We need to talk about our democracy

me 2015 (large)Meg-RussellRecent days have seen ferocious attacks against the roles of both judges and parliamentarians in our democratic system. Alan Renwick and Meg Russell write that this assault is just the latest in a series of signs that the quality of our democracy is under threat. In light of this they argue for concerted efforts to defend that democracy: by pushing back hard against immediate challenges to the rule of law, resisting the lures of populism, and listening to those tempted by populist and anti-political rhetoric.

Thursday’s High Court ruling on Article 50 (assuming it is confirmed by the Supreme Court), means no more than that the government cannot legally begin formal Brexit negotiations without parliament’s consent. The judges did not question the validity of the referendum result or try to block the UK’s withdrawal from the EU – they just clarified the law. Parliament – as demonstrated by many MPs’ reactions – will almost certainly feel politically bound to respect the referendum outcome and authorise the Article 50 trigger.

Yet, as is now well known, the judgement has unleashed a wave of vitriol from parts of the press, from some politicians, and even from certain government ministers. The Daily Mail labelled the judges who delivered the ruling as ‘enemies of the people’. The Telegraph presented the issue as one of ‘judges vs the people’. Nigel Farage talks of a ‘great Brexit betrayal’. The Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, referred to the case as ‘a clear attempt to frustrate the will of the British people’. Hearing such reactions, many ordinary citizens are understandably outraged by what they perceive as the scheming duplicity of an arrogant governing elite.

This gross overreaction is deeply worrying and potentially dangerous. We tend to presume that the democratic system in the UK is rock solid. Yet the democracy indices produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Freedom House have charted declining democratic quality in recent years in many long-standing democratic countries, including Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In the United States, commentators and senior political scientists are greatly troubled by how Donald Trump’s behaviour and rhetoric of rigged elections could weaken the foundations of the democratic system. Democracy faces similar challenges here in the UK too. In light of this, we need to cool the passions and encourage a national conversation about what democracy is and what sustains it.

Populism is not democracy

The conception of democracy that has taken hold of our national discourse over recent months is deeply populist: many public figures, it seems, are unwilling to question the mantra that we must ‘trust the people’. According to the populist vision, ‘the people’ have a crystallised view, and democracy requires quite simply that this view should be turned into reality. The ‘elite’ or the ‘establishment’ are likely to try to subvert the popular will, and they therefore have to be resisted at every turn.

But this populist vision misunderstands the nature of society and the essence of collective decision-making. ‘The people’ are never united: we have a whole variety of different values, interests, and perspectives. Not one of us is united even within ourselves: each of us has a range of goals and ideals that are sometimes in competition, such that we frequently change our views on complex issues as a result of discussion, or because different angles come to the fore. It is all too easy for demagogues to deceive large swaths of the electorate – a phenomenon that can happen among supposedly sophisticated urbanistas just as it can among allegedly ignorant provincials, as some of the memes that circulate on educated Facebook feeds attest.

In our collective decision-making, the ideal that we should be striving towards is not that the majority should dictate its will to the minority, but that we build solutions that work – so far as possible – for everyone. That is not easy. Importantly, it means that none of us will ever get everything that we want. But that is an inevitable consequence of living together. Genuine democrats speak their minds and hold true to their principles, but they also listen to others and acknowledge the necessity of compromise – both concepts that are anathema to the populist.

Democracy depends upon the rule of law

What do these abstract democratic ideals imply about concrete democratic practice? One core point is the centrality of respect for the rule of law. Democracy in a complex modern society cannot exist without the rule of law. Democracies make decisions, which are then enshrined in law so that they are plain for all to see. If the rules that have been decided democratically are ignored, we no longer have democratic decision-making. If the government is allowed to do what it wants without respecting the law, it can all too easily subvert the checks and balances that keep the democratic arena pluralistic and healthy: witness the situation today in Hungary, where a government of populist demagogues has stacked the courts, trampled on the freedom of the press, and destroyed every independent power centre.

It is perfectly fair to ask questions about any particular court decision. It is also reasonable to consider whether the judiciary ought to be more representative of society or whether we have got the balance between the courts and the elected branches of government right. But to spread gross misrepresentations of judges as enemies of the people is deeply irresponsible and risks causing serious damage to our democratic structure.

