Ever since the referendum last in June 2016 I have had a fairly constant flow of emails from constituents who regarded the result as a catastrophe demanding that the referendum be re-run. One of the particular features of this correspondence is that the authors want a continuing conversation with me, and any answer that I give only encourages further emails and argument. Whilst email lends itself to a conversation, I get over 100 emails daily in addition to the many other things that I need to do, which makes it difficult to conduct multiple conversations with constituents released from the disincentive of paying for a stamp and making their way to the post box.
Now this daily flow has been augmented by scores from constituents outraged by what they consider to be a betrayal of the BREXIT vote implicit in the Government’s evolving negotiating position.
A common feature of both sets of correspondents is their certainty that they speak for everyone else, that everyone they converse with agrees with them, and that as their representative I should do likewise.
I think their belief that their own opinions are universally held springs from two sources. First: many people mix in company with people just like themselves, so it is not surprising if they hear opinions similar to their own. Second, we are a tolerant and polite people, when some bore keeps banging on about their hobby-horse, instead of taking issue and arguing with them, we take the line of least resistance by pretending to agree, even if only in the hope that it will shut them up.
As for my responsibility to represent them, my duty is to represent all my constituents, 99.99% of whom have not expressed any opinion to me whatsoever. I owe them my judgement by listening to the arguments and debate, a debate that takes place in Parliament with other elected representatives. I must not be prisoner to any vociferous email lobby.
A common theme of the latest surge of email correspondence from those who believe that their pro-BREXIT vote is being betrayed is that this is such a gross affront to democracy that the entire edifice of government now needs to be razed. These are what I call the ‘crazies’, who adhere to a doctrine of ‘revolutionary defeatism’: they believe that because the BREXIT settlement will not be exactly to their specification, like Sampson we must bring the whole temple down on our heads -whatever the consequences, and a new democratic Britain will somehow emerge from the ruins.
I am not going to join any political suicide squad. I voted for a ‘hard Brexit’ in the referendum, but there were plenty of other BREXIT flavours being touted. After all, for years constituents have been telling me that they were duped in the 1975 referendum because they only thought they were voting for a ‘Common Market’ not signing-up to political integration. Well, I voted ‘No’ in 1975 because I didn’t even want the market, and I want to be free of its limitations now. Can I be sure however, that many, perhaps even a majority of BREXIT voters, would be satisfied to be free of political integration and yet hang on to the market?
My duty must be to secure what is the best BREXIT achievable according to my judgement, but in doing so I must not put at risk the prospect of achieving any BREXIT at all: That really would be an affront to our democracy.