Politicians should stop presuming and start listening on Brexit

Darren Hughes
Author:
Darren Hughes

Posted on the 12th January 2018

It is hard to turn on the TV now without one politician or another telling us what the ‘British people’ want from Brexit.

On one side, one argues that only leaving the single market will fulfill the will of the public – and that anything else would be a betrayal of the referendum result.

Shortly afterwards another will appear – stating categorically that voters want to stay in the single market to protect jobs (this week’s ‘Single Market summit’ appeared to be a reflection of that).

A million and one things have been read into the referendum result since June 2016 – from our views on the Northern Ireland border to the European Convention on Human Rights.

When these assumptions are made, it’s often a struggle to find the evidence. After all, many of the issues have only been debated after the referendum 18 months ago – the last time large numbers have been able to express their will on Brexit specifically.

Our democracy is grounded in the principle of elected officials representing the wants and needs of their constituents.

But when there is an issue as vital as Brexit, it is essential that what people desire is genuinely understood – and that there’s a chance for meaningful, informed discussion.

Polls are woefully insufficient in this regard. Snapshot results – while sometimes helpful – often oversimplify answers to what are complex problems, squeezing huge issues into a ‘yes/no’ binary.

There is however, another way – one which doesn’t second-guess the public.

Over two weekends in September last year, 50 people were selected at random – but in a way that ensured they reflected the socio-demographic characteristics of the EU vote and how people voted – to take part in the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit.

During the first weekend, the members heard from diverse experts and received balanced briefing papers vetted by an Advisory Board, which featured experts in how to give balanced information on controversial policy issues.

Then, over the second weekend, those same members discussed and debated the issues in depth,  before coming to specific decisions on trade and migration policy (read the final report here).

The Assembly showed that UK citizens are willing and able to learn, then deliberate, and then reach recommendations on complex issues –something which the principle of trial by jury in our justice system has been proving for centuries.

Reflecting on the Assembly’s first weekend in a blog post for the Electoral Reform Society, the project’s director, Alan Renwick, wrote about what he learned:

“[It] reminded me never to underestimate the willingness and ability of members of the public to engage with complex political questions.

“Our political system leaves many people feeling unable to play an effective role. But if we structure political discussions so that people have the time and resources to learn about, discuss, and reflect on the issues and ways forward –  they do a fantastic job.”

Being told by those in Westminster that you believe one thing, when you actually think another, or simply don’t know yet, can be highly frustrating and contributes to mistrust in those wielding political power.

Rather than continually trying to second-guess what the electorate thinks on this issue or that, it would be better if politicians were to go straight to the source.

  • mike

    So…..

    what was the result???

    • Frank Caves

      That’s what I wondered. You have to click on “Citizen’s Summit on Brexit” in pink right at the top. Funny place to put it!

  • JO

    Not surprising that the conclusions were pro Single Market/Customs, the so-called experts were all academics! I think Jacob Rees-Mogg should have been invited to speak.

    • skwique

      “The so-called experts were all academics!” It might be funny, if it weren’t so serious. Your objection to the advice from a cross-section of people with a high degree of learning, in favour of one, highly biased politician speaks volumes about the selfish and ignorant attitude of many Brexiters

  • barrydavies

    Basically politicians get most things wrong, because of political dogma. The NHS is a prime example PFI deals, the trust system a myriad of extraneous bodies, outsourcing to private providers, have all been disastrous but the politicians are incapable of accepting they were wrong and not giving the public what they actually want. The same is true of Brexit, we voted to leave, not remain for an indeterminate amount of time and remain in all but name.

    • Steve Griffiths

      No ‘we’ didn’t vote to leave. Brexit campaigners were overwhelmingly saying we could leave and remain in the single market. Leaving the Customs Union was hardly mentioned. A small majority voted to leave on the general understanding that we would remain in both, with an overwhelming disinformation campaign by the media. And you may not have noticed, but the Corbyn-led Labour Party is fiercely opposed to PFI. There’s no such thing as ‘politicians’. There was a period when too many parties were in a consensus about neo-liberalism, not frightening bankers, and asset-stripping. That time is over. Good exercise by ERS. A similar thing on crime was on TV in the mid-Nineties – it would give the Tories a heart attack now.

      • Jonjo

        The government spent £9 million of taxpayers money to send us all an extremely biased propaganda pamphlet recommending we stay in the EU and single market. Amongst other things it stated.. “Losing our full access to the EU’s Single Market would make exporting to Europe harder and increase costs”…

        We were (and continue to be) told that a vote to LEAVE means that we can not have access to the (over-rated) single market. Despite that we voted LEAVE. Clearly the majority voted to leave, regardless of access to the single market.

