THERE IS LIKELY TO BE A GENERAL ELECTION BEFORE THE TURN OF THE YEAR AND IT IS ALREADY CLEAR THAT THE THREE MOST POPULAR POLITICAL PARTIES – LABOUR, TORY AND UKIP – WILL BE PUTTING FORWARD POLICIES THAT ACCEPT THE UK’S DEPARTURE FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION. WHO WILL REPRESENT THE FORTY-EIGHT PER CENT WHO VOTED TO REMAIN IN THE EU?
The referendum is over but that doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the fight for Britain’s future in Europe is done. Forty-eight percent of the British people voted to remain in the European Union, and they did so in a campaign that was dominated by Leave promises that are rapidly and very publicly unravelling. There is no pot of gold for the NHS, there is no way to keep the economic benefits of membership of the single market without allowing free movement of labour and there is no magic wand that can be waved to reverse the global flows of migrants.
And, it turns out, all those “scare” stories about the economic impact are coming true. Those pesky experts weren’t lying after all.
The Leave campaign clearly never expected to win and have no immediate plans in place for a managed transition to a future outside the European Union. Boris Johnson, or whichever Brexiter leads the Tories after the summer, will almost certainly want to hold an election believing that, with the Labour Party in disarray, they can achieve their own mandate and a larger majority with which to exert control over a deeply divided party.
And, in this election, we’re going to have a serious problem.
Jeremy Corbyn has already clearly signalled that the Labour Party will not fight for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. He will, instead, pursue a well-meaning but essentially hopeless strategy of amelioration – hopeless because he has no prospect of being in a position to influence the negotiations. And around him are a cloud of far-leftists who, always uncomfortable with the boring, incremental progress made within the EU, are building dream castles in the air, imagining that (somehow, from permanent opposition) they can create a post-exit worker’s utopia
That means that the three biggest parties at the next election – Labour, Tory and UKIP – will be arguing in favour the UK leaving the European Union, fighting over the 52% of the population who voted for Leave. The only differences will be in the detail.
Some will say that those of us on the losing side should suck it up and accept the “will of the people” but that’s nonsense – applying the same logic to a general election would mean that we should never seek to challenge a government policy. Democratic decisions are never sacrosanct and the arguments never end. Those of us who believe that this is an issue that is vital to the health, wealth and stability of this country have a responsibility not to give up.
But who is going to represent us?
Who is going to represent the half of the British people who want to stay in the European Union?
Scotland has the SNP and there’s a general pro-EU consensus amongst the parties in Northern Ireland (excluding the DUP) but England and Wales have only (no offense) the Liberal Democrats – who are no longer a significant political force.
I have been a Labour Party member for 30 years – through years in which there have been very good and very bad times. But, for me, this is a moment of genuine crisis.
I want the Labour Party to stand up for the jobs and rights that the EU brings, for the peace and hope it has brought to places like Northern Ireland, and for the optimism it implies about how nations and people can live and work and develop together. Yes the European Union has its flaws (I know the treatment of Greece was appalling) but, on balance, it is a step towards a better future.
Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear that he does not want to lead a Labour Party like that.
If the Labour Party leader is not going to fight to represent the 48% of British voters who want to preserve one of few remaining bulwarks of our social democracy, then perhaps it is time for us to find a leader who will.
Or, perhaps (probably), I am in the minority and this is what most Labour Party members want. I consider myself to belong to the centre of the Labour Party, somewhere in the Robin Cook tradition of the party – no Blairite me – but this is a line I can’t cross. If the Labour Party membership wants to go into election with a leadership that is putting forward a policy which, I believe, will have a ruinous impact on the interests of British working people then – I am very afraid – they will have to do it without me.
And that is something I never, ever, thought I’d write down.
But, it’s not just me. The much bigger question is: who will represent the forty-eight per cent?