Take back control… from Westminster

After Brexit, we need to turn our public spaces into our democratic forum.

Jack Harris

Topics Brexit Politics UK

It is obvious to many just how overly concentrated in the theatres of Westminster or Brussels the Brexit debate has become. Brexit, an era-defining, radical moment in British politics, has been stolen from the people. We have become a passive audience to a show in which we should be the actors.

Perhaps it was inevitable that a vote for national sovereignty in an increasingly globalised world has morphed into a discussion solely focused on Westminster and Brussels, the major institutions at play. Perhaps not.

Either way, what happens after Brexit is too important to be left to the ruling elites. We the people face some serious, profound questions. What does democracy mean after Brexit? What should it look like? Is it just about parliamentary sovereignty, or can we reimagine something infinitely better?

The first step, as spiked has argued in Beyond Brexit: A Programme for Democratic Reform, is to continue the democratic revolt. We need to have more referendums, not fewer. The people should be consulted on big issues frequently. And they should, at the very least, have a say on the future of the archaic, democracy-blocking institution of the House of Lords.

But before all this, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves: what does democracy mean? If ‘the people’ in a democracy are sovereign, how do we ensure they are in contact with this power at every single moment of every day.

More referendums on the ‘big’ decisions is a start. But it’s not the end of democratic reform. After all, how many referendums can you really have on House of Lords reform or membership of the EU?

Democracy promises so much more than a single, momentary decision as to whether we should vote Yes or No, or indeed Leave or Remain. Democratic power should be something that is felt by all people all the time. It should rest on the principle that the people should be able to use their power, take ownership of their destiny, and determine their lives in whatever way they deem fit.

To reimagine what democracy should look like after Brexit, we need to look further than the Westminster bubble, and understand what is going on in towns and communities across the country.

Because here we see that everyday public spaces, where people engage with one another, are shrinking. And with their shrinkage goes a part of the public sphere, which is so crucial to a vital democracy. Many people, for example, no longer frequent their local high street. Pubs, having been rendered too expensive, are closing down. And even the local school has become consumed by the culture wars.

We need to use the moment of 2016 in order to democratise and revitalise public space. This means we have to give life to the high street, cut taxes on alcohol, and devolve powers as far and wide as possible.

Such a seemingly small-scale approach to policymaking could help turn Brexit Britain into a truly democratic country, in which people are encouraged to engage with one another and discuss public affairs. By revitalising public spaces and treating adults like citizens, rather than like children to be nannied by the state, we can start cultivating a genuine citizenry.

Those of us who are despondent about the failure so far to deliver Brexit must rouse ourselves. Yes, the political class have used every trick in the book to diminish the radical moment of 2016. But the spirit of the referendum must not be forgotten. Instead, it must be used as a platform to fight for a world in which the people really are sovereign.

Jack Harris is a writer.

Picture by: Getty Images.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Brexit Politics UK


a watson

9th October 2019 at 12:45 pm

The hideous developments that have been and are continuing to be built in once well organised communities in London are shocking. The extent of this cultural and social vandalism, mainly by the London Labour councils, is tragic. Of course it has created good investment opportunities for anonymous international finance – and buy to let landlords – and corrupt and money grabbing estate agents. Squeeze as many ‘units’ into a development to maximise profits for those involved and to hell with the consequences.

Perverted Lesbian

8th October 2019 at 11:40 am

I agree with making changes post Brext, and I remember this article by Brendan O’Neil
Writing articles is not enough, there needs to be an online space created and an actual movement with financial backing (small donations only by individuals)
People want to get involved they don’t know how, by creating a central space more people can be galvanized.
All we can do atm the moment is come to the comment section here, which is pretty naff and could do with updating somehow.

Ven Oods

8th October 2019 at 8:47 am

Given the low turnouts for general elections, why would more frequent referenda change anything?
I’m not against the idea; just wondering whether the same moans would heard about a low pwlercentage of the electorate exercising undue influence on events…

Jerry Owen

8th October 2019 at 9:41 am

Ven Oods
If you don’t vote then really you can’t complain about low turnout, if you do vote and lose in a low turnout then clearly your case isn’t good enough or people don’t care enough about a particular issue to turnout and vote on. We all have issues we are passionate about and others we are not.
The big problem comes as with the 2016 referendum when losers will not accept they lost.
I know that I live in a tory area so my voting for someone else is a waste of my time. However i do think that in a referendum every vote counts as the bent of your local seat is immaterial and cannot influence the national feeling on an issue.
No system is ideal , not everyone will be happy. But it could be a lot worse.

Jim Lawrie

7th October 2019 at 4:16 pm

I’d like to see a programme of building public, secular squares, and policing them and their environs against anti-social behaviour. That includes drug use and alcohol consumption.
I’d take into public ownership the retail outlets around these squares and let them to businesses owned by a maximum of 6 locally resident employees.

I would have the public decide locally the architecture and materials of these squares by way of referendum.

Jerry Owen

8th October 2019 at 8:41 am

Jim Lawrie
In my village, it has been decided to knock down the 1960’s hideous central shopping parade and rebuild it into a market type square. We have actually been given a ballot slip by the council to vote to see if we agree with the councils proposals, as opposed to proposals by developers to build yet more flats and apartments on the site.
This is a first for me and very welcome it has to be said.
Oh, market square for me !

Geoff Cox

7th October 2019 at 8:54 am

I’d like to put together a presentation on this topic to take round schools – 6th form stuff mainly, but it could be for younger ages.

So far I’ve got:
More referendums – including a way for the public to demand them
A written addition to the constitution which says certain things can’t happen unless there is a referendum eg loss of sovereignty, changing currency, further devolution
Recall of MPs if a certain %age of constituents demand it
Change elctoral system to preferential system
Freedom of speech must be re-established (repeal of hate laws etc)
Reform of House of Lords (reduce, get rid of almost all politicians, have only experts with real life experience, not elected).

Any thoughts?

Forlorn Dream

7th October 2019 at 1:24 pm

A full written constitution.
Proportional representation.
Disband the House of Lords and replace with an Upper House, elected 2years after every general election. Give them the same rights and duties as the current House of Lords. The system seems fine, we just need control of the people in it.
Ability to remove from office an MP if they go against something in their election manifesto. Ie. voting or producing legislation which contradicts their party manifesto.

John Millson

7th October 2019 at 8:08 am

There is already a network of established public local spaces which the public can attend – the local government chambers throughout the UK. These would be obvious venues for Citizens’ Assemblies. Local/regional referendums could work. National referendums would have to be thought about more. Simple majority referendums? Maybe not.

Jim Lawrie

7th October 2019 at 3:44 pm

Anything other than simple majority means someone’s vote is worth more, or less, than his neighbours. You a remainer?

Jerry Owen

7th October 2019 at 4:15 pm

John Millson.
Not a fan of simple majority referendums eh ?.. We know why don’t we !

Andrew Best

7th October 2019 at 7:13 am

Good luck
They have won and that was about 25 years ago and the eu referendum was a last charge at the establishment barricades
They have repulsed that assault by the lower orders and are gloating while they build the barricades higher
We are all fubar

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