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Why Did the Electoral Commission Run Such a Bad Referendum?

28/06/2016 11:13 | Updated 28 June 2016

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As the recriminations fly, shredding political careers by the second, there's one key player emerging unscathed, The Electoral Commission. It's the Electoral Commission's job to make sure that referendums are well run; and last week's wasn't. Being a member of the losing side this may seem like sour grapes, fair enough I am gutted, but hear me out.

Firstly and most obviously there are the lies and manipulation from both sides. Brexit leaders are already back tracking on pretty much every pre-referendum promise made. From migration to £350 million for the NHS, every big pledge has now been more or less ditched. This is not something we can gloss over, it is a national disgrace. That our leaders, supposedly the great and the good, are allowed to brazenly manipulate us should be illegal. This goes to the heart of the Brexit result. A big reason why people wanted to stick two fingers up at the establishment is that they may have the vote but they don't have power. The powerlessness that many of us feel is a social disease and mixed with globalisation and inequality has taken us to the brink. The trading of BS Euro statistics by our political elite in recent weeks makes the reality of our marginalisation more obvious than ever. We know they are lying but we vote for them anyway. We rightly feel insulted and treated like fools, so we consciously or unconsciously opt out of a club that never appeared to value us in the first place. The thing is, democracy only works if most people opt in, so the lies aren't just lamentable because they are lies, they are explicitly and directly eroding our democracy. In my view if the lie is big enough there should be a jail sentence attached. In precisely the same way as you can go to jail for obstructing the course of justice in a criminal case, if you obstruct the course of justice in a referendum by lying, you should go to jail. That may seem harsh but if eroding democracy is not a crime, what is?

Secondly and even more importantly, what on earth does Brexit mean? What was anyone voting for or against? It still hasn't been agreed. In any normal voting process, say a company motion or even general election, the decisions we face are painstakingly laid out, often in great detail. On this decision, the biggest for 40 years, there was no detail. None. No plan whatsoever. The Leave campaign have been very clear about that. So what were people voting for? According to the comments pages of The Sun something very different to what is happening. It is utterly preposterous to have a referendum where the options are not clearly defined. This undermines our already limited individual democratic choice as we don't know what we're voting for. It also provides an information vacuum for unaccountable powers, like the media, to fill with their self interest. But worse than that, it exacerbates the very disenfranchisement a referendum is supposed to counteract. Because in the end even the winners feel conned as their Brexit hopes inevitably morph into something they didn't vote for.

In the Electoral Commission's own words 'We work to support well-run elections and referendums in the UK. We also work to ensure voters know everything they need to know.' They clearly failed this time and they now need new powers to ensure that the next one, whether in Scotland, Northern Ireland or the UK as a whole, is done properly.

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