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Sam Hooper @SamHooper
, 25 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
The great question before us in these challenging times is this: should the people, as they participate in democracy, be allowed to make mistakes? Let's look at this in terms of Donald Trump in America and Brexit in the UK, though no judgment is made here about either.
Rightly or wrongly, the political classes (as a whole) of both countries object both to the policy initiatives of Trump and Brexit as well as the tone and context in which these events happened. Even if they sometimes feigned support, when decision time came, they opposed both.
Whether it's immigration (where many Republican politicians found great success posing against illegal immigration only to blanche at the idea of it being throttled) or the EU (Tory MPs moaning about rule by a Brussels superstate and then supporting Remain) there's a hypocrisy.
But the objectors to both - those who want to impeach Donald Trump or overturn the EU referendum result in light of "new facts" - are actually saying something quite radical. They're saying that the people are wrong, and should not be allowed to inflict their wrongness by ballot
Some catastrophisation is required to pull off this rather unappealing and antidemocratic argument, odious as it appears in unvarnished form. So we hear that Trump is a physical danger to minorities, or that Brexit will see Britain's economy returned to the stone ages.
The implication is that some decisions are simply too important, consequential or irreversible to be left to the people (unless, conveniently, the choice can be blended with a bunch of other decisions in a GE, supported by all main parties and thus be preserved in perpetuity)
And the subtext is that the ruling classes know best, are imbued with a deeper wisdom and sense of morality which must prevail any time there is a conflict between the governed and the governing
Rarely do the decisions kept out of the reach of the people rise to this level of irreversible calamity. Take immigration. If throttling illegal immigration would harm the economy, do politicians have the right to override electoral wishes, even if the decision could be reversed?
Secession from the EU is rather more complicated, since reversal would likely involve the UK returning to the bloc on worse-than-current membership terms. But again, it could be done. So should politicians have the right to prevent the people from scraping their knees?
But sometimes the argument becomes more distasteful. Many polls have suggested that the British public would back the restoration of the death penalty given a straight-up referendum. Do we let people make that "mistake" too?
I don't have answers to all of these, but it seems clear that the current processes (if you can even call flying by the seat of your pants and making it up as you go along a "process") we have in place to adjudicate these decisions are inadequate to the decisions now before us.
When should referenda be offered, and when should they not? When should blanket decisions be made at the national, supranational or local levels, and are exemptions allowed? What recourse should the public have when repeatedly rebuffed on a subject by politicians?
All of these questions could be foreseen & mitigated through a written constitution which clearly prescribes the powers reserved by the people and those which are lent to local, national and supranational government. No longer could we claim that we didn't know what we were doing
A written constitution wouldn't be a cure-all. Much would depend on the process of drafting it, who could participate and whether the process was taken seriously or used as an excuse to shoehorn every last entitlement onto the statute books as a "human right"
Britain's constitutional monarchy is another complication, being one of those institutions which nobody would think to invent today but which arguably serves its purpose well enough and is part of the cultural fabric of our country that can't be measured in an Excel spreadsheet
But unless we bite the bullet and write down a code of governance under which we are willing to live, we are going to keep coming up against political elites assuming a divine right to try to implement their own worldview, wholesale, over the objections of others.
What does this look like? Well, for my part, any law which threatens to impinge on the life, liberty or property of others - things like the death penalty - should, *if* ever put to a referendum, require such a supermajority that the process is not abused by demagogues.
But other decisions should be put much more readily within the hands of the people - such as whether successive UK governments are authorised to freely give up vast areas of sovereignty, wholesale, without sufficient oversight or realistic chance of future revocation.
I'm open to the argument that the EU referendum should have required a certain threshold of victory to achieve quorum and passage, but then so every significant EU treaty have been put to the British people. No point crying over spilt milk - just fix the system for the future.
At present there are virtually no meaningful checks and balances in our democracy. Victory goes who whoever can summon the loudest and most vociferous outrage, either on the pages of the tabloids or (more effectively) at the dinner parties & papers of those in the governing class
By all means, we can keep blundering on as we are, lurching from crisis to crisis, failing to tackle our problems in a systemic way and then just working ourselves into a spittle-flecked outrage each time the broken system throws up a result we don't like. That's Option 1.
But Option 2 involves stepping back a bit and thinking about what kind of constitutional, governmental processes are most likely to yield outcomes which we can all get behind. That's more boring and requires more work, and lacks the appeal of being a shouty TV news talking head.
But that's what we need to do at this point. Because given the many other challenges facing us (and other countries), there will be other hugely consequential decisions to make down the line, and we need to handle them a hell of a lot better than we're handling Brexit.
And if, as a side benefit, this process throws into the open just how ill equipped many of our politicians and journalists are to navigate and cover the process, so much the better. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Here endeth the homily.
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