Thursday, 3 April 2014

Politics: Why Referenda Don't Work In The UK

In less than six months the people of  Scotland vote on whether they want to go it alone in the world, and break away from the rest of the United Kingdom, plus there's a lot of talk about a potential referendum on whether the United Kingdom as a whole should remain part of the European Union. As Nick Clegg kept harping on about, there's also the chance of a British referendum whenever there's a treaty change in the EU.

Before we even get to the problem of referenda there's a long history of broken promises. It's something that leaders seem to be able to promise at election time, but then mysteriously vanishes midway through the term - something Farage picked up on in the first debate. Blair was a master at not giving the people the option.

Then, when we do get down to having a vote the arguments for and against are so twisted that it doesn't work. In the AV referendum the No Campaign flat-out lied about figures in order to form both an emotive argument - why should we take this funding away from maternity wards/our soliders - and of course the economic one that it could be better spent.

The EU may not be the easiest institution to understand, but both leaders in the current debate cherry-pick their fact. The Guardian ran a great blog on fact checking their arguments after the first debate. The problem is that this shouldn't be nearly as necessary as it is. Almost every 'fact' seems to be either made up or contorted to fit what is being said.

This doesn't even touch on the huge influence that media - especially print media - tends to have over this kind of political area. With the Express printing stories like 'EU wants to merge UK with France' with absolutely no evidence at all - I actually had to go back and make sure that wasn't printdeed on April 1st - it's little wonder that people are so sceptical of the European Union. An Ipsos-Mori report clearly showed a link between exposure and awareness, and the British media is called out for being overwhelmingly negative a lot. It's mentioned in Colin Pilkington's book, 'Britain In The European Union Today', and a rather extensive piece by Nicholas Jones is dedicated to it. So therefore if the media pushes an anti-EU agenda then the public reacts in a similar way.

Basically it boils down to there being no way to get across a fair argument in situations like this - and when there is, such with the Clegg/Farage debates, it's wasted with mis-truths and flat out lies. It's unfortunate but with such a misled electorate I don't agree with having referendums - and it's why I believe they don't work.

Postscript - The Debate

Unfortunately like most people I think that Nigel Farage probably edged both the television debates on the European Union as he had more to bash Clegg with, and I think Clegg was scared about confronting Farage on his figures when Nick had obviously enhanced his own as well.

In the first debate Farage's use of 'declining' worked pretty well, anything good was admittedly happening - but it was declining. Plus his arguments about trade agreements seemed to be well thought out, even if they were again embellished. That said in the second debate he failed to answer the question of Britain's clout within the EU as well as Clegg.

The Liberal Democrat leader kept using people's names - I assume in an attempt to connect - which felt forced and corny. Plus his use of anecdotes against Farage's studies - the only thing quoted correctly - backfired. This time he wasn't up against Gordon Brown and Cameron, but somebody who equalled his charisma, making it harder to win through personality. Plus looking into the wrong camera for his opening statement, and half his closing argument in the second debate didn't help his cause.

I really don't think that the audience in debates should be allowed to react to the points of the men on the stage, as it biases the television audience - hence why they weren't allowed to clap during the 2010 leader's debates. Plus David Dimbleby is infinitely better than Nick Ferrari as a host. Anybody that appears regularly on This Morning shouldn't get to host an important debate.

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