On the 14th of February 2006, the UK Parliament voted for a smoking ban in enclosed public spaces. The BBC reported:
MPs have voted by a huge margin to ban smoking from all pubs and private members’ clubs in England.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the change, expected to take effect in summer 2007, would “save thousands of people’s lives”.
I was completely stunned that day. They voted to ban smoking in pubs? How could they do that? I thought of all the smoky pubs I’d known throughout my life. I thought of all the smokers in the local pub – the River – where I was then living. What would happen to them all?
I only found out what was going to happen to us all on 1 July 2007 when I found myself outside the River, beer in hand, “exiled to the outdoors” just like ASH’s Deborah Arnott said I would be. And I’ve remained an exile ever since. And the exile has only ever deepened. I became an exile in my own land. I still am.
And one of the lessons that I learned back then was that the MPs in Parliament who had voted for this draconian ban clearly thought that They Knew Best what was good for the people of England. Maybe they’d ban alcohol next? That would “save thousands of people’s lives” too, wouldn’t it? All I knew was that these MPs didn’t speak for me. I didn’t even think they spoke for the people of England, who I met and talked with daily – most of whom hadn’t wanted this ban either.
So back then I started to think of the “British political class” as being something separate from – and above – the British people. In fact, I started to think of the Political Class everywhere as being separate and above their people. There was an entire European Political Class, a sort of aristocracy, separate and above the peoples of Europe. And nothing brought that home harder that when, in November 2009, the EU parliament voted for a European smoking ban– complete with show trials for prominent offenders. They Knew Best what was good for the peoples of Europe, just like our Westminster MPs Knew Best what was good for the people of England in 2006. The people didn’t tell the government what to do: the government told the people what to do. That’s how things were now, and how they were going to remain.
And that’s how things did indeed remain until the 23 June 2016 EU referendum, when the British people got what was probably their last opportunity to leave the EU – and promptly seized the opportunity with both hands – to the astonishment of the Political Class, and the media, and the pollsters, and the EU, and in fact the whole world.
Now when the Irish people had been given a similar opportunity a few years earlier, and done the same thing, they were simply told to vote again, until they got the right answer. Wouldn’t the same thing happen in Britain? Or, as in other European referendums elsewhere in Europe, wouldn’t the people simply be ignored?
And yesterday, 1 February 2017, the Westminster Parliament had a golden opportunity to do what the Irish Political Class had done to the Irish, and simply overrule the people. I could well imagine all the speeches about Britain’s Place In Europe, and how we were Stronger Together, and how this was the Direction That History Was Going. I even knew who would be making the speeches. e.g. Kenneth Clarke:
So yesterday I was fully expecting that the MPs in Westminster would vote for Britain to remain in Europe. After all, didn’t They Know Best what was good for the British people? Hadn’t they demonstrated that on 14 February 2006?
I’d read that MPs were not expected to vote to remain. I knew that Jeremy Corbyn had placed a three-line whip on Labour MPs to not vote to remain. But I still thought that they’d vote to remain, because most of them, as far as I knew, were fully signed up to EU membership, and – above all – They Knew Best.
So I’m really rather shocked this morning that the UK parliament didn’t override the British people yesterday, and didn’t vote to remain in the EU.
MPs voted by 494 to 114 to back the Brexit bill in the House of Commons after 17 hours of debate. The bill gives Theresa May the go-ahead to formally tell the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
What’s puzzling me is: why didn’t they vote to override the people? At what point in time, between 2006 and 2016, did the majority of Westminster MPs decide that they didn’t know best what was good for the people? What happened? Was it just the referendum? If it was, why did they choose not to override the result like the Irish government and several other European governments had done? What had happened to the omniscient Political Class that Knew What Was Best For Everyone?
I’m beginning to wonder if the British Political Class has disintegrated. And if the European Political Class, the political aristocracy in Brussels, has also disintegrated – or is in process of disintegrating.
And perhaps the same thing happened in the USA. Just like with Brexit, the American people were expected by the media and the pollsters and the pundits to vote for the shoo-in insider candidate Hillary Clinton. It was unthinkable that anyone would vote for someone as mad and bad and dangerous as the laughable outsider Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton was the choice of the US Political Class. But the unthinkable happened, and it’s Donald Trump who has instead become the 45th US president.
Are the US Senate and Congress, as filled with members of the US Political Class as the UK Parliament is full of the European Political Class, going to resist the will of the people, and obstruct him at every opportunity? And, at the moment, it looks like they won’t. It looks like they’re going to do what the UK parliament did yesterday, and go along with the will of the people. Perhaps the US Political Class – the Bushes and the Clintons and all the rest of them – has also disintegrated? Perhaps they’ve also decided that they don’t know what’s good for everyone.
If that has happened first in the UK, and then in the USA, and looks like it’s happening in Europe as well, isn’t it very likely that it will start happening everywhere else in the world? In Canada, Australia. Maybe even Mexico and Brazil and Japan. A year or so back, we seemed all set for global government by the UN and the EU and any number of other undemocratic and unaccountable supranational organisations. But what might instead be happening is an upsurge of populism that will oust the entrenched globalist political class everywhere.
Or maybe the idea of a Political Class is an illusion? And there never was a European Political Class or a US Political Class, or maybe even a Russian or Chinese Political Class? There are only loose coalitions, held together by tenuous bonds, that look monolithic from outside, but are actually no more solid than sand dunes, easily blown away by the wind.