I’ve long thought that putting such a choice to a referendum is not the way. That’s not to claim any foresighted sagacity on my part. It’s just that I’m a voter in a country that elects its politicians to sort this out for us. The fact that we are currently governed by a bunch we can’t trust to be fair rankles for sure. But a referendum is not the occasion to cast a protest vote. We pay our elected politicians to manage this. That is what they are there for. Because most of us are not sufficiently savvy on the issues; there is too much to consider; too many subject areas in which we are unqualified and inexperienced, our nous compromised. We are – to use the term in the non-pejorative sense – too ignorant to make a properly informed decision.
That’s not just me owning up to that. Time and again, during the TV debates, I’ve seen public audience members bemoaning that we have insufficient grasp of pertinent facts, beseeching campaigning panellists for accurate information. This is sometimes accompanied with the admission that they can’t – or the rhetorical challenge to – name their MEP. Which is revealing in itself. Because, unlike the UK Parliament’s 650 MPs, we only have 73 MEPs. However, unlike the single MP per seat, we don’t have one, we have several – elected by proportional representation per region. (For example, if you live in the south-east, then you have ten. Including one Nigel Farage. You know, that guy currently posturing as a friend to the UK’s fishing industry, even though his efforts on their behalf in the European Parliament – the job he is paid to do, remember – are abysmal: as member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries, where he might have been able to influence proceedings, he attended just one of 42 meetings.) These 73 UK MEPs (22 of whom are UKIP) form part of the EU Parliament of 751 MEPs. Yes, the EU Parliament is an elected body, which, being elected by proportional representation, is arguably more representative than the UK government.
So, the ‘Brexit’ mantra: “Take back control” – is this a fair comment on our lack of it; or a mind-control propaganda tactic? Because Brexit’s lead figures know that we don’t know enough to challenge their bawling that the EU is undemocratic; that its big cheeses are not elected, are not accountable, are untouchable? Because it’s not true:
Funny, it doesn’t read like the Brexit campaigns paint it, does it? Their misinformation on this is subtler than the ‘£350 million per week’ lie emblazoned across the Vote Leave ‘Battle Bus’. Which, after its early exposure was changed to… ‘£50 million a day’. Such is the regard in which they hold our intelligence that they figure this arithmetical sleight is beyond the grasp of most of us dupes. But is the appeal to our democracy any less deceptive? Yes, our great democracy: currently presided over by a party that, courtesy of our first-past-the-post electoral system, garnered a parliamentary majority with just 37% of the vote last year. A government, whose Cabinet Ministers are appointed, not by elected MPs, but by (the Queen on the advice of) the (indirectly-elected) Prime Minister, who alone has the power to (advise the Queen to) remove (‘resign’) them; which, to pass its laws, has to have them meet with approval of an unelected second chamber of Lords; which appoints unelected civil servants; which genuflects to an unelected hereditary monarchy (– now there’s a proper binary issue for a referendum… ).
Is this really a superior form of democracy, relative to the EU? The EU which appoints a Commission every five years, consisting of a representative of each member state; one of whom is proposed as President of the Commission, before election by majority vote of the European Parliament. The President-elect, in agreement with the European Council, designates the Commission members, who undergo assessment individually by committees of the Parliament, which then gives its consent to the Commission – and retains the power to sack the lot of them. And it can adopt, amend or reject the legislation they propose.
Don’t take my word for it; I may be erroneous in my understanding and appreciation, so have a read yourself. I’m not recommending one over the other. I’m just suggesting that the relative merits of the UK and EU versions of democracy bear comparison. And I wonder that, rather than taking an interest in how the European Parliament is actually formed and operates, we are collectively reliant upon, and susceptible to, the picture we are drawn by politicians seeking to sway us. Certainly, many of us may be ignorant of who represents us in the EU parliament because we’ve taken a lot less interest in electing them: compare the turnouts for UK General elections (66.1% last year) with those for the European Parliament (35.6% for the last elections in 2014). Abstention or apathy? Compare also our turnouts for the latter relative to other member countries. Not great, is it?
No matter: ‘Control’, ‘Control’, ‘Control’. And so many are being controlled into a fugue that is not giving due consideration to the now increasing possibility that His Ersatz-ness, the stance-transmogrifying Boris Johnson may become our next Prime Minister. Either way, it is looking increasingly likely that Cameron is toast – whatever the outcome. He certainly has the look of having resigned himself to numbered days; has admitted to himself that he may have royally fucked this up!
Though I’m begrudgingly siding with The Blue Spectre on this one, I’m also spittingly angry with him for ever having allowed himself to be so Farage-wobbled into calling the thing in the first place. (And wasn’t it originally intended for 2017, rather than coinciding with the European Football Championships, which exacerbates nationalistic attitudes? Just a thought.) Martin Lewis is succinctly spot on: this is a binary decision on a non-binary, complex set of issues. As ventured by Richard Dawkins and David Mitchell, we should not be having this referendum, which has been reduced to domination by emotion on the issue of immigration. On which, again, I fear not enough people have a proper grasp of the actual situation, and are happy to have their perceptions and prejudices and fears appealed to by populist self-promoters. And it has become ugly as a consequence.
Come to think of it, perhaps a protest vote is in order: vote Remain in protest at this referendum.