The Slow Death of Democracy in the UK

The "WTF?" Edition

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal
EU referendum ballot paperCC0 1.0, Public Domain

Events may overtake this piece, but I felt compelled to write after a rather tumultuous week of politics and I think most of what I have to say will still hold true. Since the EU referendum result, I have witnessed the slow death of democracy in the United Kingdom. Piece by piece, inch by inch, day by day. Looking back now, I can see that the efforts to try and delegitmise the Leave vote began literally the next day. At the time I, along with many others, were just happy that we had won. I didn’t give it much attention. The UK had implemented the result of every referendum result in its history. Surely it wouldn’t stop this one, which had the biggest turnout on record? Over three year later we are still waiting.

Almost immediately the smears began. Racist, uneducated, bigots, lies, bus, etc were all being trotted out. The great and the good lined up to lambast Brexit and all the terrible little people who had dared to vote for it. Cameron resigned, even though he initially said he wouldn’t. Then we had an achingly slow leadership “contest” that ended with the smearing of Andrea Leadsom for having an opinion, then the fateful coronation of Theresa May. All the while Article 5o had not been triggered, again something Cameron had said would happen straight away. This became a famous line, along with a government leaflet stating, “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.” We should have known something was up.

Article 50 was finally triggered in March 2017, getting on for nearly a year after the vote to leave. It had already faced one legal case, that of Gina Miller. Legal cases designed to slow or stop the UK leaving were to become a common feature, “lawfare” as it was becoming known as. Other cases of note were against leave campaigners such as Darren Grimes, who subsequently won on appeal. Lawyers such as Jolyon Maugham launched numerous cases. Campaigns sprung up to stop the UK leaving and reverse the referendum, mainly via the mechanism of another public vote. Billionaires like George Soros backed these campaigns, donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to groups like Best for Britain. The irony of the name is not lost on me. The mainly pro-Remain media began pumping out scare stories of the consequences of leaving. Vast numbers of Remain supporting guests were lined up for chat shows and panel shows. Leavers, not so much. The establishment was fighting back hard.

We then saw Theresa May “negotiating” a deal with the EU. This involved sending Olly Robbins to Brussels, and bypassing the then Brexit Minister, Steve Baker and David Davies, who was allegedly in charge of negotiations as Brexit Secretary. Davies and Baker resigned, feeling that their positions had been undermined. May’s “deal” would have satisfied no one. Many felt that it had been dictated by Brussels and was a trap to keep us locked in to the EU. May had campaigned for Remain, was a tepid leaver at best, seemingly wanting to keep the UK as closely tied to the EU as possible. Unsurprisingly it was voted down by Parliament three times. All this had taken us up to 2019. The deadline for leaving was put back twice.

May was eventually dethroned, Boris installed after another protracted leadership contest, but at least the members got a vote this time. Boris promised to leave by the 31st October come what may. Well, the establishment didn’t like the sound of that. Actually leaving? After all their hard work to stay in? Unthinkable. Media scare stories were again ramped up, this time about no deal scenarios. Tory cucks who had been key players under May, helping to guide the UK back to either staying in or accepting her deal, began acting up.

Most recently we have seen laws to block leaving with no deal, to force the Prime Minister to ask for an extension to Article 50 and to force people to reveal private messages and correspondence. Boris wanted to call an election, based on backing him to leave in October no matter what, or choosing the opposition. Without a hint of shame, those who had been calling for an election or a second vote, suddenly decided that a public vote would be a terrible idea. They voted down the government to stop this. We seem to have a Speaker that appears to have gone rogue, deciding what he wants on the day and ignoring convention and the unwritten constitution. Every Remainer act of sabotage has been allowed.

Where were the voters in all of this? Ignored, only important in any tactical ploy launched by political parties, to be discarded and ignored otherwise. Many, many people (on both sides) are deeply unhappy at this situation. Most have accepted the vote and just want the government to get on with it, so that they can carry on with their lives. They want certainty and a way forward, not endless argument, delay and political manoeuvring for party gains. Turnout for the Newport by-election was abysmal. Turnout was down to 37%. Many people I have spoken to say they will never vote again. I don’t feel this way, but a lot do.

Why does this matter? We judge our democracy by participation. If people are engaged, believe they can get change by campaigning and voting, that the system is working for them, then they take part. We like to think that if people care about the issues and they are important to them, then they will go out and vote. The fact that so many have been turned off politics for good speaks volumes. At first, I thought, ” What, you can’t even be bothered to walk to the local polling station?” But then I thought about it carefully. It’s a lot more than that. When people go to vote it is showing faith in the system, that it can work for them. They invest the act of voting with the belief that it can bring change, that it can make society better, that democracy is the best way to govern the country. For many, they invest their hopes and dreams in it. A better future for them, or if not for them then at least for their kids. The political class in this country have smashed that.

This is why the apathy in the current political climate worries me greatly. People are losing faith in democracy. They no longer see the point in voting. This is troubling, because what happens then? You tell 17.4 million people their vote doesn’t matter and can be cancelled on a whim, because they didn’t vote the right way and it doesn’t fit the shiny, progressive, left-wing liberal narrative. What will happen when you tell people they can no longer effect change through the ballot box? If people decide democracy doesn’t work, what comes next? Where will they turn and what methods will they use to get the change they want?

Low voter turnout also risks letting in genuine fringe extremists who can take advantage of the situation. Added to this, Parliament is taking it upon itself to take on ever more intrusive powers, such as demanding the performance of personal service and the turning over of private and sensitive documents. Rather than governing for the people they increasingly seem to be governing for their own ends. Personal vendettas are being pursued. Where will this end? Politicians are taking an extremely short-term view, just because they are upset over the result of one vote they disagree with, and want to throw their toys out of the pram. They either do not see or do not care about the long-term damage they are causing. All that matters is Westminster and after that London. They seem blinkered to what is happening in the rest of the country. All for a blue flag with some gold stars. This is a dangerous game and I fear it will not end well. For anyone.


© Jonathon Davies 2019

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