Saturday, 4 February 2017

Democracy Isn't Good Enough (For Some)

by Oliver Clark

Theresa May giving her plan for Brexit, January 17, 2017
Democracy is something that I feel goes grossly unappreciated in daily life. While across the globe there are still brutal dictatorships, policies of horrendous oppression, and political corruption, we as British people have a genuine input in deciding the direction that the country takes. From the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, to introduction of the vote for women in 1918, it is indubitable that the say of the people has evolved greatly over time. We now vote for local politicians to represent our constituency in the Commons. These politicians discuss and vote upon bills that influence our daily lives, fighting in the best interests of their constituents and the populace as a whole. When there are more important decisions on the table, namely voting on these politicians, the government in charge, and membership of a certain political union, the final verdict is made by us, the people. This is arguably the purest form of democracy, as our vote truly matters. However, after the events of 2016, it appears that this democracy is simply insufficient for some.

The EU referendum was divisive. It split friendship groups, families, and the norms of party politics. However, after the result on June 24th, I had genuinely thought that the cherished value of democracy, listening to the voice of the majority of the people, would prevail with little challenge. I was sorely mistaken. There was immediate shock from ardent Remainers. Political leaders, celebrities, and the general public, were quick to react. Was it with acceptance and tolerance of the views of the 17.4 million people who voted Leave? No. All of a sudden, these Brexiteers were not ‘people’. They were ‘racists’ who wanted people deported (something that was never, I reiterate, never, talked about by anyone in the campaign). They were ‘bigots’ who wanted us to be Little Englanders instead of global citizens. They were ‘idiots’ whose political understanding was simply not sufficient for them to think for themselves and have the ability to vote. They were ‘old people’, who would be dead before the economic Armageddon hit us poor young, accepting folk (a point made even more ludicrous by the fact that the turnout for 18-24 year olds barely broke 25%). Freedom of speech is important in society, but the backlash that Brexiteers received was unacceptable.

However, I could understand the disappointment from those who had campaigned, fought, and voted for Remain. With the economic disaster painted by the Government, the Bank of England, the Treasury, the OECD, the IMF, Eddie Izzard (beret and all), the WTO, the World Bank, Lily Allen (whose latest great insight into politics stated that ‘the world still hates us cause, SLAVERY’), the CBI, the IFS… (you get the picture), it is evident that the apprehension of people got the better of them, taking out their fears of the future on those who could possibly have been stupid enough to vote to leave the holy grail to all mankind, the EU. However, over 6 months after the vote, we can now see that this was nothing more than false. The value of the pound fell, boosting the prosperity of export industries, leading to a long needed surge in economic growth, making us the fastest growing economy of the G7 in 2016.

This was far from the ‘immediate economic downturn’ that was predicted by Governor of the BoE, Mark Carney. Every forecast made by the acronym-obsessed ‘experts’ that Michael Gove challenged before the vote was made, was beaten. Whether it be successes for manufacturing, construction, the services sector, tourism, FDI, unemployment at its lowest rate since 2006, growth expected to be 2% next year (as opposed to the figure of 0.8% during the referendum), it seems as though the ‘truths’ laid out by the Remain campaign were nothing more than ‘alternative facts’, now popularised by a certain President of the United States (we will come back to him later). Now, although I do accept, that we have not left the EU yet, and that there is not guaranteed economic prosperity on the other side, if the supposed experts failed so epically in the short run, how do we expect them to be any more accurate in the long run?

With more positive economic news arriving on a daily basis, you would think that the attitude towards Brexiteers, and Brexit itself, would be not only calmer, but that the concept of democracy would begin to reach the minds of politicians and people alike. Once more, I was proven wrong. Although, as demonstrated by numerous statistics and polls, most of the public simply want us to get on with Brexit, it was now the time for the politicians to contest the views of the people who elect them. The Liberal Democrats were most ardent in their refusal to accept the vote, closely followed by the Greens and Ken Clarke. Labour were more subtle in their Europhilic intentions, instead calling for a ‘Soft’ Brexit that put jobs and the economy first, instead of the dastardly far right Tory ‘Hard’ Brexit. For months the debate raged on, ending with Theresa May’s excellent Lancaster House speech where she confirmed that the UK would indeed leave the Single Market and the Customs Union. Still, the pained cries of the few remaining Lib Dems can be heard across the country, while Labour don’t really have a clue what’s going on, perfectly summarised by the ever-irritating Diane Abbot’s face on Question Time this past week.

