By Bill E. Lytton
We are entering a period of unprecedented, but entirely predictable, political and economic volatility. The next major test for politicians and campaigners in post-Brexit Britain is how to handle promises they made repeatedly throughout the referendum.
Already, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – as seen in their speeches at Vote Leave HQ – are trying to distance themselves from the more tarnishing elements of the Leave campaign. On reneged promises, it has also become clear – though it was already known – that Boris Johnson’s bus-slogan pledge of funneling EU membership fees into the NHS will not happen.
This referendum has been ironic from its very conception through to its conclusion. When David Cameron promised a referendum to counter Ukip’s insurgency in the general election, it was unlikely, in his mind, that it would cost him the leadership. It was also ironic – given the nature of both the Leave and Remain campaigns – that democracy would be a deciding factor. As covered relentlessly by both sides, each camp was guilty of running fear campaigns. Both sides resorted to the fear-baiting and doom-mongering they’d rehearsed a year earlier in the generals.
So it may also be ironic, especially to those making charges against political unaccountability, that the next Prime Minister will be selected by a group of unelected Conservative Party members.
To justify the democratic question in light of Brexit, ardent supporters of the civic body – those under the banner of “Vote Leave Take Control” – will have to maintain a position which helped them win the referendum. A cross-party consensus of the unfairly represented – the Greens and Ukip – would likely back electoral reform. Having yielded minor returns on impressive gains at the general election, those parties stand as evidence of a broken political system.
The case for a more representative democratic system should be considered in time. Owen Jones presents a compelling scenario for a post-Brexit democracy on his YouTube channel. He poses that establishing proportional representation and the splitting of the Labour and Conservative parties would reinvigorate our current beleaguered democracy. In theory, it makes sense. This referendum has had few real merits – party stability for Labour and the Tories has not been one of them.
For the Tories, this was a political contest on three fronts: the inevitable future of the UK’s place in Europe; a protracted quasi-leadership bout; and a test of party cohesiveness. That key figures of the party were heading opposing referendum campaign shows how divided the Tory vision is. It sits well, for the likes of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and Chris Grayling that they successfully usurped their leader. Disregarding job prospects, however, it’s still evidence of the divisions within the conservative movement.
As for Labour, who presented a late case for Remain in weak terms, the referendum has exposed once more the level of intra-party discontent. Ed Miliband, not for want of trying, failed to inspire confidence in his MPs. The same is true for Jeremy Corbyn. The no-confidence motion due to be tabled Ann Coffey and Margaret Hodge is not without warrant. It was only in the latter portion of the referendum that Corbyn had the gravel to offer up his sorrowfully languid Remain case.
In Jones’ vision, splitting the traditional parties and establishing a truly representative voting system would correct the hapless two-party system. Labour could diverge along Blairite and Worker’s Party lines; the Tories could part by ways of Thatcherism and Cameron’s version of compassionate conservatism. In this way, the electorate would find parties worthy of their vote by virtue of understanding their structure, their ideology, and likely consistency.
If a vote for Brexit was a vote for reclamation of the country, of sovereignty, and of democracy, then it would be incumbent on all politicians to consider the next logical step – reclaiming democracy within the United Kingdom. They owe it to the voters they deceived and misinformed to offer more democratic accountability at home. But given the uncertainty of the near-future, electoral reform is justifiably some way off. Pouring petrol on a house fire is no safe thing.