By Mike Hume
Back in the 18th century, political reformer Henry Fox was advocating giving the vote to more people. But only, he insisted, to what he called ‘the better sort’. Not ‘the mob or the mere dregs of the people’. Heaven forbid!
Now, in the 21st century, such derogatory sentiments about ‘the people’ are dangerously back in fashion — ever since they dared vote for Brexit in Britain, and for Donald Trump in the United States.
Questions are being asked in high places about whether ordinary voters are fit to make decisions on major issues.
'Back in the 18th century, political reformer Henry Fox was advocating giving the vote to more people. But only, he insisted, to what he called ‘the better sort’. Not ‘the mob or the mere dregs of the people’. Heaven forbid!'
As a result, democracy — the cornerstone of our way of life — is being undermined, its very survival put at risk. Its modern enemies are mustering from all corners — but most worryingly from the Left, the very area where its stoutest defenders should be.
As a long-standing person of the Left, I fear that democratic freedoms are now in danger of being abandoned as elitists in our midst attempt to restrict them.
Every serious politician and thinker declares his or her belief in democracy. Yet, in practice, they seek to separate power from the people. The mantra has become ‘I’m a democrat, of course, but …’
Over Brexit, this profoundly insidious attitude was exemplified by John Major, former Tory prime minister, who denied the referendum result was binding and declared: ‘The tyranny of the majority has never applied in a democracy.’
Some of us might naively have imagined that majority rule was the very essence of democracy. But not, it seems, when millions vote against the wishes of a tiny political elite.
'Now, in the 21st century, such derogatory sentiments about ‘the people’ are dangerously back in fashion — ever since they dared vote for Brexit in Britain, and for Donald Trump in the United States'
It was, of course, George Orwell in his 1945 novel Animal Farm, who described how ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’
Fast-forward to today and we find many Remainers similarly convinced that anyone who voted to leave the EU is too stupid to have the vote. The response was the same in America when voters failed to elect Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s victory, one U.S. professor declared, was ‘the dance of the dunces’, the result of ‘uneducated, low-information white people’ being given the vote. He added: ‘Democracy is supposed to enact the will of the people. But what if the people have no clue what they’re doing?’
The fury against the 17.4 million UK voters who dared to back Brexit — and the 62 million Americans who had the temerity to vote for Trump — brings frightening anti-democratic poisons bubbling to the surface of our societies.
The sheer bile that erupted from political and cultural elites in Britain after the Brexit vote revealed a deep-seated contempt for the people and for democracy. The Establishment reacted as if the ground had disappeared from beneath their feet. How could this have happened?
After all, the Remain campaign had marshalled every authority in the Western world to warn that a Leave vote would lead to economic ruination, a descent into barbarism, world war and, worse, falling house prices.
The people had been told to vote Remain by leaders of all Britain’s mainstream political parties, the governor of the Bank of England, the Chancellor of Germany, the then President of the U.S., and every celebrity from David Beckham to Johnny Rotten.
Yet a majority of voters actually disobeyed!
In the eyes of the Establishment, the only possible explanation was that those millions were simply too ignorant, uneducated, gullible, bigoted or emotional to understand what they were being told.
What is curious is that those from the liberal and Left wings — the ones who claim to be most in favour of change in the UK — were most upset.
'As a result, democracy — the cornerstone of our way of life — is being undermined, its very survival put at risk'
But instead of trying to understand, the response of many was to dismiss the result as merely a ‘howl of rage’ by voters who must have taken leave of their senses — and to find ways to block it. The Guardian paper, alleged voice of liberal Britain, produced an official post-referendum T-shirt that declares: ‘Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.’
Its columnist Polly Toynbee, grande dame of British liberalism, demanded that 231 Labour MPs — 70 per cent of whose constituencies voted for Brexit — must ‘save us’ from the referendum result. In the name of ‘democracy’, of course.
Such responses let slip the mask and revealed the ugly fact that this country’s political elite believes that matters of government are far too complex and sophisticated to let the governed decide.
