A Delegate or a Representative?

Who do you want to represent you in parliament – a fool who does what you tell them or a wise person who makes up their own mind about what is best for your country? If only the choice was that simple.

Increasingly, especially in Western democracies, the answer is “My MP must do what I tell them”. That is not what democracy is for. Democracy is to elect a body of people who have high intellects and are better informed than you and I could be in the time we have available to study important issues. Our members of parliament are Representatives of many people with broadly like-minded ideas. We depend on their judgment being better than ours would be.

Were we to seek to elect people who did what we told them on every issue we would be running the country with Delegates or by referenda. The logistics of such arrangements, the notion that each of us knows enough to decide every issue in the interests of all, are absurd. The stupidity of referenda as ways to govern has nowhere been more vividly illustrated than by the Brexit vote. Most MPs started off on the wrong foot learning misinformation about the meaning of Brexit to a point where the average voter was completely ill-informed and disastrously guided.

As the debate wore on the arguments became increasingly localised and decreasingly strategic. If ever there was a time for Britain to consider its strategic position now is it. With the world’s leading power exhibiting international political instability, with the means of destruction becoming vastly more powerful by the month and with the climate being dealt with piecemeal or not at all, the political and social relationships between nations are clearly key to the future.

To listen to the speeches in the House of Commons you would think that they were discussing where to tether the goat rather than a century of trading and political relationships. The trivia of Brexit have overwhelmed discussions about the end objective. The permanence of a backstop arrangement must surely be the small change of the issue. The Unitedness of the United Kingdom and the Unitedness of a United Europe would seem to be of infinitely greater importance.

The consequences of what is taking place in the British Parliament reach far beyond Brexit, far beyond Europe. They are about democracy itself. We have been saying for some time that democracy needs modifying better to reflect who contributes to, and who takes from, society. It may be, however, that the solution lies more in the voter than the system. As in the Brexit debate, ill-informed voters elect weak members of parliament, which results in weak leaders.

If the need to improve how democracy works depends on better education of the voters, then a new requirement of unbiased information intelligible to the average voter is created. Such a project, difficult as it will be, will provide a major challenge. But what a superb opportunity to harness our infinitely increased knowledge and our gradually progressing ability to communicate. At a time when social media are playing, and will continue to play, an increasing part in our lives, to strive for objectivity and vision must be an aspiration we can all applaud.

To make the point more vividly, I have never believed that Mrs May said “Brexit means Brexit.”

I think what she said – in disbelief – was “Brexit means Brexit?”

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