I want to declare, irrespective that I have done so many times before, that I voted to Remain, as indeed I voted to stay in the EU in 1975.
Just because I voted in that way does not mean that I am incapable of seeing the other point of view, on the contrary. My role as an Independent Consumer Campaigner & Commentator means that I have to incorporate all shades of opinion and offer what I think is the best course of action for Consumers.
What has changed since June 2016, is that we have become so polarised, that it is almost inconceivable to imagine that individuals are capable of offering a balancing set of views. In my many radio appearances, I often talk about rights and the changing landscape of rights. It has been difficult these past few years because some radio producers, journalists or TV producers have been so frightened to upset the perceived majority, that it has frozen their ability to offer a wide discourse of opinion.
I had taken the view back in 2016 that it was imperative to deal with the new reality but to not divorce that reality against what I firmly believe to be in the best interests of Consumers.
It is important to note that in the brexit-nebula, Consumer establishment organisations have offered very lukewarm or indeed no commentary at all, toward the maturing brexit-britain that approaches. Equally, I have found the Remainer side of the debate to be sorely lacking on developing a strong dialogue on the overall benefits and indeed truth as to how Europe works. Flags, flagpoles and colourful costumes are no replacement for a firm agenda that involves inclusivity and dare I say respect?
In my many visits to Westminster I have watched both sides of the debate outside the House of Commons. I have witnessed acts of disrespect, humour and determination. I have spoken to individuals and recognised that whilst they may have a passion for their reason for supporting Remain or Leave, there is actual very little knowledge that underpins the usual mantra we hear from both sides.
It is not helped either by the so-called official organisations pursuing support, but then providing a sometimes mystifying rationale for their public pronouncements.
In writing this critique of where we are, I am conscious that I will place myself outside of the clique or cult that now exists in the National debate. I can assure you, it would not be the first time I would find myself outside of a position or debate, but my message is not to destroy or demean any position but rather cause it to reflect,
To be a Campaigner, an effective Campaigner, is not to be sheep-like, you do need to constantly reflect and sometimes absorb a position that you at first thought unpalatable.
It was President Obama who wrote:
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate”
And so whilst brexit has reduced the country to simple but absolute positions and attitudes, they only serve to mask real issues, those of criminality, the growth of extreme politics and the fracturing of confidence in our institutions and society.
I would not be a responsible Campaigner or Commentator if I did not reflect and offer an opinion on what Parliament should do to move the country out of this morass.
In doing so I think we need to deal with several factors that appear to be stunting a rational conversation. I shall begin by talking about the central pillar of all things brexit - ‘The Will of the People’; this is divided into 4 supporting factors - the foundations of legitimacy:
- ‘The Will of the People’. We all know what we mean by democracy, or do we? Demos is the Greek word for ‘People’ and Cracy means ‘Rule; hence democracy translates into the Rule of the People. We know from our practice of democracy that we are in effect making a contract with society, if you like, we pool our own individual sovereignty in return for basic rights and freedoms. But our practice of democracy is not constant and it is that inconsistency (‘the will’) that in turn creates for a sometimes stable form of government or indeed its very instability. However, the real question to ask is whether it is ‘the will’ or ‘the people’ that is dominant in this most important consideration? This is the subject of much political theory, but in its examination, the Schmitt theory offers the greater clarity for what we see today. Common good is established as that which exists between a demographic and its rulers, excluding liberal elements, so that only a core or a particular substance is left. Politicians are then left with an exclusory mandate that is hollow and only accounts for a small and simple requirement of or for the people, it then frees the politicians to constantly define what the common good is for them and their chosen demographic. This is important because many who voted in June 2016, claimed that they did not understand the issues; there wasn’t enough information. In order for society to acquire a truly informed political maturity, Marx wrote that it was necessary for us to enjoy a ‘realm of freedom’, in other words, free-time, so that we can gather information and build our competency in this mature political society. The reality is such that this is not possible, hence why we rely on the business of politics, for it is indeed a business, where politicians are paid to enjoy that ‘realm of freedom’ on our behalf - we expect them to inform and guide us in return. It is imperative therefore that we recognise the elements & dangers that mask the so-called ‘will of the people’;
- ‘The Rise of Extreme Politics’. We have watched since 2016, reports of physical and verbal attacks on foreigners, a freedom of speech that goes beyond the norms of that which has been accepted in civilised society and a frightening rise against those who are seen as different. Is this a consequence of brexit or does it have its roots within a much wider global base, through the rise of populism? Whereas only a few short years ago Antisemitism and Islamophobia would never have had a place in our societies, they have now almost become the norm in civil society. I personally think that they are not the basis of brexit, but are present as a result of a much wider global movement. The danger for brexit is raised through politicians, both national and local, who now emboldened by this burst of freedom of speech, weave such ideologies into a national narrative which subtly makes its link to brexit and against those of a liberal persuasion. We have to ask, is this another example of the creation of a ‘Common Good’ that delivers power into the hands of a few? The danger for us and indeed in any brexit-world, is if we do not challenge this new ‘Common Good’, what will that mean for the continuance of any liberal informed civilised society?
