Brexit: democracy in action

What will Brexit mean, both short and long-term?  Could it lead to more countries’ rank and file voters deciding to take back control from the elitists who denigrate the hoi polloi?  Or will the elitist establishment continue trampling on democracy?

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The British hoi polloi want real democracy

The hoi polloi want real democracy  By Tom Slater, Deputy Editor, Spiked Online, 20 May 2017

We’re in the middle of the most important General Election for a generation. For decades, election campaigns have been fought on narrow, technocratic terrain. They’ve been battles of soundbites, economic plans whose fine distinctions are of interest only to think-tankers and journalists, and focus-grouped giveaways aimed at cajoling the electorate into the ballot box. That has now all been wiped away – by Brexit. For the first time in recent memory, the questions which define and divide our politics are ones of sovereignty, democracy, self-determination. This election is about resolving the unfinished business of 23 June. An opportunity to remind the political class how serious the Leave vote was, and see off those who are committed to silencing that unprecedented democratic cry.

This is how the election was first framed, by Theresa May, who lambasted the Brexit-blockers in both houses of parliament when she called the snap poll. And by the Lib Dems, the anti-Brexit boosters, who rubbed their hands with glee as they dreamt of riding the (mythical) 48 per cent to a rejuvenated parliamentary party and, possibly, a second referendum. That Labour has from the start tried its best to avoid Brexit, making only cryptic statements about whether or not it is committed to implementing the vote, is another mark of the party’s irrelevance – more proof that even if it holds on under Jeremy Corbyn, even if its death is yet again delayed, its connection to the people it was set up to represent would remain damaged beyond repair.

Something big is happening. The public is crying out for a more democratic politics, and we have forced our knackered political class to respond. The Tory Party is looking – often unconvincingly – to harness that spirit and build a new base. The Liberal Democrats have finally given up on both liberalism and democracy and are presenting themselves as the plucky defenders of the oligarchy (which, unsurprisingly, is going down badly with voters). By contrast, the Labour Party’s cowardice in the face of Brexit, bringing to the fore its internal paradoxes, is threatening to bring it low. This election may not promise a new politics. Neither of the two main parties – both fossils of another era – can really meet that desire. But the intrusion of big, historic questions into politics – the question of democracy, above all else – holds the promise of something new.

But you wouldn’t know that from the coverage of late. After spending weeks complaining about how boring and pointless the election is, the media have perked up a bit. Now that the manifestos have been launched, they’re talking up what’s at stake in this election but in entirely the wrong way. Labour’s manifesto – replete with plans for nationalisation, taxes on the rich and the abolition of tuition fees – has been presented as giving voters a real left-wing choice. ‘This is not an election where voters can say, with justification, “they are all the same”’, wrote the BBC’s political editor of Labour’s leaky offer. Meanwhile, the Tories’ ‘Forward, Together’ pitch, which talks of distancing the party from ‘untrammelled free markets’ and ‘selfish individualism’, has been presented as a break with Thatcherism.

To present this as a clash between clear and competing visions misses the point. Corbynism just lends a faux-radical gloss to deadening Labourite politics. As one Observer columnist put it last weekend, Jez’s manifesto is really just ‘Miliband microwaved’. And this is a dish that May also wants to serve up. Her pledges on energy caps and workers’ representation in the boardroom are straight out of the not-so-Red Ed playbook. But this is not so much a shift in Tory ideology as a change in mood music. David Cameron hardly presided over some nightwatchman state (state spending has continued to rise, under both Labour and Conservative governments, since 2000). And Maylibandism is not only not radical to begin with, it’s also pretty disingenuous. May’s pledge to raise the so-called living wage in line with inflation would mean it rising at a slower pace than George Osborne had planned, and she’s already watered down her plan for workers’ seats on boards.

This is business as usual dressed up as something more substantial – the classic clash between an uninspiring Keynesian Labour Party and the opportunistic Tories recast as a new political alignment. That in the shallow policy battle between May and Corbyn Ed Miliband seems to come up so much is testament to how lacking in real vision these manifestos are.

We cannot allow these to be the terms on which the election is fought. Far too much is at stake. An alliance of anti-democrats is trying to use this election to frustrate and water down Brexit. Rearguard Remain campaign Open Britain has published a hitlist of at-risk pro-Brexit MPs. Millionaire businesswoman Gina Miller has launched a campaign to promote MPs who will back a ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal in parliament – that is, an opportunity to reverse the far more meaningful vote we had last summer. The Lib Dems are banking on Brexit voters – many of whom hadn’t voted for decades, or ever before – staying home on 8 June so they can retake their Leave-heavy former heartlands in the south-west. Treating this as ‘just another election’ risks playing into the hands of those looking to turn this into an ersatz second referendum.

