What you feared of Brexit? It looks likely to come true.
Already the signs are there. Of slowing investment, falling employment, increases in inflation, slumping public finances, a falling housing market (hurting house-building), a likely break up of the United Kingdom, diminished tertiary and research sectors, and a rise in racism. Government’s response to date has been to signal tax cuts to benefit large corporations and the wealthy. These will compound the hit to public finances even more and benefit (and not for the first time) the old at the expense of the young and the rich at the expense of the poor. Investment in public services and infrastructure will suffer. Alongside all of these we exit the Union, which emerged from the ashes of two World Wars to deliver 70 years of peace and security to its members, to a world of increasing and terrifying insecurity.
You may, or may not, have a problem with how the Referendum campaign was fought. But one thing is for sure. The choice was flawed. It was between a known world (in the EU) and an unknown world (whatever being outside the EU involves). And it was made poorer still because Leavers presented a slew of unknown worlds: lower and not lower immigration, inside and not inside the single market, money spent and not spent on the NHS, retained and not retained regional investment and agricultural subsidies. The list goes on. No one – least of all the Leave campaigners – could agree on what we were being offered.
And you are voiceless. Not one of our major political parties makes these points. Our MPs, some notable exceptions aside, shelter behind the flawed product of a flawed process. They dare not even point out, of a Referendum that they chose to make discretionary, that its result is not mandatory.
Theresa May has said that Brexit means Brexit. That may be so – but it leaves unanswered the question what does Brexit mean? Jeremy Corbyn, quite remarkably, trumped the demands of even the most vigorous Leave campaigners and demanded we trigger the exit mechanism immediately. The SNP has half an eye to a second independence referendum. The Liberal Democrats remain, for the time being, irrelevant.
And huge choices remain about the future shape of our relationship with Europe. Those choices were not put to the public in the Referendum. But this appears not to trouble the Government. These choices, it says, do not require the approval of our elected Parliament. instead they are purely personal decisions for the Prime Minister. A Prime Minister not selected by the electorate. Not even selected by the hundred thousand plus members of her own Party. Effectively selected by the Chair of the Conservative Parliamentary Party who, in breach (as I read them) of Conservative Party rules, crowned her Prime Minister following Andrea Leadsom’s decision to withdraw.
If that’s democracy, I’m a banana.
Who stands in the way of this extravagant assertion of personal power?
Not Her Majesty’s Opposition. The Labour Party is in crisis. Jeremy Corbyn barely pretends to lead a Parliamentary party. Carried aloft on the shoulders of his supporters – numbering perhaps half a percent of our population – he has almost entirely absented himself from the important business of holding the Government to account.
And whatever you think of Theresa May – and there is much to like about her Centre-Left program – good policy is unlikely to emerge from a process denuded of proper challenge. Our system of democracy was designed for two political parties. Not one.
None of this is good. Indeed, if your concern lies, as mine does, in proper Government it is very bad indeed. Open a newspaper. These are not the days to beta-test the hypothesis that our constitution will function fine without an Opposition.
To change it, two things must happen.
The Labour Party must return to the business of vigorous, challenging, healthy Opposition. And there must be a mainstream political voice demanding a democratic mandate – not merely that of the Prime Minister appointed by personal fiat of the Chair of the Conservative 1922 Committee – for whatever emerges from our negotiations with our European partners. ‘That deal – or the status quo?’: this is question that must be put before Parliament or the electorate. Anything less is to thumb our nose at the idea we are governed by democracy.
These are the things that must happen. And you can deliver them. You can bring them about.
There is a Labour leadership election.
One of the candidates, Owen Smith MP, who will likely go forward to challenge Jeremy Corbyn, has promised that a Labour Party he leads will offer the electorate a referendum on the terms of the deal we negotiate with our European partners. Once the shape of that deal is know, he says, the British people should choose between that deal and our present relationship. This will remove the taint of personal fiat from what is likely to be the most important decision concerning the future of the United Kingdom that any of us will see in our lifetimes.
And there is every reason to believe he will be in a position to offer that prospect to the British people in a General Election.
Leave aside the prospect of a snap election. Even were the formal process to start today, Philip Hammond has suggested the Brexit process will take six years to conclude. And, following discussions with Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May has said the process will not even be started until there is a UK approach to negotiations. And the assessment, of course, is a political one but I think our European partners will be happy for the British people to be given a choice between the status quo and a revised deal. That, after all, is what has happened with second referendums in the past.
So, a Labour Party, led by Owen Smith, offering to the British Electorate in a general election a choice. A choice between a new deal – whatever shape that deal takes – and sticking with what we have.
If you have been (for longer than six months) a member of the Labour Party or an affiliated supporter then I urge you to vote for Owen Smith. But even if you are not, you can still vote. To do so you must become a registered supporter. And the window for doing so will open here on Monday at 5pm. For £25 you can vote in the Leadership Election. That money, if you can afford it, will be well spent. The race is very tight indeed so your vote will count. You can also register here to receive prompts and notifications to register and vote. Please, take that step too.
I do not urge this action because it helps the Labour Party, although it does. I do not urge the action because I support Owen Smith, although it will help him. I urge it for two reasons. It stands the best chance of restoring functioning Parliamentary democracy and it stands the best chance of delivering to the British people a choice about Brexit that democracy demands that they have.
So Friend, please: if you care about these things, I ask you to register as a supporter. And to recruit others to do the same. These are matters too important to be ignored as parochial Labour Party concerns. They are central to the financial and cultural and political health of your country. The vote is likely to be close. And these are actions you can take. You can act to restore and preserve that health.
Please do share this post. Please share it on email, on Facebook, on Twitter, and orally too. Reach out. Smile. You can help.
Thank you for reading.
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