Tuesday, January 23, 2018


There's something really poignant about these comments from people who regret their vote to leave the EU. They come from wider focus group research on attitudes, mainly among older people.
"To be perfectly honest, I don’t think there should have been a referendum anyway on a subject as complex as that. I don’t think the public had enough knowledge of for and against."
"I thought we voted for politicians to actually make these decisions on our behalf!"
"We were absolutely not in a position where we should have been given the vote in the first place."
"They asked us to vote on something which, the majority of us, had no real knowledge on what we were signing. I wanted to just to come out of Europe because I thought Europe had too much control over our cards, over our system. But, I for one, didn’t fully understand the implications of coming out of Europe. And I think there are a lot of people who likewise."
Admitting that we got things wrong is rare. Normally we double down on our original judgement, rationalise it away, and slowly forget it. But, if we do recognise that we were in error, it helps to have someone to blame, and they did. It was the fault of politicians for putting it to the vote. They're right. This points to one of the many flaws in referendums. Not only are they a way of by-passing democratic institutions and giving no additional weight to expertise as against ignorance, but they are a way of passing the buck. Politicians avoid taking responsibility for their own decisions. Instead, they hide behind "the will of the people." The recriminations are then levelled at the voters, even within families. Young people accuse older ones of "having stolen their future."

You can feel the distress in these answers. They were asked to vote and did their duty to the best of their limited knowledge, sensing that the mere fact of the referendum indicated that there was a problem. Now they are shouldering the guilt they feel for a wrong decision. The referendum put responsibility on people who neither wanted it, nor were qualified to exercise it, all in a failed attempt to placate the right wing of the Conservative Party. It was cruel to put them in that position.

Which brings me round to the question being raised about another referendum (not a second one, it will be the third). Paul Evans is against. Chris Dillow makes excellent points as well.
Nigel Farage and Arron Banks are starting to agree with many Remainers that there should be a second referendum. Both sides, of course, do so for the same motive – the belief they would win.
What this misses is that the first referendum was, as Robert Harris said, “the most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime.” It was dominated by lies and by ignorance of basic facts. The result in effect went simply to the highest bidder. There’s no reason to suppose that a second referendum will be any better.
There would be one difference of course, a fresh referendum would be better informed because of the experience and consequences of the first. Otherwise, it's a dismal prospect.

The problem that those of us who think that Brexit is wholly mistaken face is a different one. However rotten a decision making process a referendum is, it might be our only chance. I don't mean this is because of a Parliamentary or governmental decision being a challenge to the supposed legitimacy of the referendum, far from it. I don't think that many outside the tiny ranks of the Brexit partisans really care about the issue. It would be mainly greeted with a shrug or a sigh of relief. Brexiters are convulsed with hysterical hatreds and denunciations of treachery when winning anyway, so who would deny them the intense, orgasmic pleasure of an ultimate betrayal? No, the problem we face is that politicians are showing every sign of cowardice. They are determined to avoid the responsibility bestowed by their office. So, it isn't that Brexit shouldn't be halted by anything other than another referendum, it is that it won't be.

A referendum is a way out, but is still a risk. It will have many of the same flaws as the previous one. It could go either way. So while I would prefer politicians to actually do their job as representatives, I fear that we are stuck with the prospect of another poll. I would welcome it only in so far as it would be the only chance of revisiting the decision. One thing I do know though, I hope to hell we never have another one of the damnable things.

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