Brexit: We must respect democracy, says Tory candidate for South Cambridgeshire
Opinion | By Anthony Browne, the Conservative Party parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire
“Let’s just get on with it and move on,” said the doctor, as children clinged to her legs. “I voted Remain, but this can’t go on and we just have to do it.” It is the most common thing I hear on the doorsteps of South Cambridgeshire: Brexit fatigue, and frustration that we have been diverted for the last three years from sorting the things that directly affect our day-to-day lives.
There are strong arguments for and against Brexit and good people reached different conclusions of where the balance of costs and benefits lie. But this is no longer about Brexit. It is about respecting democracy. I am to my fingertips a democrat: at the end of the day the government has to respect the wishes of the people.
As Europe correspondent for The Times, I lived in Brussels for three years mingling day and night with diplomats from EU countries, and one of the things I was most struck by is how in the UK, more than almost any other European country, we expect and demand that our government serves the people rather than the other way around. And so we should. In 2005, I was standing next to Jean Claude Juncker, then the President of the European Council, when it was announced that French voters had rejected the European Constitution in their referendum, and his immediate response was: “They will just have to vote again”. But governments should do what the voters tell them, rather than try to get the voters to say something different. To do otherwise is not liberal and not democractic.
Democracy only works if the elected respect the electors, and if there is “losers consent”, where those that don’t win still accept the decision. MPs actively campaigning against their own manifesto commitments, on which they were elected just a couple of years earlier, seriously undermines democracy: voters inevitably ask themselves what is the point of voting. Losers refusing to accept the outcome of a referendum or election is something you expect in countries struggling to establish rule of law, not in a mature, advanced democracy like the UK with strong legal and judicial oversight of the voting system. Refusing to accept the result doesn’t so much undermine the referendum itself, but rather confidence in democracy. We must respect democracy and move on.
There is so much we need to do. When I grew up and went to school in South Cambridgeshire, it was almost entirely agricultural, and rarely attracted global attention.
My village, Fowlmere, was dominated by farmers, and riding on the back of combine harvesters was the highlight of my year. Now the constituency is a mixture of farming and world-leading biotech businesses, and Fowlmere is brimming with commuters. South Cambridgeshire is a victim of its own success: it is one of the most economically successful and rapidly growing places in the whole of Europe, but public services haven’t kept pace. Public spending formulas are based on historic population figures, so if your population is growing as fast as ours, you end up with poorer public services than you should.
We need better roads, rail and buses so it doesn’t take so long to get to work and the shops. I have been urging No 10 and the Treasury to finally press the button on getting South Cambridge train station by Addenbrooke's built.
We need more police, both to deter crime and to catch criminals, and we need to ensure that we get our fair share of the 20,000 extra police the government have promised nationally. Across the county, our schools are underfunded, meaning some have had to cut their hours.We need better access to health services so it doesn’t take three weeks to see the GP.
Communities such as Cambourne simply don’t have the health services you would expect of a town its size. We should welcome growth, but it mustn’t be done at the expense of our beautiful natural environment, and we must sort out the problems it causes.
Farmers need a fair deal, and the end to uncertainty, about what happens to subsidies and tariffs when we leave the EU.
In other words, it is time to move on from Brexit. I worked for Boris Johnson, in charge of economic and business policy in his first term as mayor of London, and I know that he too is keen to move on. But we can only do that if we first respect democracy, and respect the verdict of the voters. After a thirty year career spanning journalism, business and local politics I have decided to throw my hat in the ring because I want to support democracy.
Whenever the election comes, make a stand for democracy.