The Blog

Keep Your Democratic Power and Hold it Close

I never thought I'd see so many people so willing to surrender the only power we have to protect ourselves from tyranny.

Tyrants rarely seize government, the people usually hand power to them. It might seem extreme to compare the EU to a tyrant, but if you're a 23-year-old in Greece, facing a generation of deprivation and unemployment, you might not think the comparison unjust. People have fought for hundreds of years to win the right to elect their lawmakers and if the UK votes to remain on June 23rd, we will have surrendered that right for the foreseeable future. This referendum is a straightforward choice: do we hand more power to the EU, or do we reclaim it for ourselves?

Paxman in Brussels did a good job of showing how the EU works. It is an undemocratic institution. We, the people, have no power to remove those who make our laws, the EU Commission. And the people we do elect, the MEPs, have virtually no power and sit in a parliament so toothless that it might as well not be there. So what? What's the big deal about sovereignty? What's so great about democracy?

Let's use the NHS as an example. Most people in Britain support the NHS. Having lived in countries that have private health systems, I think the NHS is a miracle. It is a testament to British kindness and social equality, a very real recognition of our common interest in helping each other.

The EU is often lauded as a progressive institution, but few people realise the role it's played in curtailing workers' rights and mandating privatisation. There has been much discussion of the NHS with regard to TTIP and whether the EU's trade treaty with the US will put it at risk. If we vote to remain in the EU, and it truly decides, as part of an exercise to standardise the healthcare market, to open the NHS up to competition, there would not be a thing we could do about it, short of leaving.

The history of the EU has been one of slowly and steadily assuming the power of a nation state, without taking on the responsibility to be accountable to the people it governs. If a Conservative government threatened the NHS, we could vote them out. We could lobby our MPs, petition, put pressure on our elected representatives to back down. We only need to look at the number of U-turns George Osborne has made to see that democracy really works. When the people express their will, the results can be seen quickly - we don't even have to wait for elections.

If the EU threatened the NHS, what would we do? What would you do? Orwell wrote of the nightmare of a large bureaucracy for a reason, it is the most efficient way to suffocate freedom. Look at Greece, Germany, Spain, Italy to see how much the EU cares about demonstrations and protests. Insulated from the need to win elections, the Commission can act in what it thinks are our best interests, regardless of what we say or do, and that is the very essence of tyranny. Tyrants don't regard themselves as evil, they are motivated by what they believe is the common good, but their actions can harm people who are powerless to influence or resist them.

If we found ourselves on a collision course with the EU over an issue like the NHS, having no power to elect or impeach the people who make the law, our only remaining power would be as a nation, to leave. But what if the EU passes a law requiring all residents, not only nationals, to vote in any future referenda? What do we do then? Elect a party on a platform to take us out of Europe? It's all too remote, too slow, too vulnerable to abuse, too prone to going wrong. History shows what happens when people give away their democratic rights; it never ends well.

If my imagined scenario ever came to pass, my guess is that, just as we're letting ourselves be talked out of our democratic right to elect our lawmakers, we'd allow ourselves to be convinced that hobbling the NHS was for the greater good, for the achievement of the European Ideal. The end justifies the means.

People on the left, like Paul Mason, who recognises that the EU is undemocratic and harms workers' rights, that it will threaten the Heath Service, but who say now is not the time for taking action against it for fear of handing the Tories a victory, are doing us all a disservice. They do not understand that an unaccountable bureaucracy is much more powerful and far more dangerous than any political party.

Last week a number of creative people, some of whom I work with, some of whom are friends, signed a letter in support of the EU. If, instead of the healthcare market, we imagined the EU liberalising the media market, mandating the privatisation of the BBC, I'm sure many of those same people would rail against the EU, but we'd be powerless to stop it. The EU probably doesn't have any such plans, but we don't know, and that's the point; we don't know what any future politician, bureaucrat or government has planned, which is why we must not trust in their benevolence. We must keep our democratic power and hold it close.

I never thought I'd see so many people so willing to surrender the only power we have to protect ourselves from tyranny. The only power that gives people a real voice. If we remain, we will not only have surrendered that power for ourselves but for our children. We will have taken away from them the ability to hold their lawmakers to account. If, in five or ten years' time, like the people of Greece, you find yourself marching in the street, frustrated and angry at a crushing EU bureaucracy that isn't listening to we, the people, who want to keep the NHS, the BBC, the Pound, or any one of dozens of other national concerns, remember that we could have avoided such misery by voting to leave.

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