Can we pick and choose to accept democracy when we like? Cllr Kieran Thorpe argues we can't....
It’s been a hectic few days hasn’t it. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hoping that the EU referendum being over would signal the start of people regaining a sense of rationality, a calming of the waters.
Instead Welwyn Hatfield saw anything but calm water on polling day as we experienced the worst floods I’ve ever seen here.
As I took to social media to urge people to go out and vote in the referendum - regardless of their intention, a local taxi bobbed about in the water at the end of my street. While the floods receded quickly, something else had only just begun to bubble up.
The nation awoke to news of ‘Brexit’ with a sense of disbelief on both sides, but for those passionate about remain, and some who voted to leave too, this quickly turned to anger and frustration.
While that is understandable given the nature of the binary referendum and the uncertainty we now face, there has been concerted calls for a “re-run” – because people didn’t vote properly, were lied to, and in some cases hadn’t realised that voting out meant we would leave the EU.
But that isn’t how democracy works.
I expected that for many people, the referendum would be their first experience in voting.
Some queried if the pen was mightier than the pencil or viewed rather inane standard polling day practice with suspicion. People voting for the first time ever cannot be a bad thing, let’s hope they continue to exercise their most fundamental right.
But I hadn’t quite counted on the idea emerging that we could simply go again.
Of course, in politics, almost anything is possible but it would fly in the face of the principles of democracy if we had another referendum just because the result isn’t what many people wanted.
Some have expressed concern people were misled by politicians. Some said many weren’t sure what they were really voting for. That may be true but it doesn’t change the result.
Perhaps I’m fortunate to have experienced electoral disappointment before. Several times in my time as I’ve gone into elections where Welwyn Hatfield could change course, elect a different kind of council with policies I believe are exactly what people want.
I commit myself to ensuring as many people as possible have information to make an informed choice, take great care to make everything clear, promise only what I know can be delivered and spend the day knocking on doors reminding people how important it is they use their vote because what they can vote for can actually make a difference to their lives.
And then the results come in, I look at ridiculously low turnouts, - most people just don’t vote at all in local elections.
I hear from people who explain they couldn’t vote for ‘that’ because of Brussels, because they were scared about “that woman from Scotland”.
Some simply forget to vote or they had to wait in for someone to come and see them that day.
When offered the chance of a postal vote “for next time” often they respond with “er… no thank you actually”.
Of course there are simply some people who just didn’t want what we had on offer or just didn’t believe us.
As a fairly pessimistic person, post election these are the thoughts I dwell upon, but I quickly realise there are important things I have to get back to that were put on hold, like sleep and proper meals.
And then I begin thinking about the next election, and how we can make Welwyn Hatfield better.
That’s democracy, offering people a choice, a chance even, and convincing them why they should take it. If they simply choose not to, that’s up to them.
The majority rules, and even if it makes you very sad indeed, if you cant respect it, you have to at least accept it.
As well as the EU result, a similar democratic crisis is taking place within the Parliamentary Labour Party.
I don’t want to get into the details, you can find that elsewhere (I think it might have been mentioned on the news a couple of times) but to simply boil it down to this.
The membership of the Labour Party voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn to be its leader only last September. He was elected with the biggest mandate, winning more votes than all other candidates combined.
And it wasn’t simply the £3 supporters that got him there, Corbyn won with the existing membership alone, not even counting the so called “Corbynistas” on top.
But now that democratic decision is almost forgotten, certainly rarely mentioned by those who trample all over it. “We need to be in touch with the electorate” they warn while ignoring the votes of their own parties members.
We need to be in touch with an electorate who have just cast their vote in the EU referendum and rightly raise concern at the idea this decision can be ignored. I cannot see how we show them we understand that while ignoring or own internal democracy.
The internet isn’t quite sure if it was Voltaire or Peter Griffin who said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
And with the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP, only two weeks ago – death is not something to make light of or bring into a political point. We need to be kinder to one another in society, we need to be more respectful of those who hold views different to our own.
And fundamentally, given it’s the system we live under that controls the very fabric of our society, we need to be a bit more respectful to democracy if we’re going to make any of this get better anytime soon.
So let’s start respecting the results of democratic decisions. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to sit there and accept it meekly. But if we go down the road of overturning it, where does that end?