On Sunday 29th of March 2016 the Guardian published an article by the actor/commedian David Mitchell entitled "The EU referendum should be a matter for parliament" in which he argued that it was wrong for David Cameron to offer a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union as a Tory manifesto pledge. In the article Mitchell quoted the evolutionary biologist/relentless self-publicist Richard Dawkins view that it is an "outrage" that the public have been given a vote on whether we remain in the EU or not, and that the whole decision should be "a matter for parliament".
In this article I'm going to explain why I think Mitchell and Dawkins are dangerously wrong to claim that such important decisions should be left to our superior lords and masters in parliament to decide on because the general public are too ignorant to decide for themselves.
Before I get to explaining how utterly wrong-headed the Mitchell/Dawkins "leave it to our lords and masters" view is, first I'm going to point out where David Mitchell was right. Mitchell described Cameron's offer of a referendum on the EU as a "hugely selfish and irresponsible act" driven mainly by the decades old Tory rift between the pro- and anti-EU factions and Cameron's terror of losing Tory votes to UKIP.
It's absolutely clear that Cameron's offer of an EU referendum was firstly a sop to the large number of mainly extreme-right Tory MPs who detest the EU and secondly as a ploy to derail the UKIP surge in Tory constituencies.
The decision to offer a referendum on the EU was based entirely on Cameron's own self-interest. In the year before the 2015 General Election UKIP trounced the Tories (and everyone else) in the low-turnout EU elections and two Tory MPs conducted high profile defections to UKIP. Cameron knew that if he didn't do something to draw the UKIP thorn then the Tory prospects of winning the 2015 General Election were very grim indeed.
In the short-term Cameron's EU gamble was a success. The Tories gained a majority at the 2015 General Election, in which the extreme-right Thatcher-worshipping Ukippers ended up taking more votes off Labour than they did from their Tory ideological blood brothers.
In fact it was such a successful gamble that we ended up with the remarkable, if not completely unprecedented situation where the UKIP leader Nigel Farage ended up publicly appealing for UKIP supporters to vote for the Tory party instead of his own party's candidates!
The problem of course is that in the longer-term the dice has to be rolled, and it's on a knife edge whether the UK will end up remaining in the EU or engaging in a chaotic Brexit led by a bunch of right-wing fanatics who haven't offered anything even remotely resembling a coherent plan for what a post-Brexit UK would look like.
If the public vote to remain in the UK then Cameron's selfish gamble will have been a success, however if they vote for Brexit then the short-term gains will be massively outweighed by the cost. Cameron's position as Prime Minister would be completely untenable and anyone who imagines that there wouldn't be severe chaos as a result of the utter lack of a coherent economic plan from the Brexiters must be utterly delusional.
Where Mitchell and Dawkins are wrong
Both Mitchell and Dawkins argue that referenda on lesser issues (such as fox hunting) would be fine, but that membership of the EU is far too important to be left to ordinary plebs to decide.
There is no arguing that huge numbers of people are woefully under-informed about the arguments for and against membership of the EU (due in a large part to the spectacular levels of bias in the UK mainstream media), however what makes the Mitchell/Dawkins stance so desperately patronising is the idea that our lords and masters in the Westminster political establishment know any better.
Parliament isn't full of experts
The idea that parliament is full of experts who are better qualified to make important decisions than the plebs is completely wrong-headed.
First of all it doesn't take any kind of special economic expertise to get elected to Westminster. Everyone knows that if you stick a red rosette on a pig it would get elected in some areas, and that a dog turd with a blue rosette would win an equally impressive landslide in certain Tory heartlands. You only have to listen to intellectually stunted individuals like Nick Gibb (Tory) or Naz Shah (Labour) to realise that under our deeply unrepresentative electoral system it's entirely possible for people who can barely string a sentence together to get into parliament.
Further proof that MPs are hardly an economically enlightened elite can be seen in the results of a Positive Money survey of MPs that found that only one in ten MP understood that the vast majority of the money supply is created out of nothing by private banks when they make loans, while more than seven out of ten of them actually believed in the ridiculously naive economic fairy story that all new money is created by the Bank of England on behalf of the government.
If the overwhelming majority of these people don't even understand the absolute economic basics like where money comes from, how on earth are they any more qualified than the man on the street to make decisions with important economic ramifications?
There has been a mainstream media blackout on the story that over two dozen Tory MPs stand accused of conning their way into parliament at the 2015 General Election by misdeclaring their electoral expenses. The allegations are extremely serious and multiple local police forces are investigating individual cases while there have been numerous calls for a Metropolitan Police investigation into whether Tory party HQ were guilty of orchestrating the fraud on a party-wide basis.
If more than two dozen Members of Parliament are indeed guilty of cheating their way into Westminster, what on earth would give them the right to decide whether the UK remains in the EU or not on our behalf?
Say what you like about the ordinary British citizen, much of it is likely to be unflattering, but nobody can accuse them of cheating their way into position to make such an important decision about the future of the UK.
Bowing and scraping
A notoriously liberal TV celebrity and a "ivory towers" professor lecturing the public that they are too stupid and ill-informed to make important decisions for themselves really does not reflect well on the Bremain camp at all. In fact it's a dangerous stance because, like it or not, the decision to have a referendum has already been made. This means that any effort by Bremainers like Mitchell to tell the public that they're too stupid to decide things for themselves, and that it's best left to the Wesminster establish to decide our fate, is likely just to just drive more people into the Brexit camp.
The funny thing about a lot of British people is that they absolutely love to bow and scrape before their lords and masters. Just look at the pathetic fawning over the royal family, listen to the absolute drivelling dirge that passes for the national anthem, or consider the fact somehow we ended up re-electing the most dangerously fanatical, out-of-touch and incompetent bunch of over-promoted elitists in living memory as our government. However the British really don't like to be told that they must bow and scrape before their betters, especially by a liberal TV celebrity and an "ivory tower" dwelling academic. There's a prevailing attitude that "we'll bow and scrape to our lords and masters because we want to, not because we're told to".
David Mitchell was absolutely right to point out that Cameron's offer of an EU referendum was an incredibly reckless gamble based purely on Tory self-interest, however he's wrong to claim that such important decisions should be left to the Westminster establishment.
He's wrong because the Westminster establishment are just as deeply misinformed about fundamentally important economic issues as the man on the street (if not more so because they live in an insulated bubble of wealth, power, privilege and influence).
He's wrong because a significant number of MPs stand accused of defrauding their way into parliament, meaning that if the decision was left to them, some of them could end up casting deciding votes on such an important decision despite having unlawfully cheated their way into that position in the first place.
He's wrong to complain about it now because the decision to have a referendum has already been made, meaning that liberal Bremainers lecturing ordinary people that they're too stupid to be allowed to vote is more than likely to drive an awful lot of them towards the Brexit camp, because at least the Brexit camp only assume that the general public are an ignorant bunch of halfwits, rather than stating it at them explicitly.
The Mitchell/Dawkins stance is wrong not because the public aren't under-informed, they generally are are because of the bias of the mainstream media, the fundamental lack of political and economic education in the comprehensive school system and the ridiculously short notice at which the EU referendum campaign was announced. It is still wrong though because it assumes that the people in parliament are any better at making such important decisions that the ordinary person on the street, abd because whining about it after the decision has already been made is a waste of time. Instead of spending hours writing that article, perhaps Mitchell could have invested the time in researching the facts of the EU debate for himself?
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