Democ­racy’s in­con­ve­nient, so’s dic­tat­ing to Bri­tons

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

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

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