences of a successful attempt by the Remain camp to frustrate the Brexit forces either chose not to vote in the election or voted for a Tory candidate in the hope of avoiding the threat of civil unrest and violent division. It could also be argued that voters saw Brexit as less of a problem than a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn and therefore voted for the lesser evil.

But these were democratic decisions and choices, just as some voters undoubtedly voted for the Conservatives and for Brexit despite deep reservations about the personality and character of their leader, Boris Johnson.

The Brexit process – as an act of democratic choice – has been far superior to a lot of what is happening elsewhere in the world.

Regardless of the possibility that they did not like the outcome of the election and are appalled at what post-Brexit Britain may become, the bottom line is that British voters made a democratic choice.

The same unpalatable reality could quite easily be repeated in the United States in November.

The prospect of a second term of the Donald Trump presidency fills many inside and outside the US with dread.

Trump is as obnoxious an individual and as dangerous a US President as there has been. His presidency has been bad for the world and, ultimately, is likely to prove to have been bad for the United States. The US Democrats would be widely applauded outside the US if they succeed in defeating Trump.

But, like the Remainers, they have to make the case and put forward an alternative capable of winning enough votes to succeed. On present indications, the Democrats may prove themselves incapable of doing so.

In Australia, the shocking extremes of this summer’s weather have focused worldwide attention on the conservative government’s denialist approach to dealing with climate change. There is deep anger in the community about the fact that years of warnings and scientific predictions of what has come to pass this summer were set aside or ignored by successive conservative governments, backed by the deep pockets of wealthy miners and conservative business executives.

There are calls for the government to be sacked by the Queen, as happened in Australia in 1975 when what was seen as an utterly incompetent Labor government was dismissed by her Australian constitutional representative, the Governor-General.

But Australia had an election a year ago and voters – by a narrow margin admittedly – returned the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition government for a third successive term. The Opposition Labor Party failed to convince voters that it had a better plan for governing, including for dealing with climate change – even though climate change was a big issue in the campaign.

The policies that this summer has shown to be inadequate for the crisis that has seen vast swathes of south-eastern Australia razed by bushfires and smashed by extreme weather events were given a tick by Australian voters at the ballot box in May last year.

In each case – Brexit, Trump, Australian climate crisis – the opponents of the parties which were politically successful failed to win the arguments.

The democratic systems which allowed unsavoury characters like Johnson and Trump and an Australian anti-climate action party to win were not to blame, even though aspects of each of these choices were far from optimal and the results of these elections might be seen as undermining confidence in democracy.

The health of democracy is a matter for growing concern but the responsibility for making it work better lies with the defeated as much as it does with those who have caused the injury through the way they have achieved their successes.

 


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Headline image credit: clawan/Shutterstock.com

 

 

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