Democracy: Referendums, Petitions, and a Reality Check for Leavers and Remainers Alike

2.5 million people have now signed a petition calling for a second referendum. I won’t be signing it. It’s pathetic. We had the highest turnout in an election for 24 years on Thursday. I think collectively we’ve made a bad decision. But it’s the decision we made.

You know what, in democracy, you win some and you lose some. Sometimes the decisions are momentous. There we go. Grow up and get over it.

Where were those 2.5 million people when we needed people knocking doors, making phone calls, leafleting supermarkets, making little viral videos to share on social media? Because I tell you what, I was an active member of the Stronger In campaign and there weren’t 2.5 million people involved in it. Had there been, we might have had a different result. There were a handful of people doing get out the vote stuff on polling day in Salisbury and there was no centrally generated data to help us do it right. It was a disorganised shambles from start to finish.

I took a half-day off to get Remain voters out in the middle of what was effectively a split-shift working day that finished at 8.45 pm before driving to the count and being there until 4 am. That’s what you need to do to win close elections. And you clicked a button on the internet? Sorry, they won, and you didn’t do enough to prevent that.

Also, don’t blame this on David Cameron calling a referendum. The Tories had a manifesto commitment to it, and it’s one of the main reasons they won the election. It was a big part of squeezing the blue UKIP vote in the final days of the 2015 campaign. It had to happen, for all sorts of reasons.

On the other hand, the Leavers telling me to stop complaining and “accept democracy” need to accept it themselves. It’s about more than marking crosses on bits of paper every few years, otherwise Russia would be a democracy. It also having the right to tell people you think they were wrong: free speech, if it means anything, means having the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear. We hear that from the populist right a lot – well, it cuts both ways.

I look forward to seeing the NHS get the £18.4 billion a year it was promised if we left the EU. Don’t expect that not to be brought up for years. In Wales, in particular, where the NHS is in a crisis well beyond that in the other 3 countries, the £350M a week claim was devastatingly effective. So front up, please.

Where are we, as Day 3 of the new era begins? In a mess – all of us. It’s startlingly obvious that the top people in the Leave campaign had no idea they were going to win, and no game plan for Brexit. I think an awful lot of them, and some of the people voting Leave, were playing for 49%, a high risk strategy that blew up in everyone’s faces. Article 50 should be triggered soon – David Cameron really should have sent a letter to the European Commission doing that on Friday morning. Otherwise what was this vote about? Boris getting one over on Dave? This campaign devolved into a spat over personalities between ideologically identical Tories too often. No wonder we lost – did we really think working-class people were going to come out and vote for our side in those circumstances? No wonder politics is held in contempt.

All this means we’re risking a much poorer settlement from the EU than we might otherwise get, both in terms of the practical issues and in terms of keeping this disunited and currently unhappy family of nations part of the European family of nations. I think Norway and Switzerland get a rubbish deal and our side said that often enough in the campaign. But from where we are sitting now, it might be the best deal on offer.

Velvet divorce from the EU is in everyone’s interests, here and all over Europe. We also need to ask whether a velvet divorce of the UK is in everyone’s interests at this point – and I don’t know the answer. It might be better for Scotland simply not to leave the EU when England and Wales do. In Northern Ireland, this is not actually a bad result. It was the least sectarianised pattern of voting I have ever seen – how often do Bangor and Derry vote the same way on an issue of major contention? Are we capable of having a grown up conversation about what the future for Northern Ireland is after the UK disintegrates? We bloody well ought to be. We, better than anyone, know the alternatives.

We Europhiles might also want to pause and ask ourselves why it was such a difficult sell. Where is European solidarity when there is a lack of a Marshall Plan-style scheme to refloat the economies of Southern Europe? Is the only option for well-educated Spaniards and Greeks really just to work in coffee shops in Bath and factories in Düsseldorf? And where is European solidarity when it comes to helping the benighted masses fleeing the carnage in Syria and Iraq?