        • John Sheard

          The conservatives promised that they would fight to remain in the single market, so clearly this was an option even if we ended our EU membership. We only had to leave the single market if we all wanted the end of free movement of EU and UK citizens but nothing about the binary EUref question said that was what all leave voters wanted.

          • barrydavies

            It was made abundantly clear that leaving the eu meant leaving the single market and customs union, leave voters understood this, however you do not have to either be in the eu or in the single market to have access to it, because the eu is in the WTO, and to be so protectionist not to trade outside of the eu would be illegal under international law. In and access to are not the same thing.

          • John Sheard

            It was not abundantly clear that we would leave the single market Barry. The conservative manifesto was clear about fighting to remain in the single market. That’s on record, in the manifesto. We were only asked if we wanted to leave the EU, not the single market. How we leave the EU is not being decided in the best interests of ordinary UK citizens, their jobs, their rights, their future.

          • barrydavies

            It was made abundantly clear by both sides that leaving the eu meant leaving the single market, if you actually read the manifesto 2014 staying in the single market was dependent on the renogotition which failed.

          • John Sheard

            The manifesto clearly states on page 14 “yes to the single market” then “no to ever closer union” so that seems pretty clear that regardless of the EUref outcome, the aim would be to stay in the single market.

          • barrydavies

            You do realise that a manifesto isn’t legally binding? It was made clear that Cameron was claiming he had got a good deal as well why not demand his claims are implemented by the eu? His wanting us to stay in the single market was reliant on staying in the eu.

          • Jonjo

            David Cameron & George Osborne’s continual message in the EU Referendum was abundantly clear, namely that .. “we need to vote Remain to stay in the Single Market” & that a “vote to Leave was a vote to leave the Single Market”.

        • Steve Griffiths

          Quotes from leading Brexiteers during the referendum campaign: ‘Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market’ (Daniel Hannan MEP)
          ‘Only a madman would actually leave the Market’ Owen Paterson MP. In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson wrote that the German business association (BDI) had “very sensibly reminded us there will continue to be free trade and access to the single market”. I could go on.

          • Jonjo

            David Cameron & George Osborne’s continual message in the EU Referendum was abundantly clear, namely that .. “we need to vote Remain to stay in the Single Market” & that a.. “vote to Leave was a vote to leave the Single Market”…

    • AnthonyTuffin

      ” politicians get most things wrong, because of political dogma.” Yes.

      “The same is true of Brexit, we voted to leave,” Only 52% of those who voted and they were told we could stay in the Single Market.

      • Jonjo

        Wrong! We were (and continue to be) told that a vote to LEAVE means that we can not have access to the (over-rated) single market. Despite that we voted LEAVE. Clearly the majority voted to leave, regardless of access to the single market.

        • John Sheard

          This was a promise by the conservatives that they would fight to remain in the single market, so clearly this was an option even if we ended our EU membership. We only had to leave the single market if we all wanted the end of free movement of EU and UK citizens but nothing about the binary EUref question said that was what all leave voters wanted.

          • barrydavies

            We were told we would have to leave the single market by project fear remain, because they thought it would scare us into remaining leave voted to leave it no matter what the vocal minority claim.

          • John Sheard

            So point me at your proof please. Where are the news articles supporting what you believe concerning Osborne and Cameron?

          • barrydavies

            Try researching the truth is out there. David Cameron single market pre referendum should get it

      • John Sheard

        I always understood we could stay in the single market. This was a promise by the conservatives that they would fight to remain in the single market, so clearly this was an option even if we ended our EU membership. We only had to leave the single market if we all wanted the end of free movement of EU and UK citizens but nothing about the binary EUref question said that was what all leave voters wanted.

  • Tony Sumner

    If a group is to represent people’s views then half of .them should not want Brexit at all.

    • barrydavies

      Agreed certainly the majority should not be remainers

  • peter

    An interesting discussion, but hardly ‘listening to the people’!
    Indeed the results are less reliabe than a statistically correct-but-doubtful Opinion Poll (and look at how they performed on the Brexit referendum results!)

    50 people indeed!
    And what sort of person would attend such a conference, organised as it was, by the ERS?
    I certainly would not!
    When the ERS started I was hopeful for its aim and supportive, but it gradually became clear that it was little more than Momentum-in- Suits!
    Take their ‘Christmas Scandals’ – how apposite that 9 out of 10 of the ‘scandals’ used Coservative MPs a examplars!
    The people that attended were probably either innocents or Corbynistas!
    I advise eeryone , especially HM Government to treat this ‘listening to the people’ nonsense with the amused scorn that it so thoroughy deserves – the people have spoken – they want OUT

    • AnthonyTuffin

      “the people have spoken – they want OUT”? Only 52% of those who voted.

