‘Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.’
Thus spake John Adams, the Second President of the United States. Against perceived odds and all mainstream predictions, 2016 seemed to demonstrate a democratic awakening. Voters delivered several, well-aimed gut punches to an established political class on both sides of the pond.
There were several possible reactions available to politicians, and we have seen them all. There are those that have called for real change, after all, that is what voters have asked for. There are those that have pointed fingers at their colleagues and blamed them for the isolation that voters feel, implying that only through neglect and ignorance could people have voted for (insert political event here). Then there is the final group, the ones that have done all that they could to resist the democratic will of the people and, in some way, frustrate it.
We should in this final instance, heed the warnings provided to us by George Lucas at the end of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. As Chancellor Palpatine is granted emergency powers to rapturous ovations, Senator Amidala bemoans; ‘so this is how democracy dies, to thunderous applause’. It seems to have become second nature to most on the centre-left to dismiss the EU Referendum result as the outcome of ignorance, a democratic accident from which it is their mission to save those sensible enough to have voted to Remain. Of course, we hear plenty of platitudes about recognising the will of the people and seeking to carry it out, but it is normally whispered after boldly declaring that they themselves voted Remain and think leaving would be disastrous. Much like the Speaker, some MPs would like us to know that they are being dragged to the voting chambers by their constituents.
Fundamental questions need asking in the wake of these results that have knocked chunks out of the foundations of British and American politics. Democracy in the United Kingdom is already conducted under fairly restricted parameters. There is a consensus on the size of the state and what it should provide; one which falls to the left side of a traditional economic spectrum. British voters have similar expectations of the state to those in Scandinavian countries and these are met through taxes that are increasingly complicated to understand or simply not known about. Public and political discourse around the NHS crisis seems to be conducted on the basis of whether or not taxes are raised; all other possibilities are excluded on the basis of their heresy. The political pendulum swings generally from the centre to ever-so-slightly off-centre once every 10 years or so. Everyone outside of those narrow parameters are either fascists or communists, whatever they are, they are certainly ‘illiberal’.
Particularly with Brexit it seems that British democracy has laid out the path over which it will tread its final steps on the way to the gallows. That is not to say that Parliament will cease to exist or be replaced by some other form of government, but that the final steps will be taken in order to remove the semblance of public interaction in democratic debate. It is now the case that news is either favourable to a political argument or ‘fake news’. The police can retain individuals on charges of terrorism but public debate on the interactions between Islam and terrorism are ‘Islamaphobic’. Public speakers on extreme ends of political ideologies are finding it increasingly difficult to air their views in the open, driving them underground and in to the arms of cultists. Almost every major political or social challenge in the United Kingdom has around it some taboo that cannot be mentioned, some reason to exclude some groups or ideas from the debate.
Jonah Goldberg, in a book of the same name, called this ‘Liberal Fascism’. In the name of progress, we must all move towards our common goal. There is no room for dissent or deviation. This does not mean the existence of some power-grabbing conspiracy, simply that power is a corrupting force in all of its forms. Those that make political decisions and those that report on them have their own interests at heart – journalists and politicians need each other in order to climb their respective greasy-poles. This generates a narrow consensus in place of rigorous political discourse. Both sides of the referendum debate demonstrated a complete lack of imagination or zeal in their attempt to convince voters of the merits of their arguments. It was a race-to-the-bottom, fear-mongering, sound-bite exercise for all parties. It shouldn’t be so easy to complain of the ignorance of voters because our leaders should have conducted themselves in such a way as to educate and inspire. It is a damning indictment of this generation of leaders that no such figures emerged.
Our democracy grows lethargic and uninspired. To preserve it, we need those liberal values of tolerance and diversity to mean something more than the hollow platitudes that they have become. Unlike Monty Python’s parrot – this democracy is not yet an ex-democracy. It may, however, be slipping into a coma.
Daniel is a Secondary School teacher in Buckinghamshire and a member of the Wycombe Conservative Association. Follow him on Twitter: @
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty