Consider the magnitude of what has just happened. Against the warnings of experts, the pleas of the vast majority of MPs, the wishes of almost every capitalist, and overtures from Brussels, a majority of British people have said No to the EU. They’ve done the thing almost everyone with power and influence said they shouldn’t: taken a leap into the dark; chased after the devil they don’t know in preference for the one they do; taken a big, exciting risk with the very nature of their nation. They have — let’s just say it — rebelled, and rebelled against virtually every wing of the establishment.
You don’t even have to be on the Leave side to admire this (although of course it helps if you are). You just have to be in favour of democracy. You just have to believe it is a good idea to entrust big political decisions to the people. For this is democracy in action, in all its messy, beautiful, order-upsetting glory. Behold the steadfastness of ordinary people, their willingness to act on their conviction even in the face of the threats and barbs of people with power. We hear a lot these days about how gullible the public is, how malleable are our putty-like minds, play-doh in the hands of demagogues. And yet yesterday, the people thought for themselves; they weighed things up and they decided to reject the received wisdom and the Westminster / Washington / Brussels consensus. Such independence of spirit, such freedom of thought, is stirring, surely.
Of course, some are already suggesting that voters have behaved rashly and daftly and may have been duped by Boris or Murdoch. Keith Vaz says we ‘voted emotionally rather than considering the facts’. Like anthropologists studying a strange tribe, political analysts are currently clogging up TV space and Twitter with their theories for why people voted this way: they’re scared, they feel insecure, they’re freaked out about immigration. Few seem willing to accept that people simply passed a rational, considered judgment on the EU. Ordinary people, who might not have PhDs or read the Guardian or know absolutely everything about how the EU works (but then, who does?), have decided they don’t want to be tied to Brussels. That’s it. We shouldn’t twist this, or demonise it, or delegitimise it by saying it’s a coded expression of hatred or confusion, for that is to demean democracy. The people were asked a simple question, and they gave a stirring answer.
This result should send a clear warning to every politician and bureaucrat: do not dare to take the people for granted; do not presume that they think the same way as you do; do not underestimate their capacity to think about things and discuss them and to chuck out political ideas and systems they don’t like. There is plenty of time for breakdowns of how Britain voted, for tears among the Reman campaign, and for celebrations among Leavers; but for now, let us marvel at the fact that democracy works, that democracy is powerful, and that the people can think for themselves. It is rare that politics makes me get a lump in my throat, but today it has, because generations of people fought and died for the right we have just exercised — the right to determine the destiny of our nation and to change the world.