In previous posts, written a week or so after the EU referendum (A Constitutional Moment and Respecting the Result), I suggested that the Brexit vote had brought us to a constitutional crisis which had the potential to catalyse major reform both within this country and in the European Union itself.
Three months on, nobody appears to have a clear idea what happens next but people on all sides seem to be digging in to entrenched positions, much of the establishment seems to regard the vote to leave as a definitive expression of the people’s will and, with the problems the vote has brought to light in this country, popular opinion within other countries of the EU seems to have swung against their domestic anti-EU movements.
So what can we do to ensure that the constitutional moment does not slip past? How can we take advantage of the energy that the Brexit vote has released to bring about constructive reform? Continue reading
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the importance of respecting the result of the referendum. But which result should be respected? There is, of course, the primary result of the simple count of votes cast but it is at least important, surely, to respect the secondary result, the emotional upheaval that the vote has triggered. And if the primary and secondary results are in conflict we have to choose between them.
But are they really in conflict? Does the primary result truly represent the clear mandate for Leave that most people are saying it does?
It seems to be widely taken for granted that the recent referendum has given government a mandate to take Britain out of the European Union. I believe that view rests on a failure to understand some crucial differences betweeen this vote and the ballot for a general election.
I’ve been advocating radical constitutional reform for twenty years or so and my core argument has been that we need to establish proper foundations of democratic accountability. The ‘occasional democracy’ that determines who governs us seems to me to be grossly inadequate: whatever the interval is between elections it will be too short for the government to give its full attention to the job, and too long for the people to be properly sovereign. One redeeming feature of our current system, however, is the fact that we always do get another vote. We might have to wait five years but we’re not irrevocably committed to the choice we made at that one moment in time when the ballot was held.
When I started this blog last year, I intended to try and pull together all the various political arguments I’ve been making in different places over the last few years. But the kind of radical constitutional reform I’ve been advocating isn’t a subject that most people want to read about and it’s disheartening writing stuff which you suspect will never be read – so my enthusiasm evaporated after a handful of posts.
But the Brexit referendum seems to have pitched us into a constitutional crisis and – who knows? – perhaps some of my ideas will now find an audience.
I’ve been aware of the Basic Income movement for some years but, until recently, I’d never given it serious consideration, seeing their goal (of an unconditional basic income for everyone) as an idea which had even less chance of being implemented than the inheritance-for-all reforms which I’ve been advocating myself. However, an exchange on OpenDemocracy prompted me to think about it more carefully and it seems to me there is a synergy between the two sets of ideas which could bring them both within reach.
It seems to me that social justice activists put a lot of energy into fighting battles that have actually already been won.
Principles like fairness and equality of opportunity are uncontroversial, they’re embraced (in public at least) by politicians and commentators across the whole spectrum – but still we are surrounded by gross inequality and blatant unfairness. Campaigners respond by demanding measures that will mitigate the ill-effects, but hardly anyone analyses why man-made inequality and unfairness exist in the first place, in violation of principles which nearly everybody claims to believe in.
At the root of it, to my mind, is a constitutional failure: the fact that there is no requirement for law to be coherent.
Where do we start, if we want to make a better world?
In one way the answer’s easy: with the one we’ve got, of course; the one we’ve been left by our forebears – the one we’ve inherited.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of inheritance. Our lives tend to be dominated by concerns of the moment and, to a large extent, we have no choice but to take the world as we find it. Our worldview is shaped by the world we’re born into and, by the time we’ve developed the mental tools to question it, we are so embroiled in it that questioning too deeply means digging down into the foundations of our lives.
More than thirty years ago I came to the conclusion that, for all its merits, there was something fundamentally wrong about the political system we live under in Britain. I made myself a promise at that time that I would try and understand exactly what was wrong and try and work out changes which would allow me to recognise it as having rightful authority over me.
Over the years I’ve written about some of the flaws I see, and the reforms I think are necessary, in various places on the internet. Now I’ve decided to try and pull them together and try to shape them into a coherent whole. This site will be the vehicle for that.