Fringe Box



Opinion: The Referendum Result Is Not A Panacea

Published on: 28 Jun, 2016
Updated on: 8 Jul, 2016

BrexitBy Martin Giles

Thirty years ago I drove, over three days, from Toronto to Halifax in Canada. It was December and as I approached Quebec City, clearly visible on the Heights of Abraham, looked European with snowfall increasing its charm.

After months of North American architecture it sparked rare feelings of homesickness. I had not realised before any sentiment as a European but it was real and I have never forgotten it.

Not that it makes me better than anyone else but I am a Surrey man, English and British too and still a European. And the UK is still a part of Europe. It always will be.

Opinion Logo 2We voted to leave the EU not Europe and my vote to Leave was not because I dislike the rest of my continent. I don’t. I have great affection for it and its people and whilst a soldier I was prepared to defend it with my life.

I am proud of the tolerance and lack of racism displayed by the vast majority of people in this country and in the next days and weeks it is especially important that we make all those who have come to our borough, to be part of our community, know that they remain welcome, accepted and valued. The vote on Thursday was not a vote against them.

For me the main issue was sovereignty. Ever since we were denied a referendum over Maastricht and the Lisbon Treaty, I felt strongly, that I wanted our government to be sovereign and in charge of all areas of this country’s policy and directly accountable for it.

Not that I, for one moment, imagine that the referendum result will be a panacea to all our problems. There will undoubtedly be difficulties ahead. Leaving the EU is a huge change and change is challenging and upsetting.

Perhaps the biggest issue to be faced is the very state of our democracy. If all we do is hand our lost sovereignty back to Westminster for politicians there to continue to act as elected dictators little will have been gained.

A real change in their behaviour is required. How many times have you heard politicians say, “We must listen to the will of the people”. They are saying it now – but do they really mean it?

This is a meant to be a democracy. The will of the people should be sovereign, even above Parliament.

The trouble is for many years in this country it has not been. We have had governments voted in to rule over us by diminishing percentages of diminishing turnouts. The disengagement between the people and politicians was obvious.

Too often winning politicians acted as if they had been given carte blanche while losing politicians’ reactions were words to the effect, “We did not get our message across.” It did not seem to occur to them that most people did not like the message, or that they should change their policies to reflect what people wanted.

Well the people have spoken in this, one person – one vote, referendum, quite clearly, in comparison with election results under our outdated “first past the post” system. We do have a majority view to leave the EU but must remain mindful and respectful of the 48% don’t agree with it.

Of course, there were misleading, exaggerated claims on both sides of the debate. It’s nothing new, in British politics unfortunately. And claims that it is all the media’s fault are also red herrings.

Probably the key voting sector, if there was one, was the working-class people in the less affluent areas of England, many of whom feel they’ve been abandoned; their aspirations limited to a minimum wage job at best or an existence on benefits. What had they to lose from a significant change?

Government after government has not done enough to replace meaningful, well-paid employment in areas outside the more affluent area of the South East (which is not all affluent, hence the vote in Kent).

Continually relying on London and the South East for the country’s economic wellbeing has been unhealthy in many ways. It has not been good for other regions and not good for the South East where there has been inexorable pressure on resources caused by increasing population.

Migration is a problem at its current level, but politicians have pushed their heads deeper and deeper into the sand on the issue following the monumental folly of agreeing to unconditional accession of the Eastern European states, accepting a ridiculous prediction that we would get 30,000 migrants from Poland.

No wonder many of us have stopped believing them.

Of course, returning all the power to the same politicians nationally will not, on its own, fix things. The failings of an electoral system which has left five million Green Party and Ukip voters represented by just two MPs, while 1.5 million SNP voters are represented by 56, is not sustainable if voter confidence is to be restored.

First past the post also fails us at a local level. The level of domination by the Conservative party at Millmead does not fairly reflect the spread of views in our borough. On top of that, some local councillors ape the behaviour of national politicians, as sure as schoolboys take their example of sporting behaviour from premiership footballers.

Unfortunately, the political behaviour imitated, spinning information, ignoring popular opinion, and breaking insincere election commitments, does nothing to restore our council’s reputation, still low after the events of the last year or so.

The referendum result is only part of the radical changes our political system at national and local level needs if it is to be restored to anywhere near the level of health we require.

Every politician must reevaluate their priorities and loyalties. Their constituents and their country, the area they represent be it constituency, county, borough or ward must come first, their party a distinct second.

And we, the electorate, the people they serve, must insist on it. We must continue to be engaged in elections to at least the level we have been during the referendum. We must make the effort. And we must stop just automatically voting for any party without understanding what they intend to do and assessing whether they really deserve our trust.

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Responses to Opinion: The Referendum Result Is Not A Panacea

  1. John Perkins Reply

    June 28, 2016 at 1:52 am

    I agree, we must replace FPTP with something better.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    This is the most insightful writing on Brexit I have yet seen.

    As one who has lived most of his life in continental Europe, including 20 years in Brussels, I had mixed feelings on the EU.

    I have seen first-hand the commitment of many of the rank and file at the Berlaymont [a Brussels Hotel] , but I have also seen the excesses and corruption of the Eurocrats, and the failure to sign off the books for so many years.

    Will we be better or worse off out of the EU? I’ve no idea, and only time will tell, but now is the time for unity and constructive ideas.

    What I do know is that GBC must tear up the Local Plan which is no longer just unfit for purpose, it is now redundant. Many of the requirements of the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework], are of EU construction, and as such, no longer have validity.

  3. John Armstrong Reply

    June 29, 2016 at 1:31 am

    Brexit is no cure all to be sure – but it is a very good start.

    What is needed now is certainty. Business needs to know; are we out? Are we staying out? Or is it all change back again as soon as politicians can organise a fiddle factor?

    It is business that will pull the nation through this period of change. The last thing business needs right now is Article 50 kicked down the road for months or years. They won’t know if they need to continue implementing new EU rules or not; or if they can expand non EU exports. It is not circumstances that inhibit business – it is the uncertainty of the circumstances.

    Parliament is about to go into it’s summer recess. How timely. Let us hope that the wind doesn’t change while they are away.

    John Armstrong is chairman of Guildford Ukip.

  4. David Wragg Reply

    June 29, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    I agree with John Armstrong. Brexit is a start, a step in the right direction, but only a start. It is good that Cameron is standing down as his negotiating skills were non-existent, and he was disingenuous.

    In 2010 he promised to help Turkey join the EU, but during the referendum campaign he promised that it wouldn’t happen soon.

    A year or two back, he said our economy was strong enough for the UK to survive whatever the outcome of the referendum, but he changed his tune while campaigning, and much of the uncertainty we now face is the result of scaremongering by David Cameron and George Osborne.

    All in all, the referendum campaign was a disgrace and neither side showed much integrity or foresight.

    “First past the post” has it faults, but it is better than proportional representation which takes the power of selecting candidates away from local parties/communities, and because a clear majority under PR is relatively rare, then leaves politicians to negotiate coalitions in which no one gets the party they voted for or its policies.

  5. Mike Murphy Reply

    June 29, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Brilliant article, very well thought out and I am very pleased that Martin Giles, as a journalist, has got to the nub of the question. Unfortunately, others, particularly, and very sadly at the BBC and ITV have taken up a position of sour grapes.

    This does not reflect well on their capacity to accept the democratic will of the UK populous.

    Maybe with our very outdated “first past the post system” of voting they are not familiar with true democracy of every vote counting. Or that once the vote has taken place all the voters are expected to accept the decision of the majority.

    Perhaps this is a valuable lesson for the Remainians to learn.

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