This election is about one thing and one thing only

Democracy is on the line. Do whatever you can to defend it.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Brexit Politics UK

There was a certain irony to the Matt Hancock fake-news weirdness during the election campaign. A ‘Tory source’ claimed that during Mr Hancock’s visit to a Leeds hospital the other day, one of his aides was punched by a Corbynista. Only it didn’t happen. Hancock’s man actually just walked into a protester’s arm. Oh dear. The left and liberal sets’ response to this fake news was swift and unforgiving. The Hancock punch story was invented, they said, to distract attention from the issues that really matter, especially the NHS. And there’s the irony: in truth, almost every element of this lame, insulting, hollow election campaign has been designed to distract attention from the only issue that matters right now: democracy.

The NHS, public spending, taxes, the bizarre obsession with whether or not a politician would detonate a nuclear bomb (Swinson: of course; Sturgeon: never) – all of these talking points knowingly and desperately draw the public gaze away from the fundamental question that has gripped this nation for the past three years: are we a democracy or aren’t we? Do our votes count or don’t they? Will Brexit happen or won’t it? This is the only issue that matters. Every other issue hinges on it. Health, education, industry, growth, immigration, defence – all of these concerns come second to the question of democracy, because all of them can only be properly debated and resolved through democracy. Resolving the democratic deficit and taking seriously people’s right to determine the fate of the nation is the only basis on which Britain can progress right now.

We should remind ourselves that the election itself is a direct product of the profound democratic deficit in Brexit Britain. We are voting today because the political class is unwilling and / or incapable of acting on the 17.4million votes cast for Brexit in 2016. It was the establishment’s flat-out failure to respect, never mind institute, the people’s cry to leave the EU that has made this election necessary. This election is a direct product of the current chasm-sized mismatch between the public and the political elite – between a popular will calling for a radical shake-up of the political system, and an exhausted, cautious establishment unwilling to deliver on that call. We’re voting because they do not respect our votes – this is the deep contradictory element at play today.

What this election campaign has confirmed is the existence of a powerful animus towards the popular will. Anti-democratic sentiment is rife within the political elite. It expresses itself not only in the narrow and determined crusade to stop Brexit but also in all the attendant arguments that have been thrown up by that crusade. In the idea that voters cannot be trusted to make big constitutional choices. That we’re too easily led by memes and bus adverts. That we suffer from ‘low information’ and need to be enlightened by experts. That we don’t know what we’re voting for. Over the past three-and-a-half years, anti-democracy of Victorian proportions has exploded in political circles, giving rise to some of the most explicit expressions of anti-people sentiments, and even class hatred, that we have seen in decades.

This animus towards the popular will has been apparent throughout this election. The Liberal Democrats went furthest – they went too far, in fact, even for the reactionary Remainer establishment that is devoted to the overthrow of the vote for Brexit. The problem with the Lib Dems’ election promise of unilaterally revoking Brexit is that it let the cat out of the bag: it made plain the intention of a significant section of the establishment, which is to prevent the enactment of the most populous expression of democratic intent in the history of this country. The Lib Dems laid bare the extreme anti-democracy and anti-people views of sections of the elite, and embarrassed even hardcore Remainers. The Lib Dems suffered for their honest authoritarianism.

The Remainer elite prefers to disguise its anti-democracy in the language of democracy. This is why Labour has won more favour over the past few weeks among the Remainer powers-that-be and the anti-Brexit middle classes – because its promise of a second referendum makes the planned overturning of the popular will seem more palatable. This is the great and terrible irony of Corbynism: it presented itself as a radical new movement, but now Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is the elites’ favoured tool for thwarting the people’s will. A party founded to give voice to the working classes is now used by middle-class elitists to silence the working-class cry for Brexit. What an ignominious end to social democracy in this country. To the extent that Labour’s showing in this election appears to be improving, it is largely because of the tactical-voting plans of anti-democratic elements in society whose overarching aim is to stop Brexit.

