REACTIONS to the results of the elections to the European Parliament have been mixed. It depends on the person’s point of view, and points of view are polarised.
The most disgraceful reaction has been to depict the Remain-supporting parties as having won the popular vote in percentage terms. This has been achieved by comparing the vote for the Brexit Party with the aggregate of the Remain-supporting parties, while having a third category that just has Labour and Conservative votes. This implies that the latter category of votes are as valid as the proportion of the electorate who did not cast a vote. If there is to be a binary analysis, then all the votes have to be included in this analysis. It might not be fair to include Labour in the Leave category and to divide their vote between Leave and Remain, but the Conservative vote must be in the Leave category. On this basis, it would seem that the vote is quite similar to the Referendum, even with a lower turnout. Leave still wins. Not that you would know this from the BBC’s coverage. For a state broadcaster that is meant to be impartial, the BBC conduct is irrational, implying it has an editorial stance not to recognise the Referendum result. This institutional Referendum Denial has to stop. People being paid six-figure salaries to determine what we see on our screens should at least place some degree of honesty and objectivity above personal interest.
Another facet of the election has been the irresistible rise of the Brexit Party. Its creation was inevitable once the Government had failed to exit the European Union on the appointed date. This failure to exit was despite the solemn commitment of all sane politicians to respect the result of a referendum which did not go the way they had expected. This commitment was eroded over the subsequent weeks and months with a succession of excuses and arguments that were blithely accepted by the BBC, Channel 4, even Sky News. It is almost as if the news broadcasters were acting according to some latter-day Ministry of Information which was dictating the line to follow.
Exactly why the increasingly emboldened Remainers were not taken to task over the last three years will be a topic for media studies students in decades to come. Their excuses were easily challenged and it is a mark of this ease that Remain supporters were obliged to fall back on to personal and collective abuse to seek a kind of validation and to bolster support. The issue of Brexit is divisive only because the Remainers have made it so. It is unprecedented in modern times for the result of a British referendum to be the subject of such a concerted effort to overturn it. Even Nicola Sturgeon, who will use every excuse at her disposal to call for a second independence referendum, has not stooped to the depths where Remain supporters lurk.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. Actually, no, I’m not. There seems no trick or artifice too craven that will not be used to defy the will of 17.4million British voters. The lives of nearly two million fighting men of the British Empire were lost in the 20th century so that our votes would be respected. This is not what they died for.
But there is an inconvenient truth for all the parties who took part in this election. The vote was unnecessary. It was not meant to have taken place had not only the government, but also Parliament, done its job. A clear instruction was given to our professional politicians that the UK was to leave the European Union. On this issue, our politicians were not meant to act on their consciences. An MP’s conscience was irrelevant. The decision had been taken out of their hands. They were meant to get on with the job. They were not to be whipped by their party, but instead by the stated will of the majority of British people. It was not just Mrs May and her government who have failed us. It was all the politicians.
Remain supporters should have accepted the result of the UK as a single constituency and not used the composition of the vote in their constituency, region or country to row back. The excuse that Remain-supporting MPs are acting in the national interest does not fly. It was the job of all MPs to act as a body to get the UK out of the EU and to make the consequences of that departure the best possible. Party politics should have been set aside. Given that the EU would want to deter other countries from leaving, it was almost inevitable that they would act in bad faith and make our departure as painful and awkward as they could, and so it has turned out to be. This should have been anticipated and called out for what it is. The EU is like the gangster who gives a lieutenant a vicious beating in front of his other subordinates to send a message about loyalty. That MPs would employ the EU’s policy of collective punishment as a way to further their own careers is shameful. MPs have let the EU use the argument of national interest against the voters of this country by having us thus far succumb to threats in a way unseen since Suez, if not the signing away of Czechoslovakia. We are meant to be better than this.
But it is the unnecessary nature of this election that makes any prediction based on it open to question. The election was an aberration due to the conspicuous failure of the major players in our two-party system to deliver on the biggest vote in UK history. This has resulted in renewed speculation that the two-party system is coming to an end, and that the Internet Age has made party support far more transferable. This is bunk. The core issue about how far the state should dominate people’s personal and economic lives is still viable. How much of the nation’s wealth should be appropriated by the state and how it should be redistributed is still an issue. Whether there should be equality of opportunity or equality of outcome is still, amazingly, a matter of dispute. On these, the UK’s membership of the EU is all but irrelevant.
The results of this election should show Parliament that normal politics have been suspended until the UK exits the EU. That is absolutely the only conclusion that can be drawn. After the UK leaves, it should be business as usual in a country that is once again free.