To Remainers: there is no simple “wait for the chaos to come and buyers’ remorse to kick in” option, even though I have no doubt there will be buyers’ remorse aplenty. A Dutch General Election is coming early next year. The anti-EU far right and far left between them are currently polling just over a third of the vote. We may just have sent a message that collapses a fragile house of cards.

To Leavers: Project Fear was actually Project Reality Check. We are going to down the hole economically for a few years, at least. The UK, or England, is probably going to lose “great power status”. The English working-classes realised they didn’t care about that anyway during the Iraq fiasco.

The “Great Britain not Little England” messaging of the Remain campaign, delivered by posh people who write books about history, was so politically tone-deaf I don’t even know where to begin.

24 years after the Czechs and Slovaks carried out a velvet divorce, nobody really regrets it and they are one another’s closest allies. If divorce happens, in real life, it’s best for it to lack bitterness even though there is inevitably a lot of pain involved. The people depending on that are most of all the poor (who Leavers claim to be the standard-bearers for) and the young (who Remainers claim to be standard-bearers for).

Final thought – we all just took part in the biggest event in European history since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Isn’t that exciting!

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  • Sir Rantsalot

    Hi Steve, Could you watch and give me a view on the vid I linked?

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Paddy , could you give me a view on the vid also?

  • Paddy Reilly

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. Is this any help?

  • Gerry Lynch

    The Norway option would mean free movement of labour. And if that’s what we end up going for, what was this referendum about?

  • Gerry Lynch

    At which point UKIP put on 10% of the vote.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Ah, searching your comments I find you want me to watch your video. I managed 5 minutes, but couldn’t do the whole half hour.

    Basically, you may feel that a corrupt corporate dictatorship has been overthrown, but really all that has happened is a rearranging of the seats in the Bullingdon Club Old Boys section.

  • Paddy Reilly

    I have it on in the background. He is going on about mass immigration. It is as i said. When mass immigration does not stop these people will realise they have been had.

  • Paddy Reilly

    He makes reference to ‘the sexual abuse scandal in Rotherham.’ The relevance of a (Pakistani implemented) sexual abuse ring to the European Union? As I say, this is a vote against immigration. The EU is not responsible for immigration from Africa and Asia.

  • Korhomme

    I’ve watched some of the video. It’s from the very far right, it’s very simplistic and very confused. The petition is about when a referendum should be valid, not what they were saying. The wastelands of the north east of England are a direct result of neoliberal economic politics, yet these were praised.

    Austerity and the global elite are both children of neoliberalisation. In the past we threw bankrupts into debtor’s prisons; the Troika have tried this with Greece; it’s an idea that simply cannot work. The only country this century to have discarded the “conventional” remedy of austerity has been Iceland – and that after a referendum – and it worked. Mind you, the Brits are still trying to get the population there to pay for the mistaken investments of bankers in the UK.

    Certainly, the elite have wealth and power far beyond their capabilities. Look at what the Koch brothers do in the US.

    Brexit isn’t the answer. A new economic model is needed, and politicians who can stand up to the “masters of the universe” are needed to enforce it. That takes collective action, not a withdrawal.

    The chaps on the video were really approaching the realms of conspiracy theory. So here’s a rejoinder to them from the New Scientist:

  • austin mcclafferty

    Self absorbed gibberish, stop pulling your hair out and crying into a wet pillow Gerry.

    Your tears have turned the streets into rivers, dry your eyes.

    The world will keep turning, let the light in Gerry and embrace reality. Get in touch with the brighter side of life, free up a lot of that space you’re currently using up with sarcastic judge mental tone and negative narrative.

  • Gerry Lynch

    I hope it that late night screech on teh internets at someone who said something you didn’t like made you feel better and helped you get a good night’s sleep.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    That’s the thing that’s been puzzling me Mr R;
    how does leaving the EU stop immigration from Africa and Asia?
    Does the UK become exempt from accepting asylum seekers or sumfin?