And the threat comes as much from within the Tory Party as without. Theresa May is not the Brexit warrior princess she or her backbench boosters would have us believe. May clearly feels the weight of the Brexit vote on her shoulders. She recognises how serious we are, and that’s why she has been able to tap into the Brexit spirit so effectively. But she’s also a technocrat, someone who feels the pull to be pragmatic. Any gains for the anti-democrats would only encourage her to indulge those impulses, and those MPs in her own party who would rather fudge on sovereignty and steady the ship than implement the people’s will. That the home secretary, Amber Rudd, told the BBC the day after the election was announced that a new mandate for May would help her secure a ‘sensible Brexit’ should make it clear that Brexit is far from a done deal.

Anyone who considers themselves a democrat must take this election seriously. Not because of the parties’ policies and pledges, but in spite of them. That’s why, this General Election, spiked is calling on you to back the candidate in your constituency most committed to upholding the people’s will. It doesn’t matter the colour of their rosette, or the manifesto they’re standing on. What matters is that they recognise that it is the public that must hold the most sway in politics. Of course, there are other issues that matter deeply to people, but it is only through making good on Brexit that we can start carving out the change that our political class is clearly so incapable of delivering. Over the remaining few weeks we’ll be travelling around the country, reporting from key constituencies, talking to voters and putting tough questions to the candidates on offer. Join us. Download our General Election leaflet here. Go to your local hustings, and put your candidates to the test. Vote for democracy, and show the political class how serious we are.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

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Stopping Brexit means stopping democracy

Stopping Brexit means stopping democracy  By Brendan  O’Neill, Editor, Spikes Online, 7 May 2017

 

What does it mean to ‘Stop Brexit’? Or ‘prevent an extreme Brexit’, in the euphemistic phrase preferred by millionaire Brexit-basher Gina Miller and Tony Blair’s online army of Brexit blockers? In recent months, and even more intensively in the days since Theresa May called a snap election for June, the rallying cry of ‘Stop Brexit’ or ‘Stop Hard Brexit’ has become such a central feature of media and political chatter that we sometimes don’t stop to think about what it means. It’s time we did.

Stopping Brexit means stopping democracy. Undoing Brexit means undoing not only last June’s referendum result, but by extension the founding principle of the modern democratic era: that everyday men and women should decide the fate of the nations they live in. The war on Brexit is more than a war on one democratic decision — it’s a war on the very idea that decisions like this should be made by the demos in the first place. This is what’s at stake in the coming election. That’s why the election is so important.

Since May announced the snap election, we’ve witnessed a remarkable mobilisation of the forces of Stopping Brexit. From Ms Miller’s well-funded, Twitterati-cheered campaign for tactical voting to keep Extreme Brexiteers (that is, Brexiteers) out of parliament to Tony Blair and Tim Farron cosying up for a New Labour / Lib Dem assault on what they call Hard Brexit, elite Remainers are devoting an extraordinary amount of energy and resources to Stopping Brexit.

Strikingly, the supposedly liberal press that usually kicks up a fuss when the wealthy and one-time warmongers poke their noses into politics in order to shape it more to their tastes than to the plebs’ passions have been quiet. Or supportive, rather. They largely back this elitist Brexit-blocking. ‘I’ll vote for whoever runs the best anti-Brexit campaign’, says rock chick for the establishment, Caitlin Moran. The Brexit-bashers’ bible, the New European, offers us ‘the ultimate guide to defeating Brexit’. ‘Could tactical voting stop Brexit?’, muses the New Statesman. From business to politics to media, they’re all at it: Stopping Brexit.

That’s enough euphemism. That’s enough sweet talk for something distinctly unsweet. Let’s be clear: Stopping Brexit means stopping, rolling back, the ideals that underpin the modern era. It means stopping the enactment of the will of the people. It means denying the wishes of the 17.4million who rationally, expectantly voted Leave last year.

The project to Stop Brexit — or block it or bruise it — is dressed up in so much pseudo-progressive rhetoric that its true, terrifying nature comes to be obscured. Perversely, the Brexit blockers even use the language of democracy in their efforts to stymie the democratic will. ‘Democracy is a very precious thing’, said Miller as she launched her Best for Britain (sic) campaign to fund electoral candidates who will ‘scrutinise’ and ‘speak up’ against Brexit. Under the guise of democracy, the most populous act of democracy in British history is targeted. At a time of such widespread elite doublespeak — where blocking the demos is presented as democracy; where staying in the illiberal EU is referred to as a ‘liberal’ position; where it’s ‘progressive’ to fear the people and their franchise —  clarity should be a key aim of all democrats.

