Friday, 10 June 2016
"Take back our democracy" is one of the major themes of the "Leave" campaign in our referendum on membership of the European Union. So you would think they would be delighted when the deadline for voter registration was extended to enable those frustrated by the crashing of the on-line registration system on Wednesday night to get on to the register.
Not at all. The Brexit obsessed Daily Express's headline yesterday screamed "Outrage at bid to rig EU vote." I wonder who they think was outraged? Surely anyone anxious to "take back our democracy" would be delighted to welcome any measure designed to produce a more complete electoral register.
This is, of course, transparent hypocrisy. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the "late registerers" are young and overwhelmingly more likely to vote for "In" rather than "Out." Had the boot been on the other foot the Express would be screaming for the registration deadline to be extended to the eleventh hour (which is, I believe, actually possible. I wonder why we don't do it?)
In order to check the headline, which I glanced at briefly in the newsagent's (run by an Asian from Malawi) yesterday, I looked at the Express's website. It is full of bile and luridly-described misinformation, mostly related to alleged dangers of immigration. Sadly I suppose most of their readers believe it.
In a fascinating post on 9th June Oxford economist Simon Wren-Lewis quotes someone called FlipChartRick who has analysed support for one side or the other by educational attainment. The lead of Remain over Leave for graduates is over 75%, for those with "A" levels or equivalent over 15%, but for those whose highest attainment is GCSE (the 16+ "leaving certificate") -30%
By newspaper readership, as you'd expect for Guardian readers the Remain lead is over 75%, even for Times (a Murdoch paper) readers nearly 25%, but for Express readers more than -50%.
In an article in the June edition of Prospect the philosopher A C Grayling asks us to "recall the remark often misattributed to Winston Churchill about democracy; that the strongest argument against democracy is five minutes of conversation with the average voter. The reason is not far to seek : this notional being is too likely to display paucity of information, short term views, self-interest, limited concern for unknown others, impatience with detail, and emotionally-based preferences and antipathies for this vague standpoint or that , and for this political personality or that."
Grayling goes on to say: "The deficits and dangers of direct democracy are easy to describe, at their extreme: if we had daily knee-jerk referenda on topics of the day, bodies would likely be swinging from lampposts."
That is why I favour representative democracy (though our MPs are not entirely devoid of the failings Grayling describes for the above "notional being.") Referendums (the preferred plural decided by our classically-educated civil servants for the 1975 referendum) should have no part in our democracy, and it is criminal culpability for Cameron to have gambling the future of our country in what has turned out to be a futile attempt to protect his party from despoliation by UKIP