Freedom Not Fantasy

Sheila Lawlor

Friday 24th June: As Britain votes to leave the EU, Politeia’s Director, Sheila Lawlor explains why we should trust the people.

This week, with the highest turnout at the polls for decades, British people decided to leave the EU. Despite the threats of dire consequences, the menace over months from a battery of big guns at home and abroad, people in this country did what they have always done. They thought about the issues, they thought about the evidence and, on the biggest decision faced by the country in their lifetime, they made up their own minds. Turning out in their millions to the polling booths, they voted to restore their ancient freedom, the birthright which has marked this country out from others. They voted for the right to make the laws under which they are governed, to hold their rulers to account and get rid of them when they get things wrong.

Across the portals of power that decision has not been understood, by many in politics and across Whitehall, by big business and the banks, by conglomerates and international institutions. Indeed, they had not hesitated to use official power, and the resources and bureaucracies of state against the cause championed by those they seek to rule. Instead of recognising this instinct for freedom, which marked this country’s political identity and evolution over the last millennium, there has been incomprehension.

It has been alleged that Leave was a ‘protest vote’, of the ‘have-nots’ against the ‘haves’; it is claimed by many in the Labour Party that their supporters were not voting against the EU but against ‘Conservative cuts’; and it is said that those who voted leave were not ‘graduates’, ie the superior beings alleged to be on the side of remain, according to one ‘explanation’ on the BBC during the count . Behind all of this is the mistaken view that those who voted leave cannot be trusted with the vote, that they fail to recognise the ‘truth’ of what their betters or the experts tell them; that as one Guardian columnist put it, they have contributed to a world of ‘post-truth politics’, for which society will pay the price.

Of all the places in the world that these things might be said, they cannot be said of Britain. People here have had freedom in their blood for centuries; they have fought for it, and for its great causes – from the right to vote and the cause of free trade to the right to throw their rulers out. They have used that freedom dramatically on occasions changing political direction. It is no coincidence that long before Britain joined the EEC, her 20th century prime ministers referred to freedom as Britain’s ‘birthright’ and to parliament as its guardian. That birthright has brought a rich legacy. It has inculcated amongst voters a scepticism of those who promise a false vision of utopia or for that matter, a false scenario of fear. It has for centuries allowed people to see through the fakes and frauds of electioneering, to judge for themselves the least bad course. In so doing it has strengthened parliamentary government bringing stability, prosperity and security. Freedom and its fruits are precious to Britain’s voters. They have shown that they, above all others, can be trusted with its legacy.

*Sheila Lawlor is Director of Politeia and author of Ruling the Ruler: Parliament, the People and Britain’s Political Identity published this week.