  • Paddy Reilly

    I once represented an Asylum seeker, a Rumanian. (in those days Rumania was still outside the EU.) Not a Gypsy, a genuine opponent of Ceaucescu: actually the regime that followed him. He had been smuggled out of Rumania in the boot of a car, and deposited in what he thought was England, but turned out to be Spain. He was furious. I thought that Spain would be quite a nice place to go, better weather and a Romance language, but no, he wanted England.

    The UK is stupid enough to provide a range of benefits for Asylum Seekers, not benefits as in dole, but instant access to the job market. That is why they flock here. Other countries, Spain etc, give them nothing. In Greece, now the Germans have decided they are full up and have closed the border, they have to resort to male prostitution.

    So all of the UK’s problems with immigrants (with the exception of the Rumanian Gypsies) are the fault of the UK, not the EU. However, the EU being remote and abstract, it is convenient to blame it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well said Gerry and I broadly agree. A lot of us Remainers feel guilty for not doing more. We have to make the best of this now though, for the time being at least.

    I will keep a watchful eye on public opinion though. I will be very interested to see what polls might say in a year’s time on this question, after the first year of the probable recession, job losses, cuts etc that comes with Brexit and with predictions of more to come and with no guarantee of a return to prosperity. I would not be at all surprised if by then, Regrexit has taken hold of many of the ‘soft’ Leavers. My guess is (and I’m not a pollster but have worked for a few polling agencies and have to do educated guesses on opinion numbers in my day-to-day work) by this time next year, Leave will be down to somewhere in the 40-45 per cent range. By the time we actually leave in 2+ years’ time, there will I suspect be a solid majority against it.

    It may be worth when we get to that stage, in say 2018, having a referendum to approve the terms of our new relationship with the EU. And what if that referendum asked:
    “Should the United Kingdom:
    Proceed with leaving the European Union on the basis of the agreement reached between UK government and the EU; or
    Apply to rejoin the European Union as a full member?”

    Though, two years down the line, we might all have so much reconciled ourselves to the sh** we’re in that we wouldn’t even grab at the rope ladder out of it. Frogs in boiling water and all that. I suspect we are stuck with this.

  • Skibo

    MU I know you are a labour activist in England at the moment. What is the gossip on the street about Jeremy Corbin at the moment? I assume the ordinary members will support him. Pity he does not seem to have any loyalty in the MPs.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m in hiatus at the moment, I’m a supporter but I quit my membership of the party as a protest against Corbyn’s election. I did some leafleting for them for the Remain campaign in my area and had a chat with our local Labour councillor but that’s about it. My wife is more active (and more to the left than me) and one of her best friends is quite well-connected Corbyn-favouring person, though we’ve been away camping and not spoken to her about it yet. We avoid the subject when she’s round anyway, to be honest, in the interests of friendship!

    For what it’s worth, I think Corbyn’s standing among members is still strong but perhaps less so than it was a year ago. There is anger among grass roots Corbyn supporters with the PLP and they are seen as never having given him a chance. Of course not all grass roots people are pro-Corbyn and the local party in my area was aghast at his election from Day 1. The so-called ‘Blairites’ are seen as poison by many grass roots Corbyn supporters I follow on twitter but actually this term is now applied to Brownites and anything else -ites anywhere to the right of Corbyn. It’s become very divided and very nasty.

    If there were another election, I think Corbyn would be likely to win again, with a less emphatic majority – unless the anti-Corbyn lobby can unite around a single, broadly appealing candidate. Then there is half a chance of beating him. You’d be looking there probably at Tom Watson as a stopgap, Michael Howard kind of figure to unite the party; maybe Angela Eagle. Other possibles: Dan Jarvis and Keir Starmer. They need to work this out among the PLP, decide on someone and come out all guns blazing. I think even if they win, the size of the Corbyn vote in the party would necessitate some kind of split. For me, if the PLP doesn’t win this, it needs to split off and form a new social democratic party; if it does win, it can still own the Labour brand, but it needs to show the door to the hard left. Either way, it will be seismic and will leave the left staggering for a while.