I have done my best to ignore the Brexit fallout but the constant media circus and the response from many people across the country has been insufferable. This is not going to be a rerun of the arguments for and against leaving the EU because I, like most of the country, is glad that bloody referendum is over. However I would like to point to something that is on the rise: political idiocy. One of the themes of my articles is combating what I term ‘intellectual laziness’, but I fear that the Brexit vote had jolted into something even more annoying.
On the morning after the referendum result came in, social media was awash with people arguing about the campaign and the future of Britain. The so-called ‘Remainers’ seem to be going through the five stages of grief, and unfortunately for us level-headed people the current stage they are in is anger. This has led to people who claim a certain ideological conviction jettisoning all of their beliefs as a consequence of this hysteria.
The first thing I want to address is this petition to have a second referendum. As of writing, around 3.9 million people have signed a petition calling for a second referendum. Their argument is that in a situation where turnout is less that 75% or where both campaigns fail to achieve 60% of the votes cast, the result is invalid and there should be another referendum. When challenged on why people have signed this petition, the most common responses are the following: ‘if there was a first referendum, there can be a second one’, ‘with turnout under this level, the result isn’t representative of what the people necessarily want’, and/or ‘lots of people who voted Leave now regret doing so’.
Let’s take these individually. The first statement illustrates that the people in question don’t understand the political process. Whilst it is true that another referendum could be held to reverse the decision, there is no mandate for repeating such an exercise. The Conservative Party campaigned on a manifesto of holding a referendum on EU membership, and they won the election. They then proceeded to hold the referendum. Although David Cameron and other senior Tories campaigned to remain in the EU, there was no proviso in the Tory manifesto saying that if the referendum result went against what they wanted to happen they would do it again. Surely that defeats the point of having a referendum if votes will keep being repeated until the ‘right’ answer is consented to by the people.
The second statement is even more ludicrous because it shows how the people in question are totally ignorant. It is true that a government can set preconditions for a referendum result, with failure to reach these levels invalidating the result. For example, in 1979 there was a referendum in Scotland about potentially creating a Scottish Assembly. Although 51.6% of people voted in favour of creating such a body, an amendment to the Scotland Act 1978, the legislation that enabled the referendum to take place, said that if under 40% of the electorate didn’t approve of the proposal, nothing would change. Because turnout was only 64%, the Scottish Assembly didn’t come into existence as 51.6% of 64% of the electorate was only around 33% of registered voters. The reason that this cannot happen with the EU referendum is that the government cannot retroactively impose preconditions. The rules of the referendum were that the winning side would have to get the most votes. To suggest that the vote should be invalid because ‘not enough’ people voted, after the rules of the vote had been established, is ludicrous. To be clear, if there was thresholds that were agreed to that stipulated, for instance, turnout of at least 75% then I would agree that the result should be invalidated, but to impose restrictions after the results came in is moronic.
The third justification in relation to the petition is that many people who voted Leave now regret it. Without sounding cruel- tough shit. The point of a referendum is to get the people to think about an issue, or a group of issues, and then to make a judgement about what the correct response should be. If people with hindsight regret their decision, that doesn’t mean there should be another referendum. If I voted in a general election for a party that I thought had my best interests at heart, and then that party became the government and proceeded to make me redundant from my job, I would regret voting for them. And let’s say that this same scenario pertains to lots of people around the country. Does that mean that we should have the general election all over again? No, it means that we should organise, lobby, and protest wherever necessary to make amends for this decision and to vote them out next time around.
For people still clinging to this line of argument their response would be, ‘but there is no next time, unless we have a second referendum’. This is true as the EU vote is different from a general election as there won’t be a second time around in a few years. Indeed the history of referendums on Europe shows that such decisions occur once every generation, but people knew that going into the vote. It is not the fault of the electoral process that people were not informed or felt they were misled. It was the media’s fault, and the two campaigns fault. But again, if you believed that this vote was very important, you would make it your business to find out true information. I’m not expecting people to work full-time jobs, raise a family etc. and then on top of that become experts in political science and political theory, but if voters view the referendum as important it is up to them to find out if what they’re being told is true.
For example lots of people who voted to Leave did so because of the perceived idea that leaving would free up £350 million per week for the NHS, and people were indignant when Nigel Farage went on Good Morning Britain and said that that wasn’t necessarily going to be the case. Firstly Nigel Farage wasn’t in Vote Leave, he was in the anti-EU group Grassroots Out, and therefore this figure wasn’t something he endorsed. However, on the campaign trail he didn’t point out that this claim was total bullshit so one could argue that he was tacitly supporting the statement. Okay then, next point: Nigel Farage is not an important man. The Conservative Party campaigned at the 2015 General Election on having the referendum and the resultant Conservative government passed legislation mandating the vote. Nigel Farage is not in the government, he is not in the Conservative Party, he’s not even a bloody MP. When people say ‘oh Nigel Farage lied’, my response is ‘yeah, because he’s a liar’. Nigel Farage has no power to mandate additional spending on the NHS, because he’s not an MP or in the government.
