The Demise of Democracy

by Raúl Ilargi Meijer


Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian man c1510Leonardo wrote: “Vitruvius, architect, writes in his work on architecture that the measurements of man are distributed in this manner”:

The length of the outspread arms is equal to the height of a man.
From the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of the height of a man.
From below the chin to the top of the head is one-eighth of the height of a man.
From above the chest to the top of the head is one-sixth of the height of a man.
From above the chest to the hairline is one-seventh of the height of a man.
The maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of the height of a man.
From the breasts to the top of the head is a quarter of the height of a man.
From the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of the height of a man.
From the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of the height of a man.
The length of the hand is one-tenth of the height of a man.
The root of the penis [Il membro virile] is at half the height of a man.
The foot is one-seventh of the height of a man.

 

 

It’s almost silly to write anything on Brexit right now, because at right now+1 everything may have changed again. But almost silly is not the same as completely silly. At this point, whatever the outcome will be, it will serve to ridicule the idea and image of the UK as a functioning democracy. Something that ironically all participants in the Kabuki theater claim to be intent on preventing.

Both major parties -and supposedly other politicians too- say that “not respecting” the result of the Brexit referendum would imperil democracy. But “respecting” it at all cost will imperil it just as much, if not more.

On June 23, 2016, people voted on the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” But nobody knew what they were voting for, and that’s reflected in today’s lack of agreement on what Brexit means, almost 3 years after the vote.

People had been inundated with promises about what Brexit would mean, especially from the Leave side, anxious to paint a vision of a wealthy country ‘finally’ able to sign it own trade deals with the world, free from compulsory contributions to Brussels. But none of these things were facts, they were promises, most of whom have so far turned out to be empty.

The notion that it is the summit of democracy to make people vote on things they don’t understand (because no-one can tell them) is a curious one. And it’s perhaps even more curious to maintain that voting when people have a better idea of what their vote will entail is undemocratic. That would open a “chasm of distrust”, is the claim. In reality that chasm has long been opened, just by the behavior of politicians.

What is happening as we speak is that politicians are free to turn on a dime – and do just that- when it comes to who or what they elect to support, but people are not. And that is being presented, by both left and right, as -more- democratic. They would like you to believe this is how a democracy should function, but none of that is cast in stone. It’s just another idea.

Underlying this idea about democracy is undoubtedly to some extent the fear of violent reactions from the Leave side if there were to be a second referendum, or if Brexit gets postponed “too long”. But do they really expect the country to accept all this cattle trading lying down, where MPs scramble to find something, anything that is accepted by a narrow margin, and that narrow margin will be used to push through Brexit, which itself was voted through by a narrow margin?!

That’s a serious question that no-one seems to ask: do they believe the 6 million people who have signed an anti-Brexit petition, and the over 1 million who marched in London on March 23, and who may come out in even larger numbers on the 30th, to remain peaceful after having witnessed how their interests are being squandered by politicians jockeying for position?

 

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, the Leave side got 17,410,742 votes (51.89%) while Remain got 16,141,241 votes (48.11%). That’s awfully close. In most jurisdictions it would be impossible to hold a vote with so much potential impact on a country, on its legal system, its trade etc., with such margins. Often if not mostly, a 2/3 majority would be needed to make such drastic changes.

There are solid reasons for such legal requirements. Many people would summarize them as guaranteeing the quality of a democracy. To name an example, one would expect a potential petition to get rid of Britain’s royal family to not be decided by just one vote either.

But that’s what is very much possible in the case of Brexit. If one of the 8 indicative votes held in Parliament had gotten a one vote majority, it could have dictated the way forward. The same is true for Theresa May’s deal, even after suffering two historically large losses in the house. Boris Johnson left government because of it, then said he’s sign up anyway, and the day after did a 180º again. Is it that strange that a democracy would want to build in a few safeguards against such shenanigans?

 

But perhaps most of all, what other countries would turn to much sooner when mired in a mess such as Brexit under May has become, is a national government. Because that is the ultimate instrument to make sure your democracy functions. Provided it’s executed in good faith. Such a government need not consist of -only- politicians either. Which fits in nicely with the anonymous comment from the Guardian that I posted under the title The Failure of Party Politics earlier this week:

We are no longer able to govern, we cannot lead and we cannot decide. We must return the question of our place in the world back to the people and once that’s done we must dissolve this house and our parties and a new slate be mined because right now not one of us is fit to stand in this place and claim leadership of this disunited kingdom.

Drag the UK out of the EU on 1 or 2 votes now, after almost 3 years of chaos and incompetence, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up with more chaos, at least some of which will not have a peaceful character. In order to prevent that from happening, take a step back and start talking to each other. In a venue other than that Parliament, because it has failed the people.

You can renege on May’s article 50 decision and continue in the EU, just with a lot of broken trust. But push through May’s contorted plans today and you’re stuck outside pretty much forever. There’s a lot wrong with the EU, and there’s little wrong with the idea in itself of leaving it, but people didn’t vote to Leave only to get stuck with even more incompetence than they had with Brussels. And chances are they simply won’t accept it.

So forget about your party politics, that system is dead regardless of any outcomes, you’ve just shown that day after exasperating day. Get a group of judges and lawyers and business people and people from all walks of life together and start a national conversation based on trust. You’re not going to like any of the alternatives.

By sticking to the Brexit process as it’s been developing up to this point you’re not guaranteeing democracy, you’re guaranteeing its demise.

NB: I fully expect you to continue as you have. I have good friends who live in the UK, and many readers, but it’s not where I reside, so it’s not really any skin off my back. But you guys hurt my eyes. As I wrote earlier today: Sometimes I wonder what John Lennon would have said.

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