2016_eu_referendum_ballot_paper

Theresa May’s accusation that anyone trying to stop the UK from leaving the EU is “subverting democracy” is both entirely inaccurate and demonstrates incredible hypocrisy.

Democracy has already been subverted.

The whole point of democracy is to ensure that the people’s interests are taken into account in political decision making. In order to take this seriously we need to make sure that there is honest, open discussion over political issues with the goal being, not to determine a winner and allow the winning groups to override the interests of all others, but to reach a consensus. Everyone involved must be committed to honest discussion and must believe that everyone else is committed to the same. Full consensus may not always be possible where there are mutually exclusive interests but everyone’s interests must be taken into consideration and consensus should be the goal.

This cannot be done with even a well run binary referendum.

IN/OUT. One winner. Nobody else counts. This just isn’t good enough.

So, in this sense, the opposition to Brexit is based on the belief that democracy has already been subverted. The referendum itself was a subversion of democracy. Half of the population are now being completely ignored in favour of the other half. The same would have been true if the result had gone the other way. This is the sort of treatment which has lead to people having no trust in the government in the first place.

Maybe you think that the goal of aiming at consensus and taking everyone’s interests into account is too extreme, maybe I’m asking too much of democracy. So, let’s look at a weaker version.

Think of an extremely simplistic version of democracy. This seems to be the version that’s most popular amongst angry leave voters. Majority vote wins. Nobody else counts. You lost, get over it.

Even by this minimal standard the referendum was undemocratic! The issue of EU membership is just too complicated to be summed up in it’s entirety with an IN/OUT, or YES/NO vote.

Which of the many options really has the most support? Remain? EEA? EFTA? Isolationism?

Even the very limited requirements of pure majority rule haven’t been met. Again, democracy has already been subverted. If the referendum had given us a list of options and used something like the alternative vote (where people vote by ranking the given options in order of preference) then there would be a case to be made that the referendum was in at least some sense democratic. As it is, we don’t even have that.

What really has subverted democracy is allowing representatives of only one of the possible options to take over completely without taking any concerns from anyone who would have preferred any of the other options into account or even confirming that this is what the majority wants. Taking a roughly 50/50 split as evidence of a strong mandate for either side is nothing less than an outrage.

Even beyond all of this, if Theresa May really wants to talk about who is subverting democracy, maybe she shouldn’t be having private meetings with billionaire media bosses who have been quoted as saying “When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say“.

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