A discussion on the People’s Vote

What follows here is a transcript of an email discussion I am currently involved in. As it is an email exchange, and may be deemed personal, I present my interlocutor as anonymous. What I feel I can divulge, is that it is someone that is a fellow Labour Party member in my own CLP.

I have minimally edited the exchanges with the addition of a few missing full-stops for consistency, and have added in [square brackets] where I accidentally omitted words from the original. I have not changed the sentiments at all.

We open with my response to a contemporary motion to back the People’s Vote. It was initially posted singularly to another member by mistake, and was later shared to the group as a whole.

As people are airing their thoughts on the matter, here’s my tuppence worth. The People’s Vote is – without doubt – this country’s most serious attack on democracy in my lifetime, and supporting it – while it may be popular within the party – is sticking two fingers up to the people of Cornwall that supported Leaving the EU with their votes. These are the people we want to vote for us!

While I appreciate the vote question has not yet been decided upon, those that are proposed actively disenfranchise me; I wish for none of the proposals. As a kicker, it disenfranchises my referendum vote that has yet to be delivered. It should also not go unnoticed, that it disenfranchises all the people that voted to remain.

You can’t say, with one breath, that you respect democracy, and in another, adopt a policy that rejects it out of hand. I am all too familiar with the common tropes used to defend the People’s Vote, and none of them approach the fact that its adoption actively negates a democratic vote already taken [and not yet delivered].

“In a democracy, we get to change our minds” – Yes, but not until that we have voted upon initially, is first delivered.  We NEVER get to “change our minds” before that which was voted upon is delivered. Never.  

“They keep voting on Scottish independence” – Indeed, but the rejection of that being voted upon didn’t involve any change to the status quo. As such, it can still be said to have been delivered, hence repeated votes on the matter are within a democratic remit. We – especially in Cornwall – backed a pro-active course of events to leave the EU. That has yet to come to fruition, so demands for another vote are without democratic foundation on any level.

“It’s only fair” – Emotional hand-wringing. It isn’t fair at all. What you are demanding is to have your minority voice outweigh the majority. Now, while it may be the majority within the party, the referendum was a national vote. Is it really fair for a majority within a party to usurp the democratic will of the nation? I contend it is most decidedly not.

“The referendum was advisory” – And Parliament were advised, and are acting upon that advice.

“If it’s such a good, idea, we’ll still vote to Leave in the People’s Vote.” – No we won’t, because that option isn’t on the table. The organisers like to misleadingly couch their terms in order to stress it is a vote singularly about the deal, but it is – in fact – a vote on overturning the referendum. Seriously, I’m not that stupid, and I don’t care for being infantilised in such a manner.

“But the Leave campaign lied and overspent” – So did the Remain campaign. There hasn’t been an election in this country – at least in my lifetime – where that accusation isn’t true. If you think this will be any different under a People’s Vote, you are too naive to take seriously. 

If I’ve missed any, I defy you to respond. Let’s air your thoughts to the antiseptic of debate. You’ll have to forgive me if am a little short with you, but the idea that you want to disenfranchise me is bloody offensive.

I will not be a member of a party that so recklessly abandons democracy, and neither should anyone else.

And now the counterpoint to my initial thoughts:

There is a point where LEXIT blurs into UKIP!

I don’t know how old you are but if a 2nd vote on leaving the EU constitutes the greatest threat to democracy in your lifetime then you don’t seem to remember the 80’s!

Lying in elections isn’t new, the claims made about Lab in 2010 are a striking example but ‘Vote Leave’ took it to an unprecedented level, it was our country’s ‘Trump’ moment.

Cornwall was not amongst the most ‘ Leave’ areas of the country and our constituency was not amongst the most ‘Leave’ of those in Cornwall.
I would not suggest dismissing the Referendum as a regrettable accident but Referenda are not supposed to be irreversible and people are entitled to have the chance to change their minds after they have become aware of the consequences of a previous decision.

Two out of three Lab voters and 90 percent of Lab members voted ‘Remain’.

When Lab opposed appeasement they risked unpopularity at the time but did not let that deter them and were subsequently vindicated. We have a similar responsibility to try and avert impending disaster.

And, back to me:

You open your response with a veiled slur that a LEXIT is blurred with UKIP. This is nothing more than a bald assertion; one that you didn’t even see fit to flesh out with any corroborating reasoning.

I’m 47 and remember the 80’s well enough, but not well enough – it seems – to recall when a referendum was overturned. Indeed, I don’t believe any were performed. What is it specifically about the 80’s that you feel undermined democracy to the extent that tens of millions were disenfranchised?

Unfortunately, our “Trump moment” appears to have become a fixture of political debate across the board, and the People’s Vote is just another reincarnation of it. If the PV were genuinely about a vote on the deal, the proposition would be sound, valid, unambiguous and simple:

“Do you accept the PM’s final negotiated Brexit deal? Yes/No”

But that isn’t what the PV is proposing at all. The proposed questions are:

“Do you accept the PM’s final negotiated Brexit deal?”
“Should we stay in the EU?
“Should we continue to leave the EU with no deal?”

