The death of democracy?

June 2020.

A vote of no-confidence has toppled the government and precipitated a general election. After one of the bitterest, most rancorous campaigns in British history, a divided nation goes to the polls. The next morning sees Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party claim victory by just over a million votes, on the highest voter turnout in more than two decades. With a working majority of only 12 seats, Labour has won by the skin of their teeth.

Horrified by the thought of a Corbyn-led government, a petition is started to stop Corbyn from becoming Prime Minister. It rapidly gains around 4 million signatures, more than a quarter of those who voted against him in the election. The CBI, the IMF and dozens of leading economists take to the airwaves, arguing that Corbyn’s socialist plans will devastate the economy, doing untold harm that will take decades to renew. A host of right-wing commentators argue that his manifesto was built on lies, his costings inaccurate and his plans for nationalisation so vague and ill-thought through that it was impossible for anyone to know what they were voting for. In a final revelation, the Electoral Commission reveals that, just as they had in 2017, Momentum had again broken electoral law.

The nation is in uproar. The Conservative Prime Minister leaves No. 10 and takes to the podium. Given the concerns expressed, they announce, they will not be going to the Palace to tender their resignation. it is clear that Corbyn cannot be allowed to become Prime Minister. The victorious Labour MPs will not be allowed to take up their seats. There will be no rerun of the election; instead, the result will be set aside, and the status quo will continue for the foreseeable future.

Appalling? Yes. Outrageous? Yes. Could never happen in Britain? Think again.

As I write this, nearly 4 million people have signed a petition arguing that the government should set aside the result of the largest democratic vote in UK history, a vote that the government promised to implement, and revoke Article 50.

The call for a second referendum is fundamentally unjustified. The idea that there should be a second, ‘validating’, referendum before implementing the result of a vote that the government vowed to implement is as absurd as the idea that there should be a second, ‘validating’, general election before Corbyn can become Prime Minister. But at least the idea pays lip-service to democracy.

By calling for Article 50 to be revoked without a referendum, those signing the petition have demonstrated clearly what has long been obvious: that this has never been about the people’s views, but simply about blocking Brexit. The idea that we should simply ignore the result UK’s largest ever democratic vote is deeply disturbing. Make no mistake: the action being called for in this petition is as outrageous as the one described in the fictitious scenario above.

Democracy depends upon both sides agreeing to abide by the results of the ballot box. We are seeing now that many on one side refuse to accept that.

For the avoidance of any doubt, the opening scenario is entirely fictitious, intended to illustrate the importance of honouring democratic votes. It is not meant to suggest that I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn, nor that I believe that any Conservative prime minister, current or future, would be remotely likely to take the action described.