Let’s demystify Stopping Brexit. Let’s give it its real name. ‘We must ensure democracy is not stifled’, says Miller as she launches a campaign to stifle democracy. This is the level of obfuscation, of opaque propaganda, we democrats face in this election. Likewise, Blair talks about creating a new ‘progressive alliance’ to tackle Brexit and insists this is about boosting democracy, through encouraging more scrutiny and debate, not blocking it. Progress, democracy, liberalism — with fantastic cynicism, these positive historic words are used to doll up a campaign that is by any measure anti-progressive, given its support for the byzantine bureaucratic structures of the EU, and which is the opposite of democratic and far from liberal.

Witness, for example, elite Remainers’ branding of those who oppose the EU as ‘Europhobic’ and their cynical whipping up of a post-referendum hate-crime panic: their instinct, illiberal to its core, is to present opposition to the EU as the great unsayable in polite society, a harbinger of hatred. ‘Your ideas are actual violence’, they effectively say to Brexiteers, even as they claim the mantle of openness. Everything they say is dressed in the language of progress and liberalism; everything they actually mean grates against progress and liberal values.

One thing we democrats have in our favour is that Stop Brexit’s gloss of democracy and progress is a thin one indeed. It can be easily scratched to reveal the classical anti-democratic sentiments that lurk beneath. So Blair, alongside posing as a defender of democratic debate, says the problem with Brexit is that it was based on ‘imperfect knowledge’, and now he and his army of Brexit-blockers must reintroduce ‘informed knowledge’. In short, us voters didn’t know what we were doing; we’re idiots.

Miller, who said the Brexit vote made her feel ‘physically sick’, says voters ‘didn’t know what Brexit meant’. The Remainer press is packed with handwringing over ‘low information’ voters, led astray by ‘Leave lies’. The whole thing drips with the oldest anti-democratic prejudices, the nasty ideas that fuelled the elitist opposition to the Chartists’ demand for the vote for working-class men and to the later idea of votes for women: that people are generally dim, fodder for demagogues, lacking sufficient information, and thus they require a better-educated class to lead them — to impart to them ‘informed knowledge’.

Indeed, what was once said about women getting the vote is now said about all people having the vote. Early 20th-century anti-Suffragettes said women lacked ‘political capacity’, because they suffer from an ‘excess of sympathy’ that ‘shuts out from their mind logical power and judicial impartiality’. In short, they’re emotional, not logical. This is now said about all voters. As a piece in the New European put it, Brexit is a consequence of the fact that voters ‘lack objective information and due consideration’. Politics requires ‘facts and thoughts’, but now it is too often driven by ‘voter sentiment’ and the ‘tricks and lies now used to manipulate [that] sentiment’, says the New European. How elitists viewed women in the early 20th century is how anti-Brexit elitists view all of us today: as too visceral and too feeling for the serious, logical business of politics.

The similarities between what was said by the anti-Suffragette movement and what is now said by the Stop Brexit lobby reveals what is at stake here. Not just Brexit, but the hard-fought-for value of democracy itself, and the ideas that underpin it: that people are more than capable of understanding their world and deciding how it should be governed. A defeat for Brexit would be a defeat for democracy. Stopping Brexit would call into question, and in fact start to unravel, the intellectual, moral and political gains of the movements for greater democracy over the past 200 years. This is why this election matters. Anti-democrats are using it to re-establish their alleged wisdom over our ‘sentiment’, their alleged logic over our ‘excess of sympathy’, and their political authority over our stupidity. It mustn’t stand. A key task in this election is to defeat the anti-democrats wherever they’re standing. Get to work.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.

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Article 50: down with this legal coup against the masses

article-50-down-with-this-legal-coup-against-the-masses By Brendan O’Neill, Spiked Online, 5 November 2016

The use of the law to stymie Brexit is a naked, elitist assault on democracy.

Today’s High Court ruling that Article 50 should not be triggered by the government but rather must be mulled over and decided on by MPs is being presented as a mere technical decision. It’s just about ins and outs. It’s about practicalities, not politics. It’s about the ‘procedure and policy’ of how we leave the EU, says one of the filthy-rich claimants who took this Brexitphobic court action. They really must believe their own propaganda about us Brexit-backing plebs being ‘low information’ (Forbes) and ‘ignoramuses’ (Richard Dawkins) if they think we’re going to buy this. We aren’t. This court action, and the glee it’s being greeted with by media and political haters of Brexit, is 100 per cent political, to its core. It’s motivated far less by a love for legally clean procedure than by a naked disdain for ordinary people and our democratic authority. It’s not a blow for box-ticking; it’s a blow against what we the people said in the ballot box on 23 June.

