The Lib Dem's calls for a second referendum are not anti-democratic, but the anger around them may be

I’m no fan of Tim Farron or the Lib Dems. Coalition was probably a positive for me- my gripe isn’t that they’re desperate for power, but rather that they are desperate not to be in power. The party has seemed since its inception to relish opposition, but hate the idea that some day they could actually do something- barring a brief five-year stint. The thing is, parties like that are by and large filled with good people who don’t quite understand what they want, or how to get what they want.

As Labour continues to implode, and the Tories push a personality cult rather than an agenda, the party is starting to seem like a depressing final option for many of us. For many, they are no option at all. We should all be agreed that their existence and their polices are well within what should be expected as normal within a democratic country, if we think they’re brilliant, mediocre or terrible.

The intervention of an angry leave supporter at a Lib Dem event today highlighted the degree to which some do not, and how far democracy may be squeezed by those who do not think people should be allowed to make their case.

A leave voter, furious at Tim Farron, assured the Lib Dem leader that he thought he was a racist because he voted leave. When Farron, quite bemused by the look of the footage, said that he didn’t and that he had friends that voted leave, the angry leave voter just told Farron again that he thought Leave voters were racist. When Farron tried to talk to him about the EU, pointing out the implications of a leave vote on future generations, the man just said that he was proud the UK would be leaving Europe.

People are well within their rights to refuse to listen to others in a democracy. They are also well within their rights to incoherently shout at a slightly confused politician. People are even within their rights to despise democracy within a democracy. Yet this highlights a worrying trend. 

There has been a movement since the referendum to paint all remain supporters as anti-democratic should they ask that the promises made during that campaign be kept or campaign to ensure that trade and cooperation continue after Brexit. A movement to narrow the field of what should be acceptable in democratic debate to cover only the views of the loudest. ‘We won, shut up’ has been the dominant message.

When a party says that they stand for a second referendum, which they are well within their rights to do in a democracy, this nonsense intensifies. No result in politics is final, nor should it ever be. People change their minds, people are proven wrong, and circumstances change. Had the 1975 referendum been final, we’d still be in Europe. Had the 1997 General Election been final, Tony Blair would still be Prime Minister. Had the 1979 devolution referendum been final, there would be no Scottish Parliament today.

It is entirely legitimate in a democracy for a party to stand against the result of a previous vote in an election; that’s how every democratic election works. It is just as legitimate not to vote for them, or to campaign against them.

It is worrying when the first response of so many is to try to shout down any opposition, silence them, and refuse to engage in legitimate arguments. It is also worrying that the idea- so far as I can tell largely invented by angry middle aged right wing snowflakes on Twitter- that pro-Europe campaigns think that all leave voters are racist. No one with any authority or intellectual legitimacy has said that, or believes that, and the idea that those who disagree with you form part of a singularly thinking secrative elite- who dispise you and are to be dispised- is not healthy.

It is also worrying that, faced with the argument that Brexit could mean disaster for his children and grandchildren’s futures, this voters just said that he was proud to be leaving Europe. This remark likely doesn’t entirely reflect the stubbornness of this one voter, as fury doesn’t breed clarity, but it is something that continually crops up. Brexit would be worth it, no matter what. I think this is the most depressing thing about modern politics- that the hatred of a continent or of free trade or of the abstract idea of a relatively minor loss of sovereignty is burning enough amongst some to eclipse any thought of anything else. Those who do not agree are traitors. People have a right to feel like that in a democracy, but the proliferation of this sentiment should worry all democrats.