We’re getting used to these nights now. There could be a referendum on whether everyone in Britain should have a red hot poker up their arse, and all the polls could show not a single person wanted a red hot poker up their arse, and you know around 2.30 in the morning Dimbleby would be gasping, “What an extraordinary night. Just look at that result from Worcester, 72 per cent in favour of a red hot poker up the arse. What on earth do you make of this, Paddy Ashdown?
Thus Mark Steel, because I couldn’t put it any better. There used to be an aphorism that went ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’ The challenge for democracy, as exquisitely demonstrated over the course of 2016, is that it is only necessary to fool the majority of the people all the time, or indeed, if you have a slightly bonkers electoral college system, not even that. And you only have to fool them once every four or five years, which probably isn’t all the time by any stretch. In between times, those doing the fooling can go back to openly screwing people, or at least making a pig’s ear of trying to run things, because they know that by the time election time comes around again, the slavering dull-witted populace will have forgotten all about it. They’ll say ‘Cakes for everyone!’ and the voters will go ‘Cakes? Yummy!’ and put their cross in the appropriate box for another five years’ rule.
More accurately what will happen is that voters will go ‘Life is crap! Let’s change it!’ and some demagogue will go ‘I’m a spring onion. Vote for me!’ and they’ll say ‘Yes, let’s see how the spring onion will do. We’ve never had a spring onion in charge before. He can’t be any worse than these human beings who have half a clue what they’re doing.’ They’ll vote the spring onion in, by a tiny majority, and the spring onion will go ‘Death to eaters of vegetables, delicious French dressing for me!’ and the voters will be too embarrassed to admit that they voted for the spring onion, or worse, they’ll say things like ‘Well, he campaigned on a platform of vegetarian death, he’s only doing what he was elected to do.
In this piece, written shortly after Brexit, I said that it was better to have elected representatives who had half a clue what they were doing, than to expect the populace to be able to vote on complex decisions like whether the UK would be better off outside the EU or inside it, and that was why we should never have been given the choice in the first place. Elected parliamentarians have a responsibility to their electorate, and to themselves, to make rational, justifiable decisions, whereas voters can just vote because they like the colour of the rosette, or indeed with deliberate abandon, such as the vote to name a lifeboat Boaty McBoatface, or with nihilism, like this person, advising voting for the man who became 45th President because it was preferable to see America burn to the ground than see Hillary elected.
Recent events make it clear that people can’t even be trusted to vote. It’s true that it remains mercifully the case that under the British Parliamentary system, only the election of one’s Member of Parliament matters. The achievement of becoming Premier follows only from a decision of that party. For Nigel Farage to become Prime Minister would require his one policy party to field candidates in at least half the seats in the country, and, even harder, win them. But even the populism of the Labour Party leadership elections has left us with an unelectable Opposition party led by a man who is the most ludicrous Labour leader since Michael Foot, and even consolidated his position. This is bad for democracy for all kinds of reasons.
So I have a modest proposal, and unlike Swift, I’m not being ironic. I only use the phrase because liberal jaws will drop, and I consider myself a liberal. The proposal is this: you should have to pass a test to be able to vote. It shouldn’t be hard, it shouldn’t be a means to disenfranchise the non-university class, it shouldn’t prevent the expression of just outrage at the status quo. But it ought at least to establish that people who vote in a referendum or general election have a bastard clue what they are voting on, and that their critical faculties are in place, rather than these people, for example who voted Brexit without really thinking it through, or these people, whose Trump voting seems to have been driven by paranoia and delusion that is close to pathological.
‘WHAT?’ I hear you roar. No more universal suffrage? Did Emily Pangbourne shoot herself for nothing? Did Martin Luther King nail his theses to the White House door in vain? Was Rosa Luxembourg mad to give up her seat on the tram? Well, of course, your concern is valid, but remember what the reasons were for denying women the vote? It was the fear that they were too stupid. Once that had been put in doubt, after it was discovered that they could make munitions and drive tractors during World War One just as well as any man, denying them the vote was proven as a great injustice. No similar argument could apply to the stupid. Should knuckle-dragging morons be entitled to vote on matters of great matters of national and international importance any more than the clinically mentally ill, who currently are not? Of course not. The suggestion that prisoners should be allowed to vote makes David Cameron ‘sick to [his] stomach’. But prisoners are capable of rational thought and responsible voting. The seriously stupid are not.
Now don’t get cross because you think I mean you. If you’ve read this far, you’re already in. Do you know how dumb people even with an IQ of 100 are? And that’s half of all people. All I’m asking is that the extravagantly dopey, the real total dunderheads be relieved of the burden of troubling us with their vote. We require people who wish to drive a car on public roads to demonstrate that they are able to control it, and won’t plough into the next bus queue or through a shop window. Some people are unable to do that, despite their best efforts, and do not go screaming about their human right to drive a car being breached, not least because there is no such human right.
If you still think that’s too harsh, I suggest this. No taxation without representation, right? So put this to a referendum: those who do not pass the test to vote do not have to pay income tax in the month of the election. Then we’ll see how badly they want it. Or not.