Before 2016, barely anyone would have recognised the term ‘Brexit’. 3 years on, it is the most discussed issue in UK politics, and has incited two general elections and a referendum. The problem is, every nationwide vote so far has resulted in even more confusion than the last – so what has the 12th December election done to change that? Has the vote been a step in the right direction for democracy?
For the first time in 5 years, one party has been able to achieve a majority. And not a small one at that. While this result appears to answer some crucial questions – such as the direction of the country in response to Brexit – it has also opened up a plethora of new issues to address.
After 3 years of uncertainty, will the results of this election be good or bad for democracy? On one hand, democracy will be improved as the inefficiency of Parliament since 2016 will finally come to an end. Brexit voters can also feel that they have been heard, because with Johnson’s commanding majority, the January Leave date will surely be the one that will stick. What is more, in his victory speech, Johnson addressed the many Labour voters who have ‘lent’ their votes to him, promising to fulfil the trust they have placed in him ; and as such there is a sizeable amount of pressure on him and the Conservatives to honour their Leave promises. From a Leave perspective, it looks certain that this election will have a positive effect on democracy, as the strings attached to Johnson’s mandate mean he cannot ignore the electorate’s demands. Brexit will happen.
From a Leave perspective, it looks certain that this election will have a positive effect on democracy, as the strings attached to Johnson’s mandate mean he cannot ignore the electorate’s demands. Brexit will happen
However, in order to give Brexit the electoral support it needed, some democratic privileges have been lost. Labour ‘Leave’ strongholds have put aside their traditional democratic beliefs on other issues and swung dramatically in favour of the Conservatives. While this is very positive for Johnson, it is a risk being taken by many blue-collar, working class labour voters, who have put aside the ideologies and beliefs they have held for decades (albeit temporarily), and consciously voted in a Conservative majority, thereby undeniably prioritising Brexit above all else. While this is democratically positive with regard to having their Brexit beliefs heard, many of these Labour voters have admitted not taking pleasure in voting Conservative, and are risking diluting their democratic representation on issues other than Brexit in order to do so. This is a staunch indication of Brexit having a more damaging effect on democracy; for some Labour voters, such as in Workington or Blyth Valley, the shift they have had to make to their democratic beliefs to accommodate Brexit is huge.
Another issue is that Brexit’s domination since 2016 has been detrimental to non-Brexit related policies. As the results of the 2019 election indicate, politics and issues outside of Brexit have up until now appear to have been stagnant. Looking more closely at this, the voting patterns of this election suggest that many issues such as the NHS, education, the economy and so on have simply been pushed to the back of people’s minds, as these are clearly not the issues which were the turning point in getting the Conservative party into government. YouGov studies found that Brexit was the most important issue to voters leading up to the election, with almost 70% of Britons ranking it in their top three issues, the second being Healthcare (40%) . This concept is astonishing when we consider how little-known the issue of Brexit was before the referendum, and compare this to today. Even if this stagnation is resolved following Johnson’s win, that does not erase the last three years of it; post-2016 politics have been a different era for democracy entirely, one that had not made either Brexiteers nor Remainers feel particularly represented.
Returning to a positive aspect of Brexit on democracy, we can argue that the historic votes of 2016, 2017 and 2019 have all shocked pollsters to some degree and are an indication that the system does allow for real changes to our system of governance. There is no denying that it was a democratic vote which has altered politics today because of the demands of a large portion of the electorate, which by definition, is a positive example of democracy.
At the wake of the 2019 election, the positive from a democratic perspective, is that politics will start moving again. The period of confusion on whether Brexit would happen has ended, and the government will carry out the result of the 2016 referendum vote. The Conservatives have won a comfortable majority, and as such they will certainly be able to make the changes they wish to UK policies and attempt to negotiate the Brexit deal and trade deals they want over the next 5 years.
Surely, one could argue, this can only be a good thing for democracy?
Not necessarily. There is also a risk that this very same assured Conservative majority could hinder democracy in the long run. Despite Labour’s best efforts, few could disagree that this has been the ‘Brexit’ Election . Since the election has been so dominated by one issue, this leaves a large amount of grey area regarding two major aspects of governance; non-Brexit related issues, and the finer details of Brexit.
There is also a risk that this very same assured Conservative majority could hinder democracy in the long run. Despite Labour’s best efforts, few could disagree that this has been the ‘Brexit’ Election.
This risk to democracy is made more prominent by the fact that there is little opposition. Usually, no matter who is in government, the opposition can make their voices heard, and hold the standing government to account. This is of course good for democracy as it allows for more of the electorate to be represented, and during such a divisive period as this, it is arguably very needed. With such a reduced opposition however, there will be very little scrutinisation of the government’s handling of not only Brexit, but issues which have yet to be discussed, such as future trade deals, the economy, or social issues.
It should be noted that, in terms of policy-making, a large majority is positive for democracy as the country can finally try and move on from the referendum. However, when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of Brexit and life after leaving, this is where democracy could be hindered. There are many aspects of leaving which are not universally agreed on by Brexiteers; some of its biggest advocators disagree on how it should be executed. And the new surge of former Labour voters for the Conservative Party will not make that process any less complicated.
As such, when it comes to the long-term implementation of Brexit, there is the risk that swathes of Brexit voters are at risk of also being misrepresented as time goes on, and as new issues arise. The Remain vote of the population will already be unrepresented in the next 5 years of Conservative government; if Leave voters also begin feeling increasingly ignored in future negotiations, the government risks acting on behalf of a minute portion of the UK population.
So does the latest General Election signify a betterment of UK democracy? Perhaps betterment would be too kind a term to use, since democracy post-2016 can be viewed as a period of stagnation – but the solid majority of the 2019 General Election could certainly be argued as a democratic return to form, no matter your opinion on the result.
Initially, it may seem that the Conservative majority and the promise of Brexit are a leap forward for democracy. However, the lack of a solid opposition and the lack of a unified plan after the initial exit from the EU proposed by the Conservatives could in the long term, cause far more problems to democracy than it solves.