For the record, I voted Leave with passion, but my attack is not aimed at the 16.1 million who voted to Remain. They made a rational choice, just as the Leavers did. The difference is that most Remainers now accept the result, unlike elitists such as Tony Blair or Richard Branson — or their poster girl Gina Miller, the City financier who led the court challenge, declaring that the revolting voters’ verdict ‘made her physically ill’.
The reaction from those on the Left was the same when the American electorate handed Trump the keys to the White House.
'The fury against the 17.4 million UK voters who dared to back Brexit — and the 62 million Americans who had the temerity to vote for Trump — brings frightening anti-democratic poisons bubbling to the surface of our societies'
He had been denounced as a disgrace to U.S. politics not only by the political establishment and the media but also by alpha intellectuals Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Madonna, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. How could Americans resist being dazzled by such a star-studded appeal, you might think?
Yet more than 62 million Americans did just that. They voted Trump in — to the consternation of every ‘liberal’ voice in the land. On campuses, students held protests and college authorities offered counselling and time off to ‘grieve’, as if they were victims of a tragic disaster.
Personally, I have no truck with the illiberal, free-speech-stomping, narrow-minded Trump. But what I don’t get is their astonishment and hysteria at what happened.
After the election, everybody suddenly started asking: ‘How could they vote for him?’
But it should not have been difficult to get a sense beforehand of the growing anger against the political elite among the voters Clinton branded ‘deplorables’.
It was just that nobody had ever bothered to ask those ‘deplorables’ what they thought. The underlying problem in the UK, the U.S. and other Western societies is that politics and public life have increasingly become the preserve of a self-regarding elite of officials, opinion formers, intellectuals and so-called experts. They treat ‘ordinary people’, the masses, as outside of politics and beyond the pale, their concerns marginalised and ignored.
'After all, the Remain campaign had marshalled every authority in the Western world to warn that a Leave vote would lead to economic ruination, a descent into barbarism, world war and, worse, falling house prices'
The Brexit vote marked a revolt against the ‘enforced conformity’ preached by this elite. That it came as such a shock to them was a sign of how little contact they had with the real world. And still many of them don’t get it.
In the Left-wing New Statesman magazine, Professor Richard Dawkins, the leading evolutionary biologist and renowned humanist was unable to suppress his true feelings that the large slice of humanity who voted Leave were ‘stupid, ignorant people’. He protested that ‘it is unfair to thrust on to unqualified simpletons the responsibility to take historic decisions of great complexity and sophistication’.
Presumably such decisions would be better left to highly intellectual minds such as his own. Great atheist that he is, he appears to think the rest of us should have blind faith in people like him.
Meanwhile, the normally unflappable ‘leading man of the Left’, philosophy professor A.C. Grayling, wrote to every MP (apparently in the name of his students), demanding that they vote to ignore the result — which he said was driven by mere ‘demagoguery and sentiment’ — and remain in the European Union.
His extraordinary contention was that the majority of people are what he called ‘System One’ thinkers, who make decisions on impulse — and that what we need is to pay more heed to ‘System Two’ thinkers, who seek information, analyse it, and weigh arguments in order to come to decisions. People similar to him, presumably.
'The Brexit vote marked a revolt against the ‘enforced conformity’ preached by this elite. That it came as such a shock to them was a sign of how little contact they had with the real world. And still many of them don’t get it'
Thankfully, not all clever people took this anti-democratic line.
Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel observed how: ‘As soon as the result was in, millions signed a petition to rub it out and do it again. The bien-pensants suggested the result was not binding, but advisory — an opinion they would hardly have offered had the vote gone the other way.’
Mantel compared the bitter Remain lobby to the ‘army of erasers’ she had encountered in Saudi Arabia, who dealt with things they didn’t like — pork, Israel, women’s equality — by simply removing mention of them from public life.
