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  • Writer's pictureDel Chatterson

Brexit: Success for democracy or failure of leadership?

Brexit: Success for democracy or failure of leadership?

Now we know the risk of a protest vote. You may accidentally get the result you were only intending as a threat to get some attention to your complaints. Poking the bear to make it go away may just provoke it into biting your hand off to leave it alone.

What else have we learned?

Maybe asking for a final conclusion to a complicated issue in a simple referendum question is not a good idea. Delegating decision-making to a popular vote is a mistake, suggesting there is a simple solution to a wide range of complicated problems. “Just say yes, or no, and all your problems will go away.” Too many will make their decision for the wrong reasons, expecting the unlikely happy conclusions that they hope for and ignoring the negative consequences that cannot be avoided.

It is better to seek public consent on policy direction rather than asking for final conclusions. Surveys of voters already give us a good idea of their concerns and possible solutions that will be acceptable. Elected officials and public servants should be aware of voter sentiment and accept the responsibility to study the issues, assess the implications, make decisions and manage the consequences. The electorate will then decide which policy direction is preferred and whose performance deserves a renewed mandate at the next general election.

Plebiscites and referendums may seem like the ultimate expression of democracy, but they allow the angry and uninformed to be too easily misled and falsely motivated by populist rhetoric from those with a personal or political agenda that does not address the issues they are exploiting.

The most important lesson for leadership is to listen to all voices and not dismiss those who do not agree as ignorant, biased, fearful or unworthy of consideration. Unpersuaded to accept your arguments, they may turn to less desirable leadership and more drastic and painful solutions.

Democratic principles need to be respected, but leadership must also accept the responsibility to make difficult decisions and then communicate effectively that they are in the best long-term interest of the electorate. Accepting the appeal of simple short-term solutions can be disastrous.

Your Uncle Ralph, Del Chatterson

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