This (if the link works) is what a pro-Brexit demonstration looks like.
People have been contrasting it with the entirely peaceful and indeed good-humoured conduct of the million-plus strong pro-Remain march that thronged the streets of London the week before. This contrast can’t be fortuitous. Brexiteers have been the violent ones all along: beating up journalists, spewing abuse on social media, issuing death and rape threats to MPs they disagreed with, and in one shocking instance actually stabbing a young woman Labour MP to death. Remainers are nowhere near as brutal. Indeed, that has been an object of mockery for the other side – characterizing them as a bunch of weakly, middle-class, Guardian-reading, Prosecco-drinking, élitist ‘snowflakes’, or whatever the word is now. – What, all of them? Apparently so.
Brexiteer crowds seem to be drawn from the kind of class in Britain – can it be called a ‘class’? – that has revelled in violence for decades now. It used to be football hooliganism. Then it was blind nativism, bordering on fascism. The typical violent Brexiteer (I’m not including their political leaders here: they’re a more polite and cunning type – vide Moggy) is young or young-ish, male, bulky, paunchy, shaven-headed and covered with tattoos. (Of course not all of them. But look at the pics.) In olden days they would have been characterised as ‘the mob’.
It was the mob, of course, who frightened the Conservative middle classes in Victorian Britain against extending the Parliamentary franchise to them for so long. They would not have been at all surprised by what we see today – ‘we warned you’. But, more constructively, fear of the mob was also the reason why, when the vote was given to the plebs (in stages; women last), it was only on the understanding that their potential for harm would be moderated by the conventions that were already in place in Parliament, to ensure that the ‘people’s will’ was carefully considered and moderated before enshrining it in law. Hence the three ‘readings’ that have to be given to any bill in the Commons, plus one in the Lords, during which every aspect can be fully debated, and amended if necessary. The idea is that the result then should be nearer to what the people really want, than their first reactions – in a one-time popular vote – might indicate. It’s why Britain calls her ‘democracy’, such as it is, a ‘Parliamentary’ one. The qualification is essential.
Referendums (-a?) strike right against this. A popular vote on a vaguely-defined issue is not ‘democratic’ in this sense. It’s called ‘plebiscitary democracy’, which may have an appeal for ‘populists’, but rarely produces good considered results. This is the underlying reason – there are plenty of others, including the large-scale cheating and deception now being revealed, and indeed shortly to be prosecuted, on the pro-Brexit side, plus people changing their minds – why the result of the June 2016 referendum of should not really be allowed to stand. But if we renege on it, the mob will come and break our heads open. That’s the nervous Remainer’s quandary today.
One more 19thcentury observation. When the parliamentary franchise was extended to include some of the working classes in 1867, the Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made his famous declaration, in support of state education, that ‘we must educate our masters’. That is, working-class voters should be educated out of their mobbery. Unfortunately today that task has been delegated, more or less, to the likes of the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun. I doubt whether that’s what Disraeli was thinking of. How could he be? That low depth of journalism didn’t exist in his time.