UK Election Candidates ‘Ignoring the will of the people’ on the EU

In the run up to the UK elections, a month from now, we can typically expect any amount of mud slinging, challenges and counter challenges between candidates and parties. The EU referendum is perfect fodder for this with such a stark contrast between the positions held. At one end of the spectrum we have UKIP, Clwyd Cymru and the Conservatives each promising to support a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, while at the other end Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the SNP are promising to oppose the same referendum.  It is this latter group that causes me great concern.

It has to be asked – in a modern democracy what kind of party makes it a manifesto pledge, a selling point, to deny voters their democratic voice on a decision of such import as EU membership? It then has to be asked – what kind of voter thinks this denial of democracy is a positive direction and worthy of support?

For me the notion of lending support to a party actively campaigning to deny democratic voice on this issue fills me with great unease. If they will deny me a say on EU membership today, what will they deny me a say on tomorrow? Presumably those who support this stance do so because they are in favour of EU membership. But have they considered that they might not always be in favour, or have the considered that some other issue might arise in future on which they do want to be heard, but will not be due to the precedent being set here and now? Simply, have they considered that denying democracy now may limit democracy later to their detriment?

Of course there are many things the average voter does not get a direct voice on between elections, but it has to be said that EU membership is very different from other issues. Fundamentally it changes the authority of our government and, in many ways, the constitution, placing decision making and authority over our laws in the hands of other nations. It changes where and how the most powerful decisions are made and enforced which, in the EU in its present form, is now through a structure that is the most undemocratic and remote the UK has ever experienced since a Monarch held absolute power. These issues are significant enough to demonstrate that no party, individual, or segment of the electorate, should have the right to bring them about in our nation without the democratic consent of all citizens of voting age. That Ministers, such as Gordon Brown (Labour), have in the past signed away aspects of our sovereignty, without so much as a nod to the democratic will of the people here, is a cause for shame and outrage, not a reason to continue neglecting the will of the people on this issue.

We had a Scottish independence referendum. Why not an EU referendum?

We should not forget that we have precedent from the recent Scottish Independence referendum, a decision of such import that it couldn’t possibly be made without a majority in favour – yet the vote was permitted – the democratic voice was heard. So why does a referendum on the EU not garner the same support? The clue is in observing that the party which supported the case for Scottish independence at that referendum, the SNP, now opposes that same mechanism for independence being offered to voters of the UK as a whole. Why is this? Very simply it is because where some parties are concerned the decision to hold a referendum, or not, is not based on the principle of the democratic voice, but a decision based on a party policy to be pro-EU-membership. Just as voters who are pro-EU are content to deny their neighbours a democratic say, parties who are pro-EU only support referenda when they tend towards party policy. In neither case does anyone respect the principle of the democratic voice. For them democracy is something to be picked-up and put-down when it suits their agenda, it is about imposing their will on others, with democracy to be used as a tool to achieve that when it might work in their favour, and ignored when it won’t.

Rejection of democratic will

This came to a focal point for me today when the BBC reported on Tony Blair’s intervention in Labour leader Ed Milliband’s campaign. Blair’s remarks about Milliband throws into sharp relief how keen the Labour Party is to completely ignore and reject democratic will where the EU is concerned. Speaking of Ed Milliband’s opposition to an EU referendum, Blair was reported as saying:

“He showed on this, as he did on other issues, that he is his own man with his own convictions and the determination to follow them even when they go against the tide.”

I was aghast. While having independent thought and convictions are positive traits, they are not positive when they lead to imposing one man’s view on everyone else. In this light denying you a democratic vote, on the UK’s future in the EU, Ed Milliband’s “determination to follow [his convictions], even when they go against the tide” is really a euphemism for ignoring the democratic tide by ignoring the will of the voter.

While Blair and Milliband’s personal convictions mean they want to be their own men – clearly they don’t want us to be our own men. While they praise independent thought and conviction, they think their personal convictions and thoughts take precedence over the personal convictions and thoughts of every other voter in this country. Blair clearly thinks Milliband’s dictatorial stance is worthy of praise while openly rejecting the notion of giving everyone else a democratic voice.

This makes Ed so much his own man that he doesn’t care what convictions you or I have on the subject. He’s going to dictate his will to us, force his convictions on us, and not give us an opportunity to vote in a referendum. By denying us our voice Ed Milliband imposes his will on us, he becomes the worst kind of politician and unworthy of political power.

Even though it was Blair’s comments about Milliband that brought this into focus for me today, I would be remiss if I did not point out that this is also exactly the same position as Nicola Sturgeon, Nick Clegg and Natalie Bennett. What I criticise Ed Milliband for applies equally to them. They all desire to impose their will on the rest of us where the EU is concerned, and deny us a say.

‘Ignoring the will of the people’

I wouldn’t put any political leader on a pedestal, but at least in word today, if not in conviction, one party leader did point out what Blair and Milliband (along with Clegg, Sturgeon and Bennett) stand for in democratic terms, and that is:

“…ignoring the will of the people”.

On this occasion it was David Cameron who stated the obvious disparity between their position on the EU referendum and method by which they may be selected for office in a few weeks time (though it could easily have been Nigel Farage saying this).

I will say again, a party leader who seeks to deny our democratic voice on EU membership becomes the worst kind of politician and unworthy of political power.

I only hope we are not too abject to notice that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens all despise our views on the EU and openly refuse to give us a say. I only hope we are not too abject to defend our own democratic voice by only selecting a party which respects the will of the people and will grant us our democratic voice on EU membership.