Then, on the other, supposedly pro-Brexit side of the political class, there are troubles too. This wing is too pragmatic, too cautious, and often incapable of understanding the true importance of Brexit. Witness how the Tories discuss Brexit almost as a burden. ‘Get Brexit Done’, says Boris, ad infinitum. Let’s get it out of the way, he says, so that we can go back to talking about ‘normal’ stuff like the NHS and policing, etc. What the Tories seem not to understand is that to many people Brexit is not merely a technical task, far less a pesky bridge to be crossed – it is an opportunity. An opportunity for radically reordering and democratising politics in this country by making it more accountable to us, the people. It isn’t a tick-box exercise – it’s a chance to overturn the entire technocratic era and institute the beginnings of real democratic debate and real democratic life.

Sadly, the Brexit Party has sided too much with the pragmatism and tendency to compromise of the Tory party. Its decision to withdraw from 317 Tory-held seats, and in the process to disenfranchise millions of people who want radical change, suggested it is not as independent of the cautious elites as it presented itself. It also undercut its own message to working-class Leave voters in particular. ‘You can’t trust the Tories with Brexit’, was the message to these voters, instantly raising the question of why, in that case, the Brexit Party entrusted millions of votes to the Tories by withdrawing from 317 seats. The Brexit Party’s promise may yet be fulfilled, however, especially if it does become a broader pro-democratic Reform Party after the election, as Nigel Farage has suggested it will.

The crisis of our era is actually very simple: it is that our political institutions are not fit for purpose; they do not tally with public sentiment; they are incapable of giving voice to the popular will, and in fact they are innately hostile to the popular will. The mass vote for Brexit exposed the exhaustion of the technocratic and neoliberal order. It made clear the dying nature of the old political system. And yet, as Gramsci wrote in his prison notebook in a different era of crisis, ‘the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born’. This is where we are at in the UK: the old politics is dying, and becoming more and more isolated and authoritarian as it does, while the new politics yearned for by millions is not born yet.

Is this an argument for being downbeat? Not at all. The public desire for meaningful political change is stronger than it has been for decades. Brexit exercises the public consciousness like no other issue. The expectation of democracy has intensified. The promise of democracy is cleaved to by millions of people, even as it is disregarded by the establishment. What we need now are parties and institutions that reflect this popular will. Radical populist parties and ideas are called for. Sadly, they do not exist in this election; the new is not yet born. But we still have choices. We can still vote in a way that expresses support for democracy and opposition to the Remainer elites. spiked isn’t supporting any particular party in this election but we are saying this: use your vote in whatever way you think will promote the case for greater democracy and further weaken a dying, desperate establishment that fears the popular will more than anything else.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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


Tony McMillan

1st January 2020 at 5:40 pm

Brexit v Star wars
I have just seen the movie last night and thought it a very satisfying end of the Disney trilogy. Both Finn and Rey had a much better story arc than in the last Jedi and deservedly so . I Also could not shake a feeling that the movie echoed the British election and the Brexit revolution. Poe Dameron ( Boris Johnson) with the help of Rey (Dominic Cummings) ,Chewwy ( James Cleverly ) and C3PO (Jacob Rees Mogg) defeated the sinister Palpatine ( Jeremy Corbyn) , General Pryde (John McDonnell) and Hux ( Dominic Grieve) . Palpatine using his insidious power to destroy the rebel alliance ( Tory Party) and keep it under the heel of the evil empire ( the E.U) , using the first order (the Labour Party) and their stormtroopers (momentum) to assist in their devilish deeds. But just when all hope was seen to be fading with Poe and Rey being thwarted at every turn a call went out to the Good people of the Galaxy (Great Britain) and the silent majority turned up in their millions to help the rebels stop the Empire , but they must remain alert as some of the first order survived ( Porter ,raynor,Phillips,Thornberry and of course Abbott the Hutt). Others were involved in this thrilling finale are:- Finn … Brendan O’Neill Leia …Teressa May . Lando … Nigel Farage . Zorii Bliss … Priti Patel. Maz Kanata ….Ann Widdecombe . Kylo Ren …. Tom Watson . First order officers … Cooper ,Soubury,Thornberry,Long-Bailey, Phillips and Bercow. Resistance officers …Caroline Flint , Tim Martin , Douglas Murray , Tom Harwood , Richard Tice and isabel Oakeshott. Life imitating art ? I think so.

B Fullerton

13th December 2019 at 9:26 am

“Sadly, the Brexit Party has sided too much with the pragmatism and tendency to compromise of the Tory party. Its decision to withdraw from 317 Tory-held seats, and in the process to disenfranchise millions of people who want radical change”
So you would rather divided the democratic (brexit) vote and have got Corbyn’s commies in instead.

