Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Parallel Universes; Boris and the BCC

  1. An organisation declares that it will remain neutral during the EU Referendum.
  2. Its director general at that organisation’s annual conference in a formal speech breaks ranks with that organisation’s declared neutrality. BBC News Website, 3 March 2016 | UK future ‘may be brighter outside EU’, says BCC boss
  3. That organisation suspends its director general.

Seems totally reasonable – you can’t have an organisation’s director general using his position at that organisation’s annual conference to speak (even “in a personal capacity”) against the organisation’s agreed line. That’s comparable to the Prime Minister breaking with the Government’s line on an issue.

But then:

So what is happening? What does it tell us about the current political situation?

We seem to be loosing touch with reality.

The EU referendum is proving every bit as divisive as many of us feared.

  • Both sides seem unable to understand that those on the opposite side may have a reasoned position. Instead they accuse their opponents of being deluded and they assign the worst of motives to anyone who speaks against their views.
  • Cabinet Collective Responsibility has been cast aside (admittedly not for the first time) and we have cabinet ministers not just contradicting each other but casting doubts on each other’s fundamental abilities.

The BCC as a membership organisation recognising that its membership is not united on this issue and decides not to take a position:

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) will not be campaigning for either side ahead of the EU referendum. The BCC will survey Chamber member companies across the UK, report their diverse views, and inform the debate.BCC Statement on EU Referendum

That seems a remarkably reasonable position to take – but its maintenance does require a degree of collective responsibility by at least its office holders. Headlines such as “UK future ‘may be brighter outside EU’, says BCC boss” need to be avoided – particularly when accompanied by a photograph of the director-general with the BCC logo in the background!

This referendum period will end (honest!), but we then have to put everything back together – even if the result is 49.9999999% for one side and 50.0000001% for the other side.

Referenda are dangerous ways to decide issues.

Referenda threaten to just measure the balance of bigotry as the confused and apathetic stay away from the polls.

And I thought that the idea of Parliaments was that a representative body should make big decisions based on reasoned well-informed debate.

The Question is not balanced.

This is not a real in/out referendum – as promised but an in/uncertain referendum. Arguably Cameron should have kept his “partners” in Brussels for a few more days saying “OK, we have negotiated the best “in” situation, now let’s negotiate an “out” situation, so I can offer a genuine in/out choice to the British people“. But somehow, I don’t think they would have been willing.

It seems to comes back to the basic problem; when Cameron started on this process he did not think it through. In trying to appease the Euro-septics in his party and in UKIP he let loose the genie of a referendum.

The problem with referenda (or one of the problems) is that it is very difficult to go against the result – “the will of the people”. At least in Parliament, Acts of Parliament have had to go through a number of stages – with votes at every stage and with opportunities to revise and reconsider at every stage.

But we have two divided camps doubting each other’s motives, accusing each other of bad faith, of producing “dodgy dossiers”, or of living in “cloud cuckoo land”. We are being clumsily asked to support one of these camps.

What a way to run a country!

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