Outside the marginals

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

An Outside View

Sometimes it is sobering to read an outsider’s view of you. Today is one of those days. It does not help that I am already feeling depressed and not able to see a positive future.

Some people say that I only have myself to blame and it serves me right for being a small “l” liberal – although I can’t and don’t want to claim to be part of the “elite”. But early retirement does give me the luxury of time to follow current events and to read around a topic – and the internet means I have access to a wide range of views. The nihilists will claim that being informed makes me part of the “elite” and will delight at my discomfiture by recent events. That such people may be in a majority in “my country” I find incredibly depressing.

Brexit is of course the major issue of the week and my immediate attention has been caught by an article in the Irish Times.

On days when you cannot see beyond the sly, shambolic cute hoorism and absence of vision in this little Republic, think of this.

Imagine the head-melting impotence of belonging to that 48 per cent of Britons who voted to remain in the EU.

Imagine having to listen to the Leavers’ latest pious cant, blaming Scotland for “divisiveness” and “uncertainty”.

On Monday, when Nicola Sturgeon triggered multiple Westminster breakdowns by calling for a second independence referendum, Theresa May responded with icy contempt.

Such a vote would be “divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time . . . Politics is not a game,” she pronounced.

This of course was uttered as she was triumphantly gearing up to trigger article 50 – the mechanism by which Britain will sever itself from the EU – the consequence of an entirely unnecessary vote that has split England straight down the middle, threatens to smash the UK into fragments, and has already inflicted untold uncertainty, hurt, bitterness and bafflement on its own citizens, not to mention the three million EU pawns working in the UK.

They are currently being sold down the river called “Not showing our hand”. And to what great purpose? To settle, not the destiny of one great state or union, but a proxy war between a bunch of Tory public schoolboys, bloated with imperial nostalgia.
Irish Times (15 March 2017): Kathy Sheridan: Another day, another Brexit lie exposed. The UK has been sold down the river in a proxy war between Tory public schoolboys

The tone is one of sadness, disbelief and amazement that the situation has come to this.

In Britain we like to think we are a “modern democracy” – whilst still claiming to have “the mother of parliaments” deeply rooted in history! However, do we delude ourselves in thinking that we have a good example of representative parliamentary democracy?

But it is an outsider highlighting the shambolic way we got to this situation and the equally shambolic way that we are rushing to an untested and unknown exit from the EU, that is so shaming.

From the inside we accept that for years we have elected unrepresentative parliaments and governments which means:

  • Large numbers of us have no effective say because we live outside the marginals and we have to take as our “representative” whatever candidate the incumbent party chooses to give us. Our votes literally have no value. This can lead to alienation in the wider electorate or at best an electorate that is not fully engaged.
  • Even if we support the incumbent party we may not support the same shade of opinion as the candidate offered by the selection committee. It is possible that we could see “our party” being taken over by Corbynistas, by Euroseptics, by Orange Bookers, by Rabid Separatists, by the Fruitcakes – or whatever. This can alienate party supporters. We cannot choose between shades of opinion.
  • The system excludes minority opinions from representation in parliament leading to misalignment between parliamentary opinion and national opinion. It should not then be a surprise that in a referenda the “ruling elite” gets a kicking. Would the Lisbon treaty have been ratified if the government did not have a parliamentary majority based on a minority vote and if there had been appropriate UKIP representation in Parliament? (I don’t like them but should their supporters only have the semi-detached Douglas Carswell representing their views? Likewise for the Greens – although I don’t dislike them.)
  • In an unrepresentative parliament the danger of parliamentary realignments between elections where a faction can take control, boot out a leader and in effect stage a coup (or attempt coups) is very real. It is possible in such circumstances for a government elected on a minority vote to take over and violently diverge from its previous position. (This of course is called “respecting the will of the people”.)

Within the UK* we accept the above as nothing unusual – in fact we saw the more representative Coalition as unusual – even “undemocratic”.

* Or at least in England – Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have experience of more representative voting systems leading to governing institutions that reflect the diversity of opinion within their countries. Strangely it is those better represented nations (with the exception of Wales and the addition of the Greater London region) that wanted to Remain.

It is possible that looking in from the outside this may look dysfunctional. The pity is that from inside so few think it is odd. In fact since the referendum vote last summer more people seem to support the idea of giving Trump-like presidential style prerogative powers to the Prime Minister – presumably because for once some feel it is delivering what they want – the end is more important than the means.

But even to the outsider this seems strange:

Among the candidates for Outstanding Brexit Man, the winner arguably is one Daniel Hannan, a 45-year-old Conservative MEP yet lifelong campaigner for “independence”, described by an admirer as “the pamphleteer who made Brexit seem like a reasonable proposition for millions of people”.

Hannan’s recurring campaign statement reflected his modus operandi : “To repeat, absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market.”

This is what Tory big beast Michael Heseltine has called winning “with a shamelessly false prospectus”. But heck, it was a means to an end – the duping of the citizenry.
ibid

The means justifies the end – and we are so accepting of the situation that all opposition fades away. I find that truly depressing.

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