Ivory Towers

The term ‘Ivory Tower’ originates in the Biblical Song of Solomon (7,4) but nowadays is used to designate a world or atmosphere where individuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. As such, it usually carries pejorative connotations of a wilful disconnect from the everyday world.

Nothing demonstrates this more than the present day example of MPs ‘getting in a tizz’ over reform of the House of Lords., arguing about the primacy of the House of Commons vs the House of Lords where law making is concerned when their ability in that respect has long been emasculated. As Richard North, EUReferendum, remarks in his latest post leading up to the ‘Harrogate Meet’, it is indeed ironic that Nick Clegg is so concerned about unelected Lords being involved in the making of our laws, yet seems quite content to have the EU commission as the prime mover in the making of the bulk of our legislation. Thus it matters not one iota whether those in the House of Lords are elected or not.

Likewise it also matters not, where democracy in this country is concerned, who one votes for if that person becomes part of the Executive of government. Any constituent whose MP is either Prime Minister, Secretary of State, a Minister, Whip or even a lowly PPS is in fact disenfranchised. Any one of those positions entails support of Government policy, so regardless of a constituent’s plea to his/her Member of Parliament said plea will fall on deaf ears. In that respect, as I have posted previously, shortly after he moved into No10 David Cameron informed me that where local policy conflicted with national policy the latter will always reign supreme. While our politicians are accused of living in Ivory Towers, so too are constituents of MPs who are part of the Executive in approaching their MP in the hope of changing an aspect of policy that they consider wrong – and continuing so to do.

There are those who believe that our present system of representative democracy should be retained, but reformed. Actually there is so much that is wrong with our present system, of which the preceding paragraph is but just one aspect, there is little point in reforming the present system when, in effect, it requires a total re-write; and if that is the case then there is also little point still calling it representative democracy – let us re-write, rename it and call it what it is.

In the post linked to, Richard North suggests that those of us attending Harrogate should perhaps include the (non-electoral) elements which go to making a democracy, what is lacking and why, and what is needed to make things better. Immediately the mind is drawn toward the matter of fake charities, quangos and the like; but it is also necessary to include the media and opinion pollsters in non-electoral elements. The media, as we all know, do no more than parrot what is put in front of them by way of press hand-outs from politicians while not questioning the content of that which they are given – and the media can be changed as a by-product of changes to our democracy. A section of the non-electoral element that does effect our lives is that of opinion pollsters. By way of explanation I reproduce an email sent out by Peter Kellner, YouGov, to those that subscribe.

“New YouGov evidence confirms a suggestion I made a few weeks ago: that if David Cameron calls a referendum on British membership of the European Union, and recommends that we stay in, then there is a good chance that most voters will say ‘yes’ to EU membership.

We have conducted one of the most detailed surveys of recent years on Britain and Europe. It shows that the EU remains unpopular. Our survey, for the Sun, finds that:

  • By two-to-one, we think membership of the EU has been bad rather than good for Britain. When we asked the same question eight years ago, slightly more people said membership was good rather than bad.
  • When people are offered a broad range of options on the future of the EU, just one person in four wants it to continue to have its current powers (14%) or greater powers (10%). The biggest proportion, 37%, wants a looser relationship, while 26% want Britain to leave completely.
  • When we ask people how they would vote today in a straight in-or-out referendum, 31% say they would vote for Britain to remain a member, while 48% would vote to leave.

Not surprisingly, 67% support the idea of holding a referendum within the next few years, with only 19% opposed. There is, however, less agreement on the timing and circumstances of a referendum – now or later? Before or after any renegotiation of Britain’s relations with Europe?

My guess is that any referendum will be held after the Eurozone crisis is over (or at any rate less intense than it is today), and David Cameron is able to say that he has been able to negotiate a deal that protects Britain’s interests. So, suppose that is what transpires: what then?

We asked this question: ‘Imagine the British Government under David Cameron renegotiated our relationship with Europe and said that Britain’s interests were now protected, and David Cameron recommended that Britain remain a member of the European Union on the new terms. How would you then vote in a referendum on the issue?’

This time, 42% say they would vote to stay in, while 34% would vote to leave. Tory voters swing right round, from 58-29% for leaving the EU when we ask the conventional in-out referendum question, to 55-34% for staying in, if that is what the Prime Minister recommends.

This echoes what happened in the run up to the last referendum on Europe in 1975. Then, as now, the Prime Minister, then Labour’s Harold Wilson, had a problem managing party divisions. Then, as now, most voters wanted to leave the Common Market (as it then was). Then, as now, polling (specifically, a Gallup Poll in November 1974) suggested that if the Prime Minister renegotiated the terms of Britain’s membership and recommended acceptance of the new terms, opinion would swing in favour of British membership.

Wilson did talk to his European partners, and did claim a great victory (though dispassionate observers could find very little change in Britain’s membership terms). And voters duly rewarded him with a 2-1 majority for staying ‘in Europe’.

Plus ça change? Pro-Europeans should hope that Cameron is not so much heir to Blair but, rather, wily as Wilson.”

First, the questions posed all rely on the meme that renegotiation (outside of Article 50) is possible when we know that it is not; second, of the questions posed there is not one asking those respondents how much they know about the EU, so in effect the survey is worth zilch when attempting to gauge public opinion. Neither is there any question about why we should trust the recommendations of politicians – did we not trust the recommendations of politicians when, in 1972, we were assured that there was no loss of sovereignty involved with our membership?

While it is also, I would hope, known that Peter Kellner is the other half of Cathy Ashton and that his own personal views appear to be pro-EU; his organisation should be impartial, which it is not if it is condoning a false premise in the questions it asks. Neither is it impartial to be asking whether we would be prepared to trust the recommendations of politicians who have been shown to have lied to the people.

It is correct that the point of the non-electoral element involved in any democracy should be addressed, but one wonders whether, because this is an extremely involved point, time constraints will allow any meaningful discussion. On the other hand it may well be that the demands agreed, coupled hopefully with the type of democracy we would prefer, will point the way and supply answers to how any non-electoral element can be handled.


3 Responses

  1. Centaur says:

    Don’t forget those constituents whos MPs are the speaker or deputy speakers – they don’t vote at all!

  2. Derek Buxton says:

    Our political class have been lying ever since the first moves to set up the EEC, knowing full well that the EU was the ultimate aim. Once upon a time, I remember, showing my age again, that any politician telling lies in parliament immediately resigned. Would that those days were returned!

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