Monday, 11 July 2016

No More Referenda

As a general rule I am not an enthusiast for referenda. Experience shows them to be socially divisive blunt instruments, reducing complex shades of grey to simple black and white and arousing passions that are not easy to quell after the event. General elections give almost every voter some sort of stake in the outcome; few are left utterly without representation. By contrast a referendum is winner takes all, however small the majority.

The EU Referendum eventually became necessary because all the major political parties of the UK supported membership and for forty years opponents had no opportunity to vote against a process that steadily and deliberately eroded the sovereignty of their country. I suspect that a large majority of voters would still support membership of the sort of Common Market that we were told we were joining in 1973.

Inevitably the ordinary citizen, who has his own life to live, is not as expert in political matters as someone whose speciality is politics. The failing of our modern system of representative democracy has been the emergence of a class of professional politicians with no experience of the normal world in which their constituents live.

How else can you explain the geographical division of English voting between London's Remainers and the rest of England's leavers, or three quarters of parliament being Remainers when the country as a whole votes Leave?

Given that almost all the political, commercial and financial elite spent months predicting chaos if the plebs were stupid enough to vote to leave, it is a tribute to the resilience of the UK's economic system that the immediate aftermath of the Referendum was not greater instability than in fact occurred.

Just as in the Scottish Referendum, the losers are immediately enthusiastic for a re-run. Economically speaking, nothing could be worse. Prolongation of uncertainty is a self-inflicted wound which the country can do without.

Let us look for the opportunities of the future rather than hankering after a vanished past.