Reductio Ad Absurdum: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

To borrow a concept as archaic in provenance as done so in the title, is as purposeful to the state of democracy in Britain and Brexit in particular as was Nigel Farage’s address to the European Parliament earlier this year.

“….I think many will say, we are simply dealing with fanatics who are not prepared to be reasonable and make any sense of compromise and of course Theresa May has made compromise after compromise….”

The irony in situation and principle of Farage’s words, delivered to the European gerontocracy is hardly an act of brinksmanship or that of a Messiah returning, and quite opportunistically at that, a little before Armageddon to guide his people past certain doom. It is instead, a gambit as politically expedient as one that has come to be expected from the ominous recurrence of a nationalist leader, to the establishment in Europe. It is indeed also purposeful to note Farage headlining The Sun’s Friday page on Brexit, prominently titled under “Nigel’s Back”; an insinuation of the magazine’s own place and agenda in British politics.

For Rupert Murdoch, right wing propaganda changing the political landscape, governing narratives and social discourse boils down to battle for succession between his sons. A feature in financial and technological globalisation, the likes of the ‘Murdoch Empire’ in league with right wing nationalists might be emblematic of the most significant ‘democratically undemocratic’ phenomenon to have taken modern day politics under its influence.

As Farage continues to denigrate the European Union every chance he gets, while putting forth his candidacy for European elections which qualifies for a feature in irony in itself, the British parliament and indeed its people are yet to decide on a Brexit narrative they can collectively support. A YouGov survey in January found 56 per cent of the British population in opposition to Brexit altogether. Rallies in London for Britain remaining in the European Union, meant to put on display Britain’s democratic prowess have done anything but. It is as undemocratic a calling for the reversal of Brexit as the original referendum held in 2016 was.

For then, a majority, despite not having known the framework for an orderly Brexit for the lack of being one, voted for Britain’s exit from the European Union. Debates in policy circles about the nature and form of referendum followed but the marginalisation of the 48% that voted against Brexit is perhaps the greatest failure of the Parliament to balance democracy and compromise with effective governance over the most contentious issue in Britain.

Theresa May’s hard-line stance for Brexit has done more to marginalise those in favour of remaining in the EU and tactful renditions of her own original agreement have incurred the wrath of those for Brexit, in parliament and in the streets. One can argue that there does indeed not exist a modest course of action that respects the democratic aspirations of the British people, reflected in parliament by the legislative conduct of their elected representatives.

For all intra party differences, the left wing has not, primarily because of its leaders own predilections, made its stance any clearer than that of its rivals. A parliamentary rebellion against the Prime Minister is not a plausible policy approach for no one is quite sure as to how to approach Brexit. Three years into the vote, Brexit seems more a chimera than ever before. All alternatives to the current Prime Minister’s deal suggested but not voted through by MP’s including a second referendum, a people’s vote, a Norway-plus model and even another general election undermine the ostensibly democratic decision to leave the European Union in the first place. With Nigel Farage once again in the mix, Britain has all but come full circle.

Britain’s ‘transatlantic cousins’ are in quite a fix themselves. Given that modern day democracy, an export of both these countries, is the principle political ideology cited across the globe, it does not make for that good a viewing across the Atlantic shores. Entertaining indeed, its efficiency in keeping intact the integrity of independent institutions working for an inclusive society is an axiom that many question the veracity of. It took the election of Donald Trump to office for Americans to bring to the fore of public discourse, the nature and significance of the Electoral College which by default renders The US an indirect democracy.

It cannot, at this stage of this electoral cycle, be said that the American left has done a better job than their British counterparts in shifting the Overton Window to cater to issues that would not be part of popular electoral discourse, with such strong intent. Given that they are up against a President who did and continues to not shy away from controversy, the Left is looking to match his stride. Bernie Sanders was an iconoclast less than four years ago. Today, he is the new norm among the large number of Presidential Democratic candidates. In the spirit of these times, it was thus not unusual that a political veteran and Presidential candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned the very existence of The Electoral College, which might just be the essence of a properly functioning democracy. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the Electoral College might be the only system that has kept the American election cycle in place, not unlike Qualified Majority Voting in the European Council of Ministers.

The Democrats can persist with a hard line till the primaries all they want. A Hill-HarrisX poll cited 60 per cent registered Democratic voters against the Electoral College. This supposed shift in the Overton Window will only become clear post primaries when candidates draw clear political and ideological lines. The American Left may have been bolstered by a reinforced Democratic House but it ought not to forget its own responsibility towards a working democracy. The spring in their step is indeed warranted but it has indeed got to keep its voters informed, drawing a thick line between truth and fallacy lest they fall victim to a Brexit-styled narrative; a misinformed electorate and unkept promises.

The Green New Deal is an unprecedented venture into keeping climate change and economic inequality at bay. Avenues for its funding however have been ambiguously mentioned in open documents. It is in its formative phase and as much as the enthusiasm behind it will help garner public support, it is merely a working theory and the electorate needs to be informed of its intricacies. If anything, democracy most importantly entails transparency and accountability; two principles that were put to the test by Robert Mueller in his recently concluded investigation of the Trump campaign in possibly colluding with Russia and the subsequent obstruction of the course of accountability. The argument over whether the report exonerates President Trump of the charges will undoubtedly continuebut what is certain is that Democrats are treading on sensitive grounds as much as The Republicans are. In the public eye, they have to prove themselves as much more than merely an anti-Trump cause but a party that holds true to democratic principles and conduct.

Conflict is an inherent feature of democracy. Some might argue against this, only affirming the hypothesis. It is the nature of conflict and its constructive resolution that separates a functioning model from that steeped in anachronisms. Achieving the former will require the transparent and accountable functioning of all state and private institutions, working towards the same end; an effectively functioning democracy in letter and spirit.

This article was originally published by Daily Times.

Waleed Yawer

has done M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defense University, Islamabad.

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