Brexit: Don’t Blame Democracy!by Rajesh Tandon
After the Brexit vote, people have blamed the referendum itself, the very act of giving citizens a voice in democracy! Don’t blame democracy. Introspect on the huge disconnect in the UK, says Rajesh Tandon, President, PRIA.
Ever since the results of the referendum in UK showed that 52% of its citizens had voted to ‘leave’ European Union (EU), the media is full of comments that may scare the people and leaders of the UK.
…”uncertainty and disorder jolt markets around the globe”
…”leap in the dark”
…”share markets tank”
…”Pound drops to lowest value in 3 decades”
…”very costly decision to leave EU”
…”bank shares nosedive”
… “house prices may drop”
A variety of such scary statements have been made by business leaders, experts, academics, political leaders and media reporters from UK, EU and rest of the world. Comments on social media expressed even deeper shock, disbelief and confusion caused by the UK referendum result.
As the weekend got over, the media is reporting how many voters are reconsidering the ‘leave’ decision. Some experts are calling such voters to be economically illiterate and ill-informed. “How can a majority of citizens in Birmingham vote to leave when it has so many immigrants from around the world?” “Those in Midlands and Wales who voted so massively in favour of leave do not understand how EU was benefiting them through financial transfers and investments in their counties”.
I was attending a conference in Europe last week and the result on Friday became the main focus of discussion. Academicians, university experts, NGO leaders and professionals — all agreed that this result was bad for UK, bad for EU, and very bad for the world. How could people of UK vote in this manner? They concluded that citizens of UK have been persuaded by demagogues during the campaign, without thinking about long-term negative consequences of leaving Europe. Many academicians in the UK are worried that they will lose funding of joint research projects funded by EU Horizon 2020 research programme. Likewise, several international NGOs based in UK (Oxfam, Action Aid, Christian Aid, etc) may not qualify for EU’s large funding for humanitarian and development assistance worldwide. Many professionals of British nationality working in other EU countries (and vice-versa) may have to relocate to their own countries.
I was amused by the reactions. Because the people on the street — taxi drivers, waiters in restaurants, small shop keepers — seemed to be generally fine with the ‘leave’ vote. They looked forward to being able to buy or rent cheaper homes for living; they liked the idea that rich bankers would be facing difficult times (since they all made huge bonuses encashing the meltdown of 2008); they felt re-assured that UK would have some control over who came to live there; they felt empowered that they could reject London’s self-congratulating government.
This shows that there is a huge disconnect between folks on the ground — the ordinary citizens in villages and small towns of UK — and the experts, leaders, academics, politicians, NGOs who operate at the level of London, Brussels or a global flotilla. And instead of introspecting about this disconnect and its causes, such experts, financial wizards, bankers, and politicians are now blaming the citizens who have voted to leave EU. Some have even gone ahead to blame the referendum itself, the very act of giving citizens a voice in democracy!
There are serious lessons from these results for governance in India, and other democracies as well. Economists and politicians keep quoting high rates of GDP growth; yet, millions of people in small towns and villages are unemployed and/or under-employed. Global trade agreements may have benefited large Indian corporate houses, but are seriously undermining small local producers. The starting paychecks of ‘smart’ young IT recruits may run into millions of rupees, but the daily earnings of a courier boy and garment worker have not increased beyond a few hundreds. Delhi is not India, and may also be sufficiently disconnected with the rest of the country. Experts, politicos and start-ups in NCR may not understand the daily struggles of these ordinary folks in regions of India.
So that brings us to the question — are these perils of democracy inevitable, yet worth it?