One of the things that I’ve been encouraged by in the whole Brexit process is the level of engagement. We’re even at the point now where people are raising questions about the UK’s system – the role of parliament, the role of referendums etc.
Ex-cabinet ministers such as Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo are both on record as saying that referendums are always a dumb idea. Presumably, they very much see a world where the public should only be interested in politics every five years, to elect their MP. Thereafter, they delegate all political issues to that MP, for the lifetime of the next Parliament. Doesn’t really satisfy me, because I want to be more hands-on than that.
So I think it’s a bit short-sighted. It’s not how I see things, anyway. Even for somebody who’d voted for their MP, you wouldn’t expect eye-to-eye agreement on every issue. In casting their vote, people select the person who, on balance, they judge to be the best candidate. And for someone who didn’t vote for their MP, even less of the above!
To get into specific issues, I’d be more than happy to give my opinion on a whole range of things. For example, as in the 2016 referendum. I don’t mean to dot the i’s and cross the t’s here, but to set a broad direction of travel. Do I want to be in or out of the EU, say. Should the UK maintain its nuclear deterrent? How much more tax would I be prepared to spend on education? For the most part, yes or no, but some issues where you present multiple choices. I suppose that, by implication, the best way for Parliament to elicit such responses is by referendum. So, rather than having a referendum once a generation, I’d have one every week until there was nothing left to discuss.
This does at least get rid on one criticism – the broad one that MPs are stupid and useless. Their defence would be that they were only doing what the UK public had told them to do.
So I’d be happy, then, to set a direction of travel. I then see a role for MPs, to take that direction of travel and to turn it into law. To worry about the nuts and bolts of how we implement something. Of course, at this point, I recognise that the public might specify two different directions of travel, which might make implementation of something impossible. I have ideas on this, but won’t go into them here.
The problem comes, of course, because that’s what our current breed of MPs are used to. They’re used to being elected, sure, but then on doing their own thing on an individual issue. They’re used to determining direction of travel, as well as implementing the detail. So, fundamentally, I’m talking about a different role for an MP – somebody who can take my broad instructions, and fill in the gaps.
I think there are implications to this approach. I think it was exemplified in the 2016 vote, but asking a very straightforward question does not necessarily get the clearest answer. Do you want to be in or out of the EU makes no mention of customs unions etc. – if we had have been asked about them, it would maybe have made subsequent policies easier to determine. You might argue that “out” means “out of everything”, but I don’t think it was particularly clear at the time, what everything was. In short, I think you need a good deal of skill when deciding exactly what question you want to ask.
Another implication, as I said, is that the public might contradict itself. I think there are ways of dealing with this, but we need at least to be aware of it.
Anyway, I don’t want to drone on about this subject. Suffice it to say that I think there is another way of doing things.