- ‘Criminality’. The most surprising aspect from the beginning of 2016, to the present, has been the lack of political will to deal with and confront the clear flagrant breaches of law that have in turn affected the very heart of our democracy. Wholesale breaches of electoral law and the industrial-scale manipulation of personal data has led to the established political class losing control of the political process to the shadows that seek to control the agenda and power. The investigation by Carole Cadwalladr should have caused all citizens to demand that its institutions proactively pursue the truth of how these elements have changed the very norms of the societies we live in. Individuals, Corporations and Governments are clearly at the centre of this phenomena, but it appears that either our laws are not fit for purpose to deal with these threats or there is a lack of will, or indeed a clear political instruction, to our institutions, not to engage in this threat to our democratic security. It is one thing to achieve the ‘will of the people’ through normal processes and argument; it is quite another to achieve the ‘will of the people’ through fraud or other criminal acts;
- ‘A second Referendum’. ‘The will of the people’ is often justified to make the argument that to have a second referendum would be anti-democratic; that depends surely on whether democracy is decided by ‘the will’ or indeed ‘the people’, Schmitt-style? The absurdity of this argument is brought into sharp focus by the current desire to put the Prime-Minister’s deal for a 3rd or even a 4th time to MP’s, until she gets the right answer? Should we fear a second referendum; I think not? The reason I say so is because as we have seen, in the conflict of determining the so-called ‘will of the people’, there has been a need to test variants of what brexit actually means. To say that brexit scenarios have been stress-tested is an understatement, but whatever the final outcome at Westminster, it must surely be prudent and indeed democratic to receive the confirmatory ‘will’, unless of course the ‘Common Good’ is to be truly defined by a single binary vote in 2016? Will it undermine democracy; no, the greater danger must surely exist from a small cohort of representatives who seek to define the ‘Common Good’ for the sake of us all? Should this issue be resolved through a General Election; no, I believe that if anything it would continue public dissatisfaction through a minority government or worse, from politicians who seek to define that ‘Common Good’ on our behalf? Will it create disorder on our streets; in a general sense no, but, given that we have tolerated a rise in extreme politics since 2016, any such risk will arise from this source - we have to ask ourselves how determined are we to ensure that the mistakes of 2016 are not repeated; are we prepared to allow a political class to dictate the future terms of our society, without another vote on this specific issue?
These factors underpin ‘the will of the people’ and raise substantial concerns as to the state of our democracy. Whilst what I write may appear theoretical to say the least, it does however inform the very real concerns on Consumer Rights. We know for example that there are those in this debate who are seeking a ‘deregulated’ society - this is their new ‘Common Good’ - offered as an antidote to the so-called impositions of the European Union. But it is the dishonesty behind the lack of comment on Consumer Rights or the proposition that everything will be the same, that is not evident in the quest for brexit. The ‘Common Good’ on Consumer Rights will strip away a progressive liberal and balanced approach between Industry and Consumer, replaced only by the survival of the fittest.
But despite all this theory, there is a need to confront the reality of where we are. Therefore, I propose, in order to try and heal the divisions in our society, as well as confronting the real dangers that have arisen since 2016, that we should do the following:
- We should accept the the Kyle/Wilson amendment. This means that MP’s would vote to accept the May deal (or some other form of brexit), in return for a confirmatory vote for the people through a referendum, including the opportunity to Remain:
- This may be an anathema to many Remain or Leave voters, but, as democracy often delivers inconsistency, this provides an opportunity to test that consistency;
- If a deal was accepted as opposed to remaining in the EU, it would at least attract the legitimacy it currently does not hold;
- (since publishing this article, it has been revealed that the Kyle/Wilson amendment appears to have been amended again - apparently removing reference to 'Remain' as an option in any subsequent referendum (note their article linked above which is very clear on this point). If this is correct, then it creates real difficulty in supporting this amendment and merely offers further proof of a parliament intent on determining 'the people's' Common Good. However, for the purposes of my proposition, the principle of the original amendment and what is required remains the same);
- I would go further and state that if the Kyle/Wilson solution is accepted, then there also needs to be a determination by parliament that it and its state institutions are given full instructions and support to pursue those that have broken electoral law or have committed other criminal offences. This democracy should demonstrate that even if it does not have robust regulations, it will confront those who possess the means to undermine our democracy and thus restore the fundamentals of our democracy;
- Further, such investigations should extend to the extremist politic and the threat it poses to our society and its politics - that includes a thorough investigation of the very political parties at the heart of our system; where crimes are detected, they should also be prosecuted;
- Finally, I would want to see, if a deal was accepted, a real commitment to Consumer Rights. I have previously set out how this can be achieved. If the contract we have with Society on our Consumer Rights is about to be changed, then we as Consumers need to be involved in how it will be fashioned.
The time for gimmicks, adoration and absolutism is over. We need to move beyond mantra and take possession of what the ‘Common Good’ should be for every man, woman and child in the years ahead.