Beware of referendums bearing fruit

Tory backbenchers are swarming around Dave like sharks smelling blood. Dave was badly wounded by the burgeoning support for UKIP, and he has made the bleeding worse by his typical shilly-shallying.

One day he says he’ll give his cabinet ministers a free vote on the resolution criticising the Queen’s speech for omitting a commitment to an in-out EU referendum. The next day he tells them to abstain. The situation has a touch of otherworldly eeriness about it, considering that it was Dave and his ministers who drafted the speech in the first place.

Immediately thereafter two of his trusted lieutenants, Gove and Hammond, joined two of Margaret Thatcher’s retired colonels, Lawson and Portillo, by claiming that, given the chance, they’d vote for withdrawal from the EU.

They didn’t exactly go out on a limb since said chance is contingent upon a) Dave firming up his promise of a referendum, b) winning the next election, c) keeping the promise. I’ll let you decide which part is the least likely. Suffice it to say that the likelihood of all three coming together is similar to Samantha having her tattoo surgically removed and then declaring publicly that Herr Merkel is married to an ex-commie.

All sorts of referendums are swooshing through our chilly spring air. Apparently Tory backbenchers are now demanding one on same-sex marriage, which is silly beyond words. Quite apart from the distinct possibility that our thoroughly brainwashed and corrupted public will vote in favour, thus chiselling this abomination in stone, an affection for plebiscite betokens ignorance of the constitution.

Ours isn’t a direct democracy, and Dave’s Westminster shouldn’t be confused with Pericles’s Athens. In fact, ours isn’t quite a democracy at all but rather a constitutional monarchy, but let’s not quibble about such trivia.

It’s the function of Her Majesty’s government to govern the country on her behalf and in her subjects’ interests. The government is drawn from people’s representatives elected by secret ballot. Therefore they are accountable to their electorate – but not to the point of having to act as ventriloquists’ dummies.

It was Edmund Burke who drew the critical distinction between representatives and delegates. The latter do as they’re told. The former, once elected, act according to their understanding of the electorate’s interests. It’s self-evident that interests may not always coincide with wishes.

For example, an unemployed carpenter may wish that the government would first triple the jobseeker’s allowance and then invest heavily in residential construction. However, a sage government would be justified in maintaining that neither measure would be in the electorate’s, and ultimately the carpenter’s, best interests.

Any democracy of universal and unqualified suffrage is fraught with endless pitfalls regardless of how well it’s practised. As the great theoretician of democracy Alexis de Tocqueville wrote almost 200 years ago, ‘The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.’ Replace America with any country of your choice, and this points at the most obvious pitfall, one into which all Western democracies have already fallen so painfully.

If even the kind of democracy where the public’s wishes are mediated by institutions is demonstrably failing, one in which the public rules by direct mandate would be disastrous. This holds true both on general principle and with due consideration given to the nitty-gritty of any referendum.

For the public can be swindled with remarkable ease. If our consumers can actually believe that one brand of beer reaches the parts other beers can’t reach, then our voters can be made to believe anything. All it takes is a bit of expertise and a lot of money.

Observe the conjurer’s sleight of hand with which the public was cheated in the 1975 referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the EEC, as it was then fraudulently called. The cheaters knew that the ultimate goal pursued by that ghastly organisation was a single European state. Yet they successfully convinced the public that it was all about free trade and economic cooperation.

Any subsequent referendum on Europe, when and if it takes place, will be exactly the same. The government will unleash a massive propaganda offensive, paid partly by the taxpayer (you) and partly by the EU (ultimately you as well).

The general theme will be the misery we’ll suffer by getting out of the EU and the bliss we’ll experience by staying in. Considering the disastrous state of European economies, the task won’t be as straightforward as in 1975, but nothing our politicians won’t be able to handle.

As to the utterly risible referendum on gay (as opposed to morose?) marriage, the task will be even simpler, considering the public’s placid apathy. Dave has already hinted at the likely syllogistic blueprint: his marriage to Samantha is rapturously happy; happiness is good; ergo, denying the same brand of happiness to anyone is wicked. If you think our public can see through the logical holes in this syllogism, there’s a bridge over the Thames I’d like to sell you.

A demand for a referendum only ever arises when the government is too weak, politically, morally and intellectually, to make proper decisions. I’d suggest that the more logical solution would be to remove such a government and replace it with a better one.

Alas, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say under the circumstances. With only the Milibandits waiting in the wings, a better government isn’t on the cards. The words ‘rock’ and ‘hard place’ spring to mind – or Scylla and Charybdis, if you’d rather.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.