A GUY'S VIEW
Sun, 07/03/2016 - 12:00am
June 23, 2016 was a historic day. Years from now, the world will look back on that date as the turning point in the new world order.
On that date, Britains voted to leave the European Union. That decision threw Europe into shock. It also left dumbfounded many who believed that the European Union (EU) is indispensable to a prosperous world.
The Prime Minister of Britain and those who shared his view that Britain should remain in the EU, tried to frighten the people into voting to remain in the Union by telling them of the economic doom that would befall them should they do otherwise. The remain argument elevated economics above all else. They assumed that ordinary people had no interest higher than money.
That argument resonated with those who were at the centre of Britain’s financial sector. This was reflected in the vote of those who lived in central London, for example. They overwhelmingly voted to stay. Like good capitalists, they saw where their personal interests lay and sought to protect it, and, consistent with western democratic principles, they set out to persuade those who stood to lose by joining them to join them anyway.
The British mindset has always been one of self-determination. Most of them came to believe that they had lost their sovereignty and had become a colony of greater Europe. It was noteworthy that if one were to take away the financial centre of London and the Scotts and Irish, the vote to leave was overwhelming. It was interesting to hear the people of a colonial power declare their leaving the EU as Independence Day.
In Barbados, we are on a celebratory path to our 50th anniversary of independence. We have our own flag and anthem. For some of us, that is all independence means. The British people have a very different understanding of independence. It is all about determining their own fate.
Farmers in Britain were upset by the fact that their farming standards were set for them in Brussels. This was replicated across the country in other business activities. Farmers did not like that Brussels told them what they could feed their animals, and everything else they did on their farms. I use the case of the farmers to demonstrate the extent of the penetration of the decisions made in Brussels into the heart of British lives.
Immigration was also a major issue for them. English people saw droves of eastern Europeans enter their country and there was nothing the British Government could do to stop or even limit this influx, because of the rules set in Brussels. In the eyes of many Brits, this had implications for social security arrangements. However, the facts may show that this was an unfounded fear. It may be that these new arrivals contributed more in taxes than they took out of the system.
The English people placed a high priority on their society. Their political leaders misread them and forgot that the English have always been principled people, at least when it did not threaten their interests. All people want to prosper, but not all of us place money ahead of self-respect, and it seems that self-respect informed the decision of voters in the referendum.
Our late Prime Minister, David Thompson, reminded us that Barbados was no longer a plantation. His language was that Barbados is a society, not just an economy. That is exactly the message the British people sent to their leaders last week about their country.
Governments should never run ahead of their people. When leaders lose touch with their people’s reality, they pursue policies and programmes that may seem good in their own eyes. They may even convince themselves that their policies are also good for the people. Prime Minister Cameron made this mistake and paid for it with his job and a dark place in British political history.
Other members of Parliament were more in touch with the reality on the ground and warned Cameron not to have the referendum. They wanted to remain in Europe and knew that they were doing so against the will of the people. The only way to remain was to give the people no say in that decision. Cameron did not listen.
Just as leaders should never run ahead of their people, neither should they walk behind them. It is a question of semantics whether Cameron’s out of touch position was ahead or behind his people. The one indisputable fact is that he was out of step with them.
Leaders can sometimes find themselves bunkered with only those who would say yes to them. This enables them to hear their own views supported and authenticated. It also ensures that they have no clue of a country’s reality.
People admire good leadership, but there is a wide divide between leadership and dictatorship. Good political leadership is akin to a commander leading a parade. The parade leader is in front, but in step with those behind. When the leader is out of step with the people, the first opportunity the people have to speak, the leader is no longer the leader.
The British referendum was absolutely necessary for the righting of British lives. The awful truth is that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were in the same camp, and they were both wrong. Fortunately, the referendum was a vote of conscience and persons were free to vote as they saw fit, notwithstanding political affiliation. As a result, both Conservative and Labour Members of Parliament canvassed on both sides of the issue.
This raises the question of the usefulness of Parliament in pursuing the people’s interests. The political whip obviously held people in check who did not agree with the direction of their party. This is one example of the dangers of party politics as it relates to what is best for a country.
In the end, the people of Britain had the good fortune to have the opportunity to be able to express their will on their arrangement with Europe. They had a choice between sovereignty and economic prosperity. They chose sovereignty, confident that their choice was not anathema to prosperity.
One wonders what the people of Barbados would do if they had the opportunity to decide on this country’s arrangement with CARICOM. Or stopping short of republican status.