Neo’s posts over the last two days are a reminder of what we had forgotten for a long time- that democracy as we have known it in America and Western Europe is a fragile creation. Today in the UK three judges ruled that the Government could not use the Royal prerogative to move straight to ‘Brexit’ without a vote in parliament. This was a right for which the English Civil War was fought; it was on that issue that the last of the male Stuarts monarchs lost his throne; it was on it that the 13 Colonies revolted. Parliament is sovereign. The outrage from the Brexiteers puzzles me. What is it about this they fail to grasp? As might have been expected in the sort of politics Neo has been describing, we get straight into conspiracies – this is an attempt by ‘the elites’ to ‘steal’ the results of the referendum.
But the referendum was actually an advisory one. The Government could have chosen to say ‘thank you, but no thank you, the result is too narrow’, but the then Prime Minister chose not to. Back in the 1970s when the Callaghan government ran a referendum on Scottish independence parliament insisted that only a two-thirds majority would suffice for such a major constitutional change, which meant that although a bare majority voted for independence, Scotland did not become independent. It is not uncommon for important changes to demand more than a narrow majority, not least in view of the fact that there is always a portion of the electorate which fails to vote.
Parliament now has to do its duty – and the folly of the referendum as a tool of governance is exposed. MPs are sent to the House as representatives, not delegates. We ask them to exercise their best judgment. Those who loudly demand they vote with the majority in the late referendum seem either ignorant of this, or think it does not matter; it does, as does not deciding things by Royal fiat. The will of the people is expressed constitutionally through an elected parliament with a revising chamber in the form of the House of Lords. That is how British democracy works and has worked for many years. Referenda are blunt instruments, and whatever the shortcomings of parliamentary democracy, they are as nothing compared to those of referenda.
In terms of the Church and the Faith, it would not matter if every bishop pronounced heresy, and every Catholic received it – it would still be heresy. Orthodoxy is not decided by a referendum, but by a settled consensus of the faithful which stretches back to the Apostles. If every Catholic theologian and a majority of the laity declared their vote for women priests it would not matter – the Church has no power to ordain women, even as it has no power to declare that Christ is just a very good man. But here we are dealing with revealed Truth. This may be why so many moderns have trouble with the Church – it speaks clearly of truth in a world where everything is relative. Everything, that is, save the opinion of a slender majority – that, it seems, is infallible. It was not upon such a principle that secular democracy was founded. It may be on it that it founders though; we shall see.