My heart hasn’t really been in politics since the events of last week. So with less than a week left to go this will (hopefully) be the last thing I say as a Vote Leave supporter on the EU referendum. I’ve no idea who will win, but if it’s the Remain argument, then so be it. I certainly don’t think the end of the world follows either result.
But if that happens we have a new obligation, regardless of how we voted.
It has been a standing joke that we can’t name EU commissioners, that many of us don’t vote for MEPs because we don’t know who they are or what they do anyway, so why bother. If as a country we vote to Remain then it’s a duty of everyone to change that.
It should start with double-checking the names of our representatives (I can name three), those other mysterious bodies that make the decisions, and what exactly those decisions mean. I dare say we won’t like those decisions, but that’s irrelevant. Simply not knowing what they are, or who decided them, shouldn’t be acceptable any more.
My argument to Leave is the democratic case. The same democratic measures we rightly insist on in local government are systematically ignored within the EU. Why no live streaming or minutes of EU meetings for example (as campaigned for DiEM25)? That we have to argue in favour of this basic safeguard is baffling, and symptomatic of an appalling democratic shortfall.
I’d like to elect our commissioners (make it a cabinet post?), and if there’s an argument against this then I’d like to hear it. Why not also reduce constituencies in size? Let’s have Kent rather than “South East” MEPs. But mostly let’s have the standard of accountability that has so far been overlooked in Brussels.
The biggest threat to democracy is a disengaged electorate, or as William F. Buckley once put it: “The best defense against usurpatory government is an assertive citizenry.”
We’re sometimes desperately short of that assertive citizenry, and our respect for politicians has plummeted.
It has become too easy to revert to cynicism, or to opt for an almost aggressive piety; an insistence that politicians are not to be trusted (at least those we disagree with). The notion that we might disagree respectfully was jettisoned long ago. What’s left is often a raw, unpleasant place (“Tory scum” anyone?) where ideas and discussion are cut off at the source, regardless of the merit with which they are delivered.
I’m not saying that we should all agree to disagree and simply refrain from having difficult arguments – far from it. But it shouldn’t take something as horrible and tragic as the death of Jo Cox for us to think the better of those who we elect to represent us.
There is a great sense of sadness in politics this weekend. We don’t know the full story of this terrible crime, but democracy was attacked. And while politics has been at a low point recently, we got a glimpse of its better side as we read about her, from both sides mourning the loss of a friend. We also got a reminder that politics might be deserving of more than our lowest expectations.
Remain or Leave, that’s what we should keep in mind this Thursday.