I argued last week that we should take a minute to celebrate the principle of a referendum because it’s as close as we’ll get to direct democracy in action.
This morning, very few people on my twitter timeline agree (presumably because I tend to follow people who voted Remain). Many blame David Cameron for holding the referendum in the first place.
For me, this is a weird argument because it suggests that representative democracy, in which we elect people to make decisions for us, always trumps direct democracy, in which we signal our decisions directly. It is the ‘government knows best’ mentality that many people would be quick to criticise in other cases (such as when the government makes unpopular choices).
So, I wonder if the argument is as simple as: I blame Cameron for the referendum because it delivered a result that I oppose.
The reality is that almost 52% voted to leave the EU, and it would be ridiculous to blame Cameron for the views of 17,410,742 people.
It seems to be problematic to blame Cameron for not showing enough leadership to either:
(a) ignore strong demands for a referendum (wouldn’t we normally blame elites for being elitist if they took this stance?)
(b) win the argument (didn’t he seem like the person most committed to Remain throughout the campaign, backed by major speechwriting resources?)
(c) make sure that the referendum didn’t provide a forum in which others could stir up division and fear, and lie about the likely outcomes (shouldn’t we blame people like Nigel Farage instead?).
So, in a week in which many of us have begun to call for more respect for hard working politicians, I suggest that we at least give some respect to Cameron for his efforts before we write him off as a dud.