Democracy requires debate that is thoughtful and inclusive

The democratic ideals set out above imply also that the essence of democracy lies not just in voting, but in discussion: a decision is only as democratic as the deliberation that produces it. And quality deliberation has two essential features. First, it is thoughtful: people have accurate information about the issues; they reflect carefully upon the validity of the various arguments; they consider how to add up the different points into an overall decision. Second, it is inclusive: everyone is listened to with respect and everyone listens respectfully. This does not mean that people should be dispassionate, but that we should try to avoid closing our ears to the passions of others.

Ideal deliberation is difficult – perhaps impossible – to achieve. But we can certainly do better than we have been managing of late. The referendum debate was intense: the quantity of media coverage was exceptional, and turnout was higher than at any other UK-wide vote since 1992. But no one could say it scored well in terms of thoughtfulness: both campaigns pumped out claims that were misleading or downright false; parts of the press became campaign rags rather than newspapers devoted to serious reporting; the broadcasters, who were bound to maintain impartiality, often resorted to ‘seesaw’ coverage of the ‘Leavers say this but Remainers say that’ variety. Inclusiveness was also in short supply: though a wide range of views were voiced, there was a paucity of genuine listening.

Given these limitations, June’s referendum vote cannot be viewed as a product of perfect democratic decision-making. In practice, it has to be respected: we are where we are, and expectations on the binding quality of the vote have been raised so high that to do otherwise would be to pour fuel on a raging populist fire. But, from this point on, we should be aiming for better democratic mechanisms. That means two things.

First, in the present, we should work to make the process of Brexit much more considered than was the referendum. Ideally, this should include ordinary citizens directly – through, perhaps, a citizens’ assembly that could shadow the progress of the negotiations in Brussels. At the very least, it must include a central role for parliament, containing our democratically elected representatives. The rhetoric we have seen in the last few days has been not only anti-judge, but also anti-parliament. Yet parliament is our national forum for serious democratic discussion. Of course, our politicians are, like any group of people, far from perfect. But the prevailing anti-politician populism ignores the wealth of important and effective work done by parliament – for example, in select committees – to hold government to account and scrutinise policy. The referendum determined that the UK will leave the European Union, but it did not determine the form of Brexit. Careful parliamentary scrutiny will be needed to ensure the decisions that lie ahead are taken in the best interests of the people as a whole, and clear parliamentary accountability may even strengthen the government’s bargaining power.

Second, for the future, we should be seeking ways to make referendum campaigns – and our politics in general – more deliberative. We have begun at the Constitution Unit to investigate how we might do this, and, even from our early work, it is clear that there are concrete ways of improving substantially on our current referendum practices. Means can be developed for ensuring that accurate and balanced information is easier to find and for helping regular citizens to participate in reasoned, inclusive discussions. We should also consider the very place of referendums in democratic decision-making, and how they are best combined with our traditions of representative democracy.

‘Experts’ need to listen too

We have criticised the populist mindset, and some readers might presume that we sit in UCL’s ivory tower disparaging the unwashed masses who don’t understand what’s good for them. That, however, is not remotely true. Everyone’s perspective matters and deserves to be listened to with care. We have emphasised the need for an informed debate, but that does not mean a one-way flow of information from ‘experts’ to ‘ordinary’ people. In fact, information and ideas should be flowing both ways.

Some have suggested since the referendum that the people have stopped listening to the experts. But that is wrong: there is ample evidence that most people do respect the views and competences of experts whom they trust, whether that means their doctor, or the pilot of the aircraft they are about to board, or football pundits. But experts need to earn people’s trust, which means they need to speak directly and clearly to people’s concerns. It is too easy for academics to get caught up in our particular disciplinary debates and lose track of the need to answer urgent real-life questions. It is too easy also for us to get tied up in jargon and methodological sophistication, such that we lose the ability to communicate convincingly with the wider world.

What should democrats do now?

The quality of our democracy is under threat. There are three things we can all do now to help maintain it.

First, we should push back hard against the immediate challenges that are being made to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the legitimate role for parliament in scrutinising the process of Brexit. Important support for the legitimacy of the High Court’s role has come in the last 48 hours from, among others, the former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, the Chair of the Bar Council Chantal-Aimée Doerries, and the Brexit-supporting Spectator.  Yet the Lord Chancellor – whose oath of office requires her to ‘defend the independence of the judiciary’ – remained silent until yesterday afternoon. Even then, while praising judicial independence as ‘the foundation upon which our rule of law is built’, she made no criticism (or indeed mention) of the fact that judicial integrity has been widely attacked. Such passivity is inadequate.

