Democracy, be careful what you wish for…

Democracy is far from a perfect system, it, like all systems is flawed, but I guess you can say that it is generally the least bad system humans have come up with so far, and until we can dream up something better we are stuck with it, and are going to have to learn to live with it. One of its most surprising flaws has reared its head recently. It works. People actually seem to get what they vote for, and it seems to have come as a shock to some.

As you will have probably spotted the British electorate voted narrowly to leave the European Union (EU). It was democracy in its simplest forms. One question, two responses. No constituencies, transferrable preference votes, electoral colleges, no second or third rounds of voting. Empty the boxes count the papers and announce the result. Simple.

 

Literally within hours of the result being announced there were ‘leave’ voters on TV expressing shock and remorse that they had actually got what they had voted for, while those on the other side earnestly clicked on and shared online petitions for a second referendum while blaming baby boomers for trashing their future. Now there are plenty of sound reasons for leaving the EU, but to use it as a protest vote isn’t one of them. It’s difficult to understate just how wide and long lasting the effects of a Brexit (please would somebody come up with a nicer word for it) are on the UK, Europe and wider global economies, and that this really is a once in a generation vote, there is no going back on this one, no changing your mind allowed here…and yet, a seemingly significant chunk of the UK voters used this as a protest. Unbelievable.

 

Amongst the indignant voices on both sides of the debate there were loud cries of ‘foul’ over the claim that The NHS would benefit by £350m per week if the UK left the EU, a claim that the leave campaigners began to distance themselves from with indecent haste on the very morning of their victory. But you didn’t have to be a clairvoyant to see this, there was armfuls of information debunking this, and many other ‘facts’ before you had to cast your vote, and you didn’t have to look too hard to find them.

 

The UK Labour party also seems to be suffering from an outbreak of democracy of late and isn’t quite sure how to get around it. I’ll spare you the technicalities, but basically the party’s membership of about 400,000 voted for Jeremy Corbyn, an arch contrarian, serial heckler, and as it turns out, very poor leader. He talks a good talk and by all accounts is a lovely fellow, but is a little light on practicality when it comes to potentially running a country His colleagues in Parliament found they couldn’t work with him so ousted him, and as we go to press it seems likely that the membership will vote him straight back into the driving seat again. The party are currently trying to rewrite the rules of democracy to make sure he doesn’t but we’ll see what happens.

 

Politicians have known for a very long time that people will fall for a soundbite, they have been doing it since the introduction of universal suffrage, and it is more true now than it has ever been as people appear to have disconnected with politics like never before. I checked a few figures for the week as we closed for press. The combined circulation of all the UK broadsheet newspapers is less than that of the leading tabloid. In the list of the top 50 TV shows in the UK during week of political turmoil and a change of Prime Minister, the top current affairs programme was 49th on the list. The British public do seem to be very much more interested in Celebrity Love Island it seems.

 

More than ever people are making important choices based on less and less information we see the continuing dumbing down of the debate to appeal to people who refuse to educate themselves. France is facing a general election early in 2017 with the extremely nasty Front National poised to make serious gains, or possibly even win, and the Tsunami that could be unleashed this November if the U.S. voters continue to lap up Donald Trump’s single syllable, tub thumping but distressingly vague soundbites, sends shudders down the spines of most of us.

 

It is an often used cliché that you have an obligation to vote because people have died for you to have that right, and it’s true, more or less. But with rights comes responsibility. A vote, particularly in something as ‘one way’ as a referendum is a huge responsibility. An uninformed vote is worse than not voting at all.

 

You have the responsibility to read everything, watch everything, question everything and criticise everything. We live in an information age, there is literally no excuse it’s all there in your phone, iPad or PC, or in a newspaper if you are a sentimentalist. How else can you hope to form an opinion that is worth anything?

 

 

Islander July 2016 Phill McCoffers

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