Interestingly, Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, observed that the disdain the Establishment showed for those worried about the EU had probably encouraged many to vote Leave — and attacked those who claimed ‘if you even contemplate voting for Brexit, you must be either ignorant, uneducated, stupid or racist.’
The emphasis of many critics of the referendum was on the ‘lies’ of the Leave campaign and how they had led gullible voters astray.
Yet research by the Electoral Reform Society leads to the opposite conclusion — that the majority declined to be swayed or bullied into submission.
The emphasis of many critics of the referendum was on the ‘lies’ of the Leave campaign and how they had led gullible voters astray. Yet research by the Electoral Reform Society leads to the opposite conclusion — that the majority declined to be swayed or bullied into submission
They kept their eyes on the bigger issues and voted Leave because they wanted more control over their own lives, UK politics and the country’s borders.
Millions made the entirely rational calculation that these reasons were important enough to support Leave, even if the immediate economic impact was uncertain and might prove adverse. A fall in the pound could be a price worth paying for an increase in democracy and sovereignty.
Yet still their motives are impugned. One of the nastiest tricks of those who lost the referendum was to claim that those who voted for Brexit (and Trump) were racists and xenophobes. In which case their votes should be seen as morally illegitimate.
But the small-minded prejudices actually on display here were those of leading Remainers towards working-class voters.
The sad truth is that to the elite, such people are far more alien than suave Brussels bureaucrats.
Significantly, almost immediately after the referendum result, a new scare started over a reported spree of ‘hate crimes’ against immigrants in the UK. The political elite seized upon these allegations as proof that the Brexit vote had been a demonstration of British racism.
But does anybody seriously believe that 17.4 million UK voters backed Leave for racist motives? (stock image)
But does anybody seriously believe that 17.4 million UK voters backed Leave for racist motives?
The truth is that Britain today is a more tolerant and anti-racist society than ever before.
Yes, immigration was an important factor for many Leave voters. But it was far from the over-riding obsession it has been made out to be: a post-referendum poll found 34 per cent said immigration was their main concern but 53 per cent prioritised the ‘ability of Britain to make its own laws’.
The vast majority wanted EU migrants living and working in the UK to be allowed to stay.
Still the attempts went on to subvert the referendum result, with the intervention of the courts. First the Law Lords and then the Supreme Court saw fit to overrule the express wishes of 17.4 million Leave voters and tell the elected government it could not trigger Brexit without the permission of MPs and Lords in Parliament.
The same Parliament they had allowed to be overridden by Brussels for the previous 40 years.
Then there was the four-million-strong online petition calling on Parliament to hold another referendum that would require a larger margin of victory.
In similar vein was the letter signed by a thousand top lawyers, demanding that Parliament must decide (ie, vote for Remain). The QC behind this initiative explained: ‘In times of crisis people often turn to lawyers to ask them how we should behave in society.’
'The arrogance of the notion that the opinions of 1,000 lawyers — whose fees are an affront to civilised society — could outweigh those of 17.4 million voters summed up the Remainers’ ‘some are more equal than others’ outlook'
The arrogance of the notion that the opinions of 1,000 lawyers — whose fees are an affront to civilised society — could outweigh those of 17.4 million voters summed up the Remainers’ ‘some are more equal than others’ outlook.
Even now, the attempts continue to put Brexit back in its box, fuelled by a sense that too much democracy is dangerous.
The Brexit referendum vote opened up the opportunity for a new kind of political debate about the future of our society, engaging many who have previously felt excluded from public life.
Time and again, according to the Electoral Reform Society, its researchers heard people say the EU referendum was the first time their vote ‘had truly counted’. They decided for themselves what the truth was about the EU, and made their own choice in defiance of whatever was flung at them by the political class.
But the plain fact is that the elite in this country do not trust the mass of voters, believing we are too unintelligent, misinformed and emotional to make the right decisions on important issues.
Whichever side you took in June in the UK or November in the United States, we need to resist this with all our might.
The real issue should be to defend democratic principles against those who would tell us that some voters are more equal than others.
Aux armes, citoyens!