But where did this Hard/Soft Brexit idea spawn from? Like the chicken and the egg scenario, I am unsure which came first, and when it exactly started, however, I would argue that this situation should never have occurred. Throughout the campaign, whether it was Nigel Farage or David Cameron, Boris Johnson or George Osbourne, Gisela Stuart or Mark Carney, it was made perfectly clear that a vote to Leave would be a vote to leave the Single Market, to put an end to Freedom of Movement, to regain supremacy of UK courts over UK matters. There was talk of free trade deals, something that cannot be done by the UK within the Customs Union. There was a frequent argument of ‘take back control’, something that cannot be achieved while we are subservient to the European Court of Justice. There was talk of an end to uncontrolled, ever growing net migration from the EU into the UK, something that David Cameron attempted to renegotiate whilst willing to remain within the Single Market, and failed. Every single aspect of the campaign indicated heavily that we would leave these aspects of the EU, with it being explicitly stated by politicians on both sides of the debate. To go for a so called ‘Soft Brexit’ would be nothing more than leaving the EU by name, and not by the principals upon which the British people voted.

In spite of all of this, we are now in a situation where those politicians, Tim Farron, Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Clarke, Nick Clegg, who campaigned for Remain, are now telling us that people did not know what they were voting for. ‘There is no mandate for leaving the Single Market!’, they decry, ignoring all of the arguments that even united both Brexiteers and Remainers, ‘It will lead to unspeakable economic despair, poverty and suffering’. Never do these politicians attempt to explain the basic sixth form level economics behind the benefits and negatives of a customs union, single markets, uncontrolled immigration and free trade deals. They never choose to explain exactly why there will be an economic disaster. They instead resort to claiming that those who voted Brexit, are no longer racists, bigots and idiots, but that they were conned, tricked into voting Leave by those meddling Ukippers and far right Tories, and simply did not understand what they voted for.

This argument astounds me. In a General Election, the losing opposition do not claim that the vote is invalid because voters didn't know what they were selecting. They accept the result and move on. A particular highlight of the post referendum fall out was Andrew Neil, host of Sunday Politics, tearing into the efforts of James McGrory, leader of Open Britain, who had supposedly compiled a series of clips with Brexiteers talking of remaining in the Single Market post Brexit. However, after some short extrapolation of the clips, it was revealed that numerous clips were taken drastically out of context, with Neil leaving the concluding comment of, ‘How did you think you would get away with this?… Many people will conclude that you are the biggest liars’. It was Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer who put the nail in the coffin in a recent interview, by admitting, ‘(the term) a Hard Brexit doesn't help us anymore’.

With members of the public continuing to march against Brexit across the country, with politicians treating Brexiteers like irresponsible children, with the general divisions that are growing across the country, is there any hope for faith in democracy to be restored? I fear that Nicola Sturgeon and her merry band of economic illiterates in the SNP will thwart this. Scotland voted to remain in the UK with a 55-45 victory. But all of a sudden, it now appears that this message wasn’t clear enough for Sturgeon, Salmond, Robertson and co. When looking at the raw figures, significantly more people in Scotland voted to remain in the UK than to remain in the EU. I do feel that the sovereignty argument used so heavily on my side of the Brexit debate resonates with the Scottish people in regards to independence (although one could also argue that rejoining the EU would jut be surrendering your countries sovereignty in another fashion), every other aspect of the argument for Out is fundamentally flawed. 62% of Scotland voted to remain in the EU, with 38% voting Leave, although this is a sizeable majority, the prospects of an independent Scotland joining the EU are non-sensical to say the least.

First of all, there is the political issue. For a country to join the EU, every country must agree on acceptance, with just one county's veto halting proceedings. There is absolutely zero chance of Scotland rejoining the EU, due to Spain's troubles with Catalonia. The Northeastern region of Spain is in a similar position to Scotland, in that it too sees itself as an independent country, clinging to its European identity, but wishing to ignore its national constrictions. The conflict between the Spanish and the Catalans has often been violent throughout history, with the political debate still raging on today. If Catalonia saw an independent Scotland being able to join the EU, the cries for independence will only rise, therefore Spain would never allow Sturgeon to take Scotland out of the UK and into the EU.

