Friday, July 26, 2019

The referendum threat

I don't know anything of Jesse Tumblin, professor of history at Boston College, but what he says about to what caused Britain's current crisis and the dangerous folly of referring almost anything to referendum makes more sense than almost anything else coming out of Brexit commentary.
[Referendums] invert the accountability of representative democracy by holding voters themselves responsible for the misinformation, deception and manipulation of those elected to lead them. Instead of delivering effective policy and renewed unity, referendums leave voters confused and alienated from one another and their governments. What they reveal most clearly is that the elected representatives who authorize them would prefer not to do their jobs.
This scepticism about referendum politics is something John Ralston Saul has been arguing for years, but it seems to have almost vanished in contemporary political analysis.

I don't follow Tumblin on devolution of power to Scotland and Wales -- a good and useful step even though it has encouraged nationalist spasms that could be managed -- though indeed more referendums on the question are indeed likely to be divisive and manipulative.

All that Tumblin might have added is some attention to the even more fraudulent process by which Boris Johnson became prime minister. The Brits are still quite new to the Canadian-style of selecting party leaders by mass competitive vote-buying. So now it is being observed that barely 0.2 percent (a self-selected 0.2 percent) voted in the "election" that made Johnson prime minister.  In Canada we take those kinds of outcomes for granted, and often call them "democratic."

But in the same way as referendums, mass party leadership votes undermine the legitimacy and function of responsible, accountable parliamentary government. And Canada is the prime evidence for that.

Addenda:  There is a new book by Toronto progressive social activist and political organizer Dave Meslin, who wishes all the best things for Toronto and Canadian democracy -- and seems to proceed to fall into every trap of participatory democracy that Tumblin is warning about.  I haven't finished Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up. On first glance it seems both terrifically well-intended and terrifyingly dangerous.  More to come, I hope.

Hat tip to History News Network, which picked up the Washington Post op-ed
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