Respect the referendum outcome

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In last year’s EU referendum I used my personal vote to remain in a reformed EU, having already used my vote in Parliament to enable voters to have their own say in a nationwide referendum, writes Wetherby MP Alec Shelbrooke, Elmet and Rothwell, in his column for the Wetherby News.

The result was of course a vote to leave the EU and the Government is now pushing ahead to deliver the will of the people.

Many argue that voters didn’t know what they were voting for or that it was only a narrow victory and the result should be null and void.

The reality is that both sides put their points across firmly, indeed the remain campaign made several statements outlining what they believed the consequences would be if the UK voted to leave the EU.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the arguments, voters were given the information and the country voted in a democratic poll.

The determination by some to now demand that we either have a second referendum or do the least we can to leave the EU, has at its heart a worrying trend that says to young people looking at democracy for the first time: ‘you don’t have to respect the result of a democratic election if it doesn’t go the way you want it to’.

This worries me deeply. Without the fundamental rules of democracy - respect for differing opinions and an understanding that the losing side will accept that its arguments were not strong enough to win over voters, we skate perilously close to dictatorial rule.

The truth is, if people feel they are not having their concerns addressed they will look to do something about it at the next election via the ballot box. This is the strength of democracy.

Next Wednesday the people of The Netherlands vote in a General Election and as I write it is expected that the far-right leader, Geert Wilders, will be returned with the largest number of seats on an anti-Islam, anti EU platform.

If this does turn out to be the result it seems to be quite clear that a coalition of other parties will form to keep him out of power.

But the real questions asked should be why people voted for him in the first place?

What is it about Dutch society that will push people to voting for extreme parties and what can the Dutch government do to address these concerns?

There has been little evidence to date that governments of mainland Europe are taking any notice of a rejection of the federalisation agenda it is pushing through.

If the focus of their combined efforts remain around street protests against the results of democratic elections rather than why people voted the way they did in the first place, then I can very well see Marine Le-Pen being propelled to victory in the French General Election as well.

Looking across the Atlantic, I’d be the first person to publicly criticise President Trump’s portrayal of law abiding migrants or his manipulation of the free press, but I do recognise that he achieved his most unlikely victory in the election because he appealed to a significant number of voters who felt that their leaders had been ignoring their concerns for too long.

Instead of answering their concerns, leaders had instead been telling voters why they were wrong.

The real consequence of dismissing the way people vote is that voters start to lose faith in the democratic system and that makes it even harder to make positive changes in power.

If the issues that led to these so-called shock results are ignored, they won’t go away. The issues will simply be taken up by more extreme politicians.

If people are ridiculed for voting a certain way, they will become empowered to vote in a more extreme way.

A democracy is not just about respecting the outcomes of a vote, it is also about recognising why people voted the way they did and as politicians I believe we have a duty to show respect for elections, even when they give us the exact opposite of what we hoped for.

Instead of protesting against the results we need to be looking at what the concerns are that led people to vote the way they did.

This is how a democracy should work: accepting the results, analysing the results, and working to address peoples’ concerns.