The referendum result has shown up huge and possibly fatal flaws in our political system and culture. This is not just a Remainer’s sour grapes; I’ve written about it before. (https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/; https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/the-demonization-of-politics/) The referendum is billed as uniquely democratic, and to be respected for that reason. So, no challenges or re-runs. But that’s to see it out of political and historical context.
What made the referendum uniquely democratic was that its result truly and proportionately reflected the will of the people (those who voted, anyway). But this was in a political system that doesn’t normally reflect the views of the populace; producing extraordinary results like the last general election’s, for example, where only 35% of the votes produced a government with an overall majority of seats in Parliament, but hated by most people. This of course gave rise to widespread discontent in the country, and a general alienation from politics, on the grounds that voting ‘makes no difference’.
Then along came the referendum: a very rare occasion where it was felt that voting could make a difference. Hence the high turn-out. But hence also the fact that when people came to cast their votes, they used them to as an outlet for all the frustrations that had been built up in them for so long by the political system they had had to endure. This was the first time they could really ‘get at’ the government and the rest of the political ‘establishment’. I’m sure many of them voted on the European issue too, and not just as a scapegoat for their sufferings under ‘austerity’. But I’m equally sure that if we had had a fairer electoral system in the first place – and a fairer press, but that’s another question – people’s grievances generally wouldn’t have needed to be funnelled into this single issue, as I think they were. And nor would the campaign have been so nasty and racist, which is another symptom of the general frustration and anger pent up by our present political system and culture.
Maybe the result would have been the same. Sadly, we’ll never know. But in any case the underlying problem with our so-called ‘democracy’ will remain, to continue to poison our national life – now as an off-shore island – for decades to come. We’re seeing it in the leadership contests in both the Conservative and Labour parties today. Just imagine the situation if you had proportional representation, and the proliferation of viable parties that this allows. Dissidents in both parties could join or form other groups, which – unhampered by first-past-the-post – would have as fair a chance of being represented in the Commons as the parties they had quarrelled with. It’s a no-brainer. All governments would need to be coalitions, of course, but coalitions that truly reflected the popular voice. (The argument against this used to be that first-past-the-post produced more political stability. Oh yes? Look around.) And people would not need to channel their built-up frustration on many matters against just one of them, because that was the only one they were allowed to have their say on.
To get a decent political culture in Britain will need some fundamental reforms. The electoral system is one area; the press is another. (I see from today’s paper, incidentally, that Murdoch is backing Trump. Of course. Another immoral capitalist.) And the public schools, obviously. A model that reformers might look to is Sweden, whose electoral system is much fairer (I’d miss having my ‘own’ MP, but there are ways around that: see my previous post), and whose press – even the tabloids – is basically honest and restrained. They’re also a more equal, happier and more prosperous people than us. But I can’t see that happening in Britain. Our main political parties do so well out of the present system, and our press barons are too powerful. It will require a revolution. And we don’t ‘do’ revolutions, do we?
Alternatively… Can’t we ask the Vikings to come back? Last time it didn’t work out very well, for us at any rate; but I believe the Scandinavians have grown out of the raping and pillaging, and become quite civilised. Quite honestly, if they wanted to come and re-colonise us now, I wouldn’t object. Now we’re out of the EU (almost), we’re ripe for the picking. I’d welcome a flotilla of longships sailing up the Humber, their crews singing fierce Abba war songs, offering the natives meat-balls, and waving their self-assembly flat-pack swords. They could do an awful lot of good for us. I’m rather against imperialism in general; but in this case…