Second, we should push back with equal vigour against the rise of populism and populist rhetoric. Reaching the best outcome in the Brexit negotiations over the coming years will require sustained, reasoned engagement from both parliamentarians and the wider public. We should be supporting, not hectoring, those many politicians who want to perform their role in this process well.

A decade or so ago a rash of publications from political scientists expressed concern about the distance opening up between politicians and the public, asking ‘Why We Hate Politics’, and how we could better ‘Make Democracy Work’. As one of us argued strongly at that time, politicians have often been their own worst enemies, denigrating each other’s integrity in ways that harm overall public confidence. Democracy campaign groups have also sometimes been too willing to ride the populist bandwagon in order to advance their reformist goals. Since then their rhetoric has become fiercer – witness the shameful claims of ‘crimes against democracy’ by the Power 2010 campaign, or the bogus allegations about workshy MPs during the lead up to the AV referendum in 2011. In recent years, the social media revolution has facilitated even sharper debate, coupled with sometimes downright nasty abuse, setting us on a dangerous path. All who care about our democracy should now commit to supporting rather than undermining its foundations. As proposed 11 years ago, but with far greater urgency now, politicians and other participants in public debates could sign up to a basic charter of principles for reasonable discourse, including the principle that we will not seek to exploit voters’ disillusionment for our own purposes, but rather (except in the rare cases where it is not justified) respect other participants ‘as hardworking individuals driven by a sense of duty and belief in building a better society’.

Third, while resisting populism, all democrats should open their eyes and minds to the concerns of the millions of people who are tempted by the populists’ rhetoric. That does not mean always blindly following what they think. But it does mean listening to them – and to others throughout society – more than has often been the case in recent years. For example, more effort is needed to understand the challenges that high levels of immigration can pose to some local communities and to consider how social integration can be improved. Ultimately, our goal should be to seek policies and other actions that will help build a more cohesive society, in which everyone can both feel comfortable and that their view is respected.

About the authors

Dr Alan Renwick is the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.

Professor Meg Russell is the Director of the Constitution Unit.

22 thoughts on “We need to talk about our democracy

  1. Excellent arguments as always.

    However I am concerned about your dismissal of populism as being undemocratic. The majority party elected government volunteered a pledge to implement the result of the referendum. Legally the referendum was of course advisory, but if an elected government decides to go further and delegate its power to the people is that not a surrender to populism? In the referendum voters were asked to say if they wished to Remain or Leave the EU, not how, when or why of course, so as the High Court has confirmed, these are matters for parliament, but the decision to trigger Article 50 follows from the populist vote and the elected government’s pledge.

    I am also concerned over your dismissal of what I nevertheless agree is disgraceful behaviour by the popular press. Newspapers simply mirror the prejudices of their readership. that is how they retain, nurture, and grow their targeted marketplace. They are not required to act responsibly, however we might define that? They have to remain within the law and any codes of practice applied or accepted, but part of their and our freedom is to behave irresponsibly if they and their readers so wish? Who is is say that newspapers cannot be outrageous?

    • “I am also concerned over your dismissal of what I nevertheless agree is disgraceful behaviour by the popular press. Newspapers simply mirror the prejudices of their readership. that is how they retain, nurture, and grow their targeted marketplace. They are not required to act responsibly, however we might define that?” But they should be required to act responsibly, surely. They should be concerned to publish the truth when they are reporting events or quoting politicians; and they should be concerned not to be hate mongering and rabble rousing.There are surely moral imperatives that dictate what can and cannot be broadcast and published. The media in a democracy have a moral responsibility to ensure civilised honest and humane debate and the publishing of the truth.When I saw the headlines in the Mail and the Express, I could not but recall Stanley Baldwin’s comment: What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.

    • I think just about everyone agrees that the referendum result means that parliament should now trigger Article 50. Ideally, the process leading to the decision on Brexit would have been more thoughtful (I say that not with any thoughts in mind about whether it would have changed the result, but because quality discussion is essential to democracy – as I have been arguing for years). But we had the referendum we had, and it should be respected.

