Roger Harris house of lords flickr cc

The Leave Campaign Couldn’t Care Less About Democracy

On 12 July, just a couple weeks after the EU referendum, the UK will get a new parliamentarian. There are 17 candidates, and the lucky one will be elected by just 31 people, all of them hereditary peers – people who, simply because of some favour one of their esteemed ancestors did for a monarch or politician, are born into a seat in the Lords and allowed to shape the laws the rest of us have to live by.

They will be electing a replacement for Lord Bridges – alumnus of Eton and Oxford – who lost his seat in the Lords for not bothering to turn up at all for a full year without giving notice.

The candidates have submitted 75-word manifestos – although a couple didn’t bother – that are so dripping with entitlement they make your skin crawl. One starts: “I wish to inherit a seat as promised in letters patent (by the monarch). All my ancestors on both sides have served.” Reading them gives a sobering insight into the mentality of these people: they genuinely believe they have a God-given right to rule the country; that they are innately – biologically – better than us.

It is important to remember these people – and the Lords as an institution – are far from some quirky relic of a fading aristocracy; they are alive and well, and the politics they represent (for now) is very much in the ascendency. On more than one occasion since the Conservatives won an absolute majority of seats with just 37% of the vote, many on the left have looked to the Lords to reign the Tories in – most notably on cuts to tax credits. Still, we cannot lose sight for a second that this is a profoundly undemocratic – anti-democratic – institution, desperately in need of abolition.

But really, the complete lack of democracy in the Lords is fitting for this country. On more than one occasion – and without anyone really batting an eyelid – governments have been elected having lost the popular vote. In 1951, Clement Attlee’s Labour won 200,000 more votes than Winston Churchill’s Conservatives, but it was the Tories who took a majority of seats (and went on to introduce prescription charges for medication, beginning the long road to the privatisation of the NHS that Tories since have dutifully continued). It had already happened in 1874 and 1929. Again in 1974, the loser won. And let’s not forget: we still have a fucking monarchy.

The UK is deeply, deeply undemocratic. You could hope, from the chirping and wailing of Brexiters, that we were on the cusp of a new democratic revolution; that whichever way the vote goes, after the referendum they will turn their ire from the unelected eurocrats in Brussels to the unelected aristocrats in our own legislature. But they won’t.

The reality is that the toffs and millionaires who make up the leadership of the official Leave campaign have the most to lose from democracy, because they’ve gained most from its absence. For all the fears and anxieties and alienation in working class communities they prey on, the official Leave campaign couldn’t care less about democracy. That’s not what this referendum is about.

Whatever your opinion about the EU is, whatever you think about Greece or TTIP, that’s also not what this referendum is about. Whatever the people in the miniscule, irrelevant fringes of ‘Lexit’ tell themselves this election is about also doesn’t matter. There is no ambiguity about who runs the campaign to Leave, and whose politics will be emboldened if the vote goes their way. (Hint: it isn’t TUSC, it isn’t the Greek working class, it certainly isn’t migrant communities in this country.)

This referendum is about racism. They’ve said it explicitly: they don’t care if it harms the economy, they don’t care if their numbers don’t stack up, they don’t care about how laws actually come through Europe, they don’t care if it is a disaster for us. As long as it keeps migrants out – or wages down – they’re happy.

When the Leave campaign talks about democracy, the hypocrisy is laughable. But if they were just hypocrites, it wouldn’t be so bad. We need to win this referendum, because there’s no other option for us. Then we need to get on the offensive against these people and their anti-migrant, anti-worker and anti-democratic politics.

On 24 June there will be an unprecedented crisis in the Conservative party. Please, for God’s sake, let’s make the most of it.

Photo: Roger Harris/House of Lords

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Published 17th June 2016

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