Sunday, 30 April 2017

Why Respect a Plebiscite Anyway?

A country without democratic instruments used to make political decisions would degenerate very swiftly into mob rule and the law of the jungle of the sort depicted in post-apocalyptic books and films like Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. This fact should always be respected and never be forgotten. The mob has to be harnessed and civilised by obtaining our (for we are the mob) general consent to democratic methods. The chaotic Eatanswill elections in Charles Dickens' 'The Pickwick Papers' demonstrate well how uncivilised behaviour is barely contained and held at bay by the democratic process.
To site this in recent political reality – imagine 100 vociferous Remainers placed in a hall with 100 equally vociferous Leavers all told that the matter has to be settled by them in the hall without a plebiscite. It would be – “You told lies about the NHS money!” – “You told worse lies about financial Armageddon!” From there to personal abuse and then on to blows and full-scale mayhem. Someone calls a halt with a megaphone and says “This is all getting a bit nasty so let’s settle it with a vote and avoid all the violence, eh?” Fortunately they all see sense, consent, the issue is settled and no one gets hurt. Then someone says “Let’s remove the result of the plebiscite because we didn’t like it” somehow not having noticed that it was the only thing that stood in the way of violence and discord. The punch-up resumes.
You either go full democratic and respect democracy or you go for the law of the jungle in practice. No other options are available and there are no half-way houses. This is why we should not attempt to overturn or rerun the referendum whether we liked the result or not. It was a blunt and imperfect instrument but at least it was an instrument and that is no small thing. It gives democratic credibility to the measures that are then taken in our name.
Now someone will pop up at this point to say that the referendum was “advisory only” in nature. This is true but, in the popular consciousness, that of the potential mob, an expectation was unequivocally aroused that the thing was run and a result was achieved for no other reason than to make a decision on which action would be taken. David Cameron, the chief Remainer, made this more than clear in explicit terms using phrases like ‘once in a lifetime’ and no going back’. Absolutely the referendum was, legally, advisory, but in the popular consciousness, the consciousness of the potential mob, it was something else and something more - and that something more is that elusive and unquantifiable, though no less real, thing, political reality. Politics exists as a means of harnessing and channelling the mob in a positive way and we should never forget this. Having aroused expectations you play with them or disappoint them at your peril. This is what all those who wish to ignore, overturn or rerun the referendum forget. They are trying to take us back to the hall with both parties glaring menacingly at each other by casually and unthinkingly removing the thing that was specifically designed to prevent the bloodshed. It is truly playing with fire and failing to understand how precariously democracy keeps back the tide.
The Poll Tax riots showed that in the real world it is arrogant to count at nought the expectation and feeling of the populace, the plebs in the plebiscite. Margaret Thatcher had to give in to a currency stronger than that of what was purely legal. This is not to despise the Rule of Law or to encourage mob rule by any means but to recognise and respect that, in a nation of 60 million there are tides which, without due care, can quickly become ungovernable.

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