      I agree with you that there is a zone of behaviour that is reprehensible but that should nevertheless be permitted. That behaviour is, however, still reprehensible and should be criticised in proportion to the degree of that reprehensibility. Of course, there is also the zone of behaviour that is reprehensible and ought not to be permitted. It seems to me that some of the reporting in recent days has clearly violated the press code of conduct.

  2. To somehow imply that these judges should be immune from press criticism is ridiculous. The press is at its best when it holds the condescending elites to account. At the end of the day the judges are public servants and if they are unwilling to be held to account they have no business holding public office.

    • As a matter of law, what do you think Parliament intended when it enacted the European Communities Act in 1972? Do you think Parliament intended to grant the Government a withdrawal power?

      If I disagree (before even engaging in any of your analysis), do you mind if I try to humiliate you using your private life in front of millions of onlookers, or publicly declare you an enemy of the people?

      However much it may seem otherwise, there are still some realms in which such a thing as a right answer to a difficult question. Where the answer is right independent of whether it is popular. Hopefully, law is such a realm. Do you mind if we try to keep it that way?

    • Thank you, Brigid, for your comment. But we didn’t say that judges should be immune from criticism – actually, we said that it should be possible to question a court decision. The issue here is that the criticisms from parts of the press have been grossly unreasonable: they have completely misrepresented what the judges decided.

  3. A thoughtful and constructive piece. But I have just one question on the ‘UCL ivory tower’ point. How many members and close associates of the Constitution Unit voted to leave?

    • Thank you for your comment. I don’t actually know the answer to your question. But I don’t see it as important: what we say ought to stand whatever side you are on in the Brexit debate. See, for example, the Spectator article linked in the post, which make similar points to our own. Meg and I have been arguing for the understanding of democracy set out above for years, and we were arguing it during the referendum campaign, before the result was known. We also called for an inquiry into the conduct of the referendum before the result was known.

  4. Regrettably Truss is a legal and political “lightweight”. Our local newspaper has run stories online about the High Court Case post decision;having ignored it for the past 3/4 months. Comments are allowed; regrettably these comments, apart from one or two more enlightened exceptions, reveal a disturbing lack of knowledge about the UK Constitution and the law. At least Cameron has maintained a discreet silence having got the UK into this constitutional mess. Irreverent perhaps, but Farage reminds me of “Wooster”, perhaps somewhere in the UKIP membership there is a “Jeeves QC” who can explain the basics of the constitution and centuries of constitutional law to him.

    • Thank you for your comment, but let’s not make it personal! We all need to start respecting each other a little more.

  5. This was a superficial piece. A root cause analysis of why ‘we are where we are’ on Brexit would quickly identify the culprit as the lack of a modern, and fully codified constitution which, for example, clearly defines the role of the Executive, the scrutiny to which it must be subject, the citizens’ voting system and the role of the two chambers. We share this dubious privilege with New Zealand and Israel, and New Zealand are working on introducing one. Such a document would have clearly articulated the rules of the game for any referendum and thus avoided much of this morning after angst.
    Essentially, what we currently have is an C18th form of governance – the detailed workings of which are known only to a select circle, whose interests it satisfies. It is unfit for purpose, and this will become more and more evident as Brexit becomes Wrecksit, with, for example, the House of Lords’ role, along with the judiciary’s, already generating friction, and the devolved Governments trying to get a seat at the Brexit negotiating table. The First Past the Post System in itself is an example of a democratic deficit, with 3.8m votes being cast for UKIP in the 2015 election, with no resultant representation in Parliament. More importantly, the Conservatives were able to form a Government with a minority of the votes cast in the 2015 election. Cameron then had to proceed with referendum promised in his manifesto, to satisfy the Eurosceptics. We are now living with the results of that internal party management issue.
    Finally, and most ironically in a Brexit context, this partly feudal / partly modern mash up of a governance system is presided over by an unelected but de facto Head of State and Prime Minister – Teresa May, whose only democratic mandate came from the good citizens of Maidenhead in the 2015 election. The current situation suits the political elite, but is an inappropriate way to run a modern democracy. Political scientists should be working harder on highlighting the structural problems we have in the UK political system, and researching how they might be resolved, rather than focusing on the symptoms they are producing.
    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    • Thank you, Mike, for your comment. You are clearly right that we didn’t over everything that deserves to be covered on this issue. I’m not convinced, however, that a written constitution would do much to hinder the rise of populism – see the United States, Austria, Hungary, Poland, France…! I think the solutions have to be deeper than any institutional fixes like that – though institutional reforms certainly ought to be part of the story. We really need a more fundamental change in our political culture.

