Almost two weeks on from the 52% vote for the UK to leave the European Union, it is still unclear whether Brexit will be a political reality, or if so, what form it will take. But in a fortnight of multiple high-profile news stories, there are already many lessons that we can take from the result.
We need constitutional reform
I know; I know; constitutional reform sounds dull and dry, and there never seems a good moment to do anything other than leave it on the back burner.
But the Leave vote has highlighted a number of gross failures that have long dogged our political system:
- Some voted on the basis of wanting more democracy, yet Westminster still has an unelected House of Lords
- Some used the referendum as a protest vote, following decades of being unheard in first-past-the-post elections
- We have no written constitution, so the process of leaving the EU is incredibly complex, particularly with regards to Scotland and Northern Ireland
It is not dull or dry to make sure every vote counts in every election; that every seat in Westminster has been democratically determined; that every citizen knows their status and rights. These are essential reforms which would put an end to protest voting and start consistent, healthy political engagement.
We need accountability for deliberate misinformation
The famous £350 million a week for the NHS pledge emblazoned on the Vote Leave bus persuaded undecided voters, yet the backtracking started within mere hours of the Brexit result. Brexiteer media outlets such as the Sun and the Daily Mail ran scaremongering headlines for weeks, many followed by tiny-font corrections in subsequent editions admitting that the stories had not been true. And now the main political architects behind Brexit, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, have backed away from leadership.
This is, sadly, nothing new. In previous general elections I have watched in frustration as political parties fail to implement key manifesto pledges, or introduce legislation completely absent from their manifesto, with zero consequences.
There are no magic bullets, but it would be a start if two things could be implemented: an independent body to penalise individuals or parties deliberately peddling misinformation during campaigns, and a rule that newspaper corrections must be on the same page and in the same font size as the original incorrect story.
We need to realise politicians are not distant, faceless bureaucrats
Politicians are many things, but they are not faceless and they are not inaccessible to the public. There is extensive live TV coverage of proceedings in Westminster, Brussels and the devolved assemblies. MPs hold weekly surgeries where their consituents can raise concerns face to face. They are obliged to answer letters. They raise questions from their constituents in Parliament. Their careers and livelihoods are in the hands of the voters. In most cases, they live in, shop in and participate in their constituencies, contributing to the local economy and local community.
With so much news, the assassination of Jo Cox is no longer on the front pages, and it must not be a case of out of sight, out of mind. Jo was brutally murdered at precisely a time when she was serving her constituents, meeting with them in a public space. She lost her life precisely because she was not distant or faceless, but a vocal and active campaigner.
We owe it to her memory to sensibly and peacefully reform our politics without throwing away the good bits we’ve already got.