Amid the election tweets and soundbites, local Lib Dem David Brunnen takes a deeper look at the underlying causes of the democratic despair of the (dis) United Kingdom.
David Brunnen writes:
It would be nice to think that the UK’s current General Election is a nationwide debate across a wide range of issues. It would be great for voters to be engaged in a critical examination of policy choices around Austerity, Inequality, Poverty, Health & Wellbeing, Electoral Reform, Housing or the Climate Crisis. But this Election is not about any of these.
In this election all those really important issues are trumped by the polarising poison of Brexit. This is not a General but a very Specific Election – a stark choice between leaving or remaining in the European Union. Despite both deep Blue and radical Red efforts to cloud the central issue with second-order questions around hypothetical outcomes, the so-called General Election is a Referendum – a choice between remaining part of civilized society as Great Britain Plus or jumping into a dodgy Little Britain Minus deal with unimaginable consequences for 21st century commercial practice and the fabric of the UK.
The polarising question arises largely because of a reluctance to face reality. Remaining in the EU exposes our country’s leadership incompetence – there is no place to hide. Rather than seeing the UK’s government performance compared with that of our neighbours, the Brexit instinct is to wish away the context. What politicians call ‘wriggle room’ reflects both an unwillingness to be transparent and the ambiguity they promote as an art form. No wonder we have a ‘Westminster Wisdom’ that lauds ‘muddling through’ as some great cultural marvel whereas others prefer plain speaking.
If the design of any policy needs to reflect our unique priorities and circumstances, we should be well able to defend that position – and there are many cases of ‘opting out’ of specific proposals whilst also being part of the wider European Union.
Perhaps another reason – a deeper more-intellectual failing – is rooted in a classic misunderstanding of the core EU principle of subsidiarity. That misunderstanding is manifest in the way that Local Government Authorities in England have, in effect, been reduced to impoverishment as the central Government’s Local Agencies.
To get clarity on this term, subsidiarity, look first at a Papal Encyclical: ‘It is a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for larger and higher organizations to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.’
We don’t need the moralistic priestly overtones to understand the difference between delegation and subsidiarity. With delegation you take part of your responsibility and give (or share) it with someone else. Subsidiarity means that the responsibility is already theirs and should not be delegated upwards unless they are incapable.
In the absence of that clear understanding, is it any wonder that those who would wish us leave the European Union are filled with constant dread of some imagined loss of control – a gross distortion of reality. On so many issues UK governments have perversely chosen not to avail themselves of the freedom to act in the country’s best interests – preferring to avoid facing reality and blame someone else for the consequences.
Giving away choices is as bad as taking on those that aren’t really yours. Having choices and managing them (not passing them up the line) is the way we learn – and, sure, mistakes will be made along the way. And when you unpack that you’ll find a deep-rooted fear of bullies (oft with media management) that must be confronted.
There is no modern anti-viral jab that will magically rid us of the polarising poison of Brexit. But there is a way forward that is in the gift of young people. No schoolchild today can surely escape strictures against bullying and remedies for its elimination. They learn the virtues of choice – of making those choices themselves and living with the outcomes – and not playing Pass The (problem) Parcel.
In theory at least, people have a choice in this specific election. It is an imperfect choice because the old Red and Blue tribes prefer not to reform the voting system and most votes will be wasted. But we are not debating Democratic Reform or any of the burning issues that need urgent attention. This time around we must vote to remain as part of our European Union or live with the international toxicity of Brexit – leastways until our grandchildren are old enough to vote.