Brief thought on UKIP

Just a quick thing I thought I should say about UKIP.
I am very, *very* far from being a UKIP supporter — the facts that I am married to an immigrant, campaigned for same-sex marriage, and believe referenda are the enemy of the representative democracy that I think is the single most important tool for progress imaginable, would I hope make that clear.
However, I do know UKIP supporters, and even members. Some are friends of mine, while others are people I would gladly emigrate to avoid.

And one thing I do know about UKIP support is that a *lot* of it is based on a perception that there is a sneering, metropolitan pseudo-liberal elite that dominates the discourse in this country, and that mocks the concerns of ordinary people. That perception, more than anything else, is what drives the party’s support.

I think, though I could be wrong, that the sharing on social media of “memes” poking fun at their posters and taking as read that the people who see them are in agreement both that UKIP’s values are wrong and that anyone who supports them must be a bad and stupid person is *PRECISELY* the sort of thing that encourages people to turn to them. You’re doing their recruiting job for them.

In some cases, and at some times, mockery of one’s political opponents is a tactic that works. I think it will backfire horribly in this case.

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8 Responses to Brief thought on UKIP

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    “Referenda are the enemy of the representative democracy.”

    Would you please explain this counter-intuitive position?

    (To be clear, I’m not disagreeing, and I know you are way more informed than I am on such things. I just want to understand why you have this position.)

    • Put simply, most people don’t understand most things, and direct democracy (like referenda) assumes that they do.

      The idea of representative democracy is a simple one. In essence, there are some issues I care and know a great deal about — in my case, constitutional reform, equalities issues, issues relating to freedom, and some others. There are other issues which are equally or more important about which I know nothing — much of economics, for example, or the situation in the Ukraine. I am not competent to make decisions on those subjects.

      The idea of representative democracy is that we are all competent in some areas and not in others, that we will vote for people who agree with us in our areas of competence, and that we will trust that those people (who are paid to pay attention to politics as a full-time job and thus can gain competence in all political areas in the way the rest of us can’t) will make the decisions that we would make had we the understanding. I trust that if John Leech or Julian Huppert votes the way I would on every issue that I know about, they will be likely to vote the way I would on the ones I don’t.

      Thus if I, who know and care about digital rights, vote for X, and my neighbour, who cares a lot about education policy, also votes for X, and my other neighbour, who knows about economics, votes for X, we can all be pretty sure that X will be OK on digital rights, education, *and* economics, and unlike us will have the time and resources to become familiar with all those subjects.

      So representative democracy presumes that everyone is competent *in those areas they care most about*, and that those competencies will reinforce each other.

      Direct democracy, on the other hand, presumes that everyone is competent at everything — a self-evident (to my mind) absurdity. The AV referendum gives an obvious example — not because it produced a result I don’t like, but because the *reason* it produced it was because so many people simply didn’t understand the question. I talked to several thousand people over the course of that campaign, and not one of the No voters I spoke to was voting No for a reason that stood up to the most basic scrutiny. They simply didn’t understand — and didn’t want to understand — the question.

      That’s not to say that No voters were wrong not to want to understand the question. Were we to have a referendum on Europe, my vote would be as ill-informed as theirs was.

      In representative democracy, especially a properly representative system like STV, you get a wisdom of crowds effect where the end result is (on average, with obvious exceptions) better than average on every issue. In a referendum, since on any individual issue the ignorance overwhelms the competence, you’re only going to get a decent answer by chance.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Well, I made you write a comment twice as long as your blog-post :-)

        Thank you. That all makes sense.

      • Seconding the gratitude for this comment, which articulates the problem much more clearly than I’ve ever been able to do for myself. Even representative democracy, of course, would still be stronger if voters were on average more competent at judging a wide range of political issues, but I hadn’t realised before that it is systemically better than direct democracy at dealing with the fact that they’re not.

  2. You know, I think the same sort of thing fuels people supporting the Republican party here in the US. I know many, many Republicans who use precisely the argument you outline above. And it’s really frustrating when so many so-called leftists in the liberal establishment (at least in this country) actually *do* act that way…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Absolutely. The support for the Tea Party, certainly, is from a very similar group of people to UKIP, allowing for cultural differences.

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