Vinoth Ramachandra

Brexit: Democracy at Work?

Posted on: June 28, 2016

I arrived in London the day after the results of the British referendum. I found many of my friends in a state of shock and dismay. The Brexit vote has revealed the deep fissures in British society- between London and the rest of the country, between economic classes, between urban and rural populations, between Scots and English, and even between generations (the young voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU).

The vast majority of non-Europeans are unaffected by what has happened here. But what has been most troubling- indeed horrifying- was the way the political campaign was fought. It mirrored the vicious obscurantism of the current American presidential campaign.

The “Remain” camp, led by the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, exaggerated the security threats and economic fall-out of leaving the EU. But the “Leave” camp, led by the ambitious Boris Johnson, traded on blatant lies which the tabloid media swallowed wholesale and sold its gullible readers. Lies such as: more than 60 per cent of British legislation emanates from Brussels; an invasion of Poles, Rumanians and Bulgarians (not to mention refugees from North Africa) who will be taking British jobs and enjoying social benefits (while neglecting to speak of the millions of Britons living in the rest of Europe and doing the same); the imminent entry of Turkey into the EU (unlikely, at least for another decade); the UK paying 350 million pounds a week to the EU (while neglecting to mention that more than half that returns in the form of rebates).

The Leave campaign, in other words, openly exploited the racist elements in British society. It played to the jingoism prevalent among older Britons, evoking nostalgic fantasies of an island superpower. The glaring social inequalities in Britain, which understandably fuel deep resentment among the poorer communities, were blamed on the EU and not on the biased austerity programs of the ruling Tory party. Unemployment caused, not by European migrant workers or refugees, but rather by globalisation and robotisation were scarcely addressed. “Taking back control” and “Independence Day” were the popular sound-bites of Johnson and his merry band of little-Englanders. In an age of climate change, international terrorism and technological globalization, these are meaningless slogans.

I am not enamoured with the EU. Quite apart from its unaccountable bureaucracy, it is an inward-looking club bent on building a Fortress Europe and ignoring its responsibilities to the rest of the world. But it has proved to be more effective than its member-states in checking the unethical activities of transnational technology giants and countering right-wing movements in Europe. If a nation-state believes that leaving is better than staying and reforming it from within it needs to give reasons more ethical and compelling than the fear of foreigners. (Ironic that a country which colonized half the world still lives in fear of foreigners).

Britain boasts of being the cradle of democracy. It has developed liberal institutions that other nations have sought to emulate. All the more disturbing, therefore, when both Britain and the USA present to the rest of the world an image of electoral politics that seems to glorify selfishness, racism, intolerance and wilful ignorance. I can imagine the leaders of China or North Korea rubbing their hands in glee, and telling their citizens languishing in local prisons: “You want democracy? Look at what is happening in the US and UK- do you want such men to rule over you?”

A referendum works on the assumption that all voting citizens will be well-informed about the issue that is under dispute. It presupposes a mass media that is truth-seeking and not merely free. And on an issue as serious in its long-term ramifications as whether or not to remain in the EU, it is important that a two-thirds or three-fifths majority be sought rather than a simple majority. I am surprised that David Cameron did not consider this with his legal and constitutional advisors before he called for a referendum.

Isn’t it an illusion to think that we can have a democratic society based purely on constitutions and formal procedures, without paying any attention to the moral formation of individual citizens? The kind of people we are -and become- shapes the kind of society we have (though it is also true that the kind of society we live in shapes what we become).

Civility and moral integrity are the presuppositions of public life, not their product. For instance, the parties to an agreement must already have a sense of what is right, and a willingness to abide by it, even when it is in their own interests not to do so. A contract is no contract at all if it is kept only when it is convenient to do so. Also, if elected public officials cannot be trusted to be concerned with the common good, the louder voices in society will prevail.

The quest for good governance begins with a sense of moral outrage at the undeserved exclusion and humiliation of other human beings. Our moral sensibilities are nurtured principally through our families, schools, and religious communities and institutions. Where most families are dysfunctional, schools merely tuition-factories, universities servants of corporate interests, and religious institutions become inward-looking and self-serving, the roots of a well-functioning democracy wither.

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10 Responses to "Brexit: Democracy at Work?"

Thanks for expressing succinctly what I have been feeling. I’m not a fan of the EU, especially of the common agricultural policy which is an injustice to the rest of the world, but I certainly do not think this decision makes Britain “great” in any way.

It all began with a “smart” self-serving issue. Seeking to repair fissures within his own party Cameron came up with a distractive EU narrative. Others responded in kind resulting in more fissures everywhere. Little follies do catch up in a big way.

Having voted ‘Remain’ (49% of voters did) on the balance of risks vs benefits to the marginalised, hoping that EU controls will restrain the current Tory politics (by which the poorer strata of society are heavily burdened), I am surprised (or am I) by the greed of Labour MPs as they pass a vote of no confidence on perhaps the political leader with the most integrity among the current British political leadership. Elected overwhelmingly less than a year ago by the party membership, Corbyn is the leader to whom Labour must remain faithful if Labour has to remain faithful to itself and the electorate whom she claims to represent (the working class and exploited). Woe to power seeking leaders! Woe to the Brexit leaders if they do not deliver!
I fear the disintegration of a society constructed on the moral values of dignity, justice, freedom, eliminatiom of hunger, squalor, ignorance, idleness and war as envisaged by the likes of Lord Beveridge and Methodist founders of Labour and more recently by Joe Cox.
Most public spirited people would not be hugely motivated to support Project Reclaiming Control (Who wants to be controlled by a group of leaders who are disconnected from the needs of the majority?!) or Project Europe (any Union without the project of Yahweh at its heart is doomed). Hence the allegation of ‘not being sufficiently passionate’ in supporting either group is invalid in relation to the more public spirited of our leadership. Opponents of Corbyn must take note.

Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
Thanks, Vinoth, for making these points clear. I hope our British friends will have the wisdom of seeing themselves in the mirror of others. That is the only possible cure for self-deception.

Thank you for another good analysis and commentary, Vinoth. I do find quite a lot Swiftarian and Orwellian satire, nay humour, in the hulloo-balloo of BREXIT. The whole exercise was predicated on stirring up by the UKIP (Farage, Carswell), Boris Johnson, and others of hatred, fear and de-humanization of the non-English. And of course the non-English is personified in “The Immigrant”.

However, one only has to scratch the surface a little bit to find quite interesting information about the “Englishness” of the some of the key leaders of LEAVE:

– Boris Johnson – has a Turkish grandfather.
– Nigel Farage – descended from Huguenots who only some generations ago fled from France to England when persecuted for their Calvinist views.
– Douglas Carswell – born in Uganda – Father (Wilson Carswell) was the real life medical doctor who was the basis of Idi Amin’s English Dr sidekick in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. People who worked with a certain doctor at Mulago Hospital in Kampala say that he was asked why he did not change his gloves between patients. He is said to have replied, “Ah, these fellows are all already infected anyway!” After the fall of Idi Amin and Obote, the Carswells left Uganda and went to South Africa in the mid-1980s hoping, to convince the regime there not to release Nelson Mandela or ever give in to the concept of majority rule.
– Ian Duncan-Smith – great-grandmother was a member of a distinguished Japanese samurai clan who, while living in China, married a merchant seaman from Ireland (Samuel Lewis Shaw)- not even England .
– Priti (sic) Patel – Parents were Ugandan-Indian immigrants who arrived from Uganda just ahead of the mass expulsion of all people of Asian descent by Idi Amin.

Of course we do not know where the British Royals stood on BREXIT. I suspect they probably would be in the REMAIN camp, given that they may not want a “small and sad UK”. However, the joke widens when one considers that Prince Phillip is a Greek national of German ancestry, and Queen Elizabeth herself is of mostly German ancestry. Both of those immigrants got pretty cushy jobs for themselves in the UK.

Only God can pull these kind of humourous situations on us. May be we have reason to keep smiling through it all when bigots stand at microphones and rant about their fear that the UK is being overrun by immigrants. The only people that these guys have to fear turn out to be THEMSELVES!

A clear case of the lowest-common-denominator, This is what democracy is about.

Since Brexit, I have found myself asking the following question:

Is democracy really the most effective (and representative) form of government?

That said, this electoral incident is not the end of the world nor the end of Europe for that matter. As a European citizen I´m not losing sleep over Brexit, though I would have liked it if the UK remained.

The British electorate deserve better than to be duped into voting either way. If Brexit leaders have lied to the public, it is imperative that they take responsibility for their actions and not stand for public office.
Likewise if Corbyn is the popular choice of the Labour membership, then those 172 MPs who passed a motion of no confidence must resign as MPs as they do not represent the will of the Labour membership.
Is it not possible to have a vision of the countries within the United Kingdom to have freedom to choose their relationship with the EU? Both NI and Scotland can be EU states respecting the will of their peoples whilst Wales and England can negotiate their new relationships with the EU. Then within the UK, citizens can move freely between her countries to be part of the EU or otherwise in their various dealings.

Vinoth, thanks, as ever for your sharp and incisive comment, which I think is very, very good.

As a convinced ‘remain’ voter, I share the shock, disappointment and concern for the future as some of your friends have. However, as Christians, we rest upon God’s will and sovereignty.

It is a dynamic and fluid time in British politics – the chips have been thrown into the air, and have yet to fall down (which will probably be years rather than weeks or months). The anti-immigration rhetoric from ‘vote leave’ and xenophobic spin offs from it (not hard when the tabloid press are churning this rubbish all the time) have plumbed new depths, that has been truly vile, and must be a warning for the future. I really think the electoral commission needs to have a ‘truth test’ in curtailing blatant lies in like this in future campaigns.

The glimmer of hope that internationalists and pro-Europeans can cling on to is the reawakening of solidarity and internationalism, not just pro-European but towards immigrants from all places (like the ‘safety pin campaign’). Once something is ripped away, you can’t take it for granted anymore and it becomes more special to you. The ‘Brexiteers’ will find that in the coming years, that there is a strong sector in society – 48% in fact – that is open looking, outward, and would like to remain (until article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered the UK remains a member state of the EU), or rejoin. With climate change getting ever more serious (which doesn’t stop at borders), and a younger internationalist and pro-Europe generation in the future, I can’t see the UK outside and on the sidelines of Europe for long. The question will be what will the UK look like, and the EU look like then?

If these things happen there, what does it rest for the rest of the world? It is disturbing.

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