The surprising landslide victory of the Conservative party in the latest UK election provides us with a fascinating window into a very disturbing problem within developed nations; the disproportionate power and influence that is now wielded by minority groups in the formation of national consciousness. Let me explain.
In the lead up to the British election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative party mounted their campaign on the slogan, “Get Brexit Done!”, promising to extricate Britain from the EU in accordance with the wishes of the British people, indicated in the 2016 referendum. But the vast majority of the press were forecasting doom and gloom; a possible hung parliament, with Conservatives not being able to secure enough seats to form a majority government in their own right. The most optimistic forecasters were predicting a very slim win for the Conservatives which would leave them almost as paralysed as they currently were in terms of their ability to pass legislation. Almost no one saw this landslide victory coming. How did everyone get it so wrong?
The answer revolves around a problem that is now endemic in most developed nations: the huge influence that minority voices now exert in national debates. From almost the first day after the previous referendum, the losing minority who had voted to remain in the EU rose up and began a long and loud campaign to have the decision overturned. Yes, that’s right. They lost the referendum. They were outvoted by the majority of the population. They were in the minority. You would think that any reasonable person in that position would have accepted the decision. After all, that is what it means to live in a democracy. The combined will of the people prevails over the opinions of individuals or minority groups. At least, that’s what is meant to happen.
But in Britain’s case, the minority refused to accept the decision. They agitated and protested. They railed and rallied. They marched and chanted and raged against the system that had rejected their opinion. They called for a second referendum and waged a loud and bitter campaign to convince the majority that leaving the EU was wrong. So loud and long was their campaign that it impacted parliament. Fearing this vociferous outcry (or sensing an opportunity to use it for political ends) many of the nation’s lawmakers fell into line and blocked the government’s mandated attempts to carry out the people’s wishes. Brexit stalled. The conservative prime minister, Theresa May, was toppled. The impetus of the referendum ground to a halt, and the people’s wishes were thwarted. The minority appeared to have pulled off a coup! Even the press seemed to be convinced that the majority of Britains had changed their mind regarding Brexit.
Boris Johnson’s brave roll of the dice to call an early election, running a campaign that was basically founded on the single issue of Brexit, was effectively saying to the nation, “Can you please make it clear again what your will is in regard to Brexit?” The press, however, were expressing grave concerns about the wisdom of Boris Johnson’s decision. The extremely long and loud campaign of the minority had convinced most pundits that Boris and his conservative party were fighting a losing battle – or at least that it would be a very close contest.
That’s the thing about vocal minorities. If they yell loudly enough and long enough, you can get the impression that they are actually in the majority: that they actually represent the majority opinion.
But in the British election, something remarkable happened. The silent majority showed up. They didn’t rant or scream or rage. They simply walked into polling booths all across the land and voted. And their voice wasn’t a whisper. It was a shout. It looks like being around 368 seats to the Conservatives compared to 203 to Labour (who had campaigned along the lines of re-evaluating Brexit with a view to a possible second referendum). It was a landslide; the biggest Conservative majority in the UK since 1987! It appears that a huge number of traditional Labour voters jumped ship in order to express their wish about Brexit. The British people effectively said to their leaders, “Stop listening to the whingeing minority. Stop prevaricating. This is what we want. Can you please just bloody well do it!” (Pardon the vernacular). The landslide British election result wasn’t just a win for the Conservative party, it was a victory for democracy.
It also sent a strong message to the whingeing minority. It effectively told them, “You’ve had your say, and we won’t be intimidated by you. Stop behaving like spoilt children who can’t get their way! Now stop your complaining and accept the nation’s decision.”
After the election result was announced to a surprised world, I heard an anti-Brexit spokesperson state in a television interview, “This is a tragedy for Great Britain!” I would want to respond to him by saying, “No. This is actually a triumph for democracy! Minority groups don’t get to determine national policy.”
I’m not a particularly political animal, and I am certainly not making any value judgments about the merits of one party over another, or the merits of Brexit over remaining in the EU. But the fact that this election result shocked most people – the press, the pundits, the politicians and even the general public – just shows how easily vocal minorities can skew the national consciousness and influence public policy debate.
What has this got to do with me, as I live on the other side of the world to England? Simply this; what happened in Britain over the last couple of years is happening everywhere. Public policy debate is being hijacked by vocal minorities. Minority groups who represent only a tiny percentage of the population have discovered that if they get angry enough and loud enough, if they mount an effective social media campaign using key trigger words like “discrimination” and “intolerance”, our politicians will duck for cover, and these groups can actually sway the national consciousness. In Britain’s case, the vocal minority ultimately failed in their bid to influence public policy, but they certainly created havoc for several years and brought the whole Brexit process to a grinding halt for that period of time.
What lesson do I take from Britain’s election results? Simply this:
The realisation that those who yell the loudest don’t necessarily represent the majority viewpoint.