Monday, 15 February 2016

Vision for the UK - based on Democratic Consent

Democracy is at the heart of true self-government

Democracy, from the greek words "demos" (people) and "kratos" (power) literally means power to the people.  Abraham Lincoln famously referred to "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" in the Gettysburg address in 1863. Less well-known is that the phrase originates from John Wycliffe in the prologue to the first English language Bible in 1384, as described in Daniel Hannan's telegraph article.

The vision statement from Leave HQ states with clarity that self-government is the primary aim of the  progressive Leave campaign, but also that democracy is at the heart of true self-government.

The EU is essentially un-democratic not just because of the structure of its political institutions, but also because there is no unified European "demos" or people.  Democracy is entrenched within the nation state rather than in a European identity. The EU's own White Paper on European Governance identifies this fundamental deficit, as discussed at EU Referendum blog with a link to a full critique.

But it must also be recognised that while the UK has a clearly identifiable "demos", a democratic deficit exists here as well.  The fact that so much of our national governance has been surrendered by our politicians without our consent is testament to that. Many people and communities in the UK feel Government is remote and immune to their views - they feel that there is an establishment elite in the Westminster "bubble" who talk to themselves alone.

If the EU Referendum's primary question is whether the UK should be self-governing by democratic consent, it follows that leaving the EU must also be a catalyst for change in the UK. Fellow blogger RobSanderson discusses this hereA more direct form of democracy that engages and empowers the whole UK public must be part of our vision for the UK.

EU Referendum: Both sides are talking past each other

The EU Referendum should be an example of direct democracy which engages the whole UK public. Democratic consent is thus gained for the outcome. Regrettably, the poor quality of media coverage and the respective mainstream campaigns is visible evidence of the the UK's democratic deficit. This results in an obscuring of the primary question (who governs) and a failure to inform and engage the electorate.

In a previous post, I referred to a study on EU Referendum polling undertaken by the Nat Cen think tank. Nat Cen warn that "the two sides are often talking past each other rather than engaging in a debate on the merits of their respective cases."  I've summarised the results of their analysis below:
Remain Voters: worried about economic impact, not convinced by immigration 
73% worried that Leaving EU would harm the economy.
68% convinced jobs would be lost.
56% believe UK would not be able to control immigration even if we did leave.
Leave Voters: believe no negative economic impact, motivated by immigration 
91% believe we would be better off (59%) or no different (32%) economically
67% insist immigration cannot be tackled while inside the EU.
92% want an Australian-style points based system for EU immigration.
The study by Nat Cen draws on Lord Ashcroft's polling of 20,000 people on their EU Referendum views. Ashcroft has also commented that undecided voters feel a weight of responsibility for future generations but feel under-informed and hence ill-equipped to choose. Undecided voters want to know what the future holds if we stay or leave, but at present see no clear vision articulated.

The Remain campaign - the voice of the establishment telling us to be afraid

The Remain campaign is very much the voice of the political establishment & metropolitan elite advocating the "status quo" - even though there is no status quo on offer.  There is no attempt to establish a vision of the UK's future inside the EU as it accelerates towards fiscal and political union.

The strongest supporters of the EU never wanted a referendum - they regard the electorate as insufficiently informed or enlightened to be entrusted with such a decision. Now that we have a Referendum, the Remain campaign seem set on trying to scare us into staying with dire warnings of our fate should we choose to be a self-governing nation.

Immigration concerns are typically dismissed as "xenophobia", although the Remain campaign seemed happy to stoke fears over the Calais security arrangements (groundless fears, as confirmed by French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve and as discussed by fellow blogger WhiteWednesday).

The Leave campaign - the voice of populism

In contrast, the Leave campaign seems to be based on an overtly "populist" approach. There is talk of how much money we will save in EU contributions, even though our net contribution to the EU for 2014 was £9bn, only just over 1% of total Government spending.

There is much talk of the immigration issue, but no clear explanation of  what would be implemented in practice - leading many undecided voters to conclude that nothing will change in any case.  There is no recognition that the UK public as a whole have a nuanced and balanced view on immigration. The majority see pros & cons in immigration.  Free Movement is popular for the opportunities it provides: visa-free travel; working/studying/retiring abroad.

Most importantly, there is a blase approach to the economic risks, which is clearly a source of anxiety for undecided voters and those leaning towards Remain. While there are a lot of people who don't really care for the EU, and agree that the UK should be self-governing, they will not vote Leave if they perceive there is significant economic risk. They will balance the tangible risk of economic pain versus what they see as the comparatively intangible threat of a future United States of Europe.

Regrettably, the current mainstream Leave campaigns seem content to repeat a message that only satisfies their core support.

The Leave campaign's challenge -  provide a credible vision

For the Leave campaign to win democratic consent in the Referendum, it will need to break out from its comfort zone. It must provide a credible vision of the UK outside the EU that appeals to and reassures a wide spectrum of opinion. There seem to 3 areas emerging in the debate that will need to be addressed :

1) Economy. In EFTA EEA (aka the "Norway" option) , we have a tangible example of life outside the EU with full Single Market access, i.e. risk-free. EFTA EEA is not perfect and should not be considered the peak of an independent UK's ambition, but EFTA EEA would be a huge improvement on current EU membership or Cameron's proposed reforms. This should be used to demonstrate how poor the Remain options are, as well as exposing David Camerons dishonesty. EFTA EEA could also provide a starting point for agreeing a new relationship with the EU.

2) Immigration.   A successful Leave campaign will have to look at all aspects of immigration and describe a practical approach broadly in line with moderate UK opinion. The Remain campaign will try to portray the Leave campaign as single-issue with undertones of xenophobia - the Leave campaign will need to ensure it maintains a moderate message with broad appeal to avoid this trap.

3) Security & UK's place in the world. Cameron will place "security" at the heart of the campaign to Remain.  However, NATO and our shared intelligence with USA, Australia, Canada & New Zealand ("the five eyes") provides more re-assurance than the prospect of President Juncker's euro-army. Article 34 of the Lisbon treaty reduces UK's role in international forums to that of a proxy for the EU. The UK regaining its voice in the international arena and being free to form alliances as it sees fit provides a strong case for Leaving the EU.


The Leave campaign's central message is that the UK should be self-governed by direct democratic consent. Contrasting this with the alternative of being subject to "government in Brussels" by the supra-national EU provides a simple, powerful message and choice. The ability of the UK to govern itself (the world's 5th largest economy, 4th military power, leader in soft power) is not in doubt.  The prospect of a new politics based on direct democracy - an empowering of the people - also underpins the progressive case for Leave.

However, to achieve democratic consent to Leave the EU, the Leave campaign needs to reach beyond its core vote. It will need to provide a credible vision of life outside the EU, in order to persuade and reassure a broad swathe of the UK electorate. Leave campaigners must rise to the challenge, engage with the wider UK electorate and revive democracy (or people-power) in the process.

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