Neil McCaughan

13th December 2019 at 9:18 am

You may have ruined poor James Corden’s Christmas, and no one seems to care. And will no one think of Lily Allen?

Jane 70

13th December 2019 at 8:57 am

Well, a resounding victory for all of us-the plebs and ignoramuses-who didn’t know what we were voting for 3 years ago.

No more Grieve, Soubry, Bercow,Umunna, Swinson.

Perhaps ,finally, the msm,the Beeb , the twitterati and the rest of the patronising commentariat will take heed of democracy in action and stop telling us what’s best for us.

Boris needs to get us out without delay;no more havering, no more delays.

So, Boooh Jeremy Corbyn, time to retire to the allotment where you may ponder the joys of anti-imperialist gardening practices.

H McLean

13th December 2019 at 2:56 am

The electorate is never wrong. Anyone who claims people were duped or tricked into voting a particular way is a cad and a liar. If they ever want to be relevant again Labour need to walk away from identity politics.

Filbert Flange

13th December 2019 at 1:00 am

Im going out on a short limb here, but congratulations are already deservedly due. You, my cousins, have at least postponed the demise of individual freedom itself for another election cycle. I do not exaggerate to state that I have wept on behalf of my ancestors, who have lived and breathed England for as long as as my research indicates. 1100 years — so far, and likely much longer.

I may reside almost off the left side of the world, but my blood still flows from the Sherbourne.

Filbert Flange

13th December 2019 at 1:40 am

To be perfectly clear, by “cousins” I refer to everyone, black, white, yellow, red, brown, purple, green and even pizza. We are all related and brothers and sisters after all, no matter where we’re are and/or originate.

Marvin Jones

16th December 2019 at 4:38 pm

You must be far left of the extremely far left. What sentimentality. Have you not read or seen in the last few years of primitive savage mutants cutting the heads off of innocent people who went far a field to help them and their people? not aware of some poor soul, burnt alive in a cage? Still love the unevolved savage that thinks they are civilised?

Jim Lawrie

13th December 2019 at 12:31 am

The response will be all out condemnation of the working class followed by demands for a rerun.

They think working class people lacked the mental equipment to grasp the meaning of the court cases that culminated in the September 24th ruling. Or the perception to see that what was going on in Parliament was betrayal.

Michael Lynch

13th December 2019 at 2:45 am

They’ll blame it all on the Russians. Oh, hang on a minute, aren’t the Russians mates with Corbyn?!

Jim Lawrie

13th December 2019 at 11:04 am

Michael the blame game is in full sway, fists swinging and fingers pointing everywhere except at themselves.
Myself, I blame the parents … and the schools … and the 1960’s …. and the French…. and that bloody Common Market.

Jerry Owen

12th December 2019 at 11:43 pm

Early doors but it appears that the Tories are becoming the party of the working classes.
Blythe result historic !

Filbert Flange

13th December 2019 at 1:32 am

I often find my newfound Tory affiliation jarring. But I sm beyond certain the left and right paradigm is dead. It’s now collective v individual.

Michael Lynch

13th December 2019 at 2:48 am

It was a brilliant moment; the confirmation of the Exit Poll prediction. I’m off to bed I think, to sleep the best sleep since the Referendum!

Marvin Jones

16th December 2019 at 4:44 pm

I would love it if Boris starts to think of the WASPI women, of which my wife is one, who have worked for forty years and more, and then ordered to retrain if need be to work another 6 years at the time of life that all sorts of aches, pains and illnesses befall them, in preference to illegal migrants flooding in from one of our neighbour EU countries, never paid a penny in, but dependent on our benefits, often for eternity. BUT ALAS!

Bella Donna

12th December 2019 at 11:13 pm

I spoilt my ballot because I had no one to vote for. TBP and UKIP weren’t represented and I despise my tory MP.

Neil McCaughan

12th December 2019 at 10:54 pm

Will Jonnie Hennly’s mummy let him stay up to share this special moment with us?

Jerry Owen

12th December 2019 at 11:41 pm

I think he’s being winded before he has his Ovaltine at the moment.

steve moxon

12th December 2019 at 10:11 pm

Liebore = burnt toast.
This is going to be worth staying up for!

