Tag Archives: democracy

This is how to respect the referendum result

I am frequently told that, as a “Remoaner” I must “respect” the result of the referendum. It seems to me that I am not being asked to respect it so much as to fetishise it.

Actually, I do respect it. I respect it for what it was – an advisory vote won by a wafer thin majority based on a mountain of lies.

Then, because I say that, I am criticised (virulently quite often) for being undemocratic and for not respecting the will of the people. And many people who did not vote Leave, and do not want to leave, seem to have accepted the line that the vote has happened and they must “respect” it.

But democracy is so much more than a single vote.

Generally speaking electoral votes stand, even if the majority is unsatisfactory. But that is premised on two conditions.  The first is that the voters get a chance regularly to change their minds. The second is that the voters were – at least relatively – well informed about the subject of their vote. All sides make their offers clear, and the media do a proper job of examining their claims.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 162 Comments

Zambia: one too many close calls for democracy?

Zambia 1Democracies in the developing world must often overcome a number of hurdles on the road to maturity and development as a stable state. Peaceful elections, a vibrant civil society, regular transfer of power, and fair service delivery are all key indicators of democratic development. No doubt, differences in the maturing of democracies should be considered based on local realities, and a so-called Western roadmap must not be the only lens through which we view this development.

But has the southern African country of Zambia, rich in copper and with plentiful tourism potential, had one too many close calls in its democratic development? Does Zambia and its people need to rethink their political path?

The most recent August 11th elections certainly give that impression.

This year’s General Elections resulted in the incumbent Edgar Lungu (Patriotic Front – PF) winning the presidential race by just over 2.5%, enough to avoid a second-round run-off. The liberal opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), led by Hakainde Hichilema, also lost the last presidential by-election by a mere 27,757 votes. Those early presidential elections were called after the passing of former President Michael Sata in 2014. On the surface, these results appear to be a sign of political maturity, with an election called upon President Sata’s death and an apparently democratic process in place for political succession.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 6 Comments

“We are not going to let them anywhere near power again” – a PM too comfortable with power

Theresa May has not even been Prime Minister for two months. However, she is already displaying a complacency in power that is quite chilling.

At only her second Prime Minister’s Questions, she had this to say to Jeremy Corbyn:

What we do know is that, whoever wins the Labour party leadership, we are not going to let them anywhere near power again.

These are not the words of a Prime Minister who believes that power comes from the people.

You could dismiss that as banter if the Tories were not trying to stitch up the entire political system in their favour. Lib Dem Peer Paul Tyler warned of a crisis of legitimacy in parliamentary democracy if the boundary changes were allowed to go through:

Reducing the number of MPs without also reducing the size of the Executive is a mistake. With the pay-roll vote approaching half the membership of the government side of the Commons, the power of government to control Parliament is increased. And with no prospect of democratic reform of the Lords, we are edging towards a dangerous lack of democratic legitimacy in parliament.

The Conservatives are blatantly attempting to fix the system to keep themselves in power.

Individual electoral registration means that young people who move around a lot are unlikely to be on the electoral register – and they would be more likely not to vote Conservative. In April this year, a report, Missing Millions, outlined why this matters:

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 15 Comments

Muddled mandates and the EU Referendum

Brexit means Brexit were among the first words spoken by Theresa May when she was anointed by Conservatives as our new Prime Minister. She swiftly followed that up by appointing prominent Brexiteers to key Government roles to direct the UK withdrawal from the EU.

Brexiteers argue that the outcome of the EU referendum provides the UK with a clear and unequivocal mandate to take the country out of the EU. Well, not quite: the result delivered confused and conflicting mandates.

Firstly, two out of the four countries which comprise the UK voted to remain: overwhelmingly so in the case of Scotland. Brexiteers do not therefore have a UK-wide leave mandate. It is important to remember that Scotland and Northern Ireland are countries not English counties. Scottish and Irish voters delivered a clear and unequivocal Remain mandate which deserves as much respect as the UK-wide vote: quite how that can be achieved is, at present, unclear.

Secondly, during the campaign Brexiteers offered voters all sorts of different alternatives to UK membership of the EU – the Norwegian model, the Swiss model, UK in the Single Market, UK outside the Single Market etc. Consequently, there was no single definitive leave mandate. Many of the leave voters I spoke to during the campaign were convinced that UK access to the Single Market would be guaranteed post-exit: if that is not the case will they still be so keen to leave?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 111 Comments

Referenda need not offer binary choices

It might well be that the United Kingdom, or its successor rump state of England and Wales, will be relying on the skills of the New Zealand’s trade negotiators to help shape the Brexit agreement with the EU. Amusingly, these might be the same people who are also representing  New Zealand and Australia in areas where those two countries collaborate to reach common terms with the post-EU British / English-Welsh state.

That’s a mouthful of a paragraph because it’s a mind-blowing idea, or should be.

But it would unlikely to have become reality had it been thought about before the Brexit referendum.

Unfortunately, we have somehow got it into our heads that referenda are binary, yes / no questions.

But they needn’t be.

And we could have learned that lesson from New Zealand before forcing many people to choose between the status quo and an option that was, really, many options, none even remotely defined.

Last year and this, New Zealanders voted in two referenda designed to address one issue: to keep the current flag or replace it with a different design.

In developing the question to be put to the electorate, prime Minister John Key, his advisors and the parliamentary committee tasked with establishing the rules under which the referendum would happen realised that a simple yes / no option along the lines of “would you like to replace the current flag of New Zealand with a new design?” might well have resulted in a yes vote. There would then have followed a lengthy period of bitter argument about what the resulting flag should look like, at the end of which a significant percentage of the population who had voted for change might well have ended up wishing after seeing the new flag that they had voted, instead, to keep the current one.

Posted in News | Also tagged , and | 6 Comments

It’s time for a Constitutional Convention

We are now facing the reality of life outside the EU and with it the prospect of a new United Kingdom. With the result of the referendum so close it is essential that the path we move forward on as a country is determined by a wide range of views: those who voted in and those who voted out; the young and the old; people from the left, the right and centre; voices from all parts of the United Kingdom.

We have a chance to take this huge, albeit unwanted, change in our relationship with the world and turn it into …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 6 Comments

The mess we are in

The EU referendum delivers an unmanageable mess. The UK will lose its membership of the EU, and more immediately has lost its elected Prime Minister. Like many Lib Dems, I have never voted Conservative, but I do recognise the dignity and decency of David Cameron. The referendum outcome creates space instead for Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and the reactionary Nigel Farage.

Democracy itself is in an impossible contradiction. The UK norm is representative democracy expressed in Parliamentary sovereignty. The policy of the majority of Members of Parliament is to remain in the EU. But the referendum decides to leave. Paradoxically, those wanting to leave the EU favour Parliamentary sovereignty, but reject this principle on the question of EU membership. This is an irresoluble conflict.

There is therefore a greater decision UK society has to make – whether government is to be by representative democracy or by popular referenda. We cannot have both. This is the first question of principle. The second is the criteria which should apply to either representative democracy or referenda. The last general election showed how unrepresentative first-past-the-post constituency voting is. The referendum highlights the huge problem of maintaining social cohesion when half the population wants exactly the opposite of what the other half wants. Reconciling this is nigh impossible.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 22 Comments
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