Agh, today is painful. I’m a republican, atheist, anti-nationalist, and there’s a royal wedding going on, people sing god save the queen, and British flags are everywhere.

Which got me thinking: which of my political views are actually similar to those of more than 50% of the British population?

I believe in democracy and the rule of law, and a majority probably do too. A majority probably also oppose the death penalty. There should be a market economy, and few would argue for an alternative. But what else?

I’m an outspoken atheist, and I’m also determinedly against religious schools. I dislike the monarchy and would abolish it tomorrow if I could. I despise nationalism and have little tolerance for the concept of the nation state – politics needs to solve problems where the problems are, not according to backward notions of identity or statehood. I’m a federalist, and that applies to all levels – so at the same time more power to local authorities and more power to the EU and internationally too. I’m a vegetarian (logically should be vegan if it were practical), try to be green, cycle and take the train, dislike the motorcar and the plane. I don’t think what class you are should ever be remotely important. I believe in equality between men and women. I dislike the idea of marriage. I support proportional representation. I think speaking foreign languages is vital. I would increase development aid. Prison is to help people, not punish them. I am OK with more immigration to the UK.

Does more than 50% of the UK population agree with any of those things? I think not…

[UPDATE – 1600]
Seems my assumption on the death penalty was wrong, as Martin rather bluntly points out in the comments. So there’s another one where I don’t agree with the majority point of view.

[UPDATE – 7.5.2011]
Oh, and I don’t actually mind that much about Scottish independence either. They will still be in the EU, we’ll still trade with them freely, so what’s the problem? OK, oil negotiations might be hell, but seriously, does it matter?


  1. Martin Keegan


    I think there’s a danger of talking past each other.

    The GLA example is a good one: what is necessary for the GLA / Mayor to be legitimate is not that the electorate feel that they’re Londoners (I don’t – I’ve only lived here five years), but that the generality of them are happy to abide by decisions of a London-wide majority. This is testable by opinion polling.

    If a polity lacks legitimacy in this sense, then people will start opposing its constitutional setup as such, as well as decisions taken under it. And they’d be right: there’s less of a moral reason to obey the law (particularly a bad law) if it’s not democratically legitimate.

    There are lots of mechanisms for dealing with trans-border issues affecting multiple polities: Benvenisti’s book “Sharing Transboundary Resources” is excellent on the effects of institutional setups on common resources such as lakes. The EU is only one set of such mechanisms, and a bad and unjustifiable one at that.

    It is not the case that the generality of people, in any EU country, are happy to be bound by an EU-wide majority on almost any subject (except possibly the Eurovision Song Contest, which would be much better conducted by Europe-wide voting). It follows that much of what the EU does is rightly going to be regarded as illegitimate. Changing the institutions won’t change people’s opinions quickly or greatly.

  2. Mac Hoban, Tasmania

    You appear to be making the common assumption, and error, that at their hearts people are rational and if we can just clear away these vestiges of the past then enlightenment values will prevail and all will be well.

    Au contraire! We are animals, in every sense of the word. The veneer of civilisation is thin and vulnerable. People en masse are superstitious and easily swayed. Be careful what you wish for old son. Get rid of the silly circus of monarchy and the corrupt and vile institution of the church, and see what moves in to occupy the vacuum.

    God has few virtues, but is at least the devil we know!

  3. Being in a minority doesn’t mean you are on the wrong side of anything. Also, very often, people are/can be misguided, ignorant, knee-jerk, have the wrong end of the stick or find comfort in moving with the mob without thinking a great deal about why they’re moving in the first place (because it’s seen as the ‘cool’ and popular thing to do). Certainly, that’s true when it comes to most reporting and reception of European affairs over here. Apart from that, some of the opinions you mentioned are rarely listened to or, at worst, shouted down and silenced. This exists on all sides. With regard to today, I wish them well, and that’s all I’ll write on that here.

  4. Helena

    There’s a rather bitter-sweet paradox at the core of this: if you’re democratic (something all sensible people are, I guess), you’re bound to end up living in a society where you disagree with most policies (the result of populism more than reason, I think, or am I being cynical?) exactly because you don’t agree on anything else with more than 50% of the population. Reason and democracy can be hard to square. Even if you know there is no alternative, of course.

  5. The world would be much better place if more people would share these political views which you Jon wrote down. Just my humble opinion, even if I can´t actually in my own life live up to all of these, even if I wanted, since I quite enjoy the entertainment of the royal weddings or to say Finnish national day celbrations. And at the same time I think that if we were serious we would give these things up.

    Which makes me think; how much do we need these kind of rituals to feel a part of the society and how much could be given up? I´m thinking of marriage for example. In Finland it is possible to have a ceremony in the church without actually getting married, you just get the blessing. Many people do that because they want to take part for the ritual, even though they don´t share the fate and values of the church.

    Same applies for such things as monarchy. If one asks I would happily put an end to it. At the same time I quite enjoy watching and entertaining myself with all this vanity. I guess this is the way it goes with many people when it comes to eating meat, driving a car etc. In principle a lot of people think it is bad but then are too lazy to do anything about it. Nationalism is something similar; lazy thinking but easy to go along without ever checking facts.

    It makes me think the question of how much people should allow themselves vanity without doing damage to actually important causes and where goes the limit? I don´t tolerate nationalism but still I watch independence day celebrations. I think people should dramatically decrease the level of meat eating, but I´m still not a vegetarian.

    I respect a lot of people who act according to their beliefs and I think you are a good example of that. For many people it is more difficult. So it might well be that many people would share your views or at least some of them, but yet can´t act on it. But I think the thought is at least the first step and writings like this are good food for thought or maybe stimulate taking next steps.

  6. Martin Keegan

    Hello, sorry, I certainly did not and do not mean to be rude. If it’s taken that way, then that’s my fault.

    It’s a lovely day, of national celebration (and my birthday!) so however much I disagree even with your comment above, let’s leave it.

  7. Martin Keegan

    “A majority probably also oppose the death penalty” – you don’t even *bother* verifying your presumptions, do you?

    Here’s a recent Ipsos Mori poll on the subject: – capital punishment commands majority support in the UK.

    How do you square support for democracy with this “anti-nationalism”? Do you know how that makes you sound to a lot of Irish people? What position can someone with such views take on the claims of other conquered / colonised people who wish to run their own affairs? Is it really democratic to say “you bunch of people who want to run your own country are just not going to be allowed to; you’re going to have to be bound, for no justifiable reason, by the decision of others”.

  8. Martin – I don’t quite get the anger. If ever a post I write here is an acknowledgement of the hopelessness of what I stand for, this is it, and you just still sock it to me in a rude manner as normai.

    The post has been changed re. death penalty.

    As for nationalism (or even some wider notion of affinity) and democracy – there are loads of instances where these do not need to co-incide. Take local councils for example – I do not have to be a proud Londoner to vote in GLA elections. It’s just that’s where I live, it impacts my life, and hence I vote.

    You say:

    Is it really democratic to say “you bunch of people who want to run your own country are just not going to be allowed to; you’re going to have to be bound, for no justifiable reason, by the decision of others”.

    What I am saying is precisely the opposite of that. Every person, whatever background, place of residence etc., absolutely must have democratic control over their destiny. It’s just there needs to be a reassessment of what’s done at what level, according to the nature of the problem. It’s not about Brits imposing their will on Irish, or not, or anything like that. How you interpret my words that way is beyond me.

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