      ” When the ERS started I was hopeful for its aim and supportive,” That was more than 100 years ago, Peter; you must be getting your moneysworth of pension!

      • barrydavies

        That was more than the only 48% who voted ‘remain, I know I ,did maths a long time ago, but I still think 52 is 4 higher than 48

        • AnthonyTuffin

          It is but not much – hardly “the people have spoken”.

          • barrydavies

            It was more than have ever elected any goverment, the turnout was above average, and it was either or not multiple choice, s yes the people have spoken.

          • Bryn Dymott

            The turnout at 73% was only slightly higher than recent General Elections and lower then the turnout for General Elections in the 1960’s and 1970’s. As an advisory refererendum it gave authority for Government to research into Brexit to look at the technical issues and costs and savings. To consider if the UK and it’s people would benefit by leaving but the UKIP tendency of the Conservative Party hijacked the result and Mrs May put her desire to be PM ahead of her Remain views and the best deal/outcome for the country.

          • barrydavies

            Results show that 7 out of the ten regions voted leave, only London had a definitive majority to stay. You are making the mistake of considering % as being an equivalent value, although the turnout in the 70’s was equal to the sixties the vote having given to 18 year olds was actually 3% less in actuality, the referendum had far more people voting for its 72% than ever voted in the 1970’s referendum and elections. I know remainers try to pretend they are right but basic maths is not something you can alter.

          • Adrian

            Who was it that said “If you torture data enough, it will confess to anything”?

          • barrydavies

            Probably someone who had basic maths show their assertion was wrong,

  • AnthonyTuffin

    That’s an interesting post.

    Another point – and I’m surprised the ERS didn’t mention this as electoral reform is its main object – is that the present First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system discourages politicians from listening to voters except in marginal constituencies. Also, FPTP and most (party) Proportional Representation systems don’t let voters choose between Conservative Remain and Conservative Brexit candidates or Labour Remain and Labour Brexit candidates. The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system does, so we’d have a much more representative Parliament with STV.

    • hereward

      STV as a matter of urgency . YES ! Useless May or Useless Corbyn is not a choice we should be forced to make .

  • Shieldsman

    What is the ERC trying to do. Is it trying to educate (brainwash) the Public into liking the bureaucratic, over-regulated, dictatorial EU.

    • Frank Caves

      I don’t think so. There are lots of faults with the EU system as indeed there are with the British system. We should have stayed in and fought to improve it. Just as there are “Elites” in the EU who like to control it, so there are in GB. When (if) we leave we will leave the EU to be run by Germany. Why did we fight 2 World wars to let them do that? Crazy, weak willed English.

      • barrydavies

        Most of what is wrong with the British system is still better than what the eu offers

  • SuffolkCanary

    I really don’t believe our politicians care what we think. If they did they would have reformed the political system years ago to reflect the voting pattern of the electorate. That is why we are where we are on this and so many other issues. I have lived in many different parts of the country and it has been my fate to live in safe seats. My vote has been both completely meaningless and worthless in every election since my first in 1979. If a Government has been elected which reflects my views it has been none of my doing. I am totally disallusioned with the whole damned process.

    • Frank Caves

      That’s why we need Electoral Reform! The first past post is only suitable for Sport or the 19th Century. I too have never had a vote that has counted.

  • Ian Rosam

    I have come to the decision that being able to comment on articles does nothing to expand reasoned debate but only serves as an outlet for readers to espouse whatever beliefs they already hold without being open to change. If only social media led to more open, informed debate!

  • Charlotte Bull

    The Referendum was shockingly lacking in solid information. Believers in Brexit, like myself, were dependent on leaflets and a single short broadcast, and admittedly, Remainers had little more except a vaguely worded booklet. The BBC at least should have provided the time and opportunity for giving each side to express their beliefs, reasoning and evidence, in clear and detailed fashion. Interviews with the public and emotional debates in which each side deny the truth of their opponents does not keep us adequately informed.

    I’m glad the experiment mentioned has come to the conclusion that, contrary to what so many politicians so obviously think, the public are not stupid.

    • barrydavies

      The information was there even before the referendum was called no one has any excuse to be ignorant of the facts

  • MikeS

    Remoaners are missing the point. I voted for Brexit to do away with the undemocratic and unpatriotic rulings by the EU and their courts and to re-establish the ability of the UK to be solely responsible for making its own laws and controlling its own borders. The EU parliament doesn’t even generate EU laws, unelected Brussels personnel do. Membership of the common market would be a nice but not if it was a ‘bad deal’ ie too expensive or necessitated giving up control of our borders or our ability to make our own laws..

  • rogerh

    Aren’t the representatives we send to Westminster supposed to be fulfilling this role? Why isn’t it working? Is it beacause they’re full-time, professional politicians who mostly have lost touch with their constituents?

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