For those of us who don’t identify with liberal democracy, the European Union (EU) referendum can only yield disappointing results. Our leaders are essentially asking us to choose between remaining in the EU only to find that we’re still in a neoliberal prison camp where we have virtually no influence on the decisions which affect our lives or alternatively we can leave and find ourselves with the same set of problems.
This lack of serious choice got me thinking: imagine if we wake up tomorrow and found ourselves in a lively, participatory democracy where we finally had control of our own destiny. What referendums would have significant ramifications should the public choose a positive outcome?
So here are five premises for referendums which would have a substantial impact and an explanation as to why they’ll never be allowed:
- Should those individuals and businesses based in Britain who are responsible for off-shoring their money to tax havens be made to pay a reasonable percentage to charities which are actively helping to relieve poverty? As the recently leaked Panama Papers come to light and we begin to learn about the extent of how wealthy elites have been hiding more money than they can ever dream of spending, charities such as the Trussell Trust and the Red Cross could do a lot of good work with just a fraction of that money. An appropriate response to the unravelling scandal might be that those people involved in large scale tax dodging operations are legally obliged to pay a percentage of their untaxed money to those charities which are on the front line of fighting poverty.
- Should we dismantle the British Monarchy immediately and use the money from their estate to help alleviate poverty? Polls have consistently shown that there’s a majority of people in the UK who support funding the Royal Family. However, there is a case to be made that the money which taxpayers spend on the Royal Family each year plus their assets could go some way towards helping to reduce the rising homelessness crisis.The counterargument we often hear is that the Royal Family is good for the economy. However, in this context it can be translated as meaning that monarchists would rather support the Union Jack merchandise industry than see less homeless people on the streets. With enough perseverance, I’m confident we could change public opinion and turn things around.
- Should our representatives fast-track legislation which absolutely protects the NHS from the effects of TTIP? Neoliberalism has entered an alarming stage in its development as we see corporations being granted more rights than citizens. The social, labour and environmental impact of TTIP is set to be devastating unless our representatives put people before the insatiable greed of corporations. If CEOs are successful with their shadowy negotiations then US-based businesses will be able to access sectors here in Europe which would have otherwise remained firmly out of their reach. One of these sectors is healthcare. This means that the NHS is at further risk of privatisation from corporations which could ultimately lead to a slippery slope of transitioning to an insurance based system. One way to protect ourselves from such tyranny is for our representatives to make sure that the NHS is absolutely exempt from any final agreements by legislating that the UK doesn’t recognise the decisions of corporate courts. In reality this is unlikely to be enough and such legislation would be nothing more than a well-intentioned gesture. However, attempting to protect the NHS in law could be the beginning of any serious fight back against what is likely to be one of the most damaging trade agreements of our lifetime.
- Should the ruling government of the day make it a priority to ensure that those British representatives suspected of committing war crimes are put on trial and, if found guilty, appropriately sentenced? An uncontroversial example of a suspected war criminal residing here in the UK is Tony Blair. An ongoing charge against Blair is that he deceived the public in order to invade Iraq; the consequences of which have seen many thousands of British troops lose their lives alongside an estimated half a million Iraqi civilians according to one report by The Lancet (conservative estimates put the toll at 100,000 which, of course, doesn’t make the mass destruction of human life any nicer). As we wait for the Chilcot Inquiry to be published sometime this summer, in the interests of peace and justice, we should strengthen the possibility of seeing UK war criminals put on trial and sentenced by asking our representatives to take more action against them. If people like Blair are successfully brought to justice it will likely discourage our representatives from waging illegal wars and invasions in the future; something which is needed now more than ever.
- Should the railways be renationalised? Despite the mainstream media’s continual assault on Jeremy Corbyn for being too far to the left of public opinion, a Yougov poll in 2015 shows that a considerable majority of the public agrees with him that the British railways should be renationalised. It’s interesting that we don’t see the same degree of bitterness levelled at the Tories’ mentality of ‘if it moves, privatise it’ which is often far to the right of public opinion.
These are just a handful of the referendums which could have a serious impact on the established order should they get a positive result. However, this opens up a bigger question for us to consider: why won’t we see important referendums like these any time soon?
The answer is that all of the above hypothetical premises have something in common: a positive result would be seriously detrimental to big business and/or those who preside over us. However, neither outcome of the EU referendum is going to disrupt the established order too much because they simply won’t allow that to happen.
So while I’m sympathetic to people’s concerns and fears on the subject of remaining in or leaving the EU, I don’t share them. I don’t want to be ruled by Westminster any more than I want to be ruled by Brussels. Instead I want a meaningful democratic process which allows people to participate in the decision making process on issues which directly affect their workplace and their communities. One thing I can be sure of is that being in or out of the EU is irrelevant to this objective.