Over thirty-three millions Brits exercised their democratic right to have a say in whether Britain should remain in the EU or leave last Thursday.
But did they?
Was the Brexit vote democracy in action – or politics at its worst?
Democracy is a serious business
Democracy is a serious business – as the people of the UK were reminded last week. About eight hours after the polls in Britain had closed, Google reported that British searches for ‘what happens if we leave the EU’ had more than tripled as many ‘Leave’ voters started to come to terms with the implications of what they had done. The next day a number of ‘Leave’ voters expressed “voters’ bregret” at their decision to leave the UK – with one voter saying:
“I was really disappointed about the results. Even though I voted to Leave – this morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me.”
A few days later, and many ‘Leave’ voters were only just starting to feel outrage as they realised that they had made a serious decision about Britain’s future on the basis of promises made to them prior to the referendum. Promises such as increased funding to healthcare and greater controls on immigration – which in the stark light of post-election reality were turning out to be nothing more than election fluffery.
Democracy is a serious business. The outcomes of our democratic input have an impact on pretty much every aspect of our life – from healthcare, who we can marry, education, where we can live, how much money we have to spend right through to our food supplies, our water supplies and what happens to our environment.
And yet our politicians treat us with disdain
Democracy is a serious business – and yet our politicians treat us with disdain. They lie to us, try to scare us into believing Armageddon is around the corner and that they alone can save us. They insist that their access to information about us must be unfettered and unrestricted while at the same time working seriously hard to limit our access to information about what they are doing.
In other words – truth and access to accurate relevant information are in short supply in many western democracies today. This situation is not helped by the fact that our media is under serious threat on a number of fronts including surviving both the digital age and the influence of wealthy owners, investors and advertisers.
“Information is the currency of Democracy” (Thomas Jefferson)
In a democracy every person’s vote – their decision about an issue – is equal. But people can only be truly free to make a decision – any decision – when they are given accurate information about that decision.
We recognise the importance of having accurate information as consumers. If you go into a store and a sales person sells you an item by making inaccurate representations about what that item can do, our laws protect you. If a company advertises a product and makes misleading claims about that product, our laws protect you. If you go into the supermarket there are laws which require food manufacturers to give you information about the food you are buying so that you can make an informed choice.
In the overall scheme of things, these are relatively minor decisions – and yet we believe they are important enough to have laws which enable us to make an informed choice.
When we exercise our democratic right to vote however – our democratic right to have a say in how our country is run – this is without a doubt one of the most important decisions we make. And yet our politicians ask us to make that decision in a fact-free fear-filled zone.
The very real problem with voters being asked to make decisions in a fact-free zone is that information is democracy’s life blood. Without it, true democracy cannot exist.
The Brexit campaign – informed choice or…?
Just look at what happened recently with Brexit. On one side the Brits had ‘Leave’ advocates telling citizens they would be overrun by Syrian refugees if they didn’t leave the EU – and that leaving the EU would mean the government could provide an extra 350 million pounds for Britain’s health care system every month. And on the other side, ‘Remain’ advocates ran a campaign described by some commentators and perceived by many voters as being ‘Project Fear’.
What was clearly missing from the whole decision making process was a factual trustworthy analysis of BOTH options. How do we know that this didn’t exist? Because now that the decision for Britain to exit the EU has been made, nobody has an actual clue about what a post-Brexit Britain will look like. British voters were literally asked to vote between the status quo and an undefined politically-manufactured future.
By way of analogy, imagine you were asked to make the following decision:
- Keep your current car – which still goes, but has sporadic problems and has to keep going to the mechanic for repairs; or
- Get another unseen car – without knowing the car’s make, model, year, features and with no guarantee that the car will work better than your current car, or even work at all – but which you are promised by the salesperson will likely save you money and keep you safe from terrorists.
A sensible consumer would be skeptical about the second option and ask for more information before making a decision. And yet Brits were asked to make a serious decision about the future of their country without any real idea of what the ‘Leave’ option really entailed.
That’s not a democratic choice – it’s political fluffery pure and simple.
The Brits aren’t the only ones being fluffed
In the US, Donald Trump is the poster boy for political fluffery – ramping up the rhetoric, the lies and fear campaigns to levels that beggar belief.
In Australia, as we stare down a Federal Election this coming weekend, the lies, the scare campaigns and the frightening political hyperbole are so bad, it’s become nearly impossible to watch. Even a political tragic like myself can no longer listen to the same old catchphrases and fright-inducers that are being rolled out again and again and again. And again.
What’s the answer? It’s time we reclaim our democracy.
In the words of Alan Moore:
“People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
Seriously – it’s time we tell our pollies that enough is bloody well enough. As I wrote a few weeks back, our politicians are still living by rules of conduct from the Middle Ages – rules which allow them to behave like spoilt toddlers and lie with impunity.
It’s time we tell our politicians to come out of the Middle Ages and live in the 21st century. It’s time they lived by the same standards of conduct that the rest of us have to. It’s time we all agree that this needs to change – and make our politicians listen to us.
To quote from my previous article:
“There is a ground swell globally of people who are sick of politicians. Sick of being lied to. Sick of politicians creating greater inequality instead of greater equality. The answer isn’t electing people like Donald Trump – who pretend that they are different from those currently in power. It’s in demanding higher standards of our pollies.”
An uninformed vote is not a democratic one
Simply giving people a ‘vote’ is NOT democracy if you’re not giving them the information they need to make an informed choice regarding what they are voting about.
If politicians in Britain had been required by law to present an accurate picture of what the options for Brexit were – to apply the same standards we require of companies advertising their products – would the outcome of last week’s referendum have been the same? We’ll never know. But at least the Brits would have had the opportunity to make a truly democratic decision.
It’s time we stopped accepting this antiquted outdated behaviour from our politicians people. #ItsTime.
This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.