Today we hail Athenian democracy as a model example of the perfect political system. However, when the Athenian people gathered in their town squares to raise their hands in favour or not in favour, they were voting on whether to maintain food supplies, whether to expand the military, whether to raise or spend funds — simple issues. These elections were also regular; voting was a part of daily life …
Unfortunately the same does not apply today. And that is why I would argue that the Brexit vote should never have happened. Brexit is a classic example to demonstrate the majorly overlooked drawbacks of direct democracy and referendum use. These drawbacks are now a much greater issue than they were 2000 years ago, with misrepresentation of the facts, the media’s influence, and corruption within politics magnifying just about everything.
First and foremost, we have an uninformed electorate. Brought up time and time again, this is now a more prominent issue than ever before. Make people more informed! Educate people! the democrats cry. But this does not work; there are realms of information available, but still people turn up to the polling station on referendum day and base their decision off what they read on the front page of the Sun with their morning coffee. Not everyone — but too large a proportion of the population.
General elections are somewhat different, because people vote for a party — it’s undeniably simpler; pick the party whose policies align most closely with your own views. With something like Brexit, or devolution, or our electoral system, the reality — which some find quite difficult to swallow — is that the public are not educated enough on political issues to come to a genuinely informed decision.
Furthermore, in Athens, people voted weekly — they were forced to be informed, because they constantly had to be making decisions. By contrast, many of the people who voted in the Brexit referendum had either never voted in a referendum or had done so only once or twice before in their lives. A decision made by the people isn’t necessarily the best decision, if it is made by people who don’t fully understand what they’re voting for. A second referendum, as some have proposed, would not solve the problem either. Something such as leaving the EU is just too complex an issue to be placed in the hands of the electorate.
I don’t know the answer. I don’t know anyone who does. Theresa May certainly doesn’t know the answer. Nor does Boris, nor does Juncker, nor Sturgeon. But the fact remains that a group of politicians with degrees in Politics or History from some of the top universities in the country are probably more likely to come to the ‘right’ decision than we are. Just quietly, that’s probably why 75 per cent of MPs were not in favour of leaving the EU.
Moreover, before Brexit became a ‘thing’, most people had never even considered the concept of cutting ties with the EU. People felt obliged to have an opinion on it, because it dominated party policy, it was splashed across the headlines and it was all anyone talked about. Cameron dragged us into a ridiculous situation — and for him of course, it was all about winning the next election.
I was a Brexiteer at the time; to me, it seemed that what was important was taking back control of our courts and our laws. But that was probably just a sound bite — now, I’m questioning my previous conviction. And this just proves my point, really. If someone like me, who (hopefully) knows a bit about politics, admits that they didn’t really know enough about the issue to have a truly informed opinion, what hope is there for the rest of the nation?
The millennials claim they want to protect the UK for future generations, and ensure Britain remains the hub of multiculturalism that it is today. The older generation claim they want to take back control of our borders, our courts and our nationality. Who knows who’s right?
Either way, David Cameron should never have called a bloody referendum, and I hope that right now he’s squirming with guilt and regret.