Brexit Political Parties Politics

Representation, Representation, Representation.

In defence of representative democracy

Marcus Brockman

Naked Politics Blogger 

For about 100 years we’ve bumped along in Britain with a nice and simple political system. Sure, there were questions about the Lords and how a majority in Parliament was remarkably easy to come by, but we were untainted by an electoral college system which sees the loser win and we didn’t have to go to the bother of voting every week in the dreary rain on issues of deregulation of the agricultural industry. We could just send our MPs off to Parliament, safe in the knowledge that they would vote in our best interests as a professional, paid to weigh evidence and sworn to act unwaveringly on behalf of their constituents, whether or not their vote in parliament tallied with that of the majority. To do anything else would be a betrayal of duty and the people of the United Kingdom.

But in the aftermath of the Brexit vote we seem to have decided that MPs are not this, now they are delegates sent to Parliament to enact plurality rule, regardless of their own opinions. The vote to trigger Article 50 and a House that shifted from overwhelmingly remain to overwhelmingly leave in a matter of months, has seen us unwillingly redefine our political system. Now we pressure the decision makers to side with the majority.

Now I don’t want a debate on Europe. Boring as it is I want a debate on the role of our Parliament and the relationship between MPs and their constituents. I want to know whether I live in a representative or a direct democracy and I want to know what that means for what I can now do politically.

Because at the end of the day we should crave a representative democracy, we should want a meritocratic government of qualified people which makes the decisions on our behalf. Why would we not? Would we support the idea of a car manufacturer not employing experts to build a vehicle safe to drive but rather taking a poll on how the public wanted it to be? Next off the production line: Renault McRenaultface. Would we want the person who gets behind the wheel of Renault McRenaultface to be an unqualified driver? No? then why would we entrust complicated issues of national economic policy and international treaties to the same people? A car crash of tax systems and trade tariffs can cause just as much carnage.

I am not saying for one second that the right to vote should be restricted, or that only experts should have their say, but that on the simplest level, having decisions taken by those who are more knowledgeable is better. A professional should perform better than an amateur. And so we vote. We vote for the person we think will be best at their job or will represent our views best. We seem to like to elect those with experience and hate to choose those prone to scandal.

We choose to elect these people, we choose the people to whom we want to give our right to have a say as sovereign citizens and in doing so we give them the authority to make decisions on our behalf.

But maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m in the minority and most people genuinely vote in the belief that their MP will behave and vote exactly as they want them to. But if that is the case, where have the complaints been until now? Why is an MP voting against Brexit a traitor? Because we had a referendum.  Because on this lone issue there is quantifiable proof of what the public thinks?

But this is the same public that elected the MPs who opposed Brexit only a year before. If they could look past what their MPs thought then, why can’t they now? They chose to elect them, in many cases in the full knowledge that they disagreed on certain issues, like Brexit, like gay marriage, like airstrikes in Syria. They disagreed but still voted for them. Why? Because they were not MPs sent to vote for what their constituents wanted but for what they as an individual thought was best. That is the hallmark of a representative democracy.

So what does this mean? It means that when the House of Commons voted on Article 50 the vote passed with 498 votes to 114. Before the referendum, 471 MPs had declared for Remain. So when the house voted, a hell of a lot of people voted for something they did not believe in, having campaigned saying that Brexit would damage the country. I know this referendum was a one off and that other issues have less of a concrete sense of where the public stand on them. I know that you may approve of the result of the vote in Parliament and think that people should have a greater say in government policy, but when the next major issue comes along, when we next take a decision that could detriment the citizens of the UK and the world, would you be content in knowing that the people whose sole job it is to make decisions and to whom you have given your consent to decide, vote against what they believe to be best because of nothing more than public opinion? That has a name: the tyranny of the majority.

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