Sunday, 26 June 2016

The unintended consequences of our democracy

Many of us are still reeling from the UK's vote to leave the European Union - and by all accounts even those who voted to leave are having second thoughts or had secretly hoped their votes wouldn't count for anything.  Apparently some of the leave voters explained that theirs was a protest vote to send a message to the UK government and the EU. Sadly their gamble landed the whole country in a big mess and reversed a 43 year old relationship sending the world stock markets nose dived losing about $2 trillion dollars. And by all accounts for as long as there is uncertainty, the chaos will continue and it will continue to affect us all. For me, what became abundantly clear from the fact that we now have to deal with the repercussions of a British Exit caused by the Reckless, the Stupid, the Uninformed and the Xenophobic, many of whom acted on the blatant lies and the fear-mongering of those leading the "Leave Campaign", is that democracy ain't all it's cracked up to be.

To quote a friend - on why the F David Cameron would gamble with our lives and our children's future - "What the hell do we elect politicians for if it's not to make choices?" Therein lies the problem - the notion that the people should be consulted on every decision especially one so major is just absurd. The reality, as we are now witnessing it, is that we should never assume that everyone who has the right to vote, gives it the level of seriousness or solemnity that it deserves. For some people a slogan "We Want Our Country Back!" is enough to send them into fits of nostalgia about bygone days of the British Empire when their beloved nation successful managed to invade  90% of the world. For others it's those "bloody foreigners coming here and taking our jobs" despite the fact that reliable sources including the Conservative government's own reports note that employment trends have been the same for decades and that the most important factor for unemployment rates has been the economy rather than the influx of immigrants. And let's face it with an unemployment rate that has in fact fallen to 5%, we're 0.3% worse off than the US and 0.8% worse off than Germany. There are the claims about our national health service (NHS) and the strain being a part of Europe has brought on it, yet independent sources note that EU immigrants make a more positive contribution to the NHS than UK natives both in terms of the jobs they occupy and the contributions they make when they work. And then there are those who feel that we have inherited Romanian/Polish/Bulgarian criminals who have apparently brought with them a wave of crime and it's all because the EU has forced us to accept them as Europeans instead of regarding them as less desirable than our Western European pals. The reality is that national crime rates are down and they fell significantly in areas of the UK that has experienced mass immigration from eastern Europe.  There's also this claim repeated so often by Boris Johnson (the leader of the "Leave Campaign") in spite of its inaccuracy, that the EU is threatening our sovereignty because we don't get to determine everything that happens with our money and within our country. The reality, however, suggests otherwise - in fact Section 18 of the European Union Act 2011 stipulates that EU law has effect in the UK only because UK law so provides and in a 2014 case, the UK Supreme Court ruled that in the event of conflict between the country's fundamental constitutional principles and EU law, UK courts should give priority to our fundamental constitutional principles. 
But let's put fact and law aside for a moment and simplify the argument - when you join anything, be it a gym, an education institution or let's even say a religious cult, there are rules by which you have to abide in order to secure your membership or affiliation. So why would it be any different for the largest economy/trading bloc in the world? Why would we assume that we can reap the benefits - 48% of our trade in April 2016 - without adhering to the rules that go with that relationship? The even greater irony is that  many of those rules despite what the leaders who are so concerned about your welfare would have you believe, have actually benefitted the ordinary UK citizen including the numpties who voted to leave:
  1. According to a 2011 Government report, being part of the EU single market may have resulted in benefits of up to 6% higher income per capita (about £3,300 a year per household);
  2. Membership in the EU has allowed UK citizens to study, work and access social benefits in all EU countries;
  3. The EU has strict rules that requires its members to ensure the cleanliness of drinking water, and of the water in which we bathe;
  4. The EU Climate and Energy Package is a set of rules that compel EU states to meet key targets including a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency;
  5. Under EU law, it is illegal to make an employee work for an average of more than 48 hours a week; 
  6. Temporary Agency Workers Directive aims to guarantee that those hired through employment agencies get the same pay and conditions as employees in the same business doing the same work;
  7. The EU Court of Justice has ruled that individuals have the right to demand that search links remove links with personal information about them, if that information is ‘inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive’;
  8. Low cost airlines and coach companies have flourished because EU law has reduced the bureaucratic burdens imposed on them by national governments.
  9. The EU has scrapped mobile roaming charges within its borders meaning that British travellers can make a call in France without facing exorbitant and unfair roaming fees when they return home;
  10. The EU has reduced the costs for deploying high-speed electronic communications networks and investments in broadband networks supporting high-speed internet and regulation of the use of wireless technologies, such as 3G and LTE.
The claim that the EU is undemocratic because we don't get to control those who make decisions that affect our lives is the same claim that people who did not vote for the Conservative party but are being governed by them or did not vote for Brexit but now face the prospect of no longer being part of the European Union can make. It's called democracy. Just because you're outnumbered doesn't make it any less democratic. As far as the 28 member unelected EU Commission is concerned, the reality is that the country does have a say in their selection - they are nominated by their government and serve a term of five years. Simply because every Tom, Dick, Harry and Tracy of the British population isn't consulted during that term doesn't make the process undemocratic. To put it simply we elect our leaders, they make decisions on our behalf including a decision to select those who will make decisions in the EU. 

In all the Brexit hysteria, those who campaigned to leave on lies and half-truths fail to acknowledge the role Britain itself has played in the world and why many immigrants and children of immigrants have every right to claim a home in their former "motherland". That the first and third largest immigrant groups in the UK come from a former British colony (once a single nation) should come as no surprise given the fact that India and Pakistan (formerly known as the British Indian Empire) were plundered by Britain for decades with the spoils still present in British Museums and on the Queen's head, makes an even stronger case for them claiming Britain as their home. 

But beyond that, the fear of immigrants simply does not reflect the reality - there are over twice as many Irish immigrants in the UK than there are Nigerians immigrants. And despite the use by UKIP of an image of Syrian refugees arriving in their thousands, which was in fact a photograph taken of refugees arriving in Slovenia, Britain has granted asylum to just over 4000 Syrians refugees since 2011; nearly 10 times less than Germany! 

The UK referendum on EU membership proves that the brand of democracy that the Western World peddles so faithfully and so condescendingly all over the world, simply does not work without an educated and informed voting population and without an outright ban on misrepresentations by politicians campaigning for one side or another. As things stand, uninformed voters make decisions based on headlines without reading the fine print or fact checking, and the rest of the country, and because of globalisation, the rest of the world, has to deal with the repercussions. Elections are not practice runs and democracy should not simply be about one woman/man one vote - decisions that affect our economy, our future and our children's futures cannot be treated like an episode of X Factor. Now that we are faced with the reality of a British exit, even if unintended by some, that will no doubt force the EU to do some soul searching,  we can only hope that the next UK leader will do the same. At the very least when faced with the choice of gambling the country's future in exchange for a majority rule, they will ask themselves the question - should a decision of this magnitude be left in the hands of the British population? 

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