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After ‘Brexit’ why is our democracy held in such contempt?

A mural depicting a Chartist demonstration. Image credit: the South Wales Argus
A mural depicting a Chartist demonstration. Image credit: the South Wales Argus
A mural depicting a Chartist demonstration. Image credit: the South Wales Argus

My Facebook feed is awash with angry arguments written by friends and friends-of-friends, all disappointed with the result of the referendum. They regret the choice of the public to grant a narrow victory to the ‘Leave’ campaign. They believe that their futures have been ruined.

Elsewhere on the Internet, a number of petitions have started in response to the referendum result. One petition is addressed to the Prime Minister and is urging him not to invoke Article 50, rendering thus the referendum result pointless. Another petition, calling for a second referendum to be held, has acquired over 2,000,000 signatures at the time of writing, gaining so many signatures at such a pace that the website crashed.

In London, people have protested against the ‘theft of their future.’  Also, there is a protest planned in York, demonstrating against the referendum result. York didn’t vote for ‘Brexit’, the protesters are saying, so the result must be changed. In short:

Losing a democratic contest doesn’t necessarily entail that the winning side was objectively right, nor that the losers should abandon their position. But some people have the nerve to contend that the result was a genuine mistake. Some of my pro-EU friends have written that they now feel embarrassed to be British. The referendum was “advisory,” others say, meaning that the government can ignore it. The elderly people who voted for the country to leave will “die before the consequences affect them,” writes another of my friends. “We didn’t vote to leave Europe but you’re snatching it away from us,” snarls one young voter in a Guardian video. There is even enough discontent in the top ranks to provoke calls for the result to be ignored. As the New Statesman and others report, the Labour MP David Lammy has demanded on Twitter that Parliament vetoes ‘Brexit’.

All of this reveals a deep, disturbing contempt for democracy, even more astonishing in a country with a tradition of fighting for democracy. Standing on the shoulders of the Chartists, the Suffragettes and others, who fought for and gave their lives in the pursuit of suffrage and democracy in Britain, many Britons today want a free, democratic decision revoked. Can it be any crazier when an MP asks for Parliament to reject the vote of the electorate? After months of ugly campaigning in which average people were treated like infants by their politicians, now the people themselves wish for over half the public’s decision to be swept under the carpet and forgotten.

Surely, ‘Brexit’ will have profound consequences, many of them negative. The fall of the pound sterling in the space of a few hours is troubling enough. But the hostility with which the democratic decision of the British public has received looks like sour grapes to me. Of course you’re fine to think that the decision of the referendum was the wrong one, but how much respect do you have for your fellow citizens if you call them callous and unthinking, selfish and bigoted, with no concern for the country’s welfare? The people who voted for ‘Leave’ aren’t all the wicked, anti-immigrant, economically-illiterate racists that people would like to imagine. How much do you care about democracy if you’re making efforts to have the result changed in favour of your opinion?

In the previous election, there was something to complain about. The electoral system, built for two parties, struggled under the weight of seven major groups. The Conservatives secured government with 36.7% of the public’s support, hardly a stunning majority. Many MPs were elected into their constituencies on piecemeal ‘majorities’. Whereas both David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn won the Witney and Islington North constituencies respectively with 60.2% of the vote, York Central’s Rachael Maskell got in with 42.4%; the Conservative Derek Thomas became MP for St. Ives on 38.3%. Alasdair McDonnell broke the record for the lowest ‘majority’, taking Belfast South’s seat on 24.5% of the vote. Representatives of UKIP, who acquired more votes than the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists put together, called for electoral reform after only achieving one seat in the House of Commons, taken by Conservative defector Douglas Carswell.

But on the 23rd of June, the public faced a binary decision – either Britain stays or goes. A record number of Britons cast their vote in, despite unfounded worries of a government conspiracy, a free and fair contest took place; one side won, one side lost. There is no evidence of fraud and the public was not coerced into committing support to either side.

Nobody in their right mind demands that the referee awards their side more goals when they lose a football match; but so many people seem to think that with petitions and action on the streets, they can overturn the decision to which the country came fairly and squarely. What an insult it is to the people who voted for Britain to leave the European Union that they should be told that their decision was so stupid and cruel, that it should be disregarded, and that they themselves are ignorant, introverted idiots.

The petitioners are the selfish ones; they show their political immaturity asking for democracy to be ignored until the public comes to the ‘right’ decision. We must act with dignity and abide with the result, directing our worries and frustrations to the future, not the past.