  6. Agree with most of this comment but note that it fails to address the much wider constitutional issues which the recent High Court decision now raises.
    You state: “Reaching the best outcome in the Brexit negotiations over the coming years will require sustained, reasoned engagement from both parliamentarians and the wider public. We should be supporting, not hectoring, those many politicians who want to perform their role in this process well.”
    That is of course common sense and obviously involves a parliamentary role, particularly in debates in the H of C, but that is not the primary issue at stake here. It is not the future role of parliament in that process which is at stake here, but rather the specific responsibility of government to implement the result of the electorate’s clearly expressed decision in the referendum. It is vital in this debate that these two separate matters should NOT be conflated as this article and comment above implies.

    The primary issue then is, as government rightly affirms, the need to to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without undue delay in order to begin that process of later negotiation about a UK/EU trading relationship.

    On the basis of the referendum result the PM rightly concluded that the former must be undertaken via the Royal Prerogative as it is in effect a long standing constitutional instrument and right of government to ‘make or unmake’ treaties. That vital decision therefore does not, and legally at present, need not involve parliament. In a word the UK does not need to “negotiate” our formal departure from the European Union, for a simple letter to the Commission will suffice to that end. (it is a great pity that Theresa May did not send that letter at the outset of her PM role so avoiding what I regard as vexatious legal challenges and unnecessary public controversy)

    That parliament would wish to be involved in every aspect of subsequent debate as to the process of settling future trading terms is not in dispute, and therefore questions of “hard or soft” Brexit are not at this point at issue or relevant, although disaffected ‘Remainers’ are seeking to so muddy the waters as to either delay or to wholly reverse the Brexit process, and in so doing only demonstrate their contempt for the democratic principles they profess to believe.

    However what is of greater concern must be the new question mark over the status and implementation of the Royal Prerogative itself if the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the High Court. If this is the case then it represents a huge constitutional change with deep and far reaching implications which appear not to be addressed in any depth by our political class.

    I wonder if the Constitutional Unit is aware that this issue of the legitimacy of the Royal Prerogative was addressed back in 2004 very comprehensively by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee which amongst other things concluded that no substantial change to the Prerogative was needed including that of treaty making powers. Part of their conclusion was the important principle.

    “The Crown is not bound by Statute save by express words or necessary implication” which as I understand it has a distinct bearing upon the present court case and appeal by government. Any comment on this aspect of the debate by the CU please?

    .

    • We have not taken a view on whether the High Court’s decision was or was not the correct one in law – we are scholars of politics, not of law. You present a case for why the triggering of Article 50 should be thought to lie within the prerogative powers. The counterargument is (briefly) that triggering Article 50 leads inevitably to the effective repeal of much of the European Communities Act of 1972 – the act that gave effect to the UK’s membership of the EEC/EU in domestic UK law. The courts have intervened on several occasions in the past regarding the prerogative and have laid down the principle that the prerogative powers cannot be used to repeal an act of parliament. If triggering Article 50 leads effectively to the repeal of the ECA, then it is not unreasonable to say, in line with those previous court rulings, that it cannot be done within the terms of the prerogative.

      As I said, I’m not taking a view on which side of this debate is correct, and it is clearly perfectly legitimate for people to disagree with the line taken by the High Court. But for some newspapers to report, falsely, that the judgement is an attempt to block Brexit is highly irresponsible on their part.

