Daniel Moylan speech on Democracy, Battle of Ideas, 14 October 2018

Battle of Ideas, 14thOctober, 2018

Debate on Democracy

Notes for opening remarks

This is the weekend to be debating democracy, because this is the week when we shall likely find out if it still exists in our country.

Two years ago, 52% of electors voted to leave the European Union. 48% voted to remain. What nobody – absolutely nobody – voted for is the travesty of a future relationship currently proposed by the government.

If you’re not angry about that, you have come to the wrong debate.

And if you say that it shows that the British people are too stupid to be allowed a direct say on matters of constitutional significance, you should be ashamed. There can be no meaningful discussion of democracy without an assumption of adult universal suffrage and there is nothing that the Swiss, the Californians and other countries with similar systems can do that the British people cannot be trusted with.

And if you want to bracket Trump and Brexit and the rise of the alt-right into one intellectually lazy hold-all called “populism”, you should apologise, because they have nothing in common in their motivation, and are only united because they constitute a sensible and judicious rejection of a governing class that has offered no choice.

We have the editor of the Economist here, who has recently produced a valiant defence of Liberalism, and Liberalism is as good a way as any of getting a grip on why we are in this mess.

I have read that heartfelt essay and the flaw at the centre of it is that its author cannot decide if Liberalism is a point of view to be argued for – in the democratic forum, in competition with other ideas – or a system, an order, that frames our way of life – with which, of course, therefore, there can be no arguing apart from revolutionary insurgency.

And while lip-service is paid to the former, what is envisaged is clearly the latter.

The failure of Liberalism is the abandonment of argument and the adoption of imposition.

At its most exuberant, this led to the assimilation of the neo-con version of Liberalism and the view that democracy could and should be imposed by military means, the extravagant support for which by the Economist in 2003 was the reason I cancelled my subscription after many years and have never bought a copy since.

In our own less tempestuous societies, the use of force has not been called for. Instead the removal of democratic choice from the people has proceeded piecemeal by stealth. Let’s list a few examples:

1. the policy merger between New Labour and Conservatives over a twenty-year period

2. the transfer of decision-making to “independent” authorities, from the Bank of England to the Crown Prosecution Service, to the Parole Board, all “independent” only in the sense that they are accountable to no-one and therefore offer no recourse for those with a grievance

3. the closing down of wide areas of debate by political correctness

4. and of course the EU: that imperialist body designed by its founders to be as immune to democratic control as could be decently contrived, to which access can be bought by any company with the money to pay the lobbyists, and which, in relation to the world outside, is one of the most managerial and anti-competitive polities around apart from China.

All these steps were taken in pursuit of Liberal values and all of them are now a busted flush.

And I say all that with some regret. I am not a Liberal. I am a Tory. But a Tory with many Liberal inclinations. And Liberalism has made a hash of it.

And now we are going to make an even bigger hash of it. If the government does not deliver the Brexit the people voted for – on a prospectus well set out at the time by a supposedly neutral government of leaving the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union – then the shock to confidence in the governing class and the democratic system will be irreparable.

And the consequences will be unpredictable. Why should an MP, opposed to independence in Scotland, feel obliged to vote for it merely because it has been supported in a referendum? Think of that, Nicola Sturgeon. It will be a bed you made.

But there is some cause for hope. Parliament is palpably back at the heart of our political life. The choice between the parties has opened up – and may open up further if they find the strain of Brexit, added to the customary distinction between Left and Right, leads to their break-up. The governing class, while still not listening to the voters, are at least chary of them. We can get this right – and we can successfully argue for the Liberal and Tory policies we might unite in thinking work best, provided we no longer seek to impose them.

But first we have to get this week and the coming months right. Democracy is really in peril. Whatever we do, the repercussions for democracy will resound through Europe and many other parts of the world, countries in Asia and Africa that have inherited their democracy from us. As TS Eliot (a Tory) wrote in Little Gidding, “History is now and England.”