Democracy in crisis ? 2016 , the year of surprises
dissolve the European project . The first casualty was one of the most unexpected : on 23 June , citizens of the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union . E2C spoke with Neil Howard from the UK , who recently joined IOB as a post-doc .
E2C : How do you think it came about that this decision was to be made by referendum ? Do you think a referendum was the right tool to make this decision ?
NH : It was a calculated gamble on the part of former Prime Minister
David Cameron as a way of keeping on-board but then ultimately sidelining a particular wing of his governing coalition . Was it the right tool ? It would depend on what your goal is . I think it was important for British people to be able to have a conversation about the EU , and more generally to engage in politics in a meaningful way . I ’ m sad about the result , and I question the authenticity of basically any liberal democratic decision given the masses of disinformation that structures people ’ s thinking — but I think that ’ s a separate question . Was it the right thing for Cameron to have done ? Evidently not . Was it the right thing from the perspective of engaging the British polity ? Maybe . Or in more nuanced terms , it has pros and cons .
E2C : Why did so many people fail to see this particular outcome ( Brexit ) as a real possibility ?
NH : A shocking lack of understanding basically on the part of most media analysts . The state of British media is not terribly dissimilar to the state of US media . In both cases it ’ s very polarized between Right and Left , and the sort of Left main-stream is super insulated . There are very few journalists who go out and talk to people in more serious ways , and those that do were all saying ‘ Look , this could happen , because there is massive , legitimate disaffection , which is getting tacked on to this one binary question .’ So for me , it wasn ’ t a terrible surprise .
The Labour / Democratic establishments on both sides of the Atlantic misunderstand the nature of popular frustration , and that ’ s basically because they talk to themselves . They don ’ t see the contradictions in their own position that invite rejection on large scales from sections of the population . But on a much wider scale , the right wing media in both the US and the UK are obviously very powerful and clearly ideological in their ability and desire to manipulate popular consciousness . We have sophisticated disinformation machines , and I think what happened on both sides of the Atlantic was that very legitimate