Democracy In Action


Yesterday the British people were given the opportunity to make a decision. Using a truly democratic system (a referendum) we were asked to decide if we wanted to stay in the EU or leave. This was unusual for the UK. Our normal democracy follows an outdated process called First Past The Post (FPTP) and it means that the majority of votes in the country are irrelevant.

For example, I live in the Newcastle Central constituency. Because most people who can be bothered to vote are Labour supporters that means that my vote doesn’t count. It means that, like my vote, there are millions of votes around the country that are just wasted. In terms of vote share this meant that the Conservatives got 330/6500 sets with 11.3 million votes, Labour got 232/650 with 9.35 million votes and the SNP got 56 seats with 1.45 milion. UKIP however, got 3.88 milion votes and ONE seat. The SDLP got three seats with less than 100,000 votes! (The same number of seats as Plaid Cymru – who had nearly double that, and more than the UUP who polled nearly 115,000 votes.)

Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand what UKIP believe in, Nigel Farage is one of the most punchable men that I know. But that voting system’s not fair. Nor is it democratic by any stretch of the imagination. FPTP means that only the select few who live in “marginal” constituencies can influence the make up of the government.

So,  we live in a country where, in the outlying regions (the North, Wales, NI, the South West) we’re used to our votes not meaning anything. The democratic process is an irrelevancy because it doesn’t matter who I vote for, unless we have a mass migration around the country, I’m going to have a Labour MP. Then, all of a sudden, we’re given real power. Our vote matters. Every single person who votes can make a difference.

That’s amazing. It’s daunting, but amazing. I can actually have a say in what happens to the country that I live in. I can make a decision that the government will take seriously rather than just paying lip service to an ePetition. And thankfully (thanks to that FPTP process that I mentioned earlier) we have a selection of strong, level-headed and passionate politicians who will help me to make the right decision.

Oh wait, no, the other thing. We *actually* have a bunch of (primarily) upper middle/lower upper class white men who haven’t had to spend any time in those areas. They’ve never been thrown out by their parents, or had to live on £15/week bridging allowance. They’ve never experienced working in a service industry/retail etc… and relying on a minimum wage, or lived off benefits for any period of time because they had no other choice. It doesn’t matter about actually understanding the needs of the population. All you need to do is make friends with the grandees of the Party and they’ll put you into a “safe seat”. Choo-choo for the gravy train!

So, many of the upper echelons of the party politic are quite well off, they have good jobs (alongside their ministerial duties), friends and family of equivalent standing and rarely need to worry about where the money is coming from. Many of them have had the benefits of a good education, sometimes private, private healthcare and they’re members of the right clubs. It’s what we all are supposed to aspire to and I know that some people will think I’m jealous.

And yes, there is some jealousy there. I never had the opportunity to go to university. I left home at 16 and had a choice, study or live. So I worked (and at some points claimed benefits). But that’s not the point of this argument. We have a political elite who have no need to worry about the ramifications of their actions. As long as they keep the party sweet we’re going to vote for them. Because who else is there really?

So that’s the set up. We have a huge divide between the haves and have nots, and all of a sudden the have nots get the chance to show the elite what they can do. The Conservatives promised their party that they would hold a referendum on membership of the EU. So a promise to just over 30% of the electorate became something that would affect 100% of the population. (Including millions who didn’t even get a say, but will be hugely impacted by it. Young people, EU migrants and UK emigrants for example.)

But we have this well educated, politically savvy elite. Surely they’ll provide a voice of reason? Surely they’ll debate the nuances and give us some of their well educated guidance? They have ministries, think tanks, financial institutions and huge companies who can provide them with more data than you can shake a stick at. Surely they’ll steer us through this?

No. “Project Fear” became a byword for the campaigns. Racism and xenophobia raised its head and urban myths from the dawn of time (well 1940s America) became genuine arguments. Numbers were fudged and repeated so often that they became the official figures. And then came the excuses. Before the ballot had even opened there were people in the Leave campaign who claimed that, if the turnout was less than 75% and the vote wasn’t at least a 60/40% split that we should have a do over.

Then came the pencils. The rumour that the Electoral Commission, government and MI5 were working together to rub out people’s votes and replace them with remain. (I only saw Leave campaigners talking about this.) Never mind that pencils have been provided for the 19 years that I’ve been allowed to vote and I’ve never seen this argument before. In fact, I can remember looking at Facebook just after the Newcastle result was announced and seeing a Leave campaigner claiming that it was obviously a fix. That particular person hasn’t repeated it since.

So, we have a disengaged electorate and a political elite who are despised by that electorate. They’ve been pushing the idea that Brussels controls everything and that all of your ills are based on faceless bureaucrats and those bloody immigrants. They’ve been pushing that story for decades and then all of a sudden they ask for a choice to be made.

And in swoops Farage. He’s a bloke. He drinks pints and smokes. He’s not one of the political elite, he’s not even a member of the big parties, he’s part of UKIP, they’re the common sense party who say the things that the others won’t because of EU political correctness health and safety policies gone mad. And he tells us that the reason we’re suffering through austerity isn’t because of the world wide banking crisis, it’s because of those bloody immigrants. And especially the illegal immigrants, and the only way to control that is by coming out of the EU. Taking control of our own borders again (yep, the only way to control the borders of an island is to opt out of a free market union).

He doesn’t mention the fact that he was one of the bankers for a long time. Or that he was quite high up in the Conservative Party for quite a while. Nor that his wife is a European migrant. He also doesn’t address how decreasing the number of people who can legally enter the country through freedom of movement will also decrease the number of people who enter the country illegally.

But Farage wasn’t one of the official faces of the Leave campaign, he’s too contentious. His rhetoric and that of his party can often come across as racist, xenophobic, homophobic and pretty much all of the ‘phobics that bigotry has. He’s a rogue element, and that became clear when he revealed (on the day that an MP was shot dead) a poster reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.

So the Leave campaign had its figurehead. Boris. He’s got a funny name, he’s got funny hair. He bumbles and stammers and gets stuck on a zip wire holding Union Flags. He rides a bike and hates bendy busses. He tells the world that “wiff-waff” is coming home for the Olympics.

He’s never tried to be just another bloke. He’s the amiable chap instead. He promised that the £350 million we sent to the EU would be spent on the NHS. He was supported by Michael Gove, who told the electorate that they had had enough of experts.


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