Similarly people are saying that the Tory MPs that supported leaving are now rowing back on pledging money to the NHS. These people are in government and could conceivably do something, but they never were going to. Michael Gove, who was one of the leaders of Vote Leave, co-authored a book in 2005 arguing in favour of literally dismantling the NHS. I found this out on his Wikipedia page. It doesn’t take much effort to look up if these people are trustworthy or not. Another leading Tory MP in the Leave campaign was Dominic Raab. In March Raab went on the Daily Politics and heavily implied that if the NHS was privatised, there wouldn’t have been a junior doctors strike. Again I don’t want to sound cruel, but if you supported Vote Leave because you thought Michael Gove and Dominic Raab were going to use the money sent to the EU, which incidentally isn’t £350 million per week, on additional funds for the NHS, you’re a fucking idiot. Sorry but it’s true. If you genuinely thought that a load of Thatcherite Tories were going to nurture the NHS with additional funds, that is your fault, and is not grounds for another referendum. It is your fault.
The final thing I want to touch upon is how liberals, particularly young people, are engaging in doublethink because they have jettisoned their political ideas. I’d like to point out that I am a young person and this isn’t going to be a patronising paragraph about how naive young people are. Young people can be just as engaged in politics, and many are much more engaged than their older peers, but the response of many has been hysterical. Lots of people I know are now outraged that Britain will leave the EU. Indeed they have focused the blame on elderly people, with the argument being that young people have to live with the consequences of the EU result, whereas older people may not. I’ve got a couple of things to say on this, mostly based on this line of argument.
Young people, just like other sections of society, believe in democracy. Indeed many young people have called for a second referendum on the grounds that the first wasn’t democratic enough, but this is where they begin to lose the plot. The argument put forward, albeit in frustration, is that elderly people have pulled Britain out of Europe against the wishes of the young. But their anger is misplaced. Only 35% of young people voted in the referendum, and had the same proportion of young people voted as people aged over 65, Britain would have remained in the EU. It is not the fault of the elderly that young people didn’t turn out. Some people have gone as far as saying that elderly people shouldn’t have the right to vote as the referendum is about a future that will not impact them. This is where doublethink has set in.
Whilst calling for another exercise in democracy, these hysterical people have argued that others should be disenfranchised because they are old. Let’s be clear though, they wouldn’t be arguing for this if elderly people supported remaining in the EU. So essentially they are saying that people who are old or people who don’t agree with remaining in EU shouldn’t have the right to vote in the referendum. What happened to democracy? These people, who to be clear are in a minority, are arguing for other citizens to have their political rights suppressed because they have a different opinion. That’s not democracy, that’s literally fascism.
The other thing that I wanted to point out is how binary thinking has taken over a lot of remain voters. A lot of people who voted remain, by no means a majority but still a sizeable number, have taken up the nuanced position that all people who voted Leave are racist. To be fair a lot of people who did vote leave are racist, and the rise of racially motivated incidents since the Brexit vote is alarming. Indeed the main issue of the campaign was immigration and was peddled by people who could be correctly called racial arsonists. But this doesn’t mean it is true of all people who voted Leave.
I’ve said in the past that I voted to leave, and without getting into the details, it was from an ideological basis. As a communist I don’t believe it is possible to build socialism and to then build communism within the framework of neoliberal institutions. This is a principled opposition to all institutions that impose neoliberal capitalism upon nation-states, including the EU, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank. International institutions that do not do this are welcome as they foster co-operation without promoting an ideological agenda. For example, I support the existence of the UN because their only agenda is ‘let’s try not to kill each other’, a goal that I have no qualms with.
The other main reason that I voted to leave, again without rehashing the article that is linked above, is that I passionately believe in decentralising power. This is why I oppose the continued existence of the British state, and this is why I don’t support the centralisation of power in Brussels. Having said all this, would it be fair to call me a racist? Clearly, no. I personally believe that immigration is a good thing and that it benefits societies rather than making it weaker. Indeed as a communist I am an internationalist that wants to eventually see nations disappear and open borders around the world. I very much doubt that people in UKIP who were arguing to leave the EU took up my position. The point I’m making is that people can have radically different premises in an argument but still reach the same conclusion. One could argue that most people who voted Leave were motivated by fear of the Other, but by labelling all people who voted Leave as ‘racists and xenophobes’ you reveal yourself to have the logical reasoning skills of a child.
I didn’t envisage this piece going on for this long but the reaction of Remain campaigners necessitated a comprehensive retort. The EU referendum result will stand, and Britain will leave the European Union. If in a few years time there is another referendum I will have exactly the same viewpoint, but if the British people decide to re-enter Europe I will respect that decision. Why? I believe in democracy, it’s just a shame that many people are willing to abandon their democratic principles because they lost a vote and are panicking about the future.