      • Alan. Thanks for your response. I am very surprised that you say “we are scholars of politics not of law”, given the Blogs header as the ‘Constitution Unit’!
        I think you will agree that the judgement of the High Court is above all else both a legal and constitutional matter and therefore I would have thought should engage your attention before any political questions which arise.
        I disagree with you that invoking Article 50 “leads inevitably to the effective repeal of much of the ECA ’72” and would impact upon domestic law accordingly. Are you not aware that many MP’s have already countered this argument by proposing that all EU law/directives etc are incorporated fully into British law by an amendment to ECA 72 so that EU law remains in force in the UK legally and is amended, retained or rejected by parliamentary approval only after Article 50 is invoked?.
        I do not believe it is correct to state that triggering Art.50 leads effectively to the repeal of the ECA. That amendments or repeal of the many thousands of EU laws would come about in time is of course inevitable, but this prospect has no bearing on the repudiation of our membership of the EU as an international obligation as a treaty. Let me remind you that the ONLY question on the referendum ballot paper was about our membership of the EU – to stay or leave – not other implications that would or would not follow from that decision.
        So clearly, the use of prerogative powers would not in legal or constitutional terms mean “repeal of the ECA” per se .

        Re prerogative powers. You say above, rightly, that “the courts have intervened on several occasions in the past regarding the prerogative” Indeed so, but as many have noted this has always as far as the EU treaties are concerned been a one-way traffic!

        I can do no better by way of illustration than by quoting a comment to this effect by Gerard Batten MEP recently re the High Court decision:
        “The reasoning of the judgement is questionable. In the past, whenever a Eurosceptic went to Court to challenge any of the unconstitutional changes to UK law brought about through EU Treaties, the Courts refused to hear us on the grounds that international treaties are matters solely for the government under the Royal Prerogative. To take one example out of the many, in Blackburn v Attorney-General [1971] EWCA Civ 7, the High Court held:
        …Negotiations are still in progress for us to join the Common Market. No agreement has been reached. No Treaty has been signed. Even if a treaty is signed, it is elementary that these Courts take no notice of treaties as such. We take no notice of treaties until they are embodied in laws enacted by Parliament, and then only to the extent that Parliament tells us. That was settled in a case about a treaty between the Queen of England and the Emperor of China. It is Rustomjee v. The Queen (1876 2 Q.B.D. 69). Lord Coleridge, the then Chief Justice said at page 74:
        “She” – that is The Queen -“acted throughout the making of the treaty and in relation to each and every of its stipulations in her sovereign character, and by her own inherent authority; and, as in making the treaty, so in performing the treaty, she is beyond the control of municipal law, and her acts are not to be examined in her own Courts”.

        “Mr. Blackburn acknowledged the general principle, but he urged that this proposed treaty is in a category by itself, in that it diminishes the sovereignty of Parliament over the people of this country. I cannot accept the distinction. The general principle applies to this treaty as to any other. The treaty-making power of this country rests not in the Courts, but in the Crown; that is, Her Majesty acting upon the advice of her Ministers. When Her Ministers negotiate and sign a treaty, even a treaty of such paramount importance as this proposed one, they act on behalf of the country as a whole. They exercise the prerogative of Crown. Their action in so doing cannot be challenged or questioned in these Courts.

        Yet, now that the situation is plainly the flip side of the same coin, the High Court turns around and says: this Treaty is unlike any other, the Royal Prerogative does not apply, and the courts can interfere with the government’s treaty-making powers after all, or in this case its power to un-make one.”

        He made a further very important point, namely: ” More fundamentally, the Parliament does not govern us by a divine right. All the ancient statutes and judgements which restrain the power of the Crown to alter legislation without Parliament were there for one purpose only: to give effect to the fundamental constitutional principle of government by consent”

        I would be interested in your further comments as up to now you have not considered the challenge that the recent court ruling makes to the legality and use of prerogative powers.

  7. If TM the PM had sent the notification could a legal challenge still have been mounted. The so called Enemies Of The People so called are not The Enemies of 48 % of the people and that should be born in mind. Vexatious litigation, if identified in this case, would hardly have engaged the intellect of an impressive line up of QCs acting for Gina Miller & Co.

  8. I rather like this. Like it or not, the Brexit referendum has opened (or perhaps revealed) a deep sectarian divide in our society. As an academic, I have absolutely no desire to become stranded on one side or another, and I’m glad to read similar sentiments here.

    The only thing I’d add is that freedom of the press is also central to the relatively civilised system of government that we’ve enjoyed over the past few decades. This must include the freedom to go wrong, as the Mail did last week. I don’t really want talk radio and Fox News and the whole gamut of American shouty populist press, but I’d prefer it to press control. Besides, how is the free press doing in Hungary at the moment?

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