Saturday 25 June 2016

The 2nd Referendum petition is daft

Within two days of the Brexit result being announced over two million people signed a petition on the government website calling for a 2nd EU referendum.

I'm no Brexiter

Before I get to explaining what is wrong with the petition, I'd first like to explain my own stance so that nobody is under the false impression that I'm some kind of furious Brexiter shouting down the idea because I got what I wanted and don't want to see it undone.

Before the referendum argued that Britain quitting the EU would be a massive act of self-harm. I admitted that the EU is not flawless (I can't think of a single major political or economic institution that is), but repeatedly stated the position that bailing out it now and giving the hard-right fringe of the Tory party the green light to go on a savage ideological rampage through the national economy, legal system, trade relations and constitution would be far worse than anything the EU could do to us. To me Brexit looked like a classic example of an "out of the frying pan, into the fire" scenario.

Before the referendum I also picked apart a lot of the misrepresentations, false promises and outright lies presented by the hard-right Vote Leave campaign. They were clearly a bunch of right-wing snake oil merchants selling Brexit as their cure all elixir to all of society's ills, despite knowing full well that it has been the imposition of their fanatically hard-right economic ideology since 1979 that caused most of those problems in the first place.

Redefining the terms after the event

Trying to undo the result of the Brexit vote now by quibbling over the terms of the referendum is no good after the event. It was absolutely clear when David Cameron set up the EU referendum as a simple majority decision, he was taking an extraordinary gamble with the entire future of the UK, but nobody complained about it then (well I did, but hardly anyone was listening to me because I'm just some independent blogger, with a relatively small audience).

The fact that people are only quibbling about turnout thresholds and the like now, after the event, makes the whole Remain camp look like a bunch of sore losers.

An unworkable proposition

People who have followed my work for a while might remember me trying to kick up a stink about the Tory attempts to render trade union democracy completely unworkable by imposing arbitrary turnout thresholds. The result of this forthcoming Tory attack on the trade unions will be to render an abstention a more powerful vote against the motion for strike action than an actual vote against the motion! This warped situation comes about because voting against the motion would have the effect of pushing the turnout up closer to the 50% threshold, while abstaining makes it less likely that the motion will ever pass.

The proposal this petition outlines would have precisely the same effect. The setting of an arbitrary 75% turnout threshold means that the whole thing could just be derailed if Remainers engaged in mass abstention. In fact, every Remainer who actually voted for Remain under such a system would actually be making Brexit more likely by doing so!

A better proposition

Specifying 60% of the vote on a 75% turnout equates to demanding the backing of 45% of the registered electorate. It's clear that saying 45% of the public should back the motion to have it pass is a much fairer way of specifying the same thing, because setting it up that way wouldn't enable mass abstention spoiler tactics from people who favour the status quo.

There's nothing undemocratic about specifying a threshold like this, if fact people have argued that it's actually far more democratic because it prevents just 36% of eligible voters enforcing massive changes on the rest of society, as just happened in the Brexit referendum.

But it's still too late

The result is in now. Unless the petition ends up getting even more signatures than the number of people who actually voted for Brexit, it's highly unlikely to achieve anything, except looking like a massive bunch of sour grapes from sore losers.

The people who were willing to sup toxic snake oil from the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage and the Tory bankrolled Labour Leave mob got their way.

It's not going to be pleasant for a lot of people because belief that the UK is due to become a bed of roses for everyone just because we quit the EU would be over-optimistic enough at the best of times, but when there's a fanatically right-wing government in power, and one that's highly likely to lurch even further to the right, then it's absolutely delusional.

It's even more delusional to continue believing in such fantasies when the hard-right Brexit politicians have already begun backtracking on all their lies about how Brexit would mean more funding for the NHS and cuts in immigration.

Things are going to get a lot worse for a lot of people, but signing sour grapes petitions isn't going to help. The only way to help now is by getting actively involved in opposition to the Tory government and trying to obstruct their inevitable right-wing ideological rampage at every turn.

Sign the petition if you feel like it, but it's prescription is clearly anti-democratic because it creates the opportunity for abstention spoiler tactics, so I won't be signing it.

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