Since the Brexit vote, the phrase ‘the will of the people’ has been used not only by Brexiters, but more alarmingly by some of those who voted to remain in the EU. These people clearly have problems with basic maths. Only 37% of the electorate voted for the UK to leave the EU. Hardly the will of the people. If we looked to those who bothered to vote on 23rd June, then we can say that 54% of those voters were in favour of leaving the EU. A majority, yes, but still, not deserving of the nomenclature ‘the people.’ Moreover, this vote was on a simple in/out referendum. There are people who voted to leave the EU on the promise that the UK would remain in the single market. Others voted to leave on the promise of increased funding for our beleaguered National Health Service. Given the government’s insistence on a hard Brexit and the admissions that the NHS will not benefit from this process, the strength of the 54% vote is diminishing. It is less and less about ‘the people.’
So, why would anyone who voted to remain start using the phrase ‘the will of the people’? Those who immediately come to mind are Conservative politicians. At the parliamentary level, they’re standing behind their leaders, afraid perhaps to break ranks or just nurturing their own careers. But when this ‘will of the people’ phrase came up last night at a Mayoral Hustings in Ely, that was a more perplexing matter. The mayoral position covers Cambridgeshire, including Peterborough. Both Cambridge and Ely voted to remain, while Peterborough and the surrounding areas (Fenland) voted to leave. Yet, a few of the participants, including James Palmer, a Conservative Councillor, and the moderator, used the phrase ‘the will of the people’ as if it was the reason to support Brexit. No one else on stage objected to it or felt that it needed to be qualified. Part of this could have been due to the limited time allocated to speakers. But I’m concerned that part of this shyness or perhaps compliance with such phrasing had to do with fear.
Many of those who voted Brexit haven’t stopped campaigning. They’re all over the internet. Some are bullying. Their lapdogs are the tabloid press, whose barks persist and protect this angry mob. They can be scary. The normalising of the phrase ‘the will of the people’ by those who supported remaining in Europe for me is just another sign that the bullies have won. I remind myself and have perhaps said too often for those around me that Brexiters won the vote on the day, they haven’t won the argument.