The that this case was a school-prefect-style stab for a clean, constitutional Brexit is shot down by the fact that it was brought by devoted Remainers. The super-wealthy spearhead of the case, Gina Miller, says she was made ‘physically sick’ by Brexit. She says the dim-witted decision to leave the EU, taken by 17.4million people, is a result of our having been ‘lied to’ (ie, we were brainwashed) and then choosing to do some ‘venting of anger’ (ie, we behaved emotionally). Miller has been hailed ‘woman of the century’ by influential Remainers who are dedicated to diluting or even thwarting Brexit. And the court’s decision is being celebrated by Remainers who want to hold up (rather than uphold) the people’s will. This is a ‘great moment for parliament’, says philosopher turned hater of democracy AC Grayling, since it means ‘MPs acting from courage and conviction [can] stop Brexit’. And they say with a straight face that it’s ‘about process, not politics’. They really do think we’re idiots. They really think we cannot see through their low, cynical marshalling of the law to prevent democracy, to stop politics, to undermine us.

The most laughable argument being pushed by these pleaders with white-haired judges to block the passions of the mob is that they’re standing up for parliamentary sovereignty. They pose as democrats who simply want to preserve the authority of parliament over the say-so of a single PM. With fantastic Orwellianism, one of the campaign groups that begged the High Court judge to hold up the political desires of the moronic masses calls itself ‘The People’s Challenge’.

Pro-parliamentary sovereignty? Come off it. These are the very same pro-EU types who watched and clapped for years as parliamentary sovereignty was watered down through the EU and who branded as xenophobic or a Little Englander anyone who said, ‘Wait, shouldn’t our parliament be properly sovereign?’. They have no attachment whatsoever to the fundamentals of parliamentary sovereignty. They’re only interested in it now because they hope, desperately, that MPs, a majority of whom are Remainers, will vote down what they view as the calamity of Brexit. That is, they’re drawn to parliamentary sovereignty as a potential tool for undermining the demos, for opposing the people, for acting against democracy.

They seem not to realise that if parliamentarians were to override or even slow down the will of the majority this would call into question the entire moral legitimacy of parliament. It would devastate its democratic and moral remit, the very thing we fought wars and beheaded a king to preserve, which is derived precisely from the throng that these elitists view with such unconcealed disgust. Parliamentary sovereignty isn’t some academic, legalistic idea that judges defend and allow: it is us made political flesh, the institutional expression of the spirit of the people. For MPs to act against Brexit would violently intensify cynicism of institutions and bring about a crisis of democracy of the kind Britain hasn’t experienced for a very long time. Yet this is the price some Remainers are willing to pay to stop Brexit: the hollowing-out of the historic spirit of parliament. The truth is that parliamentary sovereignty was exercised when parliament agreed to hold a referendum and to distribute pamphlets which openly stated: ‘The government will implement what you decide.’ This act of parliamentary sovereignty entrusted the fate of the EU to the people, and now this must be acted on — fully and swiftly, because the people want it, not because a judge thinks it might be feasible at a certain point.

Let’s stop talking in euphemisms. Let’s park the blather about ‘procedure’ and ‘process’. What is happening here is that well-connected, well-off people are using the courts to stymie the democratic will. It is a straight-up assault on democracy, of the sort that when it happens in Latin America or Asia the very Remainers currently cheering our wise judges would shake their heads and say: ‘Why are those foreigners so uncivilised?’ The court case is a disgrace. It’s anti-democratic, anti-politics, fuelled by a dread of the demos and by feelings of ‘physical sickness’ for what the majority of people think and want. We make them puke.

The majority calmly discussed the EU, made a decision, and voted against it. And yet they’ve been ceaselessly defamed as ‘low information’ and ‘racist’ and have watched as their decision has been undermined and held up and relentlessly delegitimised by academics, lawmen and politicians. What must we do to make ourselves heard? To be taken seriously? If the ballot box doesn’t work, maybe it’s time for the streets?

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked

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More articles concerning Brexit and it’s implications

About Peter Senior

I'm a very experienced and pragmatic management consultant. I've reviewed and led the restructuring of many organisations - large and small corporations and Government Departments, much of the time as President of the New Zealand Institute of Management Consultants. Before that I was General Manager of a major NZ newspaper; earlier, an analyst for IBM UK. I gained an honours degree in engineering at London University, and studied management at Cambridge University. This wide range of experience has left me frustrated: I continue to see too many examples of really bad management. Sometimes small easily fixed issues; sometimes fundamental faults; and sometimes really tricky problems. Mostly these issues can be fixed using a mixture of common sense, 'management 101' and applying lessons from years of management experience. Unfortunately, all too often, politics, bureaucracy and daft government regulations get in the way; internal factors such as poor culture and out-of-date strategies are often evident. So what's gone wrong, and why, and most importantly, how to fix 'it'? I hope there are like-minded people 'out there' who will share their thoughts enabling 'us' to improve some significant management failures that affect the general public. If you just accept bad management, you don't have the right to complain! If you'd like to share thoughts on any aspects of management, send me an email to petersenior42@gmail.com .
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