Post Brexit Thoughts.

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 These thoughts were put together in the aftermath of the referendum. Some are well and truly past-tense now but the stuff about democracy is still very much true (and I suspect will be so for another few millennia).

I tried putting together a bookcase without following the instructions. Bit of a farage to be honest.
The attack was planned without adequate intelligence and was a complete farage.
England struggled on with only 10 men but their defence was a total farage.

Bojoed can substitute for the fabulous Scottish banjaxed. As in, “your alternator’s completely Bojoed.”

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Post referendum it seems we need to consider our relationship with democracy. Socrates would have lots of questions to ask our current crop of politicians.
There are lots of people writing about “the will of the people” or “this is how democracy works” but a good country needs more than just plebiscites.
Democracy is one tool for good governance. Giving everyone a voice is important and the world is littered with nations who fail in this regard. Democracy is very bad though at protecting minorities and the old adage that democracy is two lions and a lamb voting on what they will have for dinner often runs true.


Multiple layers of democracy can often conflict with each other (look at the U.S. where two elected cambers often collide). One of the accidental virtues of the House of Lords is that by being un-elected they act as a bulwark against the more short-term and populist Commons.


We also accept no democratic say when we require clear chain of command. No military is run as a democracy even though Athenian democracy arose out military necessity.


In terms of Brexit, the referendum should be seen as step one. We have a representative house and an un-elected house and both need to debate this. The people have spoken, but they also chose their representatives to defend them. The referendum cannot be seen as something which undoes our representative democracy. Those representatives have also decided to have an upper house which checks their work.


None of this prevents truly stupid decisions from ever happening but they reduce their number.


The E.U. referendum needs to be debated. M.P. David Lammy is entirely right to call for such a debate to pull this back into our Parliamentary system of governance.

Time to pull the pin on this one. If you are feeling sore at the moment this might reflect your views. If you’ve had enough for now then scroll on down. I’m sure there’s a lovely picture of a pet somewhere which will do just right for now. I’m sure many of you have really big fish to fry and someone’s rant is not what you need.

I also have to mark a bunch of terrible exam papers in a mo, which is not helping my mood.

Here are the basic headlines and I’ll release the fury of caps-lock to let you know I mean it. WHERE IS THE EMERGENCY WESTMINSTER SESSION? WHERE IS THE DIRECT ACTION? WHERE IS THE GENERAL STRIKE? I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE I AM CONSIDERING THIS – WHERE IS THE LOCK-OUT?

I don’t know if you caught any of yesterday’s PMQs. By the time I got home the house was half empty and there was a feeling of futility about the process. I wanted to march on something last night but College Green looked empty as the protest had been pulled earlier in the day.

48.1% is not enough of a mandate to allow the rubble of this government to effect serious change. People are bound to start looking at the narrowness of the victory and think about who is in that 48%. They start thinking about the political, economic and cultural fights that lie ahead and wonder if the 48% might not be able to out-punch the 51.9%. They might look at pitting class against class, the young against the old, employer against employee and wonder about who might emerge from the conflict with the least wounds.

This is, of course, poisonous thinking but then I fear we have all been a bit poisoned. I heard a Cambridge man being interviewed last week. He said, “I run an I.T. company that has a turnover of £100 million per year. I employ 70 people from across Europe who all live, and pay their taxes here. I am seriously looking at relocating to Berlin.” We were here before, in the 70s (the mythical, Jimmy Saville hued time which many Brexiters want to take us back to – all Findus crispy pancakes and the Three-Day Week). Remember the “brain drain” when British techies went abroad and took their inventions with them? Sounds like it could be back with a vengeance (and I know that funding cuts post 2010 have already forced many to make this decision).

At the last election 11,334,576 votes secured the government. 17,410,742 for Leave is a lot more than that but so too is 16,141,241 for Remain.

To adapt Ghandi 17 million people can’t tell 16 million people what to do if they just refuse to do it. Especially if that 16 million includes many of those who have the keys to the factory gates, includes the young who want wider opportunities and includes the 2.24 million who were born in another E.U. member state and who are desperate to know that someone is on their side

The numbers are too big, the margins are too small. So I say shut it down! Shut it all down! Employees, go on a general strike! Employers, lock the gates! Everyone march!

They want their country back? I want my continent back!

Do not keep calm and carry on. It’s time to get angry and down tools.

