“If I no longer give you my judgment and simply follow your orders; I am betraying you.”

That the UK vote in favour of Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump are two outcomes I would guess not many sane elected representatives would have voted for. [What are you trying to say about the DUP? – Ed] Ssssh…

Indeed it looks like both campaigns used advanced machine learning techniques to edge out the metropolitan elites (a real thing, actually) in both jurisdictions. It may also edge out deliberation of the type offered by Ken Clarke in the House of Commons:

Constitutionally, when the Government tried to stop the House from having a vote, they did not go to the Supreme Court arguing that a referendum bound the House and that that was why we should not have a vote.

The referendum had always been described as advisory in everything that the Government put out. There is no constitutional standing for referendums in this country.

No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems.

The Government went to the Supreme Court arguing for the archaic constitutional principle of the royal prerogative—that the Executive somehow had absolute power when it came to dealing with treaties. Not surprisingly, they lost.

Let me provide an analogy—a loose one but, I think, not totally loose—explaining the position of Members of Parliament after this referendum.

I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years, and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public, in their wisdom, have occasionally failed to take my advice and have by a majority voted Labour.

I have thus found myself here facing a Labour Government, but I do not recall an occasion when I was told that it was my democratic duty to support Labour policies and the Labour Government on the other side of the House.

That proposition, if put to Mr Skinner in opposition or myself, would have been treated with ridicule and scorn.

Apparently, I am now being told that despite voting as I did in the referendum, I am somehow an enemy of the people for ignoring my instructions and for sticking to the opinions that I expressed rather strongly, at least in my meetings, when I urged people to vote the other way.

I have no intention of changing my opinion on the ground. Indeed, I am personally convinced that the hard-core Eurosceptics in my party, with whom I have enjoyed debating this issue for decades, would not have felt bound in the slightest by the outcome of the referendum to abandon their arguments—[Interruption.]

I do not say that as criticism; I am actually on good terms with the hard-line Eurosceptics because I respect their sincerity and the passionate nature of their beliefs.

If I ever live to see my hon. Friend Sir William Cash turn up here and vote in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, I will retract what I say, but hot tongs would not make him vote for membership of the EU.

There are very serious issues that were not addressed in the referendum: the single market and the customs union. They must be properly debated.

It is absurd to say that every elector knew the difference between the customs union and the single market, and that they took a careful and studied view of the basis for our future trading relations with Europe.

I am told that that view is pessimistic, and that we are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with a great new globalised future that offers tremendous opportunities for us.

Apparently, when we follow the rabbit down the hole, we will emerge in a wonderland where, suddenly, countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that we were never able to achieve as part of the European Union.

Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. Let me not be too cynical; I hope that that is right. I do want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process.

No doubt somewhere a hatter is holding a tea party with a dormouse in the teapot.

We need success in these trade negotiations to recoup at least some of the losses that we will incur as a result of leaving the single market.

If all is lost on the main principle, that is the big principle that the House must get control of and address seriously, in proper debates and votes, from now on.

Most Members, I trust, are familiar with Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol. I have always firmly believed that every MP should vote on an issue of this importance according to their view of the best national interest.

I never quote Burke, but I shall paraphrase him. He said to his constituents, “If I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.”

I personally shall be voting with my conscience content, and when we see what unfolds hereafter as we leave the European Union, I hope that the consciences of other Members of Parliament will remain equally content.

“Men it has been well said, think in herds. It will be seen that they go mad in herds, and only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841.

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  • Zorin001

    It was certainly one of the finest speechs i’ve heard in the Commons for quite sometime.

    It’s just a pity it wasn’t coming from the leader of the opposition.

  • Korhomme

    In an otherwise excellent speech, Mr Clarke also said:

    No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems.

    Switzerland has frequent referendums; they are, AFAIK, binding. Is Switzerland not a sensible country?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Maybe they are a little cuckoo in Ken Clarke’s mind.

    I get where Clarke is coming from, there can be a thin line between noble republican sentiment to emancipate the population and the tyranny of the majority to divide and conquer dissenting traditions that enrich the democratic debate.

