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After the referendum

Well then. For what it's worth, after the initial disbelief and disappointment, my basic response to the referendum result is the 'rolling up my sleeves and getting on with it' one. I won't be at all sorry if for one reason or another we never actually do end up leaving the EU - e.g. if the country ends up in such a deep economic, political and / or constitutional mess that Article 50 is never invoked. But I'm not pinning my hopes on that, and I'm certainly not signing any petitions calling for a new referendum under different rules (though I don't at all mind other people signing that petition as a way of registering the extent of disappointment and anger in the country). Rather, I now want to focus on trying to make this country the best place it can possibly be, given the hand we are now holding.

[That said, I think I will have a go at claiming the Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship to which I am perfectly entitled by dint of having an Irish grandmother - though it won't be a trivial process. As far as I can tell, I'll need no less than nine original copies of birth / marriage / death certificates and certified passports, including one (the original birth certificate on which the whole thing rests) which would have been issued in County Sligo in (I think) 1912. Yikes!]

Anyway, going back to making this country the best place it can possibly be, living through the entire referendum process has certainly done a lot to reaffirm my liberalism. Two main issues stand out, both connected, and both of which strongly reinforce (for me) the essential core of liberalism - a concern with excessive concentrations of power, and a desire to break them down and redistribute it.

Firstly, the power concentrated into the hands of people like Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond. For decades now, newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express have been publishing front-page lies and hatred about both immigrants and the EU, while inadequate bodies for press regulation have failed to challenge them, and, on the rare occasions when they were were successfully challenged, they have only needed to publish retractions in tiny print on the inside pages of the papers. Meanwhile, the requirement on the broadcast media to provide balanced political coverage is interpreted as an instruction to give equal air-time to voices on either side, rather than to challenge lies themselves or identify any kind of prevailing consensus. This approach has been characterised by some as "Shape of the Earth: views differ".

At first sight, it may seem illiberal to restrict the freedom of the press, but the press is in any case not currently free from powerful individuals seeking to propagate lies for their own financial or political gain. More fundamentally, a democracy (which is a tool for distributing political freedom) cannot function properly if the people who live in it do not have access to accurate and impartial information on which to base their voting decisions. See e.g. Russia or North Korea for details. And it is very clear indeed that in this referendum (as also in the AV referendum five years ago), people voted on the basis of claims which were untrue, while any attempts by moderate people to counter those claims, or the decades worth of misinformation and bigotry which they tapped into, were hopelessly drowned out by the power of the tabloid press. If that press had been properly regulated years ago, this might not have happened.

Secondly, the power concentrated into the hands of the 'big two' political parties by our First Past The Post voting system. One of the most common arguments against proportional political systems is that they allow members of extremist parties to win seats at elections. But in my view, this is a good thing. Once a party's representatives have been elected to office, they are subject to the white light of accountability. If they implement policies which turn out to be disastrous, or fail to deliver on their promises, they will lose their popularity and be voted out again. In my view, we would be much better off today if UKIP had started winning council seats and parliamentary seats in serious numbers twenty years ago. Then, people might have had the chance to discover that they are a bunch of self-interested con-merchants while the damage they could inflict was still relatively limited, and before we arrived at the almighty mess we are in now.

Furthermore, most proportional voting systems, but especially the Single Transferable Vote, make politicians much more accountable to the electorate than FPTP. Safe seats largely disappear, parties campaign meaningfully against one another in all parts of the country, and voters can choose between individual members of the same party, based on nuanced preferences (e.g. liking Blairite Labour candidates but not Corbynistas), without harming that party's overall political prospects. I believe that if we had been using STV already for decades, the main parties would not have been able to get away with parachuting their favoured candidates into seats where voters were not being presented with any meaningful alternative option. Then, we would not have the huge yawning gap between the electorate and their supposed representatives which seems to have contributed to enough of that electorate deciding to use the EU referendum to deliver them a kicking in return for years of neglect and dismissal. Under STV, parties would have had an incentive to develop real solutions to the problems which older working-class voters are trying to express, rather than just telling them it's all the fault of immigrants and the EU. Even UKIP would probably have evolved into a more responsive, solution-focused party, rather than the fantasists they are.

