Brexit — the adolescent vote
This week on Facebook: The Brexit referendum led me to research the impact 18-34 year old voters could have had on the outcome and why they didn’t. In a nutshell it’s very simple, they either didn’t vote in large enough numbers or had not registered to vote in the first place¹. To quote Ralph Nader —
We have the most prolonged adolescence in the history of mankind.
It was interesting that those with a vested interest in a referendum remain vote knew the impact voting adolescents could have on the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Especially David Cameron² who gambled his political future on a referendum that he could have at least arranged to be more representative of the registered electorate’s will (those registered to vote), having failed in his gamble he fell on his sword. You would think that the political elite would, foremost, want to ensure a democratic vote from the majority of the registered electorate. It was clear that the political contenders in this referendum had little interest in democracy, without exception they held a single minded desire to achieve a political victory regardless of the ensuing cost.
Such political arrogance led to the popular vote (those actually casting a vote) in the Brexit referendum being more akin to those in the Guardian article with the subtitle: What happens when you put the naming of your new ship/football stand/space station to the people? They start being silly, of course. It would be nice to think that the Brexit leave vote was a protest against some perceived EU usurpation of the UK democratic process but this was largely a media driven consideration propounded by some politicians. The Brexit referendum crossed political boundaries and was also presented in some media quarters as a vote against the wishes of a UK political elite class.
The influences on all those voting in the Brexit referendum were far more diverse and often far more simple than those published in the media. Whether adolescents or not and whether voting to remain or leave, there was often an irrational reason for the way that they cast their vote. They can hardly be blamed for repeating the media’s presentation of Brexit debate, or that of equally disingenuous politicians who — quite often — encouraged silly beliefs with their facile statements.
After the last general election protesters gathered outside parliament shouting ‘That’s not what democracy looks like — this is what democracy is.’ A clear demonstration by a mobile vulgus who, whilst out of power, supported an ochlocracy. A similar demonstration of the ochlocrats took place last Saturday when a swathe of protestors marched through central London in a protest against Britain leaving the European Union. The Brexit referendum could well be called an ochlocratic vote but then that’s what referendums are in the UK and may not always return the result someone wished for.
The Guardian newspaper has inevitably joined this new generation of adolescents in whinging complaints about the referendum outcome and how it could be changed, a change that would most likely be unnecessary had these adolescents voted in sufficient numbers³. A petition supported by The Guardian suggests that a second referendum should be held, not a petition calling for a democratic vote in all referendums but a notionally democratic referendum on Brexit.
Addendum — The Guardian is now claiming that the turnout in the 18—24 page is much higher than first thought. It’s difficult to reconcile what is now seen as a high turnout (64%) by this group as the lack of a democratic voice.
Monday 4/7/16 Young people – if you’re so upset by the outcome of the EU referendum, then why didn’t you get out and vote? It has been estimated that only 36 per cent of people in the 18 – 24 year old category voted in the EU referendum. 64 per cent of young people did not bother to take themselves down to the polling station and place their vote
Tuesday 5/7/16 How voter turnout among young people could decide the EU referendum: The knife-edge vote will be swung towards Remain if turnout among people aged under 35 increases more than that of older voters.
Wednesday 6/7/16 ¹Young voters might hold key to Brexit vote—but will they use it? Young voters could hold the key to whether the U.K. stays or remains within the European Union (EU) in the forthcoming referendum on EU membership on June 23, but with a traditionally lower voter turnout, whether they will exercise their vote is uncertain.
Thursday 8/7/16 ²Why is David Cameron so desperate for young people to vote in the EU referendum? Young people are more positive about the EU. According to the Economist’s latest poll, 61 percent support staying in the EU while 18 percent want to leave. However, young people are much less likely to be registered. Even those who are on the books are notoriously tardy on the day. Thirty percent of all 20-24 year olds are not registered, compared with just five percent of those over retirement age.
Friday 9/7/16 ³Brexit was a harsh political awakening for young people: A petition is doing the rounds on Facebook asking parliament for a second referendum. People are already getting excited about it, because they think it can change things: It shows a belief that one vote can be overruled by another, in order to produce a different result.
To my mind the Brexit referendum has raised an issue that should transcend the concerns of those wishing to leave or remain in the EU. It should concern all, especially those who responded to the Brexit referendum result by implying that they had some kind of intellectually superiority. There is an uncertainty with referendums and especially the Brexit referendum for uncodified constitution of the UK regardless of the outcome.
The media are currently touting their partisan views on a legal challenge that is being raised to the implementation of the Brexit referendum result, this and other responses to the Brexit referendum indicate a lack of understanding on this matter — not the least amongst the legal profession. The electorate expect to exercise a democratic vote on relatively simple issues that they can understand, instead they are duped by whichever view they adhere to in politically contrived referendums4.
Love or hate politicians I’m with Matthew Parris on Demos and would support a free vote in parliament over that of a voting ochlocracy in a referendum.
Democracy, I believe, should always be invited to the table but rarely left to dine alone. I mistrust the quivering, awe-struck deference to Demos as though to some sacred text or divine and inviolable authority. The popular will is one factor — one of many — that it may be wise to take into account… .
And how about divisions not within a generation but between generations? It may tempt the living to enrich their lives at the expense of the unborn, who have no vote yet… .
My final problem with democracy is rooted in the possibility that through ignorance or folly, the public may simply be wrong… .
Referendums have always opened a can of worms and Brexit was no exception. Nevertheless the voting did transcend party political lines, so I’ll leave the last words on referendums to those quoted by Clement Attlee (Labour) in 1945 and repeated by Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) in 1975:
The referendum is a device of dictators and demagogues.
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