There’s a delicious irony to Remainers’ branding of Leave voters as confused individuals who have simply made a desperate howling noise, whose anti-EU vote was a ‘howl of anger’ (Tim Farron) or a ‘howl of frustration’ (JK Rowling). Which is that if anyone’s been howling in recent days, it’s them, the top dogs of the Remain campaign. They are howling against the demos; raging against the people; fuming about a system that allows even that portly bloke at the end of your street who never darkened the door of a university to have a say on important political matters. That system we call democracy.
In all the years I’ve been writing about political stuff, I cannot remember a time when anti-democratic sentiment has been as strong as it is right now. No sooner had an awe-inspiring 17.5m people rebelled against the advice of virtually every wing of the establishment and said screw-you to the EU than politicos were calling into question the legitimacy of their democratic cry. Apparently the people were ill-informed, manipulated, in thrall to populist demagoguery, and the thing they want, this unravelling of the EU, is simply too mad and disruptive a course of action to contemplate. So let’s overturn the wishes of this dumb demos.
So it is that David Lammy has howled against the ‘madness’ of the vote. We can ‘bring this nightmare to an end through a vote in Parliament’, he said. That nightmare he’s talking about is the people having their say, the throng making a choice. The UN Special Representative for International Migration, Peter Sutherland, has also openly called for the crushing of the people’s will. British voters were hoodwinked by a ‘distortion of facts’, he says — because we’re that stupid — and ‘somehow this result must be overturned’. UN officials condemn African or Asian dictators who ride roughshod over the will of their peoples, yet seek to foment the same in Britain.
Media commentary has dripped with contempt for the moronic people. ‘Some of the oldest and whitest people on the planet leapt at a chance to vote against the monsters in their heads’, howled a writer for Esquire. There’s much talk about the people being ‘manipulated’ by lies and misinformation, as if they’re lifeless putty in the hands of the likes of Farage. Some have gone so far as to twist the definition of democracy in an attempt to rubbish the people’s will. ‘The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily “democratic” is a perversion of the term’, says Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff. Sometimes, democracy means making sure the people ‘avoid making uninformed decisions with catastrophic consequences’, he says. So it can be democratic to thwart the majority’s wishes if we think they’re stupid. And they have the gall to talk about manipulation.
And make no mistake: it is their aim to thwart our will. They want to use the law or politicians’ clout to undermine the result. Alastair Campbell tweeted: ‘EU law allows customers to withdraw from contract if contract based on lies. LEAVE agenda riddled with them. Lawyers on the case.’ Nicola Sturgeon says she’ll veto the Brexit, which would be a blatant, borderline tyrannical misuse of her powers to stymie the views of the mass of society. History would not be kind to her.
Youthful activists are adding a thin veneer of radicalism to this howl against democracy by taking to the streets to call on MPs to refuse to make Brexit a reality. A ragtag bunch of pro-EU youths shouted outside parliament yesterday. More marches are planned. Let’s be honest about what these are: marches against the people; streams of largely middle-class activists demanding that the will of the ordinary be kept in check. No number of colourful placards or PC-sounding platitudes can disguise the nasty, reactionary nature of such gatherings. ‘Sign the petition, speak to your MP, join the march in London. Don't let them the trigger Article 50’, says the deputy editor of British Vogue. This boils down to saying: ‘Let’s stop the people from having their say.’ It is an outrage.
The howl against democracy is driven by a belief that something precious — the EU — is being undermined by an idiot public. But the fury with the demos, the elitist rage against our vote, threatens to destroy something infinitely more precious: the very idea of democracy. If successful, it would weaken democratic politics for a generation; it would tell ordinary people that politics isn’t for them; it would confirm what people already suspect — that they are viewed as a daft, xenophobic blob who don’t know what is in their own best interests. The consequences of such an elitist thwarting of a democratic vote would make the unravelling of the EU look like a tea party in comparison.
Which is why we must defend the result, tooth and nail. The people have spoken and it is tyranny to silence them. The fight on our hands now is no longer between Leave and Remain; that’s done. It’s a far greater fight, a more historic one, one that will shape Britain for decades: a fight between those of us who believe in democracy and those who don’t; between those of us who trust the people and those who think the people are mentally and morally ill-equipped to make big political decisions.