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Thursday 22 November 2018

Undermining Democracy

So, here we are. Almost two and a half years after I wrote about the role of the UK in the EU, and only four months from the critical date by which the process of leaving must begin in earnest, and we finally have some idea of what Brexit will actually look like. It's pretty grim.

In First, Do No Harm, we looked at how economy is nothing more nor less than a collection of promises, and how a strong, stable economy is one that has lots of promises available. We talked about the deep ties in areas such as large-scale collaborative science, such as the science that brought us the Large Hadron Collider and the World Wide Web, and how that would be severely undermined.

Since the referendum, many of my predictions in that post have come to fruition, along with some things that I didn't foresee. I probably should have but, in my defence, I was mourning the death of critical thought after the result.

Once the result was declared, we began to see the resurgence on the streets of Britain of something that I'd thought we were at least beginning to get past. The clearest manifestation of this was a banner displayed on the streets of Newcastle immediately after the vote.

The jingoism on display here was a pretty big feature of my youth, and I'd naïvely thought that maybe we'd made some progress. This was just a first indicator, though, and what followed rapidly disabused me of that silly notion. Hate crimes spiked by 57%. Immigrants who'd lived and contributed in our society for decades were treated like pariahs.

The rise in this sort of behaviour isn't just restricted to the UK, either. We've seen a similar pattern of increase in the US since the election of the snack-faced buffoon, with bigots of all stripe coming out of the woodwork to reclaim their heritage - a legacy worthy of disgust if ever there was one - attacking minorities in the streets, in their places of worship, and in Komrade Trichindova's 'executive order' shenanigans.

The economy in Britain has comprehensively nose-dived, though much of that is due to the Tory 'austerity' measures. Large corporations have made moves to relocate their industrial holdings from here, choosing to move to somewhere more economically competitive, or where the degree of economic uncertainty doesn't require higher-order mathematics to calculate. Families are holding down multiple jobs and still having to visit food banks. Homelessness is on the increase, with the homeless being criminalised and sunk into even deeper poverty, if such a thing is even possible, by punitive fiduciary impositions for sleeping in the best places to keep warm. 

As an aside, I've been seeing helpline numbers being promoted on social media, but I'm reluctant to share them, because the helpline passes details on to local authorities, who impose whatever measures they have in place, including the aforementioned criminalisation of poverty, replete with financial sanctions.

Charities are - as usual - attempting to pick up the slack left by the government. The very notion of a charity in one of the richest nations on Earth is a colossal 'fuck you' to the British people by those in the upper echelons who make decisions aimed only at increasing the disparity in distribution of resources. Charities should not exist other than to channel aid to other places. They should certainly not be doing the work that, being the responsibility of us all, is the responsibility of our elected bodies. This is government work and, to turn a phrase on its head, it simply isn't good enough. The UK is not a poor nation, and can easily afford to look after every person living within its orbit, with no hardship imposed on anybody. Giving mahoosive tax breaks to multinational conglomerates shows exactly what the motivation is. 

Meanwhile, all of the discussion about Brexit now consists of little more from the Leave side about how 'you lost, deal with it' and 'you're undermining democracy'. So this brings us to our little lesson for the day, ladles and jellyspoons, a lesson in democracy.

To pick a favoured instance at random, in the UK, in 1715, an election was held. The winners of this election, the Whigs were opposed to an absolute monarchy, supporting instead a constitutional monarchy - this was only a little over half a century since the civil war and the restoration, and things were far from settled. In 1716, the Septennial act was passed, extending the length of time a parliament could sit from three years to seven, an act that remained in force until it was repealed in 1911. That act, though, in the eyes of those who would accuse us of 'undermining democracy', was entirely unnecessary, because the people had spoken, so the Whigs should remain in government in perpetuity. All this, entirely despite the fact that the Whigs haven't been a political entity since 1859, the year of the publication of Darwin's seminal work! The entire landscape has changed since 1715, and not just in terms of partisan politics in the UK.

This brings us neatly back to today.

Since the referendum to leave the EU took place, much has changed. The fragile agreement that finally brought peace to Ireland is on shaky ground because nobody can work out how to have a border that doesn't impact the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Spain is making noises about Gibraltar. The NHS is underfunded and in disarray, and the buffoons in charge of it all clearly have no idea of what they're doing. Only last week, the then Brexit secretary - the person whose job it was to deliver this sorry mess - stated that he hadn't understood the importance of the Dover-Calais crossing in UK-Europe trade! Another notable brain-trust of the Conservatives who voted to leave is complaining about the 'deal' that's currently on the table because we won't have any members of the European Parliament!* Meanwhile, nobody seems to be interested in taking responsibility for insisting that this is brought again to the British people.

The landscape has demonstrably changed. Many have expressed 'buyer's remorse' at the result, and polls show fairly consistently that the will of the people has changed as well. It's become clear that the Leave campaign knowingly lied to people, dismissed the warnings of experts - gleefully proclaiming that people were sick of experts, and it's becoming increasingly clear that they engaged in nefarious and probably illegal activities to secure the vote. To dismiss these concerns with 'hur-hur, you lost, get over it', or to insist that we're 'undermining democracy' isn't just itself an attempt to undermine democracy and shut down discourse, it fundamentally misunderstands what democracy is and how it works.

Democracy ONLY works if EVERYBODY has a voice, and society works best if we learn from our mistakes. It is the duty of the British government to get this right, and getting it right means doing what's best for the people, not clinging to some outmoded notion of what the people want. 

We can't undo this, but there may yet be time to save ourselves from the precipice.

I'm more than happy to engage in discussion on this with those who think I'm wrong. Think about whether what I'm saying really does undermine democracy. Give me some good motivation for agreeing with you that leaving the EU is the better way forward. Explain to me why asking for another chance for the people to speak is 'undermining' democracy, as opposed to the free and open practice of democracy.

Send it back to the people now, when we have a better-informed and better-motivated populace to vote on something they actually understand to some degree. Let's not let our future be predicated on the whim of ignorance.


Where do you Draw the Line? A look at expertise, specifically in the context of Brexit.

*The whole point of leaving is NOT to be members.

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