The People’s Vote campaign is a betrayal of democracy – and the Left

The People’s Vote campaign is a betrayal of democracy – and the Left

“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is a majority of one per cent or twenty per cent. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.”

Well said, Paddy Ashdown. An admirable statement. Yet it seems the Baron of Norton-sub-Hamdon has changed his mind, he now being firmly in support of the People’s Vote campaign.

The claim that a People’s Vote would be a first referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, not a second referendum on the decision, has never been anything but a terminological inexactitude. Likewise the argument, often put, that deadlock in Parliament demands a ‘final say’ – let’s set this straight; the people vote one way, a majority of Parliament votes another; and, because the people’s representatives are too obstinate to accept the verdict of the people, the people must try again?

But it did retain the patina of sincerity until some blundering fool had the poor taste to reveal its true motive live on television. The person I have in mind is Vince Cable, who has been serially unable to separate the People’s Vote campaign from one to reverse the result of the People’s Vote we had in 2016. But, in truth, there are many more competent campaigners – like Caroline Lucas, Nick Clegg and Chuka Umunna – who’ve been as subtle as a brick on this topic.

Anna Soubry was uncharacteristically honest when she said she only voted in favour of a referendum because she thought Remain would win it. But all those others who maintain the charade, that the People’s Vote is a first and not a second referendum, reveal the falsehood of their claim every time (and they do it a lot) they say ‘a Remain option’ should be on the ballot paper.

Changes of mind on the EU question are remarkably common amongst the political and chattering classes. Most significant has been the paradigm shift which occurred some time between 1975 and 2016, which – I suggest – can be narrowed down to that fateful moment Jacques Delors met with the TUC in 1988 and promised to protect and elevate Leftist principles above the reach of Thatcherism. In 1975, Common Market membership was opposed by the Labour Party, the SNP, the TUC, the NUS and others who, in their modern incarnations, have decided to swap one set of principles for the opposite set.

(That, by the way, was a referendum in which we really were lied to, with the Heath Government concealing the civil service report – still headed ‘top secret’ but available in the national archives – that said membership would leave us ‘less independent than any of the 50 states of the US’, and the IRD, acting out of the Foreign Office, conspiring with BBC management to remove ‘anti-marketeer’ broadcasters from the corporation.)

These are inconvenient changes, which is why they are so little remarked upon. The modern Left is as disinclined to draw upon the legacy of Benn and Foot as the modern Right is to embrace Enoch Powell.

Convenient changes, though, are so much in demand that their champions have taken to manufacturing them. Take the widely-publicised polls showing ‘the people’ swinging in favour of a second referendum. Sorry, People’s Vote. Take a look at those polls and at the reports which parrot their ‘findings’, and see how much emphasis is placed on the groups which commission them. Little if any, I think. And who are those groups? Why, HopeNotHate and Best for Britain, two cliques of the wider People’s Vote campaign! Might they not have just the slightest conflict of interest? Do you really need a remedial course in Yes, Minister to learn how opinion polls work?

And it is a bit odd, isn’t it, that so many are so keen to champion polls like this whilst discounting, time and again, and for various unhinged ‘reasons’, the results of that truly national poll we had in 2016.

The ‘Left’ has a particular problem here, since to oppose Brexit is to oppose the values they otherwise claim to live by. At a time when party activists are (rightly) trying to democratise the Labour Party by campaigning to institute reselection, they are also shacking up with the Blairites, Brownites, and other Radical Centrists, who are the principal targets of reselection, in their campaign against the biggest democratic mandate ever conferred in British political history. (Devotees of Proportional Representation suffer a double irony here, since the EU referendum was unique in doing away with the skewing effects of constituency boundaries. Every vote really was equal.)

They deplore the fetid influence of the likes of Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, Liz Kendall et al, and vote against Eddie Izzard at NEC elections, yet back them on the most important constitutional question faced by any electorate since… what, 1688?

It goes on, and it gets worse. Whilst opposing the ‘evil Tories’, they are espousing the self-same values and beliefs held by the majority of the Conservative Party, and almost all the Conservative leadership, in objecting to the intolerable interference, in British political affairs, by the British electorate.

Whilst supporting Jeremy Corbyn and his platform, they are ignoring his history on the EU question, and those of his superior forebears. And they are campaigning to retain membership of an institution which would render a substantial part of his platform, from the National Investment Bank to renationalising the railways to removing private interests from the NHS, illegal by constitutional decree.

To protect the rights of young people to live, love and work in Europe, which famously did not exist before 1993, they are supporting an institution which has left almost half of all young people in Southern Europe unemployed, angry, and too poor to travel.

In objecting to ‘Tory austerity’, they back the institution which requires austerity by the treaties which form its constitution, and which has thus visited upon the people of Greece a level of deprivation unheard of outside the Third World. Only two positives have come out of this horrid affair: In telling Yanis Varoufakis, “elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy”, Wolfgang Schäuble seconded José Manuel Barroso’s little-known but perfectly correct assertion: “the EU is an antidote to democratic governments”.

Their internationalism finds expression in an institution which impoverishes millions of African farmers by denying them the right to trade equitably with countries in the Single Market, which is more than happy to engage in trade wars, but which is set against the rights of trades unions; and which – by its expansion into the Balkans and Ukraine, and its support, via the EEAS, for airstrikes in Libya – has precipitated several wars on at least two continents.

Their opposition to imperialism finds a home in an institution one of its own Presidents has described as imperialistic.

Keep all this in mind when you consider the latest utterings from the rear-guard Remainers at the Peoples’ Vote campaign. Ask yourselves: who are these people? What do they want? What are their principles? Do those principles accord with those I live by, or just the ones I say I live by? The hypocrisy of this squalid campaign is like the proverbial iceberg – clear but banal on the surface, concealing something vast and deep.

It isn’t just a betrayal of democracy, though Paddy Ashdown was right to say as much. It’s a betrayal, too of just about every principle worth having, and it deserves nothing but the most vigorous and visceral opposition, and contempt, for that reason.