The Will Of The People?

What does 'will of the people' actually mean? Here are some numbers about the EU referendum and why, on their own, plebiscites are not a good way of involving citizens in important decision.

What’s in a number? 

When writing something about the current political scene in the UK, particularly concerning Brexit, it is inevitable that things will have change as soon as the post is published. Its been like that for more than three years.  So, bearing that in mind let’s start. 

It is possible that we may be reaching the end game of the first part of leaving the EU, Johnson deal might get through, on the other hand who knows! But whatever happens of one thing you can be certain, the phrase ‘it’s the will of the people’ will continue to be used as a slogan that stands no argument. It is a slogan that is rarely interrogated or challenged in any kind of meaningful way.  I thought it might be interesting to integrate some figures to try and see what we mean by ‘the will of the people’ as far as the referendum is concerned. 

These figures also reinforce the view that a referendum on its own is absolutely not the way to involve citizens in deciding on complex issues.  As Ireland has found, at best plebiscites should be seen as part of a more complex deliberative process.  

‘The Will of The People’ 

When politicians start claiming they represent the ‘will of the people’ it’s time to start looking at some numbers. 

  1. In 2016 the total population of the UK was 65.6 million
  2. approx. 53,240,609 were adults
  3. in 2016 the number of registered electors was 45,766,000 
  4. the voter turnout for the referendum was 33,577,342
  5. the total number voting leave was 17,410,742
  6. the total number voting to remain was 16,141,241
  7. the majority for leave was 1,269,501

Looking at these figures another way:

  • As a percentage of the total adult population the number voting leave was about 32.7%
  • The percentage of the total adult population voting to remain was about 30.31%
  • The majority of 1,269501 was about 2.38% of the adult population

Boris Johnson’s ‘election’ to become our prime minister:

  • membership of conservative party during leadership election in 2019 was about 180,000 (about 0.33% of the adult population)

  • the total number of votes cast for Boris Johnson was 92,133 this is about 0.17% of the adult population

  • the majority of Johnson over Hunt was 45,492 this is about 0.085% of the adult population

This is the reality of the will of the people is that it is a chimera except in the strict form of a relatively tiny majority of those voting to leave over those voting to remain (2.38% of the adult population) in the 2016 referendum and the subsequent general election. 

A claim pushed by a man who was elected by about 0.17% of the adult population. 

I’ve done my best to be accurate but am very happy if someone want to take the trouble of checking my estimates. All raw stats are from Office of National Statistics and Wikipedia