Monday 27 June 2016

The democratic mandate.

During this awful campaign, I've had a lot of arguments with people about the EU's lack of democracy. Many people, it turns out, think that "democracy" means nothing more than "some voting happens". Such people even insist that the EU Commission's members are democratically elected, because they're appointed by people who are chosen by people who were appointed by someone who was picked by a subgroup of an organisation that was elected, or something. "See?" they say. "You can vote for someone, therefore democracy!" This is sad and weird.

The weird thing about it is that the Commission themselves don't even make this claim. I've lost track of the number of arguments I've had with people mounting defences of the EU that are contrary to the EU's own claims. Such as that the Commission is the EU's government and is more powerful than the EU Parliament. The Commission claims to be the EU's government; the EU claims that the Commission is its government; the EU's documents and treaties say that the Commission is the government; the EU Parliament recognises that it is subservient to the Commission; the head of the Commission is even called "the President" (bit of a clue there) — and yet a sizeable chunk of the EU's cheerleaders accuse anyone who points this out of spouting crazy Brexit conspiracy theories. Weird.

And it's sad because it turns out that, with a little veneer of voting, you can easily fool intelligent people into believing democracy is happening.

In light of all the recent bickering, here is my new working definition of democracy. You need ask just one simple question: "If you don't like one of your current rulers, who do you vote for in order to get rid of them?" In an actual democracy, the answer to that question is trivial and obvious. If the answer is convoluted, the democracy is fake.

In the UK, if you don't like the Tory Government, you vote Labour. Or maybe Lib Dem. If you don't like your MP, you vote for one of the other candidates. And there are lots of examples of the process actually working: the Tory loss of '97, the Labour loss of 2010, the routing of the Lib Dems last year, the chucking-out of Peter Robinson (a party leader, no less), the ousting of the odious Neil Hamilton by a journalist with no policies other than "I'm not Neil Hamilton"... hell, we even chucked Winston Churchill out in 1945. Talk about democracy.

In the EU, the answer is... er... hang on while I look this up; it's a bit involved. Er.... OK, so, first, the entire Commission can be sacked by a vote of no confidence from the EU Parliament. This is an obvious anti-sacking mechanism: you get rid of every last one of them or none of them, and how likely is it that a majority of the fractious trans-national EU Parliament will ever want to get rid of all of them? And indeed, in practice, the only way this has ever happened is when the Commission turned out to be actual criminals. (Which, incidentally, was nice.) Short of that, all you need to do is to vote for an MEP who will support a vote of no confidence in the Commission. Oh, and to run an EU-wide campaign to get similar MEPs elected in most other member states. Easy!

Failing that, you can sack an individual Commissioner by... er.... Well, the chain of causality goes like this: you vote for an MP; your MP is on the winning side; your MP's party's leader becomes PM; the PM joins the European Council; the European Council appoints the EU President; and the President can ask a Commissioner to resign, if they would be so kind. Easy!

Anyway, what's interesting about all this is that those same people — the ones who've been telling me how stooooooopid I am for believing that the EU is not democratic — are now supporting Nicola Sturgeon's mendacious claim that Scotland cannot withdraw from the EU without the consent of the Scottish Pairliament. Some campaigners are trying the same trick, even laughablier, with the Northern Irish Assembly.

Look, we told you. Here, yet again, is Tony Benn:

The instrument, I might add, is the Royal Prerogative of treaty making. For the first time since 1649 the Crown makes the laws – advised, I admit, by the Prime Minister.

That's the mechanism whereby we joined this utopia: the Queen's signature, which she places wherever the Prime Minister tells her to. No Act of Parliament required. And that's the mechanism whereby we leave: the Prime Minister wields the power of the Crown by invoking Article 50. Technically, the PM doesn't even need the support of Parliament, though of course any PM trying it just on a whim would be sacked immediately. But a PM with one of the strongest democratic mandates in British history behind him? Yeah, Parliament not required.

And that's Westminster. Scottish Pairliament really really not required.

What's that? It all sounds a bit undemocratic? You think our MPs and MSPs and MLAs should have more say in our governance? What's the point of electing them if they can't control this sort of thing?



NielsR said...

On a related note, I'm continually amazed at those Remainders complaining that the UK has voted 'wrong' - if you can't get 35m voters to agree with your case, why would you support a state with 10x the electorate, language barriers and all? Unless you're *intending* to be undemocratic to bypass all the horrible Little Englanders.

patently said...

Hear hear. Well put.