Oh Owen Jones! You can hate Brexit and still love democracy
PUBLISHED: 13:49 31 July 2017
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The democratic principle merely holds that the wishes of the majority should, where practicable, be upheld. It says absolutely NOTHING about whether the majority is RIGHT
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You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I began my column by making the declaration that Julia Hartley-Brewer is a nice person (just one who believes, and occasionally comes out with, some nasty things).
Well it’s always good to be balanced, and so here comes another declaration:
Owen Jones is an intelligent, thoughtful and decent young man.
There we go. And no, there’s no “but” coming. Owen is smart, perceptive, and exactly the kind of unapologetic left wing firebrand we need to keep the political discourse burning. I say “unapologetic”; in recent weeks he has become something of an Apologist in the theological sense of the word.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter may know, a favourite hobby/stupid habit of mine is getting into lengthy (and depthy) arguments with religious fundamentalists. This has, it transpires, stood me in remarkably good stead when it comes to having it out with the more zealously apostolic of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. The thought processes are identical: you START with your conclusion (there is a God/the universe is 6,000 years old/Jeremy Corbyn is ineffably wise and the last hope for the nation) and work backwards from there. Everything which backs up your pre-established conclusion is held aloft as clinching proof, while everything which appears to contradict it is dismissed as Satanic (or Tory) lies.
The Corbynites are currently jumping through all sorts of logical hoops in order to fall into line with the current iteration of the leader’s thoughts on Brexit; that not only should we leave the single market and the customs union, but that this is in fact obligatory once outside the EU (which will come as news to the Norwegians). The standard Corbynoid position on Brexit has, since the election, evolved from “Jeremy is pro-EU, he just doesn’t like going on about it in case he loses the working class Leavers” to “Jeremy only SAYS he’s pro-Brexit, he’s playing the long game” to “Jeremy doesn’t REALLY want to leave, but he respects the will of the people” to “Brexit will be GOOD! Because Jeremy says so! Bloody immigrants!”
Okay there was an element of parody at the end there (I’m a satirist, says so on my posters) but only just: this week has seen the leader of the Labour party extolling the need for tighter border controls in order to prevent foreign workers coming into the job market and forcing wages down.
Yup. This week, the Labour Party – the LABOUR Party – went full “They come over here, taking our jobs”.
Owen Jones, last I checked, had only made it as far as the penultimate stage in the process; he regrets Brexit, he said on Twitter, but it has to happen, since he, like Corbyn, is a democrat and respects the will of the people. I was intrigued by this as a catch-all principle and decided to try to test its parameters, so I asked Owen (on Twitter) if, should a vote be taken to re-criminalise homosexuality, he would still insist that the majority’s wishes prevail. Owen – and a bunch of his supporters – immediately accused me of trying to equate Brexit with institutionalised homophobia. I wasn’t, of course, and I suspect Owen (and some of his pals) knew this, but it was a neat way of getting out of addressing my point, and I’m annoyed with myself that I left such an obvious opening.
What I was trying to see was whether Owen would be willing to acknowledge that there could be a situation in which the “majority” not only got it wrong, but got it wrong to such a potentially catastrophic degree that those who opposed their decision actually had a moral imperative to try to thwart it, and that this imperative would – in this hypothetical instance – take priority over the democratic principle. I never got an answer, from him or anyone else. I’m fairly sure I know why.
Because here’s the thing: the democratic principle merely holds that the wishes of the majority should, where practicable, be upheld. It says absolutely NOTHING about whether the majority is RIGHT. Since the referendum, a troubling notion has arisen that, since we “lost”, it’s incumbent upon Remainers not only to shut up, but to ADMIT WE WERE WRONG, and indeed in some versions, to CHANGE OUR MINDS and love Big Brexit, and that it we fail to do so, it’s because we HATE DEMOCRACY.
This is the most ANTI-democratic notion I’ve ever heard. The whole point of democracy is that it’s a mechanism for peaceably DISagreeing with each other. And if sticking to my Remain guns means I “arrogantly think I know BETTER than the PEOPLE”, well, yes, I guess it does. As it also does with regard to everyone who ever found themselves on the losing side of a vote. You thought you were right, the majority disagreed, by definition you thought you knew better than them. And we don’t expect the supporters of a political party to renounce their ideals and switch teams when they lose an election.
Labour have now lost three general elections in seven years; if it’s required of the losing side that they support that which they previously opposed, as Owen seems to think is the case with regard to Brexit, then he and his fellow firebrands should surely have seen the error of their ways and become true blue Tories by now, just as the majority “dictates” they should.
Keep moaning. Keep resisting.
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