The Peo­ple’s Vote? Let’s fix democ­racy in­stead

The Guardian - G2 - - Front Page - Suzanne Moore

A polling card drops through the door for the lo­cal elec­tions. I catch my­self feel­ing slightly weary. No need to lec­ture me on those who died for my right to vote. I know. In­deed there is still some­thing mov­ing about that lit­tle pen­cil in the polling booth, the hur­ried cross, the se­crecy, the idea that this mat­ters. Vot­ing – yes, that’s good, so let’s have more of it, ex­cept when it isn’t. In which case, the an­swer is more vot­ing …

I am con­fused, for in­stance, about the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign, which says it is not re­ally try­ing to get a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum about Brexit. One of the key re­main ar­gu­ments is that peo­ple did not un­der­stand what they were vot­ing for the first time. Some­how, next time they will. Per­haps it is true that vot­ing got us into this mess and vot­ing will get us out. Yet I sense no ap­petite for an­other vote. Clar­ity is in­deed wel­come, but isn’t “the peo­ple’s vote” as slip­pery a term as “the will of the peo­ple”?

The will of the peo­ple is fast­mov­ing and change­able. It is the way we re­duce com­plex­ity by deny­ing it. The will of the peo­ple may be am­biva­lent, un­cer­tain, a prod­uct of anx­i­ety – and yet this re­lent­less quest for cer­tainty, for unim­peach­able right­ness, re­mains the fan­tasy of pub­lic life.

The older I get, the more I envy it. All those peo­ple who, with­out hav­ing been there, know ex­actly what should be done in Syria; who know ex­actly which way Brexit is head­ing be­cause they once saw some­thing on YouTube. It is con­sid­ered a weak­ness, a fail­ure, to be able to hold two po­si­tions in your mind at once. I voted re­main, but am still quite Brex­ity. I think some­thing should be done in Syria, but also that it is all too late and that all we can do now is take in refugees.

So I am weak-minded, you may say, or a “don’t know”, which may be a pe­cu­liar thing to say in this job, but in fact is com­mon­place. When we don’t know, though, we want other peo­ple to know for us.

More votes now, is the cry – in par­lia­ment, on the Brexit deal or mil­i­tary ac­tion. Big de­ci­sions can­not be made with­out con­sult­ing us. This is what led to dis­trust of the EU: a feel­ing that demo­cratic con­trol was be­ing by­passed. Add to this the im­pli­ca­tions of the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal and there is a fur­ther feel­ing that we have been duped, or at least oth­ers have. We feel both that vot­ing is all we have got, but also that vot­ing is some­how not enough.

It all makes for a disqui­et­ing mood. The pub­lic is not sure about mil­i­tary ac­tion in Syria. Many are re­signed to Brexit, not be­cause they love it, but be­cause it is done. Ref­er­en­dums, we all re­alise, are not good for com­plex is­sues. Again, what is?

A cabi­net that de­cides to bomb with­out con­sult­ing the House of Com­mons may still win a vote if it can whip MPs. In other words, the sys­tems by which the will of the peo­ple is ex­pressed are com­pro­mised. How might we make bet­ter ones? Talk­ing of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, or even the idea that democ­racy might be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of its peo­ple in terms of class, gen­der and race, feels like a niche in­ter­est. But it isn’t. For the re­al­ity is that a lot of the time the “don’t knows” have it. Which politi­cian wants to ac­knowl­edge this?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.