By: Dan Baker, Student Voices writer
The referendum. Britain’s chance to have a say and, let ignorance take over politics. Maybe we should whisper the question into a magic 8 ball and await the inevitable ‘ask again later’ as even the powers that be struggle to decipher the emotional blackmail used by both sides of this sorry ‘debate’. Below are the six reason this referendum is the most ridiculous thing to happen to contemporary British politics.
1) We already have Democracy just not Direct Democracy.
If you can’t tell from the scathing manner in which I wrote the introduction, I’m very much a cynic about his new trend for a taste of direct democracy which stems from the lack of faith in our representative system. Okay, I get it, you’re fed up. Our current system of representative democracy doesn’t represent you. It’s not perfect. However, the idea of representative democracy is simple. We vote for someone who we trust to do the due diligence and spend hours reading the treaties and policies, that’s what we pay politicians for and, we trust them to make the decision which looks best for the country. You cannot expect voters to make a decision based on the evaluation of complex issues, with no in-depth knowledge and expect to see a fair concise debate on both sides. Becoming politically informed takes time. Fear has therefore become the common language between the politicians and the people. A referendum subject to irrational Nationalist prejudices - is this democracy?
2) The real reason David Cameron has asked for this Referendum.
If the PM himself actually cared about the voice of the people, surely he would have kept neutral in this debate? The reason he supposedly called the referendum is to give “a voice to the people”. I believe his interest is not in giving people a voice, but instead manipulating them into legitimising his case for Staying or giving him the political get-out-of-jail-free card to say he gave people the choice. He will know as well as I do that the electorate will usually swerve to avoid unknown risk, therefore favouring the Stay campaign’s odds. The truth is that this whole referendum is a political cop out by Mr Cameron, who is not leading our country. Where are the politicians with confidence in their own convictions? (please don’t say UKIP).
3) Yes or no questions are not the answer.
I disagree that referenda are a democratic option. By voting “stay’ or “leave” you are not expressing your free will nor your freedom of speech but rather adhering to this warped conception of having a voice. Forcing a black or white answer is verging on tyrannical, serving only to suppress opinion and force the hand of the electorate to support one of two teams, which interestingly both are likely to lead to a Tory victory, either by Boris or David. A one-party outcome normally belongs on the ballet sheets of People’s Republic of China 'democracy.’ Even if you were going to attempt to read the complex treaties, the chances that a YES or NO answer would suffice is slim to none.
4) The E.U was put in place by democracy
The decision to delegate authority to Brussels in exchange for representation was made by an elected majority government in a representative democracy. By holding a referendum, you are supporting the delegitimisation of decisions made by the system which were put in place to represent your views, which is counter-democratic itself. It seems paradoxically stupid for a referendum aimed at making the U.K. “more democratic”, to question the legitimacy of the democratic process. Let’s not forget once a decision is made, the future governments will not be able to overturn this decision for fear of backlash, which renders future governments less powerful. What about Generation Z? Can they overturn this decision?
5) EU referendums are not just about the EU
Are you voting about EU membership or about what you believe will impact the NHS? Are you voting against staying because you hate 'Dodgy Dave’ and find his likely cyclist successor a more appealing option? The truth is that people will use this referendum to express their unhappiness in a risky punishing protest vote against the establishment. Time and time again the public don’t answer the question they’ve been asked; they use one question to send an unrelated message to an unpopular government. I have to admit, the polarisation of the discourse hasn’t enlightened anyone and if anything it’s alienated both parties. Unfortunately, voters in referendums evaluate both the treaty in question and the government’s performance, rendering the referendum more of a popularity contest between the Yes and No teams, as opposed to accurately measuring voter’s confidence.
6) The referendum could see the end of democracy as we know it
The most important question? Is politics becoming more populist? Is this a threat to democracy itself? I would answer yes to both questions. The EU Act of 2011 essentially wove populism in to English Law. Now the people have the final say in British sovereignty (Woo mob rule!). Never before have we seen a greater shift away from the Burkean model defended by the Conservative party. Without doubt this shift was caused by Mr Cameron’s back benches and the public leaning towards Mr Farage’s euroscepticism and anti-establishment rhetoric. We are seeing populism emerging as a force of change, but whether that is a good thing remains to be seen. The 'one and only’ Margret Thatcher can be quoted as saying “Perhaps the late Lord Attlee was right when he said that the referendum was a device of dictators and demagogues.” Is this the same conservative party? This referendum gives us irrational fear with a side dish of panic. Referenda have been used throughout history in non-democratic states, (yes Soviet Russia, yes Napoleon, I’m looking at you) to back up the views of deity like supreme leaders. Insert Animal Farm reference here. Personally, I find referenda an archaic system of direct democracy, and something to be left to Switzerland – a country which is politically unstable thanks to Plebeian democracy.
Britain has become a victim of an exhausted political system. Us and Them syndrome is rife; people have never felt further from the ruling class. This referendum is a vehicle for the expression of discontent, and a win once more for populism. The gloomy future for Britain’s political system rests on this once in a lifetime, nonsensical referendum. Congratulations Mr Cameron, and thanks to the populist supporters. We can now roll the dice on our futures and risk it all.
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