Brexit was not a populist vote

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One thing I’ve seen popping up time and again in the media, and in conversations at home and work is how Brexit was some kind of populist vote.

It was not.

To be populist, in the strict sense of the term, it has to:

1) be pioneered by someone who is not part of the establishment

2) claim to be representing the ‘all of the people’ in some kind of opposition to the establishment, even though, in reality it may only actually cater for a small percentage of the population

Clearly, from these definitions, the Brexit vote was not in any way populist. It was pioneered by the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who promised to abide by the result, and both sides had representatives from the main political parties campaigning for the respective votes. It was offered to the whole of the UK. Everyone took part.

So, in and of itself, Brexit was not populist. In fact, the only thing you could argue was populist about it was Nigel Farage’s comment on the day after the vote, when he said that it was a ‘victory for real people’, clearly indicating that the Leave vote represented the whole country and that somehow the 48% who voted Remain were somehow less than real.

The Brexit Party now, though, is classically populist. Nigel Farage, continuing his rhetoric from after the vote, claims to represent the country outside of London, when really he’s just representing the Brexiteers. He rails at the ‘elites’ in power, something the failure of the Conservative party to deliver Brexit thus far has only inflamed.

Mr Farage’s piece in the the Telegraph today is gloriously populist, ticking all the boxes, with a clear and simple argument (us against them because democracy has failed). The shame, I think, is that he has a point, particularly after Theresa May’s latest offer. Even though I can see the sense in a lot of what the Prime Minister is trying to do, it all feels like a bit of a mess, trying to pander to too many different agendas and satisfying none of them.

For a really good exploration of Populism, check out Jan-Werner Müller’s What is Populism.

Cuts both ways?

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One of the enduring cries from those who voted for Remain in the Brexit vote (and one the government seems to have taken the line of itself, being on the whole, pro-remain – the ‘rational’ position), is that as the vote was ‘so close’, we should respect the views of the losers too, to try to find a balance between the two viewpoints. William Hague argues just such a thing in the Telegraph this morning.

I guess the whole dogmatic democracy vs. liberal democracy debate will bubble along under any democratic system, and I would hate to paint myself as a dogmatic type, but sometimes, context matters, and it does here.

If the vote in 2016 had gone as expected and remain won, what would the remainers have done in respecting the opinion of those who lost? There’s nothing they could have done, as nothing would have changed. They would have ignored calls to reform Europe, particularly after David Cameron’s failed attempts to change things.

Leavers would have continued to voice their protest – ‘It was so close, let’s have another referendum!’ These cries would certainly have fallen on deaf ears. Dogmatic democracy would have prevailed and it would have been considered reasonable.

Yet, Leave won, and because the majority of Leave voices promptly went silent after their unexpected success, liberal democracy suddenly seemed perfectly acceptable, giving rise to the ludicrous populist situation we find ourselves in now, with those ‘out in the sticks’ beyond London feeling betrayed by their ‘elite’ masters in their crumbling edifice.

Which is a shame, because Brexit was never a populist thing (more on that tomorrow), but now we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. The Conservatives, in taking the liberal democracy approach have fluffed it up, and are now staring down the barrel of a gun they handed to the Brexit Party, which will divide their own vote and more than likely allow Labour to waltz into Downing Street.

Just goes to show, it’s not only the socialists that get hung up on rationalism to their cost.

Oh, and while I think about it, if we’d had Dominic Raab’s proposed 15% tax for the £11.5K – £45k bracket in 2017/8, it would have reduced the amount of tax by around £16 billion (down to £100.8 billion-ish from £116.8 billion-ish). Make of that what you will, but I suspect merging a few government departments wouldn’t cover it too well, although I applaud the idea of reducing tax for the lower earners.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

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One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is the human resistance to change. Time and again, no matter what our political, religious or social outlook on life, the old reptile brain creeps in at the first snifter of something new. Is it dangerous? How will it affect me? Will it hurt/kill/eat me? We’re all conservative at heart, it’s how we choose to react to these changes that defines us.

Some people will see anything as a threat. In the past, Galileo was forced to recant his affirmation that the Earth was not the centre of the cosmos. Today, remainers desperately hope for a second referendum so the loathed leavers can eat their words.

I find it sad that a group of remainers have crowd-sourced enough money to take Boris Johnson to court for the ‘lies’ he propounded in the referendum, particularly the nefarious £350m for the NHS. Last time I looked, Theresa May had already effectively fulfilled this promise last year, before we’ve even left. And why just target Boris? It smacks of witch hunt.

And where is the court case against members of the remain community, who predicted dire warnings of recession, housing crisis and more should we vote to leave (not just when we leave), and these were proved to be ‘lies’?

On Liberty

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I suppose, before I get too far into this, I had better define what I understand liberty to mean. There are many types of liberty, some truer than others (mental, spiritual, political etc.), but for the purposes of this blog, I shall stick to the simple negative freedom of not being coerced by another person.

Following on from that, I adhere to the libertarian principle that this freedom from coercion is intimately linked to each person enjoying the positive right to a private domain (house, flat, accommodation etc.) within which he or she is protected from people who would not wish them well. This private domain is fundamental to modern life. It follows a fairly conservative line, I know, but it’s what I believe to be the bedrock of a free society.

Freedom from coercion is important for many reasons, not only fundamentally does it tie in with bigger concepts such as the extended order and how a free society operates, but it also resonates on a personal level. It means that a person is ‘stress free’ and so able to function properly on a day to day basis. Obviously, there are many other things in life that can cause stress, but in my experience, coercion of any kind, whether it be bullying by individuals or organised at a state level, can be one of the most stressful things a person can experience.

As we’ll see later, stress causes things to go wrong on all sorts of ways. Remove stress and we as humans can operate better, both individually and as part of a wider community.