‘Is it time for Britain to be extra French?’

If you had to sum up the one reason why Britain has been so angry for the past eight years, it is that we did not get to vote enough.

We voted, narrowly, for Brexit, but then had no say in how we Brexited, which left the entire process in the hands of a Wellygraph columnist and the acolytes that were left after everyone sane had thrown up their hands and left the Tory party in horror.

We voted for Boris Johnson, in (what now seems to be a very small) landslide, but were left without a voice when he was replaced by Liz Truss, and then Rishi Sunak. We spent two years chewing our faces off in frustration waiting for a chance to deliver them a bloody nose, and now they’ve been smashed to smithereens by a very annoyed electorate for whom it was a long time coming.

But what’s happened in France this week, where they’ve voted twice on who runs the country, has shown that our system might not be the best way to go about things. Perhaps it would be better if Britain was a bit more… French.

Nigel Farage looks askance

Not everyone will agree, of course

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, bedevilled by unpopularity, called a snap election. The Far Right won the first round, and the world clutched its pearls at the thought of a more inward-looking France, a surrender on Ukraine, and populist, racist agitation against migrants. French voters and politicians had a week to think it through, and then went back to the polls. Everyone acted strategically to knock the loons into third place, and the net effect is probably going to be a centre-left coalition.

Mais oui, there’ll be some lunatiques around, but the majority does not lie with them. The protest took place, the bloody nose was delivered, but everyone learned a lesson before things got out of hand. If it were a restaurant, there’d be some crusty pain on your right that came out of the kitchen first, but the main course is a more palatable casserole in which it can be softened. Liberté, egalité, fraternité, and no-one gets indigestion.

In Britain we tend to eat our democracy on-the-go, from a cart of questionable hygiene, and in such a hurry that it builds up a lot of gas. Why not have a rest between courses? Why not savour the taste of what we think we want, take some time to cleanse the palate, and either decide to stick with the main event, or grab the waiter and ask him nicely if he could add a little something?

It might feel a bit too French, but in reality it’s very British. ‘I’d like to protest, but not too loudly and not on Sunday afternoons,’ it says. ‘I’m here to register a complaint, but please don’t bother yourselves. Sorry, I don’t wish to be rude, but could we possibly just do it better next time?’

Nigel Farage sticks his tongue out

If only everyone adopted proper British values, and wasn’t so rude all the time
Getty Images)

Think about what might have happened in the past eight years, if we’d been able to think twice. We might have voted narrowly for Brext, but the second time voted more strongly, or voted against – but either way, perhaps a more resounding and definitive mandate than the one which squeaked over the line and caused so much division and rancour that no-one wants to reopen the wound.

In 2017, when we voted in millions for Jeremy Corbyn and left Theresa May in a hung Parliament, unable to do a sensible Brexit and unwilling to do a stupid one, we could have had second thoughts about both. In 2019, giving Johnson a mandate to “Get Brexit Done”, we could have issued a second directive along the lines of telling him to do so “More Sensibly”.

And this time around… who knows. We voted to humiliate the billionaire’s husband with a helicopter addiction, and it worked. We voted to punish the Tories for 14 years of austerity, for Covid fraud, for letting bodies pile high, for doing eyesight testing at Barnard Castle.

But our electoral rage pulverised them so severely there’s next to nothing left, and it seems inevitable they’ll lurch to the right just to shoot Nigel Farage’s fox. If they do, we’ll end up with an entire political debate which has to turn right just to address the madness, and will distract what would otherwise be a centre-left government from doing centre-left things.

If we could vote again next week, would we feel the same urge to register a protest vote? Would those Tories who backed Reform out of spite now think they’ve made their point, and vote to renew the Conservative Party? Would we, as a result of having more time to think it over, wish to have more or less of Ed Davey?

Nigel Farage goes clay pigeon shooting

‘Did someone mention shooting a fox?’

We’ve been very angry about voting for quite a while now. After Brexit, there were many who insisted we must never vote on it again, for different reasons.

But if we decided everything’s been settled and there’s no point sending in fresh fighters on our behalf, then we’d still have the Parliament of 1265, and it would have zero chance of settling the junior doctors’ strike or deciding what to do about RAAC concrete.

Times change, and so do our palates. What looked good on the menu can taste bitter after a few mouthfuls. So why not be more French, more democratique, by giving les demos more jours in which to comprendez?

That idea was the basis of devolution, of local elections, of dare I say it the EU. It’s the argument for elections to the House of Lords, it’s the reason we have school councils and class representatives, unions in the workplace and family meetings. More chance to have more say, more time to have more of a think. Why don’t we? What’s the harm? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the majority we all just voted for might evaporate. So as with every suggested electoral reform, let’s shelve it until we feel the wrong team has won. Then we can argue about it all over again.