The European Parliament is a democratic facade for a system dominated by unelected bureaucrats

The European Parliament is a democratic facade for a system dominated by unelected bureaucrats

As the political parties gear up to fight European Parliament elections that no one really wants, my mind goes back to the first euro-elections in which the UK was involved.

I recall speaking in 1979 at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, specially convened to consider the party’s strategy for those elections. The euro-enthusiasts – the equivalent of, and in some cases the same people as, today’s Remainers – were of course cock-a-hoop. The elections, they asserted, were not only a further step towards the UK’s integration into the evolving European political system, but were proof-positive that the democratic deficit – so often criticised by those of us who were less enthusiastic about “Europe” – was being conclusively addressed.

In the speech I made on that occasion, I tried to point out that democracy was not achieved simply by holding elections; what mattered was what the elections were to, and for. Were we electing representatives to a body by which we agreed to be governed? Or were we simply providing a democratic facade for a political system dominated by unelected bureaucrats and central bankers, who exercised a power of government over us to which we had not consented?

Democracy is not, in other words, just a process; it is a form of government, and one that depends for its authenticity on the consent of those to be governed. The “democratic deficit” that arises in the absence of that consent cannot be corrected by simply going through the motions of an election, if that election is merely to decide on representatives to a body that does not enjoy, by the will of the people, the right to govern.

My speech obviously fell short of what was required, since these same mistaken perceptions are still apparent in the thinking of many of those who currently seek the means of undoing and reversing the referendum decision – or, in other words, the will of the people. For many Remainers, the penny still hasn’t dropped; they do not grasp that the Brexit decision was principally a reflection of the people’s view that it was time to repatriate our sovereignty – or, to put it in more modern terminology, our democracy and powers of self-government. Those who voted Leave were, I believe, primarily motivated by a desire to reclaim what remained of their democracy.

The irony is that the efforts being made on both sides of the Channel to frustrate the people’s decision will do more than anything to drive home to the British people just how much they have lost in that regard. If, having decided that they have had enough of ceding the power of government to an external body, they find that they cannot even say “no more – enough!” without being told that they cannot withdraw except by leave of that external body, they will be reinforced in their determination to restore democracy to our system of government.

If those who are equally determined to delay and impede that democratic decision have their way, the consequences for our politics and our democracy could be calamitous. If the people should once lose faith, not just in the democratic process but in democracy as a form of government, the future would be bleak indeed.