What was he thinking?
The UK, with or without Scotland and Northern Ireland, is leaving the EU, but first it has to slog through two harrowing years extricating itself from its most important market (44% of all of the UK’s exports go to the EU) and trying not blowing itself up in the process.
Lord only knows what he was thinking.
David Cameron’s historic blunder taught us some important lessons.
ONE: Politicians are elected to lead, not govern by referendum
One hundred and thirty eight Tory MPs wanted Britain to leave the EU. David Cameron couldn’t toss them all out of caucus without destroying his government so in order to unite the party (and embarrass Labour who didn’t want a vote on the EU question) he punted the issue to the public—in a referendum that would be decided on the basis of a 50% plus one majority.
This was irresponsible.
The result, which any good politician could have predicted, was chaos.
The Leave vote will trigger one, more likely two, leadership races. A Tory leadership race to replace Cameron and a Labour leadership race to replace Jeremy Corbyn who is seen as not doing enough to support the Remain side.
The big question now is how far their replacements will go to keep the anti-immigration crowd from defecting to nutbars like UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Mr Farage claims the razor thin majority supports his “take Britain back” campaign.
Take Britain back from what? According to The Times of London writer A A Gill it means “taking Britain back from Johnny Foreigner”. It certainly does not mean taking Britain back to Miss Marple who gets along with everybody including the murderer who left the body in the library.
Britain’s relationship with Scotland and Northern Ireland has become more fraught. They both voted to Remain. Scotland is now considering a bid for independence to avoid being dragged out of the EU against its will and Northern Ireland is worried that tensions will escalate on its border with Ireland once the EU guarantee of free movement across borders is withdrawn.
The EU itself is alarmed at the prospect of other member countries following the UK example and conducting Remain/Leave referendums of their own.
Lesson: If a politician can’t manage internal dissent he must step aside. Defaulting to a referendum is an abdication of leadership with grave consequences.
TWO: A wake up call for politicians, banks and big business
Mr Cameron called in political and economic heavy weights like Barack Obama, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to underline his argument that leaving the EU would cause untold economic hardship. (Mark Carney joined the debate of his own accord and will likely suffer the consequences as a result).
The public didn’t buy it. They’ve heard all this before but know from personal experience that indiscriminate and unchecked globalization does not guarantee increased prosperity.
Lesson: The people are no longer prepared to support globalization at all costs. It’s time to move to Plan B and address the growing inequity between the rich and the poor.
THREE: Don’t trust the experts
The Leave vote blindsided the financial experts.
World markets lost $2 trillion. The British pound went into a tailspin and fell to its lowest level since 1985 (creating great buying opportunities for the very foreigners the Leave crowd wants to keep out of Britain in the first place).
David Rosenberg, a financial writer, says the dramatic drop in the market could have been avoided if investors hadn’t been so complacent and treated the “Remain” vote as a fait accompli. Rosenberg says no one trusted the pollsters (understandably so, given their failure to predict the Tory landslide in 2015) and instead took their cues from betting shops (!!) which put the Remain camp at 90% at the start of the vote count.
Lesson: If the experts don’t trust the experts, why should we?
FOUR: Power to the people
Thirty three million Brits (72 percent) turned out for the Brexit referendum vote with 48% voting to “Remain” and 52% voting to “Leave”.
A petition posted before the vote asked the government to hold a second referendum if the vote was less than 60% for either side and the turnout was lower than 75% of eligible voters. More than 3 million people have signed the petition.
This is a sensible request, unfortunately it came much too late in the process.
If these 3 million voters had inundated their MPs with such a petition months ago they would have had an impact on the referendum process. The referendum (if it went ahead) may have delivered an entirely different result (or perhaps the same result but with greater support and legitimacy) and some of the anguish resulting from Mr Cameron’s poor judgment might have been avoided.
Lesson: See #1. A democratic society has the right to expect its leaders to lead, not “govern” by referendum. Otherwise we risk letting the mob (Trump supporters, I’m talking to you) run away with the country.
The world seems to be spinning out of control but with any luck we’ll learn from Mr Cameron’s mistakes.
Meanwhile let’s all try to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”