Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dear David Cameron: Be a Leader, Not a Quitter

Dear David Cameron,

While it's true that Thursday didn't go so well (and let's be honest, Friday went even worse by most things that are measurable), it was very clear from the outset that you've been dealing with this crisis as a dyed-in-the-wool Brit.

From the American point of view, this is meant to be a back-handed compliment.

You gracefully fell on your sword by announcing your resignation when the people spoke and determined -- by a small margin, mind you -- that your vision for the country was not aligned with theirs. This move was novel and oddly dignified from the American perspective. When American political leaders are not aligned with the majority of Americans, they simply believe that cable news, talk radio, and/or the liberal media are to blame for the lack of alignment. They would never blame themselves. In fact, they would become even more determined to bend the beliefs of the country toward their will. 

You see, in American politics, it isn't about quitting -- it's about winning.  

So, David, instead of quitting like a quitter, why not instead act like the professional politician that you claim to be and walk it back like any self-respecting politician would?

With a host of Brexit voters admitting that they really didn't mean it, and a sizeable chunk of citizens suddenly Googling "What is the EU?" after the vote was tallied, it would seem only rational that instead of selling out your own people, you should instead be cutting them some slack and giving them the opportunity to try again.

After all, the last UK referendum was all the way back in 2011 on the decision of "whether to change the voting system for electing MPs to the House of Commons from first past the post to the alternative vote." Riveting stuff. It's no wonder that far less than half of your people participated in that vote. 

What you did with the Brexit/Remain vote was truly unfair: it's not like you put the citizens in charge of governing things on a regular basis so that they really understood what their job was on June 23. If we're calling this straight, you set up your people to fail. You expected all of your citizens -- who are already quite busy getting on with their lives -- to be foreign, domestic, and economic policy experts writ large, and gave them one shot to understand all the complexities of EU membership with a single vote, with no facility for a test vote to see how it would go, or any ability for a "Take 2."  Ridiculous. You really just set them up to let everyone down by making their dress rehearsal the only show they'd ever perform.

The good news, David, is that it's never too late to stop quitting and start winning. It's time to start floating some trial balloons to see which mental model can withstand the test of the UK's political will. Some example trial balloons could include:
  • "Thursday's vote was indeed historic, but what we're learning after the fact is that too many of our voters didn't vote with their full confidence and conviction. Because there is no law stopping me from calling another "full confidence" vote, I shall be calling for one immediately, to take place in 2017."
  • "Based on the feedback we're getting from those who voted "exit" that they would not vote the same way again, we feel it is our obligation as a government to ensure that the true will of the people is heard, not the first try of the people."
  • "I must deeply apologize for what I've done to the citizens of the United Kingdom. I gave you all significant amounts of responsibility to decide the future of our kingdom, yet I did not provide you with any kind of training, rehearsal or even official documentation to help ensure that you knew exactly what you were voting for or against. It's clear from the aftermath that I've failed you, and for that, I not only apologize, but I also will be linking my resignation with a call for another referendum vote. But this time, I promise to prepare you with materials that clearly outline what the EU does for the UK, and what the EU would no longer do for the UK if we decide to leave it."
This all must seem quite undignified compared to your super-dignified response to losing the Brexit referendum. But when it's obvious that your citizens are not even trusting themselves to act rationally on their (unrehearsed) opportunity to decide their own future, maybe it's time to treat them as they actually are: amateur, unrehearsed referendum voters that need more than just one chance to understand their role and their responsibilities.

Is holding another vote impracticable? Sure. Is it even a good idea for your political system? Surely not. But that's what makes American politics so dynamic: we don't let things like this stop us from doing what we think needs to be done!

In closing, Mr. Cameron, if you're going to put forth a decision with these kinds of complex consequences in your people's hands. At least from the American political perspective, you have the responsibility to ensure that they are adequately prepared to take on that kind of responsibility. You need to lead, not quit. 

Now that "the cast" understands how their vote plays on the "big stage," it's your duty as a leader to call for another vote -- a vote to confirm that the true will of the people has been heard. Otherwise, you've simply handed over your country's future to a bunch of amateurs who never even got a chance to rehearse.