Why we should humour UKIP with an in-out Referendum
Party stances on immigration, and in particular those pertaining to our membership of the European Union, have dominated the run up to the election. Evidenced in the time given to the issue in ITV’s Seven-Way Leaders Debate and the furor surrounding a certain mug (no, not Farage – the Labour one). The British public has never previously been offered the chance to choose whether they want to be members of the EU, but remedying this via an in-out referendum should enable a fairer, more engaged and more representative democracy.
Our voting system is pretty dire. Every 5 years, we are forced to vote in tribes (localised and gerrymandered) and our choices are reduced to manifestos of bundled decisions. To highlight the absurdity of this situation, recently I’ve started to fill out those quizzes which quite handily pigeonhole you into a certain party. Yet my strongly-held belief that the House of Lords should remain an unelected House of experts apparently means my views on democracy bear closest resemblance to UKIP or the BNP, and thus that I am 12.5% horrible human being.
People are incredibly varied creatures and yet in politics the only way to express our views forces us to subscribe to others. This is part of the reason why the current party of protest and outrage, UKIP, is doing so well. It acts as an avenue to demonstrate disillusionment with the political process, which stems from a lack of specific expression. Voting on every issue is not possible given the complexities of governing societies and the nuances of the solutions, but a simple in-out referendum giving the people the power to decide should be devolved. The British people have never previously been able to express their views on the matter and in the democracy that we claim to be they rather deserve to.
The professed nature of UKIP is as a protest party, at least initially, against our membership of the EU. Its popularity seems to have increased since then, based on the personal appeal (however unfathomable that may seem) of Farage, and its professed anti-establishment “un-PC” image. The ITV debate demonstrated exactly how facile Farage’s position is, reducing every issue to immigration. There are far more significant concerns in this country, but UKIP is causing a drift in the political spectrum and its incidental role as a protest vehicle, has had the unfortunate corollary of driving the main political parties to out. Stating we must pay in for 4 years before you are able to take out, as the Tories are now suggesting, is a pretty shit social contract. But there is no conceivable future for UKIP post failed referendum, eliminating this drag to the right and immediately weakening Tory euro-scepticism. There are far more pressing, more interesting and relevant issues to be discussed and as Natalie Bennett argued in the debate on Thursday, these problems are caused by government policy failures rather than immigration.
The main issue with a referendum is that most parties are afraid of the disastrous situation that would occur if we were to exit Europe. But we’re in another disastrous situation. We rarely get the chance to directly vote on any issues that directly impact us. This, combined with the petty factionalism of party politics and how MPs seem to act more as parliamentarians, rather than actual representatives of the people (see the fascinating but rather petulant attempt to oust John Bercow on the last day of parliament), leads to a culture of political disengagement. Where the number of people who actually exercise their right to vote is ever decreasing, voter was at 65.1% in the 2010 election, this compares rather negatively to a very recent 84.5% turnout.
There were certain ameliorating factors during the Scottish referendum for example, but the opportunity to make an important decision on the future of the nation had a massively galvanizing effect on political engagement. Whilst the duration of this effect remains to be seen, just imagine what it could do to truly enfranchise people in this country. Once politics is brought to the people, there is much more reason for them to be involved. Given the united desire of the real parties, of our institutions and our corporations to keep the United Kingdom in the EU, there is no real way that this referendum can be lost, and I contest that the process would be incredibly worthwhile. The referendum would act like a spring clean for the UK, clearing up some nasty unwanted clutter along the sidelines of our political spectrum, whilst reinvigorating our nation.
By Abhishek Senapati
[Image Credit Giampaolo Squarcina]