Let’s get a bit French about this.

 

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29th June 2016

When is a vote not enough?

Socrates part two . . . I’m just trying to tease out ideas because they are running around in my head. Feel more than free not to read.

Both Brexit and the current Labour travails highlight some more problems with democracy (please understand that I I’m not advocating any other system, Churchill pointed out that all others were worse, but it is worth remembering that democracy is not a universal panacea).

Brexit first. The problem is rating all opinions equally. Alain de Botton’s gloss of Socrates is great here. Being in the minority may well not mean that you are wrong. An example would be that of an athlete training for the Olympic javelin competition. He should listen to his trainer, a previous winner, who has a regime that includes odd looking weight routines to strengthen his right calf muscle, rather that the people in the market-place. They have no experience other than watching the event and their exhortations to simply train by throwing the javelin repeatedly may be based on limited understanding. Ten fishmongers don’t equal one laurel winner.

Gove’s attack on experts is part of a recent trend in anti-intellectualism which has been fuelled by the environmental wars regarding climate change. There’s no great revelation in my pointing out that a failure to listen to those with experience and proven expertise is reckless. Most of us would have little sympathy for someone who was warned not swim by a lifeguard because the tide often too strong. Responding that “often” wasn’t “always” and that the lifeguard had been wrong last week before hurling yourself into the surf would be regarded as reckless but people with -ist at the end of their job title (other than nutritionist) are often treated as if their views are layperson’s opinions rather than the result of years of study and experience.

Now for Labour. When is a breakdown a coup and when is it a mutiny?

This problem is one which Athenian democracy grappled with too; who should send soldiers to fight Athens’ wars? Their democracy allowed those who were able to fight, and those who had fought, to have a say in the running of the state.

One of the things Socrates pointed out was that the veterans did not always make decisions with the best interests of the hoplites at heart. They were able to send armies to war without actually doing the fighting themselves. Socrates poked at this one until it turned on him as his jury was made up of those very same retired soldiers and war-wounded who had the time to make up his 500 strong jury. They took a dim view of his criticism and found him guilty.

A little more contemporary context. In the 1990s the Conservatives moved from a selection process by the Parliamentary party and senior figures to a more democratic system of electing a leader. To the dismay of the Tory MPs this lead to a series of completely unelectable choices (William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard). They may have been unelectable but they did, at least, have the support of the blue-rinse brigade handing out leaflets. Labour’s problem is more acute. By side-lining the unions (in an attempt to defuse the charge from the right that the party was in the pocket of the TUC – also partially a necessity with the decline in the power of the unions) Labour moved to a more democratic system. The result has been a growth in membership and move to the left. This, in itself, is not a problem. It sounds very healthy but groups like Momentum need to be on the streets not just fighting the internal wars in the Labour Party.

One of the charges levelled at many of the new Labour members is that they joined the party and are very enthusiastic about their leader but are not on the doorsteps communicating that to the wider electorate. That job is being done by more long-serving members. I spoke to a local activist recently who felt that he was being asked to sell a leader he didn’t believe in. The same is true of the rebel MPs. Their charge is that they have been knocking on doors but they don’t feel their leader is an asset to their cause. I am aware that there are counter claims that the local party machines are not friendly to the new crowd. Either way, I’m just spit-balling this but my hunch is that many of this new bunch of Labour supporters are different, in employment or class, from the traditional Labour membership. Even more crucially they are different from the tribal Labour voters (many of who have been pushed by inequality into the arms of the new, Ukippy, right).

There are solutions. The passionate Corbyn supporters can move into the front lines, on the doorsteps pushing their leader, and eventually supplanting the Parliamentary Labour Party members (the MPs) or they can step back, watch as their man gets taken down and a new leader, who has the backing of the bench-warmers and the door-steppers is moved in.

The democratic impulse always needs to be balanced with action. There are things that democracy can ask for but there are points where those charged with doing the doing that needs doing say they can give no more. The voter either listens to them or replaces them.

I have no dog in the Labour Party fight (unlike the Brexit one) but the current situation does feel like an extension of the problems of modern democracy. Before I get all bent out of shape about sides in the fight I do feel I have become embroiled in it might be worth me musing on the mechanisms used to choose them. Tools are never neutral and democracy is a tool. It’s a great tool but it is not infallible and can have unintended side-effects.

If you read this far, thanks for your time.

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