Monday, 27 June 2016

Stay angry Britain - but at your politicians, not each other

This is a call to voter on both sides: stay angry about Brexit and hold those ultimately responsible to account. I am not talking about Leave voters, or the Remain voters who won't shut up. I am talking about our political leaders who, despite often being pictured pint-in-hand for PR purposes, couldn't organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery.†

Donald Trump and Marie Le Pen aside, it is pretty clear that the Brexit affair is a national embarrassment. But I don't feel embarrassed by the decision itself - even if I think it's terrible - I feel embarrassed by the way that politicians appear* to have handed responsibility of the biggest political decision of our generation to the Great British public but then neither (1) adequately equipped to make an informed decision, (2) taken precautions to ensure that people were voting for what they thought, nor (3) put any plans in place to deal with anything other than the expected Remain victory. [*The vote was actually only a recommendation to parliament, who still make the ultimate decision.]

Remain supporters feel justifiably angry that the nation was duped into what they see as a calamitous decision of unprecedented proportions. But Leave supporters should feel equally angry. For, whilst you technically "won", the manner of your victory - underpinned by false promises and undermined by subsequent back-tracking and recriminations - removes any real mandate to act unilaterally on the outcome. Do you really want to hang onto a “victory” achieved only by cheating? Do you want to be the 1986 Maradona of British politics? Well, forgive me if I don’t consider that in-line with a traditional British sense of fair play.

Democracy is about compromise but if we're not careful we'll end up with a compromise that makes no one happy - of exactly the sort that "Project Fear" predicted. As Boris has implied, Britain is likely to try hard to maintain free trade, which means no change to borders (that we already control!) or the influence of EU law, but leaves us sitting on the outside peering in, rather than driving reforms and agendas.

It is in the interests of both camps to acknowledge that this referendum was a terrible idea, poorly executed. Such complex and wide-ranging decisions should not be based on a single vote on a single day. Nor should either side be allowed to get away with telling blatant lies. We need to stay passionate about the legitimate issues behind the Leave success - housing, education, jobs and healthcare - and push our politicians together to come clean about the causes and the solutions. If it turns out that the EU and immigrants are not simply scapegoats, or if the real facts about immigration and EU interference still leaving you wanting to leave, let’s vote Leave again and move forward together.

Above all else, let us drive for political reform to make Britain more democratic, which means abandoning first-past-the-post voting and replacing the House of Lords with an elected body, at the very least. I would also like to see voting become mandatory as in Australia, but with the option to abstain on the day.

To the politicians of Britain, I make this plea: don't follow through with Brexit purely because you are scared of appearing weak and undemocratic. That, ironically, is the weak and undemocratic thing to do. If you want to appear strong, and really want a democratic answer to the Brexit question, it is time to (wo)man up and admit that the whole way the referendum was conducted was a fiasco of gigantic proportions.

†Footnote. The exception to “Stay angry Britain - but not at each other” is the racist arseholes across the country who have taken the Brexit vote as a mandate to racially abuse anyone they don’t like the look of. Leave and Remain voters must unite to counter this ugly trend and come together to make one thing clear: the person not welcome in my country is the British racist, not the target of their abuse.

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