Protesters carry a banner at the People’s Vote anti-Brexit march in London on March 23, 2019. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images.
She faced a deeply divided House of Commons and divided Tory and Labour parties, unwilling to agree to the Brexit proposals she negotiated with EU leaders. Almost certainly any other leader would have faced the same situation. Leaving the EU is the wrong diagnosis for a real crisis – see The dismantling of the state since the 1980s .
Vote Leave was launched in October 2015 with the support of both right and left wing Eurosceptic politicians, leaders from the business world and trade unions and the European Research Group . It was arguably a campaign organised by politicians wanting more power. It was not about giving more power to the people.
The constantly repeated “Brexit is the will of the people” is propaganda. It was the will of people instigating the campaigns. It was the will of Nigel Farage, a narcissistic demagogue, hungry for power. Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party, was de facto leader of the Conservatives, argue Messrs Hutton and Adonis in a chapter of their book Saving Britain. Certainly, 52% of those who voted, voted leave and 48% voted to remain. However only 37% of electorate, representing 26% of “the people”, voted for Brexit. So 74% did not vote for Brexit – see Democracy and its crisis. It is important to note that just over 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds who voted in the referendum backed Remain. I have argued elsewhere about the flaws in the referendum .
Citizens were grossly misled. For a democracy to work there must be standards of truth and integrity. Citizens, MPs and Ministers need to be well informed. Both Vote Leave and its rival organisation, “Britain Stronger in Europe“, were severely criticised by sections of the media and academia for a campaign described by the Electoral Reform Society as “dire”, which left the public seriously lacking proper information. Now far more information is available, particularly about the damage to our country already taking place.
On 17 July 2018, Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and referred to police for breaking electoral spending laws. It was financed by Aaron Banks and other sources, now under investigation https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/16/arron-banks-allegedly-gave-450000-funding-to-nigel-farage-after-brexit-vote. Farage’s new Brexit Party, which has no manifesto, is in fact a company with shareholders . Boris Johnson is due to appear in court over Brexit misconduct claims. The Electoral Commission claims that urgent improvements are needed to ensure transparency for voters in the digital age .
Underlying the popular vote for Brexit was the failure of successive governments to create an industrial strategy that would bring prosperity to citizens outside the prosperous London area. To a considerable extent, the Brexit vote was a protest against government from Westminster. Of course the issues were diverse. But the essential problem was that for over a generation successive governments had failed to create an industrial strategy that would bring prosperity to citizens throughout the UK.
Brexit is not a solution to the diverse problems of the UK. Brexit revealed the UK as a deeply divided country. For Teresa May to devise a Brexit acceptable to all parties was impossible. Furthermore, Brexit was a supposed solution to problems that had not been systematically defined. The idea that departing the EU would be a solution is simplistic.
All solutions other than Remain are inferior, in my view, and offer less benefit. Remain provides a seat round the table so that we can work with our European colleagues for a better EU. There is absolutely no doubt that the EU needs considerable reform. It already faces criticisms from other member countries. Wealth is systematically extracted from southern countries of Europe to the north. Some of its policies are flawed – such as the costly registration of seeds which reduces essential plant diversity, fishery policy and above all the farm subsidies mainly benefitting large landowners rather than the small farmers we need. People also forget that the EU was formed, partly to prevent war between European nations. Today we need a united Europe to defend ourselves from the threats posed by China, Russia and Trump’s USA. The EU is a powerful representation of high standards for goods and services, sustainability, human rights, democracy and enlightenment.
When there are essentially three alternatives – in; out or some modified membership, and one is chosen, it is inevitable that large numbers of people, half the nation, will be dissatisfied and feel unrepresented. Win, win solutions are needed, not a compromises. This can be achieved through consensus design instead of ideological battles that divide our country.
The current way of doing politics is inappropriate when humanity faces existential threats such as irreversible climate change . Nor is it the way to do politics in a nation so divided in wealth. Poverty in the UK is ‘systematic’ and ‘tragic’, says UN special rapporteur. We need entirely different ways of addressing the existential challenges we face. Instead of being tribal, political leaders need to collaborate in bringing about change. There needs to be continuity, not “all change” when government changes. Leaders need to be servant leaders.
There are ways in which the diverse needs of the United Kingdom can be met. Power needs to be devolved to the countries and regions of the United Kingdom under the principle of subsidiarity. More specifically we need to use Citizens Assemblies . “Around the world people are innovating with new forms of democracy. Drawing from classical ideas of random selection and modern institutions such as juries, more deliberative and participative forms of democracy are taking shape”. And through Citizens Conventions “Citizens should decide where power lies in this country”.
“Citizens Assemblies are in the news, from the assemblies that led to the referendums on equal marriage and https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/the-irish-abortion-referendum-how-a-citizens-assembly-helped-to-break-years-of-political-deadlock/, to demands for a Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit to sort out the blockages at Westminster. While the Electoral Reform Society has helped run two citizens’ assemblies recently, and political scientists have been studying them for years, to most people the phrase ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ means little. Firstly, Parliament and your local council are not citizens’ assemblies. Rather than elections, the members of a citizens’ assembly are typically selected at random from the general public – like a jury. It is still up to elected politicians whether or not to follow the assembly’s recommendations”.
To quote from the Electoral Reform Society website: “A constitutional convention is a process for involving members of the public in making decisions about the constitutional shape of a country, region, nation or state. Conventions and assemblies on constitutional issues have been held in a number of countries and regions, including Ireland, Iceland and British Columbia. The UK also has experience of constitutional conventions, most notably the Scottish Constitutional Convention which paved the way for the creation of the Scottish Parliament…..It’s time for a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to decide the future shape of our country”.
For comprehensive proposals to bring about fundamental change in how we do politics, see my blogpost Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy
What can you do? Lobby your MP, use your vote and support the many campaigns for reform of our outdated democracy including proportional representation and a new written constitution.
Support campaigns for political reform: The Institute for Public for Public Policy Research, The Young People’s Party, For our Future’s Sake, Our Future Our Choice, UK Youth Parliament, Compass-The Progressive Alliance, Electoral Reform Society , Citizens Assembly Project, Unlock Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 50:50 Parliament, Women’s Equality Party, Voice4 Change, People’s Vote and many more.