Sir John said recently that the MPs must make the final decision on Brexit because the voter is not informed enough to make such critical decisions. Are there such cases in which only our representatives can be shouldered with such responsibility?

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    Most issues today are too complex to allow even very educated people to make an informed decision without any support. One of the clear advantages of a representative democracy is that we can elect people we trust and who then get the time and resources (at least in theory) to inform themselves. But if you want an even more obvious example, look at anything related to espionage.
    – Roland
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:36
  • @user4012 No, I mean making decisions based on information from intelligence is not possible for the general public without informing your enemies (or anyone else) that the information is available
    – Roland
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:48
  • Sir John mentioned that a vote in the House of Commons must be a "free" vote, that is, a vote not driven by party or interests but instead driven by the need to serve the best interests of the nation. That possibly could be the sticking point. Mar 6, 2018 at 15:04
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    I think the question is good in principle, but badly worded. One simply can't answer the question if a Brexit decision from a parliament is objectively better than a decision by referendum, because we never see both alternatives in reality. But one could very well discuss the merits of representative democracy vs. direct democracy (although this already has been done to quite an extent on this side).
    – Thern
    Mar 6, 2018 at 15:57
  • @EdwinaMontague-Martin - that seems like a "let's assume a perfectly spherical cow in a vacuum" assumption on Major's part. No body of representatives ever votes that way in practice.
    – user4012
    Mar 6, 2018 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


There are several problems with this assertion:

  1. It assumes the MPs are somehow uniquely qualified to make decisions by virtue of being MPs.

    In reality, the main and only skill an MP possesses is to be elected to the position. They might have other qualifications but that's not a given at all. The voters don't pick "the best person in the country to decide on Brexit" (even assuming that's possible). They pick "The best person able to convince them to vote for them".

  2. Agency problem.

    MPs are supposed to honestly and truly represent the interests of their voters.

    However, that is not a valid assumption to make.

    In some cases they simply don't bother, picking interests of one subset of voters over another (in the simplest case, when close to half their voters are supporters of opposite party, but it can be less drastic than that in other situations). The most lopsided case of this is for example corruption, where a representative picks the interest of a paying party over the voters'; or their own personal interest.

    In other cases they may genuinely want to truly represent voter interests, but objectively can't - they either have their own biases preventing them (globalization is seen as universally good for most of governing class), or they simply don't know the correct answer, often because "correct" answer isn't easily knowable - see the next bullet point.

  3. Even assuming they are somehow "better" than average voter, MPs are human.

    Therefore they just as incapable of comprehending what a "correct" decision in a complex chaotic system is as other people.

    The problem is that the consequences are not really well understood by anyone, nor even easily attributable in post-analysis. As an example, almost entire ruling class predicted immediate and deep economic crash in the unfathomable impossible occasion that Donald Trump were elected President.

  4. Philosophically, this approach logically leads to an assumption that absolute tyrant is the best possible form of government.

    If a representative knows better than scores of plebes, it's not unreasonable to assume that an enlightened philosopher-king (we can even make them elected, to ensure "truly the best king" rules) would know even better than scores of representatives based on the same logic.

    In some cases, you might even be right and end up with Peter the Great or Cyrus the Great or Deng Xiaoping. Or, you might end up with an atrocity like Nero, or Louis XVI or a useless-burger like Brezhnev. History shows that the former is far far less likely (and even Peter the Great made great big mistakes, for all his brilliance).

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    How does this answer the question of the OP? Pointing out that MPs are neither perfect nor omniscient does not prove that they aren't better fit for some decisions than the average voter. Also, the post could benefit from a little tone down, especially at the end.
    – Thern
    Mar 6, 2018 at 14:59
  • The subjective and definitive assessments of Peter ("for all his brilliance"), Cyrus, Deng, Nero, Capet and Brezhnev made my day.
    – Evargalo
    Mar 6, 2018 at 15:57
  • @Evargalo - you can take Caligula if you think Nero isn't sufficiently bad. I don't think there's any serious objection to considering Peter, Cyrus or Deng as being good for their nations and populus, especially the last two.
    – user4012
    Mar 6, 2018 at 17:11
  • @user4012 There would be a lot a serious objections to that statement if this was place the place to discuss who is good or bad.
    – Evargalo
    Mar 6, 2018 at 17:14
  • @Evargalo - history.stackexchange.com :) Feel free to post there and link from comment thread. I'm pretty confident the consensus will support my assertion but will happily edit if i'm wrong
    – user4012
    Mar 6, 2018 at 17:15

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