If you've been nodding along while reading the above, and would like to help solve these problems for the future, here are some things you could do (if you haven't already):

1. Join Hacked Off, who are campaigning for a free and accountable press. It's free to sign their declaration or sign up for campaign bulletins, though of course they would love donations too.

2. Join the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and / or Make Votes Matter, all of which are campaigning in different ways and with different emphases to improve our political system. It's £24 p.a. (or less for concessions) to join the ERS and Unlock Democracy, and free (though again donations welcome) to join Make Votes Matter.

3. Join the Liberal Democrats. I know we're far from perfect. We too have floundered in the white light of accountability. But we are the only political party in the UK which stands fundamentally and explicitly for the liberal principles I have discussed above. If you'd like to know more about what we think we stand for, read the preamble to our constitution. The final paragraph (beginning "Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries...") explains why we have always been, and will always remain, committed to collaborative international organisations like the EU.

4. Join any other political party. Yes, even UKIP (though I hope you'll prefer not to). Because the more people in this country are members of political parties, the smaller the gulf and the better the dialogue between politicians and the electorate.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 25th, 2016 09:34 pm (UTC)
An additional point on the voting thing - I have some sympathy with the people turning around and saying they didn't think their vote to Leave would actually count. Given that for every single election they've voted in they haven't felt that their vote counted, there's absolutely no reason for them to have thought that this one would be any different. Except it was.
Jun. 25th, 2016 10:21 pm (UTC)
Jun. 26th, 2016 12:43 am (UTC)
I've seen a poll reported tonight that only 4% of Leave voters are unhappy with their choice; I don't know the provenance or methodology. The green light which has been given to racism is repugnant and it needs to be confronted. There's now a poll saying 59% of Scots want independence. Labour are at war; no-one listens to the Libyans though the new pro-EU campaign if conducted and reported well could be the making of Tim Farron.
Jun. 26th, 2016 10:27 am (UTC)
I think that poll was the other way round, actually. Only 1% of Leavers are unhappy with the result, whereas 4% of Remainers are happy about it. I tweeted that one myself, because I felt it was a sobering corrective to the media narrative emerging about 'Bregret'. There will always be some people who regret their vote after any kind of election, but I think the media spotlight being shone on the 'Bregretters' is vastly exaggerating the phenomenon.

Everything else you say is very right, but people do seem to be suddenly starting to listen to the Libyans (aka Lib Dems!) today. It's a bit confusing after the media completely ignoring us for over a year, but good to see, and very good to see so many people (including several friends) joining up as a result.
Jun. 26th, 2016 10:56 am (UTC)
My new phone is over enthusiastic about autocorrect...
Jun. 26th, 2016 12:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, apparently there's another poll now showing that 7% of Leave voters do regret it. So maybe it's real after all. But it's how people feel by the autumn, and especially by the time of any snap election, that will really matter.
Jun. 26th, 2016 07:32 am (UTC)
Thanks for the links. I think I will be joining Hacked Off, because it strikes me that one thing we really need is stronger regulation to stop campaigners basing their campaigns on out and out lies, as has happened in this case.
Jun. 26th, 2016 10:29 am (UTC)
You're welcome. Let's hope it does some good.

Edited at 2016-06-26 10:29 am (UTC)
Jun. 26th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
Might be worth including a pro-immigration/anti-racism group in there too.
Jun. 26th, 2016 04:37 pm (UTC)
Yes, good point. I know about the Movement Against Xenophobia, who created those 'I am an immigrant' posters recently. Anything else you can recommend?
Jun. 26th, 2016 03:15 pm (UTC)

I am always happy to see people join Unlock Democracy.

Jun. 26th, 2016 03:24 pm (UTC)

I agree with your position.

That said I, personall feel under no deep moral obligation to accept a narrow result in an advisory referendum which involved assassination, as if it were the Ten Commandments handed down from Mount Sinai.  I think I'm entitled to a political process that asks "are you sure? ". I think I'm entitled to withhold my concent, my support and to frustrate the outcome of the vote. That's politics. If Brexiters want it let them work for it in the face of the reality of the situation.

