Nicholas’ post on democracy prompted some thoughts which I had imagined would provide a comment, but which have grown into a post. There are, to be sure, some odd things about the recent UK referendum. In the first place it was an advisory referendum; there was nothing in the legislation which bound the government to abide by the result. The atmosphere in which the campaign was carried on clearly convinced David Cameron that he had no choice but to go, and it was equally clear to his successor that she had the same lack of choice. The fact that the political establishment ran their campaign on ‘operation fear’ was one of the things which poisoned the campaign, and it should have been clear to those who ran it that if they lost, they’d find themselves in a difficult situation, since the real harm they feared would not happen for some time. It was the height of irresponsibility not to plan for what might happen if the Brexiteers won. For these two reasons alone, the political establishment deserved censure. It is not the job of the Government to ignore clear and present dangers. Who knows, the effort needed might have thrown up some of the troubles we are now beginning to encounter. It may be that I was not listening when there were serious discussions about the implications of a Brexit vote for the future of the UK, especially Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Those who found themselves in the minority have been loud in their condemnation of the dishonesty of the Brexit side, not least the implication that the money which was being spend on the EU could be spend on the NHS. They have a point. But as I have already said, so do those condemning the tactics of the ‘Remain’ side. This points us, as does the way the American presidential election campaign has been run, in the direction of some real doubts about the democratic process. It relies upon a number of thing which, as Nicholas pointed out, we no longer have – shared values, shared assumptions about the ‘good life’ and a shared assumption that this world is not all there is and that one day we shall all stand in God’s presence to be judged. We get some trace of what this meant in Kipling’s ‘Epitaph for a dead statesman’:
The implicit answer is ‘none’. On both sides of this debate, as in the USA now, politicians have lied and are lying ‘to please the mob’. But ‘the mob’ is less and less convinced by the lies, which is why they are becoming more and more blatant. Goebbels was correct when he told Hitler that if you were going to lie, make it a big one, because people would more easily believe it.
We are seeing now where this leads. Mrs Clinton’s supporters will vote for her come what may. That she has lied, lied and lied again about a whole array of things matters not, she is their candidate. The same is true of Mr Trump’s supporters. Is he a vulgarian, is he crude and are some of his idea (the wall for example) not just mad, but unpleasantly so, who cares, he is their candidate.
This is politics as team sport. People back their teams come what may.
Yet, as we are seeing in the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, there are some knotty realities which will need untangling. But there is no sign that anyone is going to get behind a national effort to do what needs to be done – quite the opposite, with politicians on all sides jockeying for personal advantage. It may be that I am too harsh, and that beneath this appearance of playing politics as though it were a game, there is a deep seriousness hidden; but if so, it is in deep cover. Democracy depends, in the end, on the notion that the majority are right; but what if they are not?