Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bartering Beliefs

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you took a bit of a short-cut to get it? Perhaps it was jumping ahead in line to get a better seat at an event. Ever bob and weave through tough traffic? Perhaps it was fibbing to a maitre’d to get a better table or a reservation moved around to your convenience. It’s not always selfish - family and friends who are parents often make little deals with their offspring – finish 2 more carrots and then you can have dessert – or clean up your room and you can have 15 more minutes on the iPad. Most of these things are relatively harmless – some might even categorize them as incentives. David Cameron showed the world last week what happens when you barter your beliefs away.

The United Kingdom’s decision to remove itself from the European Union  in a referendum in June 2016 has the world aflutter. Stock markets dropped, the value of the pound crashed and political analysists who didn’t foresee it happened are agog with hyperbole.
How did this happen? Sure there are issues of xenophobia, isolationism and other elements at play. Before making that judgment, however, let’s go back in time to see how this could happen.

David Cameron took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in April of 2010 after Gordon Brown resigned as Prime Minister. Per Wikipedia: “The election resulted in a hung parliament, no single party having an overall majority in the House of Commons, the Conservatives having the most seats but 20 short of a majority. In the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition agreement of 11 May 2010, the two parties formed a coalition government.”

The British Parliamentary system operates differently than the U.S. system, but the essential comparison for Americans is that no party won an outright majority so they had to bring together another party to get enough support to govern. The nearest comparison would be the GOP didn’t quite win enough votes to rule so they had to make a deal with the Green Party to be able to run the government. That’s how different and far apart the parties are in policy, but it was the first opportunity that the Liberal Democrats had to have a seat at the table and they took it.

The Coalition Agreement between the parties outlined the policy areas where they agreed to cooperate and the actions that they’d take. There was plenty of give and take from the parties that are so divergent in philosophy. So long as the Agreement was followed then the rest of the issues and policies could be supported. “Settling” on a few items in order to rule seemed worthwhile. The European Union was part of the Agreement and that began the process of placing a referendum on the ballot.

Not much happened in those first few years around the EU and the Conservatives were frustrated with the difficulty of ruling by coalition, Cameron made another deal in 2012 in a bid to bolster Conservative votes in the next election. Wikipedia: “While attending the May 2012 NATO summit meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron, William Hague and Ed Llewellyn discussed the idea of using a European Union referendum as a concession to energise the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. In January 2013, Cameron promised that, should his Conservative Party win a parliamentary majority at the 2015 general election, the UK Government would negotiate more favourable arrangements for continuing British membership of the EU, before holding a referendum on whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU.”

The tactic worked and Cameron and the Conservatives had a strong showing in 2015 – enough so that his second cabinet came together without the need of a coalition agreement. He then did negotiate more agreeableterms for staying in the Union as he had promised. But there was still a matter of the vote.



The June 23rd Referendum went forward and by 1.3 million votes the U.K. decided to leave the Union. Cameron immediately resigned in what many consider a statement of leadership and integrity. What they forget is that Cameron wouldn’t have had to resign if he hadn’t made the deals he did to gain power in the first place.


Many analysts in the U.S. have tried to draw a parallel between a vote to isolate and the Trump movement. They see it as foreshadowing for the November 2016 election. I don’t. I see it as another example of when people compromise their principals then there are consequences. Cameron bartered his beliefs and the Brits now leave the European Union.

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