Our 350 on BREXIT: Had British political leaders refused to sacralise the ’will of the people’...

“There are times when governments also have to realise that there is no substitute for expertise and experience.”

Mark Chou Michael Ondaatje
29 June 2016

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

According to Google Trends, searches for “what is the EU?” and “what is Brexit?” began to surge across the UK only after polling stations had closed. Indeed, tweeting on June 24, Google Trends indicated that “‘What is the EU?’ had become the second top UK question on the EU since the #EURefResults were officially announced.” 

Instead of rushing headlong into negotiations with Europe to expedite Britain’s decision to leave the EU, as Prime Minister Cameron has signalled, what the UK parliament needs to be doing is to take stock of what has just happened. However unpopular political leaders may be at the moment, these inquiries and deliberations cannot take place without substantial input from the people’s elected representatives, or qualified experts.

Yes, the people’s views are important, and yes they should be part of the conversation about what has happened and what should happen next. But as the revelations of the past week have shown, there are times when governments also have to realise that there is no substitute for expertise and experience. As the world becomes more interconnected and national politics more complex, informed decision-making—both in the corridors of Westminster and elsewhere—has never been more necessary. Citizens require political leaders who can lead: individuals who understand the importance of thinking ahead, accountability, consultation, deliberation, and making decisions that are right even when they are not popular.

That, according to Beijing-based political intellectual Daniel Bell, is the defining characteristic of political meritocracy, an ideal largely lacking in most electoral democracies. In his recent book The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy, Bell contends that western nations may be better served if top leaders are selected and promoted on the basis of intellectual ‘merit’ rather than on popularity alone.

Though the idea of political meritocracy has been controversial and much criticised, it might become more appealing in the wake of events like Brexit—and the response we’ve seen from Britain’s top leaders.

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