Obligations . . .
Doesn’t it feel fantastic to live in historic times, not least when (apart from a Labour MP’s) no blood has been shed? Here we are in a confounding, bruising battle which largely flows back and forth through trenches of verbiage and where the only mud is of the slinging variety? And tonight the lobbies of the Commons will be thronged by excited MPs casting their vote – perhaps for the first time in a long time hoping that they are truly in the cockpit of the nation. Such a sensation rarely intrudes on the fodder like instincts of our legislators.
But as the nation waits with bated breath for the result later this evening – I can see now whole families huddled around their wirelesses – I have to say many of the vox pop snapshots of public opinion reveal a very depressing trend. This is the weariness trend, often expressed in such phrases as ‘why can’t they just get on with it’ or ‘why don’t they stop squabbling?’ One version of this which I heard expressed on the BBC Ten O’clock News last night was ‘If they were directors of a company they would have been sacked by now.’ As if the whole country had been privatised. This is the most depressing line of thought for anyone who thinks democracy means anything more than just occasionally having a binary vote. It seems, from what the media has portrayed of public opinion that this exasperation has grown – and why of course wouldn’t it when the subject is getting wall to wall saturation coverage? People might be forgiven for getting bored with it. Don’t we just want the problem to go away, so, as one vox pop respondent said, they can just get on with their life?
If that is indeed the mood of the country then a second referendum result will dash the hopes of remainers. I hope MPs tonight remember that public opinion can be delusional – and contradictory. At the start of the First World War, going to war was overwhelmingly popular. It wasn’t four years later. Maybe that explains why appeasement was overwhelmingly popular in the late 1930s – but we know what happened there. These two examples demonstrate to me why MPs should exercise their consciences and not merely reference ‘the people’s decision’ and behave like dogs on a lead. They are representatives, not delegates. That may mean that some, perhaps many could be looking for a new job come the next general election. That’s the nature of the game. One just needs to remember that about one third of the public voted to leave, around one third voted to remain and about one third couldn’t be arsed. MPs have a duty to be fully engaged in their job – the public has no such obligation.
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