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Jan
2017
Wednesday 18th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Those who argue that the people who voted for Brexit are ignorant echo the age-old patrician views which held back universal suffrage from the working class, writes KEITH FLETT


THE left and the labour movement were split on last year’s EU referendum.

Some saw it as a chance to leave behind the neoliberal policies of the EU while others worried that the level playing field that the EU had created in some areas for employment would tilt even further towards the employer.

Whatever your view, key sections of the ruling class and media were extremely unhappy about the Brexit vote.

There have been a range of suggestions about how it might be overturned from a second referendum to giving MPs a vote on the Brexit terms.

Some however have gone further. On this view most of those who voted for Brexit were ignorant or illinformed or hankering after a mythical past.

We may allow that this does indeed cover a section of Ukip voters but at best they would have been a limited minority of the 52 per cent who voted to leave the EU.

These “remoaners” do however have a solution. Those who dared to vote for Brexit should be banned from voting. A columnist in GQ wrote that all pensioners should not be allowed a vote. What? Do they mean me? I’m over 60, but still working.

Apparently when you get old you develop reactionary views which means you automatically vote for Brexit. This seems a little simplistic.

A columnist in the Times Higher Education Supplement, Joanna Williams, was perhaps more to the point.

Noting that many academics had voted to remain she noted: “But the first lesson for universities is that when it comes to democracy, everyone’s vote is equal. Having a PhD does not mean that your vote is worth more.

“Believing that you know what is in the best interests of everyone else in society does not give you the right to override the will of the majority. The UK is not a dictatorship of the doctorates.”

The defence of popular democracy is well made. A degree does not make your opinion more important than a street cleaner’s or bus driver’s when it comes to universal suffrage.

The interesting thing is that the argument about who should be able to vote and whether workers can qualify goes right the way back to the origins of suffrage in Britain.

The 1832 Reform Act had managed to extend the vote to much of the middle class but left very few of the young and fast growing working class enfranchised.

Chartism pressed for further reform (for men) and after its slow decline in the 1850s the pressure continued for more people to get the vote.

A further Act in 1867 saw a limited number of working men get the vote but it wasn’t until 1918 that women got suffrage.

In the 1850s and 1860s there was extensive debate about how far the vote should be extended, to who and on what basis.

A leading figure in that was George Jacob Holyoake, a former devotee of Owenism and a Chartist who sat on the First International. Marx described him as thin voiced, intrusive, consequential.

Holyoake claimed that he supported full adult suffrage but in practice spent his time devising schemes which would allow workers the vote but also made sure that they were in a minority to the better educated middle class.

He wrote in 1865 of a “plan which will enfranchise all honest men without thus swamping the votes or influence of gentlemen.”

A century and a half later and nothing could better sum up the attitude of Establishment “remainers.”

Those who want to leave the EU can have their say provided they don’t carry the day.

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