Home/Daniel Larison/‘Brexit’ and Elite Failure

‘Brexit’ and Elite Failure

Matt Taibbi comments on the elite backlash against the Leave win:

Were I British, I’d probably have voted to Remain. But it’s not hard to understand being pissed off at being subject to unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Nor is it hard to imagine the post-Brexit backlash confirming every suspicion you might have about the people who run the EU.

Imagine having pundits and professors suggest you should have your voting rights curtailed because you voted Leave. Now imagine these same people are calling voters like you “children,” and castigating you for being insufficiently appreciative of, say, the joys of submitting to a European Supreme Court that claims primacy over the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

The overall message in every case is the same: Let us handle things.

What makes this contempt for voters even more notable is that it follows a decade and more of multiple, massive elite failures, all of which contributed to one degree or another in creating the profound popular distrust of political leaders and “experts” that made it much easier for many people to vote Leave. Technocratic rule may be tolerable if the technocrats are perceived to be good at their job and retain some political legitimacy in the eyes of the voters, but when they aren’t and don’t it is hard to take their complaints about ill-informed voters seriously. One observer put it this way:

The point here is not that popular judgments are necessarily better or more reliable (in some or all of these cases political leaders initially had popular support for their disastrous choices), but that the political and media classes in the West have had a very bad track record since at least the start of the century. More important, they have presided over one failure after another largely without being held to account. This referendum offered voters an opportunity to punish the political class that served them poorly, and they took it.

One of the odder responses to the Leave win is to cite it as proof that no one should ever hold a referendum on an important question. Trying to run a government by referendum would indeed be impractical and unwise, but to give the electorate one opportunity to have its say on a significant issue on which the majority’s views are not represented by any major party seems like the most grudging concession to the people. Britain is a country full of Euroskeptics, and yet there is only one thoroughly Euroskeptic party (i.e., UKIP) and it has exactly one MP in Parliament. Voters that don’t like the EU are badly underrepresented, and the referendum just showed us by how much. One of the reasons why so many Labour voters backed Leave was that their party leaders long ago ignored their views and concerns, especially on immigration, and voting Leave gave them a way to voice those concerns so that they might finally be heard and taken seriously. It is utterly predictable that their support for Leave should now be cited as another reason to ignore and dismiss them.

Maybe these questions shouldn’t be decided this way, but it’s not as if there was another option available. Given the structure of the EU and the nature of its institutions, there is no other way for British voters (or voters in any other EU country) to hold the EU to account for their decisions. The same democratic deficit that motivated many people in the U.K. to vote Leave is the very thing that critics of the referendum result want to increase, and in the process prove that the majority was right to think that their opponents held them in total contempt.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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