Democracy’s inconvenient, so’s dictating to Britons
THERE is much pleasure for an African in the reminder that even in ostensibly mature democracies like the UK, voters can succumb to populist stupidities and get things spectacularly wrong.
No, I am not referring specifically to Brexit, the UK’s two-finger salute to the EU. Albeit that the flurry of isolationist sentiment is already costing the UK dearly, with the likelihood of Scotland going it alone.
I was thinking more of the postreferendum demand from some 4 million Remain-voting Brits – all ostensibly well versed in how democracy works – for a second vote, to confirm or reject the results of the first.
The specious reasoning behind this opportunistic proposal for double dipping is that many apparently did not truly appreciate the consequences when they voted in favour of leaving the EU.
Well, tough luck. Concentrate next time. A primary school kid would be able to tell you that you can’t keep re-running the contest until you get a result that suits you.
Maybe it’s something in the stars this year that favours upset results. Certainly the patrician elites that shape the tenor of accepted wisdom have been getting it all badly wrong.
Brexit joins the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican presidential candidate and the unexpectedly hard run Bernie Sanders gave Hilary Clinton before she clinched the Democratic nomination, in a calendar packed with political twists and turns.
I was travelling overnight on referendum day and the early editions of both the Financial Times and The Times in Dubai, published before the count was fully completed, had front pages intimating that the Remain vote had carried the day.
It is rare such august publications stick their necks out to get it so wrong but they were not alone in their misjudgements.
So why are pollsters, commentators, analysts, the political establishment, and even the betting industry so out of tune with the melody being played? Maybe it is that a ruling and complacent aristocracy has yet to register globally the “little people” have tired of being told what to think and do, and are stirring politically.
A leftie London medical doctor friend described it compellingly. Her sister, also a doctor, voted Leave because of the lack of accountability of the EU bureaucracy.
She voted Remain, mainly to avoid a UK recession in the immediate future, but did so bereft of enthusiasm for her choice. “I did not think the (Remain) outcome was in doubt… so amazed (by Leave} this morning and have smiled all day.”
“All the people upset at the outcome have been very patronising about those who voted to Leave, as if they were all ignorant and ill educated. The turnout was huge, people have never been more politically engaged than in the last few months. This is direct democracy. We don’t experience it often here, but it should be respected.”
And there’s the nub of the issue. Democracy can be inconvenient. That fact mostly doesn’t impinge on middle class lives because governing elites have the power to ensure those most inconvenienced are those with the least access to complaint and redress.
We should also take with a large pinch of salt the relentlessly repeated message from the international finance and organised business sectors that Brexit is going to be an economic disaster. That’s an exaggeration.
Britain and Europe need one another no less after Brexit than they did before.
Possibly more so, since what economic markets need more than democracy or autocracy, is predictability.
Britain is only one of the 28 twinkling gold stars on that blue EU flag but delivers a disproportionate 15% of the EU’s economic output.
So France, Germany and Italy – the other biggies – are going to have to balance contradictory impulses.
They want to discourage other disaffected and now emboldened EU nations from also heading for the exit, so the UK must be punished.
But they must also reconcile their desire to best the old enemy with that which makes the EU important – the setting aside of historical antipathies for the common good.
The Brits are already making placatory noises, saying nothing too much needs to change.
When the bluster dies down, the EU would be foolish not to be similarly pragmatic.
The inability to remember history is the backdrop dirge to contemporary events.
Why did no one remind US President Barack Obama, the supercilious EU bureaucrats, and the many other shrill international voices warning the UK against leaving the EU, that maybe the worst thing to do to with the British is to threaten them with dire consequences if they do not co-operate?
Follow WSM on Twitter @ TheJaundicedEye