  • mickfealty

    CH is a 900 year old Confederation with a diffuse Presidency which is almost by design intended to thwart any form political activism. They’re in the process of thinking about calling a second referendum on its current access to the EU on the basis its ruling ‘elite’ found it impossible to put the last one into action.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Surely your second sentence pretty much claims Political Activism does take place in Switzerland, even if it’s ineffectual.

    Democracy of course is limited, if people vote for impossible fantasies then it is the duty of representatives to tell people that they are humans and not gods.

  • mickfealty

    Well it of course it does, but by and large the referendum system tends to reinforce the deeply conservative norms of the country.

  • Madra Uisce

    Indeed Clarke is that rarest of animals a Tory with a moral compass and a sense of compassion.

  • lizmcneill

    The definition of liberal elite in the article (professional political class, civil service and media, roughly), is not how it’s used as a popular insult (anyone who supports left/liberal/or progressive policies or parties, anyone with an academic tertiary education, people who live in major cities, people who don’t like reality TV….)

  • file

    Slight matter of the country to my immediate south as well? Is this an oversight, or a deliberate insult by a Tory MP? Mind you, the Republic of Ireland is not a sensible country: it is neither the republic that was declared in 1916 nor the Ireland mentioned in its description. That and the Healy-Raes.

  • Reader

    Ken Clarke: I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a Council Chamber in Europe
    Looks like Westminster has avoided that fate; though the Dáil may not.

  • Korhomme

    Ahem, I am a citizen of that country; even if I live “in Ausland” I still exercise my right to vote (but only in federal referendums).

  • mickfealty

    Ah, I think Kens off on a bend in the road he didn’t see coming. Perhaps the EU will learn its lessons before Ireland hurtles off down a rabbit hole of its own?

  • Korhomme

    Indeed. I’d think it was probably ignorance, and he didn’t want to dilute his argument.

  • mickfealty

    No, it’s a much more useful one. 🤓

  • mickfealty

    I wasn’t aware. Valuable citizenship!! I’m not wrong though, am I? Cantons are highly independent (and also politically, religiously or linguistically diverse) which makes it hard for the Confederation to act in any politically decisive way.

  • mickfealty

    Spoken like a lackey of the British Crown (😜 👀). Not even the Americans confuse the profoundly separate natures their Declaration of Independence and their Constitution.

  • Korhomme

    You’re not wrong; but of course it’s complicated.

    From above downwards, the political organisation is the Confederation or Bund; the Canton/Kanton or ‘county’; and the comune or Gemeinde. The Gemeinde is sort of like a ‘parish’ in England, but can tiny or very large. It’s far more important than a ‘parish’; foreigners who live in Switzerland and who wish Swiss citizenship will be quizzed by the members of the Gemeinde; and it is membership of the Gemeinde which makes the person Swiss.

    Health and Education (amongst others) are Kantonal; in the past this could mean that kids had great difficulty moving from one Kanton to another as they could find themselves in the ‘wrong’ class. As you say, the Kantons are very independent; they, and their Gemeinde, can both set rates of income tax (as does the Bund).

    The Bund is responsible for the armed forces, the railways, the Post, external relations.

    Roughly two-thirds speak german, around 25% speak french and 10% speak italian; these are the three ‘official’ languages. Romantsch is a fourth language (with multiple variations) and is a ‘national’ language.

    Yes, they are all ‘conservative’; I used to say, not entirely in jest, that even the Swiss communist party was right-wing. Basel is a ‘socialist’ city, Zurich is ‘liberal’.

    While most political parties are sensible and ‘moderate’, the Swiss Peoples’ Party (SDP) are very similar to UKIP, though their racism is often quite overt.

    The president rotates yearly between members of the ‘executive council’, but the president has no power over the the members. There does have to be someone who can accredit ambassadors.

    And yes, the population — often described in the press as being the ‘sovereign power’ — voted the ‘wrong way’ in relation to the EU, and the Bund is trying to work around that.

    So there has to be lots of discussion, compromise; and things do eventually get done, but the process is often slow.

