Ah, “democracy”, eh?

I’m seeing a lot of posts on social media about the UK vote to leave the EU being a victory for democracy, or democracy in action or some such bollocks.

OK, if this was democracy, who is accountable? Who do I vote against if it all goes tits up? Who do we kick out of power if we’re not happy with what’s going on?

See, the UK is a representative democracy. That means that the people in a given area vote for someone to represent them in Parliament. Lots of those representatives get together and debate the issues, consult with experts, formulate laws and policy and generally govern. If those people do a good job, they get re-elected; do a bad job and it’s bye-bye, let’s try someone else. They are accountable to the electorate.

But with a referendum, it’s the people themseves who make the decision, not an elected representative. I’ve seen that described as “direct democracy” (and even, memorably, “real democracy”). Fine, if that’s direct democracy, then let’s follow it up with a bit of direct accountability. If you voted to leave the EU, then — should it all go wrong — I expect you to clean up the mess. You, directly. Not Parliament. Not civil servants. Not local councils. You.

Parliament didn’t want this. The big majority of the people you elected to run the country think that leaving the EU is barmy. You forced them to do something that they think is wrong. You don’t get to blame them for that. You take the blame. All of it.

And if referendums are so wonderfully democratic, why have we only ever had three? Let’s decide on fiscal policy by referendum — “Should the UK implement (a) austerity, (b) managed investment?” And, of course, there would have to be follow-up referendums to nail down the details of the chosen policy. Such fun! We could have one a week – but would that be enough? Maybe daily, then.

Because that’s the other problem with referendums: they, by necessity, have to make a simple question out of a complex issue. Add to that lying and misinformation in the run-up to the referendum, and an electorate who don’t really understand the issues, and you have a recipe for chaos.

In Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein, there are several sections containing the collected wit and wisdom of the main character, Lazarus Long. Two of them go something like (and I’m quoting from memory here)

The fallacy of monarchy is that one person is smarter than a million.


The fallacy of democracy is that a million people are smarter than one.

There are no good ways to govern – there are only less-worse ways. Representative democracy — with full accountability — is probably the least worst of them all.

Rule by plebiscite is a terrible way to govern. So why have we committed the most momentous decision of recent times to it?

Because one man decided to gamble the future prosperity of this country on a ploy to cover his inept leadership abilities. By his own admission, leaving the EU would be “a disaster”. And yet he was willing to risk that to keep a fractious section of his party off his back, so that he had a chance at grabbing a bit more power.

What an idiot.

And now, of course, he’s pissed off, having done all that damage. Cheers. Thanks a bundle. Never mind, I understand that the after-dinner circuit is very lucrative for war criminals and incompetent bufoons. We’ll just sit here in the pile of shit you left us.


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