Brandy Cluster

12th December 2019 at 9:38 pm

You are so right: this is what happened with the division between the Red Russians and the White Russians in early XXth century. The ‘winners’ in that vicious contest did a good job of destroying any notion of a competing narrative and opposition and the craven and cunning Left reverts to atavistic behaviours of its close relatives in the former soviet bloc and near neighbours.

I’m very fearful for the UK and have been watching this unfold, very closely, from Australia. Go well.

Jerry Owen

12th December 2019 at 6:40 pm

Farage, who I have enormous respect for has said if we leave the EU he will change TBP party to the Reform Party. Yet he intimated that we should vote Tory to stop labour and the Libdems, this from a man who wants to ‘change politics’! What other party leader has suggested voting for another party?
Farage has given mixed messages, not a good idea in my opinion.
I wanted a BP candidate to vote for, now I have no one.What a tragedy that the man who wants to change politics leaves millions of us with no opportunity to change politics.

Brandy Cluster

12th December 2019 at 9:39 pm

It seemed to many of us in Australia that Farage is an attention-seekers.

Jerry Owen

12th December 2019 at 9:57 pm

I disagree that’s not based on logical thinking or evidence of his character. I think he’s just made a bad judgement , he thought the Tories would stand down in some of his areas but they put party first and not Brexit and rather stuffed TBP and us no doubt.

Michael Lynch

13th December 2019 at 2:56 am

No, the man is a hero. In some areas where the BP stood the Leave vote has been split and allowed Remain Labour MPs in. He had no other choice but to stand down with our first past the post system; it’s not representative as in other countries. Otherwise we’d have definitely ended up with another hung Parliament. He had to swallow any excessive pride he may have and do the right thing for democracy. If there’s one thing you want to accuse him of, it’s good old fashioned British pragmatism. Good on him and I hope he goes over the pond to help Trump defeat the virtue signaling Democrats.

M Blando

12th December 2019 at 5:57 pm

My dearest wish was for something ‘new’ to vote for in this election. The Brexit Party could have filled the void as a first foundation for more to follow. Alas, it appears to have desolved though I still hope (results not yet in) that there will be some BP MPs armed with a cattle prod.

It would be wonderful if I could vote for someone I actually wanted ‘in’, as a management team for the country… rather than always finding myself voting to keep the worst out . Though the new motivation for my vote in as described above: a defensive vote for something that should not need defending in this age – democracy.

James Knight

12th December 2019 at 5:52 pm

I agree but Leave campaigners have failed to get that point across. This is even when Corbyn and the lib dems clearly want to spit in the face of voters and it is against a track record of referenda in the EU being shamefully over-turned. All the blather about the “YouthQuake”, nobody mentioned that if you are a young person who believes in anything with conviction and secured a democratic mandate for it then politicians can just piss all over it. Corbyn’s pathetic trinket of “free broadband” was supposed to distract people, especially young people, from the largest betrayal of democracy in British political history.

It is true that Brexit could be salvaged by the Tories but it is just looking less likely. Johnson’s “Oven Ready” deal is in fact a half-baked, re-heated version of May’s non-withdrawal agreement that will hobble the UK in any future negotiations. The idea of a “political declaration” needs to be ditched: a political declaration is for when you are joining a political union, people voted to leave one. There is no talk of a “political declaration” for a trade deal with the US.

M Blando

12th December 2019 at 6:00 pm

This is why I’m sincerely hoping some Brexit Party representation ends up in power – with the conservatives. Their role would be to needle and prod for a real Brexit. Any other result will be bad news indeed.

Filbert Flange

12th December 2019 at 5:30 pm

Again, I’m keeping my beak out of your election, but would like to take this opportunity to wish you ALL bon chance! Even the hive drones. And exclaim my joy for the time difference. I will know the results whilst supping my dinner. Bloody marvelous…


12th December 2019 at 3:34 pm

>>Not sure if O’Neill’s notion of “a powerful animus against the popular will” holds true. <<
I don't understand. The remainder of your comment explains precisely why it does hold true

K Tojo

12th December 2019 at 3:16 pm

Not sure if O’Neill’s notion of “a powerful animus against the popular will” holds true. If the popular will aligned with the road that the Liberal-Left media / political class believe society should be travelling then populism would not have become a term of abuse. The popular will would be treated as clear evidence of the good sense of the common people rather than the ignorance of the masses.

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