It’s been made clear to me from a number of emails and social media comments that some constituents are unhappy with the fact I haven’t commented on Facebook as regards the recent People’s Vote March. So let me right that wrong and give you and other constituents some thoughts on the PV March and the situation with Brexit generally.
Firstly, let me congratulate those who turned up and marched on what was undoubtedly an impressive exercise in mass participatory democracy. Although I mentioned it via a retweet on Twitter, it was remiss of me not to mention it myself on Facebook. As you may well know I’ve long argued that our participatory democracy is much more than simply placing a cross in a box. It thrives when people grasp the full-spectrum of their democratic rights. This march was an impressive example of that.
But let me also say I want to address this message to more than just those who’ve written to me in support of a PV. As someone who campaigned passionately for Remain in the Referendum, I’m also aware that 44% of this city – no inconsiderable figure – voted to Leave. That was something I had to carefully consider before I resigned from the Shadow Cabinet so I could break the whip and vote against, what I considered to be, the flawed Article 50 legislation before us as Parliamentarians back in 2017.
So our city is not united on this issue. Like much of the country it is divided and if the polls are to be believed Remain and Leave voters have never been as divided as they are now. The question I and many others in the Labour Party ask ourselves is, unlike the Tories: how do we deliver an outcome that respects the referendum and doesn’t drive people into the arms of the far-right by being seen to undermine a specific perception of democracy? https://www.theguardian.com/…/uk-towns-polarised-by-far-rig…But at the same time one that doesn’t destroy our economy and leave us a vassal state? It’s an issue that keeps me awake at night, a conundrum I do not have an answer for. Very soon we’ll shortly see whether Parliament has one either.
For so many people in this country and city, under both Labour and Conservative governments, the benefits of the European Union – of trade, of economic growth, of increasing homeownership, of rising living standards, of the freedom to travel, work and live in other European countries – have not been evenly felt or shared. Of course for many of those who work in our Universities, our Research Park, our financial and Insurance sector etc, Europe has been largely a success. Leaving it will be a disaster not just for them but the wider economy.
And herein lies the duality of our EU membership. One where many of us have benefitted from our relationship with the EU and yet at the same time one where for many living standards have fallen, precarious work practices flourished and the social safety net meant to catch them, fail entirely – to the point where food banks and charity are all that stands between hunger and destitution for far too many. It is for the latter group that Brexit feels like an opportunity to kick those who haven’t listened to their plight. A seemingly irrational kick that they understand may hurt them but one they are more than willing to give. This is why the two sides are so far apart – Remainers believe Leavers to be acting irrationally and against their own economic interests. Leavers believe a democratic decision was taken and no matter how irrational it may seem, should be honoured.
This is the arena the Labour Party must now now operate in and show leadership. It is clear the Conservatives – the architects of both Brexit and the economic policies that lead up to it – are incapable of doing so. That is why our strategy is to first force a general election and then, failing that, to back a public vote
Here’s the text of the policy from our September Party Conference resolution/policy:
“Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power.”
But the spirit of our Party’s conference policy also clearly commits Labour to putting a public vote ‘on the table’ if it can not force a general election:
“If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the Government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”
The reasoning for this sequence is logical. Firstly, only a radical Labour government prepared to fundamentally and decisively redistribute wealth and power away from vested interests and the 1%, can offer those who feel betrayed by successive governments a genuine sense of hope for their future. Simply remaining in the EU with no prospect of radical economic reform offers nothing to placate the anger and frustration of those communities blighted by 40 years of neoliberalism. This country needs a Labour government as well as a final relationship with the EU that protects our economy.
As many of you maybe aware I made the case for a public vote more than a year ago when a backbencher, shortly after resigning.
I don’t believe the arguments made in the article above have significantly altered. What I do know is that the sequence – a general election, and failing that, a public vote – is the position I and other members of the front-bench are bound by collective responsibility to articulate. It is one that understands remaining in the EU is not in and of itself the only solution to the problems that divide and beset our country. That we also need a Labour government.
I’ll conclude by saying the reason I came back onto the front-bench and accepted collective responsibility was to work on Climate Change and sustainability policy for the Party.
I of course know our relationship with the EU is critical to fighting climate change amongst other things. But what I also know is that tackling climate change cannot wait until we sort the mess of Brexit out. It’s happening NOW, along with bio-diversity collapse. Therefore whatever the outcome of our place in Europe, I cannot and will not turn my back on the opportunity to work towards tackling these existential questions here and now.
Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy message.