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Representative Democracy

The current chaotic meltdown of UK Parliamentary Democracy has got me wondering whether we wouldn't all have been better off learning about how the Governemnt works at school instead of — I don't know — how ATP is used in cells, or how to speak French. Not that I didn't enjoy the Biology (less so the modern languages) but that much of the current crisis in the UK seems to be driven by downright ignorancy of how our democracy works.

If you dare the murky waters of Facebook or Twitter today, or God forbid the comments sections of British newspapers online, you'll see again and again the idea that "Traitorous Remain MPs are betraying Democracy!"

Let's leave aside for a moment the hyperbolic langauge, the fascist stylings, the predictable and terrifying calls for violence, and concentrate on the core idea that, by blocking a No Deal Brexit (or Brexit as a whole, these members of parliament are somehow "betraying" anything. It seems to me that such an idea comes from simply not grasping how British Democracy actually works.

Here's what I wish I could make the posters of these horrifying messages understand:

How it Works

The UK has a Representative Democracy. We do not make decisions by plebiscite or referrendum — unlike some other countries. Instead we elect Members of Parliament whose duty is to represent the views, and the best interests, of the people who live in their constituencies (and not just the people who voted for them, however much political parties would like to believe otherwise). We do so firstly because we presume our MPs to be more capable (by dint of doing it full time) of understanding these issues than we are, and secondly because it is impracticable or impossible to seek the opinion of the people at all times.

The UK is not ancient Athens. We don't ask the people (in Athens' case that meant rich male land owners) to make laws or vote on every issue. We let the Representatives decide.

In 2016 a referrendum was held to guage the public's opinion on leaving the European Union. As we all know by now there was a narrow majority in favour of leaving. It's been called overwhelming, definative, the will of the people, but it was only ever advisory. It gave Parliament an idea of how the country felt, but it was — and still is — up to them to do what they will with that information.

Although they were under no obligation to honour that vote, the majority of MPs appear to have nevertheless felt a moral obligation to do their best to see if leaving the EU (Brexit is a silly word, but I guess we are stuck with it) could be done — even though the vast majority thought it was a stupid idea.

But of course they also have a duty to act in the best interests of their constituents. That means that, even notwithstanding the fact that the referrendum was advisory, if they conclude that Brexit (or some particular version of it, like No Deal) is not in the interests of their constituents, then they are obliged not to support it. Obliged. That isn't them 'betraying' anyone, that's them doing their job. That's how our Democracy works.

Is this really so hard to understand? Apparently the answer to this is yes.