MP John Hayes is, as ever, selective in his quotes from Edmund Burke, a radical Whig pragmatic politician and political sage. Burke, a democrat believing that ‘the people are the masters’ and ‘that people are the legislature’.
By the people Burke did not mean those entitled to vote but all of the people. He saw ‘society as a contract, a partnership between not only those entitled to vote but to all the people including those that are dead and those who are yet to be born’.
He also believed that the arrogance of age must submit to being taught by the young. Pollsters’ analysis suggest that the older generation determined the Leave outcome.
Burke believed in representative democracy and that ‘parties must ever exist in free countries’ and that ‘a representative owes their electorate, not their industry only but their judgement and they betray it and you if they sacrifices it to your opinion’. Burke was not one of those who think that the people are never in the wrong. But I do say that in a dispute between the people and their rulers the presumption is at least on a par in
favour of the people.
Burke believed that Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, each of which must be maintained in parliament as an agent and advocate. Parliament is a deliberative assembly of the nation, with one interest; that of the whole. You elect your members indeed but when you have chosen they are not members for your constituencies. They are members of Parliament. The referendum vote was advisory, the courts have decided that Parliament must give its consent before invoking Article 50.
For upholding the laws and customs, Judges were named enemies of the people.
Electors are given an
opportunity every five years to eject a government out of office: Hopefully before the next election each registered vote will carry a more equal weight. The general election of 2015, in which only 37 per cent of voters voted Conservative, resulted in a Conservative Government with a majority of MPs. Is this a democratic outcome?
Since the 17th century, British politics has been dominated by two major political groupings who, in pursuit of power, reached compromises which, while not satisfying their every aim, were sufficient and guaranteed that party members could continue to try to persuade their fellow party members that the compromise choice they had accepted was a poor one.
This spirit of compromises extended to their group’s opponents. Succeeding governments rarely dismantled the preceding government policies and programmes which had been widely supported by the electorate. It remains the democratic right of every citizen to use every lawful means to persuade their fellow citizens to change their minds. As a democrat, Burke was aware of the ease with which social divisions can damage social cohesion.
Representatives should beware ‘there is a mob of their constituents ready to hang them if they should deviate into moderation’. Burke was aware of human frailty, ‘those who have been once intoxicated with power and derived any kind of payment from it even though but for one year can never willingly abandon it’.
We must wait on events.