Monday, 4 July 2016

Brexit: Was David Cameron Reckless To Call A Referendum?

Lured Britannia, a Wendy Cockcroft cartoon
Well Britain is in a mess, and no mistake. Chancellor George Osborne is planning to drop corporation tax to below 15% in an effort to encourage foreign investment, entirely forgetting that foreign investors view Britain as a gateway to Europe... and we're on our way out of Europe. So... less money in the kitty for things we need and if the minimum wage doesn't rise, expect belts to tighten further still. So, with the whole world taking the ever-living mickey out of this country it's time to ask just how nutty it was for outgoing PM David Cameron to hold a referendum. Let's look at his reasoning, and take it from there.

Unity at any price

In my post, Brexit: Who Really Won, And What Have We Lost? I provided a potted history of the European Union in which my research revealed that it had been an imperialistic ambition of the French after WWII to start a supra-national league of nations that would trade with each other with the hope of building a federation of European states down the line. The complete political and economic union had been the plan from the beginning. Ever-closer union was not optional, it was mandatory. The UK had carved out exceptions in which she would not be sucked into a United States of Europe ruled by a Franco-German coalition and end up as a half-forgotten semi-autonomous province. However, the boundaries that had been so carefully drawn were being nibbled at one directive at a time. The libertarian and nationalist factions of the Tory and Labour parties were having none of it. The divisions that began in 1979 continue to dog the party today.

The role of austerity

Meanwhile, as austerity kicked in and immigration increased, the protectionist left found itself with some very strange bedfellows as it tried to be seen to not be in league with the far right, who also wanted out of the union. At the same time, the pro-EU camp, which was made up of internationalist Socialists and globalist neoliberal right-wingers, were characterising anyone who wanted Brexit as either racist gits or anti-business and merrily shooting oneself in both feet, the chewing off both hands for good measure. What neither side noticed was that the people of Britain, who were being talked at, not reasoned with, and certainly not listened to, were looking for a way to make themselves heard. They chose Brexit as the vehicle for their complaints. Meanwhile, the Tories and the Brexit faction were pinning the blame for austerity and low wages on immigrants and the EU. The people wanted rid of austerity, so they were willing to vote for whatever would send it on its way.

Party political suicide

Now that the referendum is over and the country is in limbo because Article 50 has yet to be invoked (it's like a divorce; the announcement has been made but the papers have yet to be filed), both the Labour and the Tory parties are turning on each other like starving wolves. The reason is, the referendum, which should have been the final word on the matter, isn't. The 48% to 52% divide is pretty close; not quite decisive, per the Remain camp, which is snivelling on street corners, crying, "We wuz robbed!" when they're not knifing their own party leadersand each other — in the back.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't think this is funny but I'm not even joking, there are calls for a second referendum to either overturn the first result or to set the terms of leaving the EU.

What about democracy?

Liberty is a well-armed sheep, meme image by Wendy Cockcroft
The Remain side's [full disclosure, I voted Remain] bleating about voters being misinformed has some validity to it but it was up to them to make the case for it and they didn't make it well enough, mostly because they were too busy talking at the people rather than to them. As a result, the people rose up and voted for whatever would get politicians' attention.

If democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner; Brexit was what happens when the sheep gets hold of an AK47 and an attitude problem.

David Cameron has been called reckless for invoking the democratic process to solve the problem of divisions in his party because the people didn't vote as they were supposed to. This is why Brexit happened; every time they vote as they're supposed to they get shafted. This time the people decided to turn the tables by voting as they're not supposed to and both of the neoliberal factions in the two main parties got shafted. Now they are shafting each other and there is a power vacuum to be filled. But was he reckless to have held the referendum?

The point of the referendum

People ascribed roles to the referendum that it didn't actually have; those people on lower incomes or in precarious situations voted Leave because they wanted to get the Government's attention: the Government had gone to a great deal of trouble to explain to people that they wanted them to vote Remain. Thus they shot themselves in both feet by telling the British people which side to take, as the British people are sick of being effectively disenfranchised via gerrymandering and "electoral reform" which has kicked a lot of people off the electoral rolls, and fed up to the teeth of austerity, lack of opportunity, low wages, debt, and creeping poverty. The people had hoped that the referendum would wake the Government up to their plight and make them care. However, the point of the referendum was to settle the internecine dispute in the Tory party over EU membership. The public was supposed to be the adjudicator, not the executioner, but the Tories weren't interested in what the public wanted, but what they want.

The verdict

To hold a referendum without taking the temperature of public opinion was pretty damn stupid.

To hold a referendum on EU membership, then trumpet the benefits of EU membership while scapegoating immigrants from the EU for austerity and low wages was ham-fisted at best, schizophrenic at worst. Divisions in the Government ensured that there was no hope of being able to put forward a coherent message. We the people are so accustomed to being lied to by Our Glorious Leaders that we spend more time looking at what they do than listening to what they say. It's a better way of gauging their intentions. So if the double-minded Government told us to vote In, don't be too surprised that those of us who are fed up with them voted Out.


Was David Cameron reckless to have held a referendum in a Boaty McBoatface political climate? Yes. While he thought it was an act of integrity delivering on his promise he failed to communicate effectively by putting our money where his mouth is. Ultimately he was more interested in taming party rebels and placating the UKIP faction than in caring for the country. Now we're at the mercy of a pack of wolves more interested in selling us out than in doing right by the country and meeting the needs of the people. Expect backstabbing and more austerity. The new scapegoat will, of course, be Brexit, brought to you no doubt by the very people who championed leaving the EU in the first place.

Was Cameron right after all? Well if Labour was capable of getting its act together we'd have an end to people who couldn't fill a phone box, much less a hall, trying to boot their own leader out. The Labour party is in a fantastic position to take advantage of Tory disarray but they're too busy imploding because the public won't do as they're told. If they actually did sort themselves out, though, a Labour government with a slim majority would be possible. This would pull UK politics back to the middle as the tension between socialism and neoliberalism would hopefully result in the end of austerity and a better Britain. Market-friendly policies underpinned by robust social services would get us back on top. Had Labour got its act together, Cameron would have done right by default. So no, he wasn't right after all.

What now?

People are becoming more politically engaged. Article 50 has not yet been invoked. As the realities of Brexit kick in, it may become politically untenable to invoke it. If that is the case, we won't leave, but we will have had a scary near miss. I personally hope that this is what happens. We need to keep talking about this, keeping the momentum going. We also need to start serious discussions on the possibility of proportional representation. Our first-past-the-post system created the problems we're facing now. Proportional representation may well be the solution.

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