Peter Jones

Forget Ukip – what we need is some ostracisms

Ancient Athens really knew how to deliver a protest vote

Forget Ukip – what we need is some ostracisms
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For all Nigel Farage’s appealing bluster, he is never going to be in a position to get us out of Europe or, indeed, achieve anything at all. He is, in other words, pointless. The sole consequence of his emergence on to the political scene will be that the next election stands a good chance of producing an Italian-style hodge-podge: no winners at all. Ancient Greeks would have demanded an ostracism.

An ostracism was a way of getting rid of a political troublemaker in order to clear the decision-making air for the democratic Assembly of Athenian citizens. It was not a legal process, with prosecution and defence and verdict; nor was it a punishment, affecting the honour, status or property of the citizen ostracised. It was a decision taken by the citizenry itself, against which there was no appeal, for that citizen to go into exile for ten years.

Every year, the Assembly was asked it wanted to trigger one. If it did, it was held two months later (a useful cooling-off period for reflection and discussion, if passions at the time were high). Without any formal debate, let alone any list of nominees for the chop, citizens on the day scratched on an ostrakon (a piece of broken pottery) the name of their candidate and, as long as 6,000 ostraka were marked, the loser went into exile. Given that the measure was precautionary, he could be recalled before the ten years was up if the political situation was such that his stance was no longer a threat.

All, in fact, very civilised. The only problem was: what if the ‘wrong’ man was ostracised? It did happen, and would probably happen too if we had the system: no doubt the electorate would identify Clegg as even more pointless than Farage and ostracise him.

The fact is that, referendum or no, the only way we will ever leave Europe is if Europe boots us out (e.g. for refusing to join the euro). Get over it. Vote Farage in 2015, and the only result will be a political farrago.