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Harrogate Agenda: a vision of democracy

Richard North, 20/11/2012  


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My tolerance for fools is a tad limited these days, so it took Boiling Frog to pick up the ultimate stupidity from David Davis in his speech yesterday on the EU, the "money quote" being: "If we do not like a new law, Parliament should be able to reject it".

Davis calls in aid the corpus of law on justice and home affairs, where variously we have opt-ins and opt-outs, allowing something of an à la carte approach to the European Union. But that is the exception rather than the rule – the "colleagues" could hardly permit this to apply to the broad sweep of EU competences.

On this basis, Davis denies, as we would aver, that an à la carte approach is impossible. All he will concede is that " negotiations will be difficult", the ultimate arrogance of a man who refuses to deal with the realities of the EU treaties.

Time and time again, we have to point out that, if the "colleagues" decide that they do not want to negotiate treaty changes, there is no mechanism by which we can force them so to do. Futher, should they actually agree to negotiate, any changes proposed could be vetoed by any one member, leaving the situation extremely tenuous.

What Davis says he wants, though, is "to get as close as possible to the trading alliance, the common market we all voted for in 1975" – which maybe what he voted for, but I and many others didn't. But if that is what we wants, the only way he can achieve it is to invoke Article 50 of the TFEU.

However, in Davis lifting the lid on the EU in the way that he has done, he unwittingly lifts a lid on the British system of governance as well. Extolling the virtues of "democracy", he says, "If we do not like a new law, Parliament should be able to reject it".

If the "we" that Davis so casually uses is the people, this begs the question of what happens if we do not like a new (or any) law, and Parliament does not reject it?

The traditional answer here is that, if the government of the day does something to which we object (or refuses to do something we want), we kick it out at the general election and vote for a new government. In reality, though, the general election is far too blunt a weapon to allow a focus on one specific piece of legislation.

In his speech, though, Davis asserts that, "If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy", yet by inference he reserves the right to change minds to the political classes, leaving the people out of the loop. By his own definition, that is not a democracy.

Thus did Autonomous Mind rather succinctly sum up my view expressed at our last Harrogate Agenda meeting: "I do not want to leave the EU … if all it means is handing power from one bunch of unaccountable morons in Brussels to another group of unaccountable morons in Westminster".

It makes no sense to focus all energies on exiting the EU unless there is something that serves the interest of the people to move to. Without real democracy and a positive vision of the future first it would be out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Here then really is the crunch. When MPs consistently show themselves to be untrustworthy and wholly unresponsive to the will of the people, where is the value in taking power from one part of the political elite if all that means is handing it to another part?

Therein lies our battle, and the great divide. There are those who talk about democracy, and those who want to practice it. We cannot simply leave the EU and revert to the status quo of the representative democracy we once knew. Too much water has passed under the bridge.

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