It has been a strange few days in British politics. However it was clear long before the votes were cast that the damage had been done to our political discourse. Probably before the campaigns began. The vote to leave was a ‘SBNS’ – “Shocked but Not Surprised” – moment for me, but other Remain supporters were not only dismayed but appalled. To the extent that there have since been petitions, suggestions that the result be ignored and now plans for a March on the 2nd July.
I am a member of the Liberal Democrats (you can read about my path in pursuit of less partisan politics, and to the LibDems here) and the position taken by the LibDems may lead you to believe that I too would push for public protest against implementation of Brexit. But I don’t believe it should.
‘Didn’t the result make you angry?!’
Over the campaign I was upset and terrified in turn by violent suggestions against those of us who wanted to Remain in the EU, as well as the disgusting propensity for Remain voters to dismiss Brexit supporters as stupid and/or racist. There is no doubt that parts of the Brexit campaign were happy to ramp up xenophobia in the UK, but that did not make the voters stupid for wanting better – as one Burnley resident said to BBC News, she voted to leave as ‘its got to be better than it is now’. The patronising attitude towards Brexit voters was as guilty of this result as those peddling attractive falsehoods. Failure to provide an effective narrative in support of liberal values is not the fault of those that don’t buy what we are selling. We have not made this vision attractive nor convincing.
But this was not what made me frustrated or angry. I was frustrated when I read that, yet again, 18-39 year olds were the demographic with the lowest turnout.
The crowing by Brexiters I find to be matched by the assumption that the 52% didn’t know what they were doing and should therefore be ignored. This is Boaty McBoatface all over again.
However what angers me most is not the impending exit from the EU hanging over our heads, not the economic impact, not the near collapse of both major political parties… but that in the euphoria of victory it is being forgotten how close this was. Yes, the majority has spoken, yes this will be respected and must be by all. However, what is being lost is that there is half of the country who have a different view. In democracy there is a temptation to feel that winner-takes-all extends to the attitudes and mentality of the whole population.
Democracies are by nature winner-takes-all at some level and it is up to the structure of the process to mitigate that. This is evidence in practice – democratic structures based on majority rule do not naturally protect minorities nor the views of the few. And now we are seeing that it does not protect the views of the ‘other half’ either.
Perhaps it is not so bad that many of us finally learn what this feels like.
‘But aren’t the LibDems now campaigning on a Pro-EU platform? Join the March!’
Tim Farron has announced that the Liberal Democrats will run the next election on a pro-EU platform, specifically about taking the UK back into the EU. In the world of announcements on Twitter and new soundbites, you would think that this is the whole story. But it is not:
“We must be the voice of those who see a positive future in Europe… But as a progressive I am just as concerned about the 52 per cent who voted to leave. Many, understandably, feel marginalised, with stagnating wages, insufficient training to gain better jobs, a housing shortage and struggling NHS.” – Tim Farron in the Independent
It has repeatedly been said that the result of the referendum will be respected by the Liberal Democrats, but this does not prevent the party running on a pro-EU platform. Indeed it is the only party left available to do so.
It is this nuanced view of what it means to be a pro-EU Liberal party that I plan to stick to. I believe in an internationalist voice within my parliament, just as I believe that the Liberal Democrats are the best home to represent the 48% that felt disenfranchised by the result – for once we are finally seeing politics based on values and principles and not solely on cold economic management calculations.
But this realignment does not necessarily entail that the other 52% are to be ignored.
To march against their view is an incredibly rude dismissal of their electoral right to express their view. It may have started out as a march against lies contained in the Leave campaign, but it has quickly felt like a march against the ‘others’ who thought differently. Marches are typically against leaders who are ignoring the voices of the people. This march is turning against the people themselves.
I am one of the 48%
I am one of the 48%, but I am also interested in the other 52.
I’m also interested in who were not eligible to vote.
And in the 27.8% of the electorate who didn’t, even though they could.
I won’t be marching on Saturday.