Direct and Representative

opinion

“Elections change nothing”, eh what, Herr Schäuble? In the context in which the German finance minister’s candid assessment was given, he was of course correct. The general election in Greece, which was called by Syriza during the height of the financial crisis, did in fact change nothing. Athens was always going to be blackmailed by the EU, and blackmailed indeed it was.

Nothing illustrates the point better than Schäuble’s remark: elections in a representative democracy are much ado about nothing. Indeed, it gets worse. Effectively, Schäuble and Merkel are the present grandees of the one-party system that has governed Germany since the end of the Second World War. They can be seen, as it were, merely as the highest grade of the civil service.

Electoral wild-cards can be played only in rare acts of direct democracy, such as Thursday’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The elected representatives at Westminster allowed the non-binding referendum to take place only because they were convinced that Remain would prevail. There is, apparently, a whopping all-party majority for Remain in the parliament. The fact that Leave has prevailed in the referendum will not have changed this one iota. The present situation therefore leads immediately to an obvious stand-off between representative and direct democracy.

All would be forgiven, “we shall say no more about it”, if another pro-Remain prime minister were to ’emerge’ and call a General Election in October, “to obtain a new mandate“.

The theoretical scenario is of course this. Cameron’s decision, now as caretaker prime minister, to delay triggering the EU-exit procedure until his resignation in October can be taken at face value as common caution and good sense. Nonetheless, there remains the suspicion that the delay might be cover for a national cooling-off period, during which the majority Brexiteers could be hounded and blackmailed as before, but now also punished, by the media and the international rentier-class, causing them to reflect on their collective sin. All would be forgiven, “we shall say no more about it”, if another pro-Remain prime minister were to ’emerge’ and call a General Election in October, “to obtain a new mandate“. Under such circumstances, the loaded Brexit-gun handed by direct democracy to its ‘representative’ cousin on Thursday, would simply be thrown into the Thames, which flows conveniently through Westminster. Having brought down the slightly heavier of their two collective fists on disengaged and technocratic government everywhere, the formerly enfranchised Brexiteers would have nobody to vote for.

What people want is a peaceful, secure ‘Europe of Fatherlands’, de Gaulle’s Europe des patries, and not adventures taken from the Sociopath’s Playbook.

Ironically, the Eurocrats themselves are now providing the best defence against this potential overturning of direct democracy by a ‘representative’ parliament. (Representative of whom? would then become, more urgently than ever, the principal issue.) The other more potent defence, of course, would be the now-jubilant Eurosceptics in the Conservative party. Were the people themselves to attempt a resolution on the streets — being the only space available between direct and representative democracy — they would be confronted by the police.

The ‘European Project’ of “ever more perfect (and undemocratic) union” has grown to seed. European electors know this. Charles de Gaulle, thou shouldst be with us now! What people want is a peaceful, secure ‘Europe of Fatherlands’, de Gaulle’s Europe des patries, and not adventures taken from the Sociopath’s Playbook that has been circulating for decades around the chancelleries of the West: the common currency; the invitation to Turkey; mariage pour tous; open external borders; the tyranny of Human Rights; the criminalizing of free speech.

Who launches himself pell-mell into a polling booth, raging and gesticulating, still heated beyond endurance by a rock-bottom campaign?

But to support this common-sense program immediately brings down the charges of ‘populism’, ‘xenophobia’, ‘creating division’, ‘being full of hate’ (thus, the new muslim mayor of London), ‘paranoia’, being generally ‘unhelpful’ and whipping up hysteria. Single-issue elections, referenda, are especially ‘divisive and vicious’ and so apparently should not be undertaken. But are not general election campaigns also ‘divisive’? Why not ban them, too? Who launches himself pell-mell into a polling booth, raging and gesticulating, still heated beyond endurance by a rock-bottom campaign? Nobody. In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, marks are simply laid on paper in tranquillity. Political campaigns, by their nature, are raw, not for the faint-hearted, and especially not for the morally vain, the social-signallers, or the connoisseurs of fine sentiment. Complaining about a campaign’s descent into verbal excesses, hatefulness, scaremongering, or even outright lies, is itself, like its targets, democratic speech, albeit painfully prissy. But we cannot legislate for vulgarity any more than for prissiness. There is little wonder that after decades of suppression of free opinion, there has been an explosion of foul temper in the Brexit campaign.

The aftermath of Brexit raises fundamental questions about how to treat the appalling health of Western democracy’s ageing concepts, which now find themselves in the grip of a genuinely divisive current: technocratic, global capitalism. The Brexiteers are the first to have demonstrated a practical answer — not ever closer union, but more direct democracy. The further question is then: how can patrician, disengaged, lobbied-to-death representative democracy be trained to tolerate its vulgar relation, even occasionally to visit its house?