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Friday, October 25, 2019

The real threat to our democracy

A democratic system can only succeed if it is built on trust and respect. On that basis, most are in real trouble, but at the heart of all the western democracies, whatever people think or say about politicians as a group or even individually, the vast majority of voters are happy to get on with their lives, while leaving those they elected to continue to run the country.

There is no real demand amongst the general population to overthrow the government, other than by democratic means. In fact even proposals to better democratise our country by introducing proportional elections or reducing the voting age, are more likely to send people to sleep than rouse them into a revolutionary fervour. It is consent by default, trust and respect by another name.

It was disturbing therefore to read reports this morning that a majority of voters in England, Wales and Scotland believe that the possibility of some level of violence against MPs is a “price worth paying” in order to get their way on Brexit:

The poll from Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh asked respondents what they would be prepared to see happen in order to leave or remain within the European Union.

This included a question on whether achieving their desired political outcome was worth the risk of violence being directed against MPs.

Most leave voters who took part in the Future of England study thought such a possibility was a “price worth paying” for Brexit to be delivered – 71% in England, 60% in Scotland and 70% in Wales.

The majority of remain voters felt that the risk of violence towards MPs was worth it if it meant we would stay in the EU – 58% in England, 53% in Scotland and 56% in Wales.

The survey did not imply that the responder would conduct the violence themselves or specify that the violence would be severe or even be carried out by those on the same political side as them.

If anything this shows increasing frustration with politicians and the political system. The unwritten UK constitution has always been complex. Representative politics has always been widely misunderstood. Many believe that MPs and other elected representatives are there to do what they tell them not, as is the case, to exercise their best judgement in the interests of the country and their electors.

In many circumstances, MPs are able to finesse the popular will, whilst continuing to fulfil their duty to the country as a whole. With Brexit it has not been that simple. The polarising nature of the debate has raised expectations on both sides that cannot be met. My concern is that, whatever the outcome, it will lead to unrest and possibly violence. Where will our democracy be then?
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