This is an appalling mess. Not only do I favour none of the options (and am therefore disenfranchised from voting at all), but it also has an option that both expands on the notion that this is simply about “the deal”, and disenfranchises my 2016 vote entirely. This nothing short of a blatant attempt to negate the single largest vote in British history. The third proposal is redundant if you don’t support the first. I really wonder if those that support the PV have even considered how biased, shoddily considered and dishonest these proposals are, and just how much their cognitive dissonance must kick in when its flaws are pointed out to them.

I didn’t state that Cornwall was amongst  the most ‘Leave’ areas of the country. What I alluded to was that Cornwall’s support for Leave was stronger than the national average (which it was by nearly 5%). Neither did I state that our constituency is amongst the most ‘Leave’ in Cornwall. The truth of the matter is, a BBC FoI request shows that only one Cornish constituency voted Remain, and it wasn’t ours.

“Referenda are not supposed to be irreversible and people are entitled to have the chance to change their minds after they have become aware of the consequences of a previous decision”

I can’t help but feel you glossed over my objections to this mentality. We simply don’t get to change our minds, before what was voted upon is delivered. If we were to, however, it would set an audacious precedent that would blight every election that followed it. How could a newly elected government, say, get to govern if every general election were re-run because the losers didn’t like the result? We’d never have another government ever again. This is why it is so important that the results of our elections are first delivered. 

I don’t doubt the level of Remain support in the party, but it is frankly irrelevant. We are meant to be a democratic party, but by supporting this motion, we send the message that we only want democracy when it suits our ends, and will disregard it when it comes to recognising voter intention on a national scale. It is a blistering hypocrisy of the highest order.

Has Brexit been an unmitigated disaster so far? You betcha. Will the challenges we face outside of the EU damage our economy? Undoubtedly. Does abandoning the notion that our votes mean anything, make any of this better? Hell, no. Whether Brexit is a disaster, mistake or any other emotive term you can think of [to] bolster your argument, it’s all for naught if we have deconstructed our democracy in such a manner that it is rendered meaningless. The short to mid-term future will be tough, but we’ll weather it. It is [just], to my mind, that we have a better chance of doing so with our democracy intact.

Back to my interlocutor again:

I wouldn’t describe my comments as ‘veiled’.

Attempted populist coups whether they are fronted by corrupt Americans, posh opportunists, or dodgy Italians always make a lot of noise about democracy when they are in fact intrinsically hostile to a genuinely democratic culture, orientated as they are towards authority validated by expressions of popular will and regarding as they do democratic institutions as obstacles, the ‘March on Rome’ model.

Unfortunately some on the ‘Left’ are deluded enough to regard such events as opportunities.

As for the 80’s. The suppression of the Miners Strike, the marginalisation of and attack’s upon the unions, gifting Murdoch UK media domination, the Hillsborough cover up, the abolition of the GLC, the erosion of democratic local government, disenfranchisement  through the Poll Tax, all these assaults on democratic culture were legitimised by national election results but that was not a reason to accept them as anything other than anti-democratic behaviour the consequences of which you would seek to undo at the earliest possible opportunity.

So I am not advocating ignoring the Euro Referendum but giving people the opportunity to express their realisation that they made a mistake.

I respond in kind:

If your comments cannot be described as veiled, then you are – in effect – admitting a slur by design. This is not a methodology I should imagine will win people to your cause. Especially when we dial in the explicit condescension and patronising tone that is apparent from the rest of your response. Regardless, your general disdain for those that deign to disagree with you is duly noted.

I honestly laughed out loud at your attempt to malign populist movements run by authoritarian ideologues that skew democracy to their own ends, because you appear blissfully ignorant of the fact that it is you that is supporting the populist movement run by authoritarian ideologues by skewing democracy to your own needs. It’s called the People’s Vote for crying out loud, the sole purpose of which is to lie about trying to overturn the referendum under the guise of it being a vote about the deal, and is proposed by so-called moderates and centrists that have idealised the EU to such an extent that no opportunities should even be allowed. Do you not see the referendum as an obstacle to remaining as a member of the EU yourself? Purleeze!

Returning to the 80’s, did any of those afflicted by your examples have their votes disenfranchised? They may well have been suppressed or otherwise hindered on a whole host of political obfuscations and malevolences, but not from voting in elections or having their votes recognised in the same manner that the PV would wish upon us. It should be noted, of course, that all this happened as members of the EU (or its former guise as the EEC), and that the democratic culture – as you put it – was indeed legitimised by… democratic national elections. You cannot seriously be proposing that we should abandon democratic national elections, so that we can fix democracy, are you? Of course you aren’t, because you are proposing what you believe is a democratic national election, so we can fix – not so much democracy, but – your perception that people opposed to the PV are delusional right-wing nutjobs that just need to be corrected.

If you are genuine about not ignoring the referendum, then you have no business supporting a proposal that does exactly that. Even if the final question were singularly about the deal, it appears to me that you would still clamour to make it about the referendum, by irresponsibly using the machinery of democracy to get people to politically supine themselves to stroke your ego. It is an abhorrent position to hold, let alone defend, and I expect better from you.

And that is where things stand at present. Honestly? I hope that’s the end of it, but if my experience of dealing with FBPE hashtaggers on Twitter is anything to go by, it won’t be.