I’ve written a piece for the Mile End Institute on the Richmond Park by-election and how it might change British politics. At some point I may write a generic companion piece to that and many other bits of writing by me and others on ‘why this event will cause few if any changes to the way things are’. But you can assume the content of that without me writing it, I’m sure.
Last night I was at the Mile End Institute‘s first ‘In Conversation With’ where Professor Philip Cowley was talking to Gisela Stuart MP. It was an interesting discussion, though I did find a lot of her answers to direct questions annoyingly evasive and coupled with a refusal to take responsibility for anything. A case in point is that she won’t take any blame for their being no plan on the Leave side for what happened next, as that’s David Cameron’s fault, and the £350m for the NHS pledge was nothing to do with her, but she’s adamant that we shouldn’t remain in the single market because that was somehow clearly agreed in the referendum campaign.
However, there was one area where I found her arguments very contradictory. Near the start she was waxing lyrically about the wonders of the British way of government and how different it was from the continent. This included our electoral system and the ability of people to throw out governments. Now, my personal opinions on the efficacy of our electoral system differ, but let’s look at it from Stuart’s perspective. The British system effectively allows the electorate to periodically change their minds, throw out one way of doing things and bring in an entirely different way.
Which made what she said later very strange. No one should be trying to overturn Brexit, and we should all be joining her new organisation to make it happen. Suddenly, the great ability of the British system to allow people to change their minds is nowhere to be seen, and anyone trying to prevent it happening is against democracy. This is exactly what doesn’t happen in the British system, even in her view of it. The people are free to change their government, but opposition doesn’t disappear just because of the election result. One vote does not cast an eternal mandate that cannot ever be disputed, and it’s entirely within the right of anyone to question and challenge the entire Brexit process, up to an including overturning it. To argue otherwise is to argue for dictatorship, not democracy, and is a very long way from ‘taking back control’.
(And now for a quick plug and disclaimer, as the Mile End Institute is part of Queen Mary, University of London where I work, and Philip Cowley is one of my PhD supervisors. The next event in the In Conversation With series is on Monday 31st October, and will feature Kenneth Clarke. Tickets are free, and you can find more information by clicking here)