In the insecure void that’s followed Brexit’s big bang, the question nags: What is the point of Westminster?
Because it seems that making a case in the Commons is not the preferred option of the many, mainly new, members of the Labour Party who champion Jeremy Corbyn.
The corrosive exploits of UKIP have been achieved without any significant direct engagement in Parliament, while those wily old Tory pros have smoothly put in place a new PM and government without any reference at all to the Mother of all parliaments.
But after Brexit’s calamitous popular vote, what’s vitally required is more Parliamentary democracy, not less. Although the shoddily framed and ill-conceived referendum was approved by our House of Commons, three-quarters of our elected representatives favoured remaining.
So why aren’t all of them vigorously questioning the apparent fait accompli of Brexit (or done deal in plain Anglo-Saxon) endorsed by Theresa May? Why on earth is the Labour leader insisting that Brexit is precisely already that done deal?
It was never safe or politically healthy that a plebiscite be the appropriate instrument to decide on so complex an issue as the UK’s EU membership, even without all the spin and wilful misrepresentation of the facts.
Had the referendum been a court case, there would surely be a re-trial scheduled already. A great many of the points put to the public were, as the Electoral Reform Society points out in its report on the campaign, misleading at best, and surely inadmissible in any formal court of law.
Katie Ghose of the ERS said the EU referendum debate had been dire, with “glaring democratic deficiencies in the run-up to the vote, and the public feeling totally ill-informed.” Voters thought both sides highly negative and “the top-down, personality-based nature of the debate failed to address major policies and issues, leaving the public in the dark.”
Even if the campaign had been just a sporting event, then a replay would now be imminent because of the blatant foul play involved. Video referees would have plenty of evidence on tape, with much of its shameful content the responsibility of the broadcasters themselves.
It’s clear that many of those crucial swing voters were not well enough informed by the UK media to have real knowledge of why they were voting No, and that far too many of those involved in the referendum process were not overly concerned that they should be.
Following the Brexit poll, Simon Wren-Lewis, professor of economics at Oxford University, questioned the quality of economic reporting on offer and highlighted misleading attempts at balance.
Writing in the newsletter of the Royal Economic Society, he criticised the style of journalism ‘informing’ the EU referendum campaign, for example reporting the Brexiteers’ £350 million a week contribution figure as merely ‘contested’, long after the UK Statistics Authority had declared it “incorrect.”
Wren-Lewis quoted a colleague’s view that if a mainstream political party had declared that the earth was flat, then the media would report this as “Shape of earth: views differ!”
Had the membership question been for Parliament alone to decide, experienced MPs would – perhaps – have been better qualified and able to cut through the populism and propaganda embedded in the arguments before voting on the basis of some established facts.
Now, after the Brexit vote, and with the future of the economy and of the United Kingdom at stake, they must become more involved in the vital decisions on the country’s future.
To be already so far down the road to the EU exit door is the work of right-wing and far right politicians who’ve recklessly set the UK’s poor and dispossessed – indigenous and immigrants alike – against each other.
MPs from the middle-ground and the centre-left, in their failure to counter this and temper the bedroom tax mentality of unbridled austerity, have abetted the mass popular disillusion behind the Brexit vote.
The country may have voted to check out from the EU but there’s not yet any credible alternative destination.
It’s not too late yet for Westminster’s pro-Europeans to ensure that, even if we’ve checked out, we don’t have to leave. (And that’s before the Hotel California syndrome cuts in).