    The country supplied mercenaries to whoever would pay (‘pas d’argent, pas de Suisse’) in the past; they have been neutral for the last 500 years, this neutrality was confirmed at the Congress of Vienna in 1814/5. (The Swiss Guard are an exception to the law forbidding military service abroad.)

  • Reader

    Recognising a fact would dilute his argument? That’s not a great argument then.

  • Reader

    Edmund Burke: …that one man at least had dared to resist the desires of his constituents when his judgment assured him they were wrong…
    And that’s OK, so long as he recognises that he can be deselected or defeated at the polls next time (the UK doesn’t have ‘Recall’ as a third option).
    But the general discussion about ‘delegate’ or ‘representative’ that is normally sparked by mention of Burke is far too abstract. I certainly don’t vote for someone because I think they are smarter than me. I vote for someone because their party manifesto, their declared principles and my perception of their integrity and competence is the best fit to my own principles and interests.
    In the case of Clarke, he was always a known EU Ultra, while being a member of a party that had promised in their manifesto to put the referendum result into effect. It was clear that in his case the EU was always going to get his vote.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Systems are not agent. People are agent. It is the people who reinforce the system not vice versa.

    That is why Mick, I feel the sort of generalisations you are making highlight politicans having to social engineer political change and indeed their own political opposition.

    To pretty much say that activism is dead because of the system, highlights you feel not only are people dormant in their activism, but supplicant to the action of politicans and the gear of government.

  • file

    “Indeed sor, yere roight sor, and very kind of you to point it out, sor.” I do get sick of Mexicans talking about ‘when our country gained independence’ and the like though. But is it actually silly to have referendums? As for Americans (I take it you mean USAers?) and their right to wear T-shirts …

  • John Collins

    Kind sir, are you suggesting there was never a clown elected to Stornmount. And BTW, those HRs (how apt), whom I utterly despite, were never, in word or deed, apologists for murder, bombing or indeed any violence.

  • file

    On the contrary, i have discussed several times how very few of our elected representatives are ready for senior hurling; the talent pool is just too small in this wee place. So the Healy-Raes are pacifists, are they? And Sammy Wilson is the biggest clown I have seen outside a circus. God only knows what he was like when he was in a classroom.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    But people don’t call referendums. Governments do. Yes/no binaries do tend to either maintain a status quo or resurrect some nationalist atavism.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well not to put to much of a point on it…

    1. Governments are made of people who people voted in.
    2. It’s people who vote in referendums
    3. Governments can be overthrown by people …. E.g Kingdom of Yugoslavia to SFR Yugoslavia to multiple states after the war
    4. Significance of a referendum depends on public concern determined by people in political activist roles including the press and corporate lobbyists

    So no “system” ever transcends the people that system covers, primarily because either the people are happy to let the system work passively with accepting the status quo or they want to rebel against it and in the process look to alter said system.

    Systems aren’t the reason why people are settled, indeed as irrational as it may sound systems in flux may provide more stability and solace to a group of people than more established stagnant ones.

    Personally I think it’s a matter of taste. There are always opponents of any system, so it is the strength of that opposition that determines if it changes or not.

  • mickfealty

    He was engaging Burke because of some the rather anti parliamentary antics of the Executive’s malign (IMHO) and anti constitutional use of the judiciary.

    You’re probably right in that it is abstract in times when parties are inclined to the view that the party and the party leader owns every individual mandate.

    But that’s not strictly speaking how the format works.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Perhaps in the light of recent events, Ken Clarke may wish to reconsider the US as sensible.

    I think referendums on straightforward social and some political issues are a good idea generally but when something extremely complex such as Brexit comes up, populist rabble rousers or current anti government feeling play far too important a role and short term sentiment can create long term damage.

  • The USA makes considerable use of ‘Propositions’ at State and below level, which are referenda by any other name. And one way to change the constitution, the Bill of Rights, is by popular vote, which is a referendum is it not? However, these are not called ‘referendum’ so his point stands (?).

  • John Collins

    Well WE, both North and South, elected them.
    As regards your ‘appointment’ of Sammy, I would have designed Gregory for that position, though there are other worthy candidates in both Stornmount and LH.