One person, one vote, one time isn’t democracy: see Mugabe

by Hugo Dixon | 23.11.2017

Brexiters say we should shut our gobs because we voted to quit the EU last year. Just get with the programme and follow the “will of the people”. Otherwise you are an “enemy of the people”, a “mutineer” or a “saboteur”.

The idea that you can’t change your mind is an old trick loved by dictators. Just think of Robert Mugabe. He was elected Zimbabwe’s prime minister in 1980. It wasn’t exactly a free and fair election. But the intimidation was nothing compared to the violence of subsequent elections. He was only forced out of power this week – after 37 years.

Or think of Hitler. He was elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933, albeit after a campaign marred by violence. He rapidly established a dictatorship that only ended with his defeat in World War Two.

The essence of democracy is that you are free to speak your mind and change your mind. It isn’t one person, one vote, one time.

This applies to the Brexit referendum, as much as elections. As David Davis once said“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.”

This doesn’t mean there should be another vote just because many people didn’t like the result. To justify a new referendum, there would first need to be good evidence that the voters want one or that the facts have changed significantly. We’re not quite there yet, although the government is making such a dog’s dinner of Brexit that the people may well decide they want the final say on what to do. And if they do, it would be undemocratic to deny them the choice.

In the meantime, pro-Europeans should not be bullied into shutting their gobs. It is their right, indeed possibly even their duty, to keep fighting Brexit and trying to persuade their fellow citizens to look at the new facts as they emerge. They are not pretty.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    2 Responses to “One person, one vote, one time isn’t democracy: see Mugabe”

    • David Cameron did actually specify, in a commons statement on 22 February 2016, that the nation’s decision would not be reversible. He said:

      “Having a second renegotiation followed by a second referendum is not on the ballot paper”

      But the question is whether such a statement has any validity or legality. Consider the following situation:

      A man makes a Will and tells his lawyer it is for all time and cannot be countermanded. All well and good, but two years later he tells his lawyer there are new developments which he couldn’t foresee at the time and instructs his lawyer to ignore his previous statements, he wants to make a new Will. What should the lawyer do? Both Wills and advance directives can normally be updated, is the quick answer, but the arguments can be convoluted.

      Duke Ellington knew all about it, because he instructed his fellow musicians to stop him playing late into the night no matter what he later said. Then late into the night he would announce he was revoking everything he’d said before.


      Second referendums are probably simple by comparison.

    • Freedom to choose a set of deceits which appeal the most is not democracy. There is a fundamental requirement for democratic choice to be based on voters being furnished with facts and truth. A significant proportion of Brexit voters will feel misled or lied to. £40bn at risk as a consequence of lies, sounds like criminal negligence to me.