I know many of you are still hurting from what happened last Thursday; still trying to absorb its meaning. I think I’ve discovered what for me at least was the most positive thing about the general election result: it brings us back to representative democracy again, finally ditching the ill-conceived flirtation with direct democracy we have been living with for the past three and a half years.
This may be little comfort when the party that has just won an election is one you dislike or even despise, but hear me out. One of the things that has infected UK politics since June 2016 has been this clash between direct and representative democracy, with direct democracy often being given the greater nod by both the public and the media. The Leavers began to treat the referendum result as if it was the ultimate democratic event for all time, one that trumps every other election that has ever been and will ever be; Remainers played the same game for the most part, campaigning for a second referendum. It was as if we had changed the entire constitution without anyone being consulted.
This brought with it a clash between what parliament wanted and the referendum result. I have always been clear: if there is ever a clash between direct democracy and representative democracy, representative democracy should always win. Always. I don’t care how precious your referendum is to you, parliament is sovereign in this country. Yet I seemed to be in the minority in thinking this.
Thankfully, that’s all done. The general election result is like King Henry VII marrying Elizabeth of York; it has united the warring factions and ended the conflict. Representative democracy and direct democracy are no long at war with each other and it is hard to see the same crisis happening ever again. No one will ever be stupid enough to call a referendum on something they actually don’t want to happen ever again, surely.
Last week, the Conservative party ran on a platform to take us out of the European Union and won a large majority. So, that’s what they are going to do. And the best thing about representative democracy? I don’t have to like the fact that we’re leaving the EU, nor do I need to stop voicing the fact that I don’t like it. In a representative democracy, the minority can keep arguing for what it feels to be correct. They can shout as much as they want about how we should remain in the EU, if that’s what they want to do. Eventually, we have another election and parliament gets to decide what happens based on the result. If the minority doesn’t become a majority, they can try arguing for what they want again, in a different way, or they can decide the public will never like what they like in great enough numbers and call for something else instead. Everyone gets to decide what they think is right and argue for it; no one needs to bend to some abstract and unhelpful idea of the “will of the people”. Now that the Tories have won the election, do we expect all Labour supporters to pack it in and become Conservatives? Of course, we don’t; in fact, we rely on a strong opposition to make democracy function properly.
Which brings me to the other thing that I think I can say is a positive about this result: at least we didn’t have to endure another referendum on Europe. It would have been horrible, whatever the result. If at some point in the future we ever do have another referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, let’s have after a political party has won an election on wanting explicitly to be back in and only use the referendum as a check. Otherwise, please, let’s steer clear of referendums from now on. They clearly don’t work in Britain and only sow division. Representative democracy is so much better. Even when – and perhaps especially when – your side doesn’t win.