Are referendums bad for democracy and is Jeremy Corbyn chicken?

I will drag myself out of this politics pit someday soon, but there is just so much going on down here.

Two trains of thought this morning…

ONE: Are referendums bad for democracy (Jacob Rees-Mogg probably insists on referenda as the plural form, but we not having any of that around here)?

TWO: Is Jeremy Corbyn really ‘chicken’ for voting against an election?

Anyone in a hurry can take it that the answers are, in order, yes and no.

On the BBC Today programme just now, a member of the public was asked how he would vote in a general election. His answer was that he wouldn’t be voting as he voted in the EU referendum and Brexit hadn’t happened yet – so there was no point in voting in an election.

A snapshot view, but others will doubtless feel the same. If holding referendums puts people off voting in general elections, then it could be said that such one-off opinion polls are bad for democracy.

At present we are up to our knees in a post-referendum shit swamp. The trouble with referendums is that they address a complex question with a simple binary question: is this good or bad, right or wrong? Yes/no and that’s that, we’re done. Except of course we’re not. We’ve only started down a long road into the quagmire.

Governments often hold referendums for tactical reasons, as David Cameron did when he promised an advisory referendum on our membership of the EU. His plan was to settle the Europe issue for once and all, see off the ‘fruitcake’ politics of Nigel Farage, and stop the Tories arguing about Europe.

What a marvellous calculation that turned out to be.

Now democracy is a battered football, kicked from one end of the room to the other. The Brexiteers see one referendum as the only democracy that matters, while anyone pining for the boring old parliamentary democracy of debates and votes is shouted down.

So, yes, referendums are basically bad for the fuller version of democracy.

And another problem with referendums such as the one we held is that the vote was too close to count – and that created all the problems we now see. A small majority voted on a turnout of 72.2%; a swirling shitstorm blew up, and it’s blowing still.

And yet, boring old-style democracy has this week seen Boris Johnson face three defeats in his first battle as prime minister, including his call for a snap October election being rebuffed by Labour.

According to the right-wing newspapers this morning, Jeremy Corbyn is ‘chicken’ for turning down the chance to fight an election. The Sun even turns Corbyn into a chicken, while the Telegraph (aka Boris Johnson’s PR campaign) bellows that Corbyn is a ‘hypocrite’ for voting against an election.

An easy accusation to level, as the Labour leader has been chuntering on about an election for ages.

But Corbyn isn’t chicken – that’s just the line being brandished by the Johnson crew. The timing of the election is deeply political and both sides want a date that plays well.

Johnson wants an election before the Brexit deadline of October 31; Corbyn wants to concentrate on Brexit and wait until November. Johnson wants to make an election all about Brexit; Corbyn wants to hold off so that during a campaign he can say that Johnson failed to deliver Brexit.

Not wanting an election when Tantrum Johnson demands one isn’t chicken – it’s just political gamesmanship, as played by both sides.

But there are barbed ironies here. Johnson is fulminating because he can’t have an election he swears he doesn’t want; and Corbyn is adamant he doesn’t want the election he has always demanded (or not right now at least).

Still, Corbyn isn’t chicken, he’s just refusing to play the game under Johnson’s rules.

One final irony: Johnson suspending parliament could stymie his attempts to win a vote to have an election, as time could run out. Would serve him right though, as he set that anti-democratic timebomb ticking.

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