Mostly I dont feel I have to go along with it because my county didn't vote for it. The much clearer democratic mandate of my country is being ignored.

Jun. 26th, 2016 04:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, absolutely - yes to everything in your middle paragraph. A process which gives the people who voted Leave a chance to reconsider and change their minds, like a new general election producing a pro-EU mandate, would be very good with me. But I definitely don't want anything which looks like the political elite turning round to the Leave voters and telling them they were wrong and can't have what they've voted for, because that will just make things even worse in the long run.
Jun. 26th, 2016 06:20 pm (UTC)

Aye - just hand-waving the result away is unlikely to help relations between politicians and the frustrated part of the electorate.

Is that worse than leaving the EU? Maybes aye. Maybes Nay.

Jun. 26th, 2016 06:06 pm (UTC)
Your first paragraph echoes my thoughts exactly. Applause.

(Confession: I did sign the petition, because all my friends were doing it. If all my friends jumped off a bridge etc.)
Jun. 26th, 2016 07:15 pm (UTC)
I'm quite glad so many people have signed it, and that it is getting lots of media coverage, because of the clear signal that sends to politicians about the extent of unhappiness with the outcome. But yeah, it didn't really feel right for me to sign it personally, because I didn't feel comfortable calling for a retrospective change in the rules on the grounds that I didn't like the outcome. I never wanted this stupid referendum in the first place, and I think it was epically irresponsible of Cameron to hold it, but once the rules have been defined, you have to play by them.
Jun. 26th, 2016 07:34 pm (UTC)
I just keep thinking that if Remain had won, and if Farage and his cronies were running around with petitions and protests, it would look pathetic...
Jun. 26th, 2016 07:39 pm (UTC)
Farage actually literally said that if the result had been 52% Remain to 48% Leave, it would be 'unfinished business' and there should be a second vote. Naturally, this doesn't apply when the result is the exact opposite of that...
Jun. 26th, 2016 07:41 pm (UTC)
And that is positively the last thought I am going to spare Farage this weekend >.<

Edited at 2016-06-26 07:41 pm (UTC)
Jun. 26th, 2016 07:55 pm (UTC)
Very wise!
Jun. 26th, 2016 10:56 pm (UTC)
Had the vote been the other wasy round, the Brexits would have been this as evidence that a second referendum would push them over the edge. 50% - 1 vote for Brexit: let's go again. 50% + 1 for Brexit: the settked will of the British people has been decided.

If things do implode politically/economically and Article 50 is not invoked, it's possible that some non-Tory/UKIP government could emerge either in an election later this year or a second election next year that lead either to a new referendum or the result of the one we have had just been ignored.

I don't think it likely, but it is probably our best hope. Johnson might come round to the Norway option - he might be hinting at that in his "Telegraph" article - but again it is probably politically improbable and is unlikely to even be offered to us.
Jun. 26th, 2016 08:31 pm (UTC)
Well, I enjoyed reading this post because it goes along many lines that I think also. Thank you for providing some clear guidance about where to go next for those of us who are also of the opinion that it's time to roll up our sleeves and get on with it. The result is disappointing to me but it is what has been decided by a democratic process. I think I need to rethink again about what political party I may wish to join if any. I've wavered over the last four years, now I need to understand where I can best make a difference and whether I have real conviction to do so. I admire that you have done so over the last years.
Jun. 26th, 2016 09:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks, and I'm glad it was helpful. I hope you find the right place to make your difference. :-)
Jun. 27th, 2016 12:41 am (UTC)
I drop in my small transatlantic argh.
Jun. 27th, 2016 11:00 am (UTC)
Interesting Links for 27-06-2016
User andrewducker referenced to your post from Interesting Links for 27-06-2016 saying: [...] ) After the referendum: What you can do to help [...]
Jun. 29th, 2016 10:23 pm (UTC)
Reading Wednesday
User rmc28 referenced to your post from Reading Wednesday saying: [...] on to the Scottish referendum Things we can do: On LJ, my friend  wrote about things to do [...]
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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