Secondly, the economics behind Scottish independence is completely flawed. Ignoring the questions about a new currency, an ever rising deficit (that is currently over 10% of GDP), and the rock bottom prices of oil (to put it into comparison, the price of oil is now a third of what it was in 2014, when Alex Salmond constructed his tenuous models), the trade arguments for independence are beyond illogical. Excluding oil and gas, Scottish exports to the EU total £12.3 billion, £15.2 billion to the rest of the world, whereas their exports to the UK amass a whopping £49.8 billion. If Sturgeon wished to stay in the Single Market/EU at the expense of the UK, she would be forcing tariffs upon nearly 65% of her country exports at the expense of free trade benefitting a mere 15%. It doesn't take a Harvard economist to tell you that this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If there was a significant growth in Scottish exports to the EU, then I could envision the potential desire for future growth of export markets. However, this is also false. Since 2002, the exports from Scotland to the EU have grown by less than £1 billion, whereas exports to the UK have risen by nearly £20 billion in the same time period. Do I have to go on? I shall once more, if you will indulge me. The GDP of the UK has grown by 15% since the Financial Crash, whereas the EU has only just this year reached the same level as it had in 2008. How many Scottish Independence Referendums will it take before Sturgeon and co. begin to take note of, economic sense, political sense, and most of all, the will of the people.

Now for the tricky part of this article coming from across the pond. Step up, Mr Donald J Trump. Many of his policies are ludicrous, on a moral, political and economic level. His comments throughout the Presidential campaign were of fear mongering and division. Yet in spite of all of this, he is now the  democratically elected leader of the Free World. No, he did not win the popular vote, but ultimately, this system has elected 44 Presidents before Mr Trump, and so the argument that his victory is not valid because of this is simply wrong. 

As you can tell, I am far from a fan of The Donald. However, when I see Madonna's dreams of ‘blowing up the White House’ being met with rapturous applause at the Women’s March, when I see protests around the US, and even our own country, asking for him to be removed from office, when I see people claim that his State Visit to the UK would be ‘too embarrassing for the Queen to handle’, I have to laugh. Hard as it is for me, or many of you, to see why the Americans chose Trump to be their Commander in Chief, he was voted in on his message. To call on him to be removed from his post, because he is enacting the exact policies that he said he was going to, is simply ludicrous.

The refugee policy is wrong, and it must go. I completely support the protests against this issue. However, protestors asking for him to be removed from office after winning the election and after being in the role for just two weeks is not productive. America is a democracy, and no matter how loudly protestors shout in Portsmouth or Paris, they will not be able to shout him out of office. If the left is seen as trying to override the will of voters, I presume that it shall only lead to more anger, more division, and a second term for Trump. What also angers me when it comes to these protestors who call for the removal of the President is the sheer hypocrisy of their actions. Why is Trump's travel ban any worse than the 16 countries who permanently ban the entrance of Israeli Jews, or more racist than the ban of the burqa in France and Austria? Why are his comments about women suddenly making him worse than the foreign leaders in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are near to non existent? Why is a State Visit from Trump any worse than visits from the likes of Gadaffi, Assad and Xi Ping? Most importantly, where are the protests asking for the removal of these leaders? There appears to be a differing standard from the democratically elected Trump, to these other polarising leaders (who in many cases have not faced a democratic election in their lives)?

You can agree with me, or you can think that I am just a radical right wing blogger. But the beauty of democracy is that my vote is just as important as any of yours. If we lose faith in this system, we will inevitably descend into a world of intolerance. As shown by the current political climate of Europe, when democracy is undermined and policy makers are unaccountable, this in turn leads to rises in the extremes of both left and right. Although things may look bleak for some going into 2017, we must keep faith.

While we have small sects of people losing faith in democracy as they brand anyone who disagrees with their points of view as racists, bigots and idiots, it now seems that politicians are beginning to follow suit, putting their own ideologies before cold, hard evidence, and the wills of their people. I really hope that Scotland does hold a second independence referendum, and I hope that it delivers a significant rebuff to Sturgeon, who for all her political skills, has a vengeful intent to destroy the United Kingdom at the expense of all economic and political sense. It would be ironic if Sturgeon were indeed to pursue IndyRef2, as it would align her with the anti-democratic commissioners of the EU, that have for too long ignored the will of their peoples. Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, France and Denmark have all either been forced to vote again in referendums on EU matters, or have had their votes simply swept under the carpet. I hope that outside of the EU, this country can once more engage in democracy in its fullest form. If we cannot agree on the importance of our own voices, what can we agree on?

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