Gina Miller at the UEA Literary Festival: ‘Is democracy broken? Is it time for an evolution in democracy?’

Gina Miller has proposed that the remain campaign would fail to win in a second referendum, in a highly anticipated appearance at UEA’s Literary Festival. This comes in the wake of today’s ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament, a vote that would not exist without Miller’s activism against the British government.

Speaking to her student audience in conversation with Sarah Barrow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Professor of Film and Media at UEA, Miller said, ‘There are so many things that need fixing. That is where I think we will get back to being the country we deserve to be’.

‘I think we’ll lose it,’ she said in reference to the possibility of another referendum. ‘The other side [leave] is already funded hugely. I am very concerned about what happens if we get [campaigning to remain in the EU] wrong.’

Miller was also damning about the People’s Vote campaign. She said, ‘It’s the wrong time, you haven’t figured out your messaging, you haven’t actually got your champions to go around the country.

‘It’s the same thing from Open Britain, it’s the same people who ran the referendum, and they haven’t learnt anything. The messaging is wrong. What is the point of doing marches with people who voted Remain? Why are you talking to the converted?’

Miller said that around 16 percent of people are thinking about changing their minds on Brexit, and that’s who she wants Remain groups to target. ‘All your efforts should be on the 16 percent in the middle and the new young people, the two million. It’s about being strategic. It’s not about being political. I don’t know who the leader is. I would definitely do it if I thought I was the right person but the thing is I don’t think it could be one person.’

Miller admitted, ‘The only thing we can say with certainty is we’re not leaving on 29 March. Things are not going so well in Brussels. We haven’t asked for anything yet. That has been a recurring phrase over the last two and a half years.’

Addressing her audience, she said she understood how young people are disillusioned, and ‘feeling very fragile. I think there’s so much pressure to become what I call mantelpiece children, where you’re perfect at everything.

‘Some of the disillusionment is because we encouraged them to vote tactically for Labour. And of course they feel very let down about that. They have been let down.’ Miller believes the young ‘were looking for hope. They were looking for something positive’. But she says, ‘You have to get used to failure. Putting together a toolbox for failure is really important.’

Miller’s was also critical of the conduct of politicians throughout this process. She dismissed the idea she is going to stand for Parliament, stating: ‘I am much more effective outside of politics because our whipping system and the bullying that’s going on inside both main political parties is disgusting and so we have to change that. I don’t belong to any tribe.

‘I’m independent and that gives me a lot more power because I don’t have to be answerable. Until the system changes I wouldn’t go into it.’

She went further, asking: ‘Not just in the UK but globally, is democracy broken? Is it time for an evolution in democracy?’

Her answer lies in ‘deliberative democracy’ which ‘sits between direct democracy and representative democracy’. She has a vision ‘where you choose people from the community for say a year who sit and make and are involved in local and national policy’.

‘Let’s not talk about which party is looking after our NHS, defence, education – those things should be ring-fenced. They should not be beholden to short-term party politics. They should be put on 10 to 12 year decision-making planning and they should be run by select committees. They should not be used and politicised.’ Miller doesn’t want to alter the party system. Her goal is to ‘change the policy-making system’.

But it’s not just Brexit and disillusioned young people worrying Miller. She believes social media could be ‘the downfall of democracy’, calling it ‘coding for chaos’.

‘Who is going to police the coders? Who is going to control them? And who is going to control the messaging? The fact you can change truth online… is going to have a huge impact on democracy and the rule of law and how you operate society.’

‘We need to be really, really clamping down on social media now. We haven’t got time to wait to regulate in the future. They are publishing platforms. There are laws already in place. It’s not the medium, it’s the message, and if they’re already inciting violence… they should be closed down. Or they should be fined.’

When asked whether she felt disappointed with the country and the people of Britain she concluded, ‘I think there’s an awful lot of work to do.’

Gina Miller’s debut book Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way is out now.

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Chris Matthews

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May 2022
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