An Open Letter to the 48%

Dear Friend,

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.


Note: Please, add your thoughts below. But posts are moderated and abusive posts will be rejected.

73 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the 48%

  1. Thanks Rafael. I would say you are blinded to the evidence by ideology. A Right Wing Corbynista if you like. Treasury’s own analysis, after accounting for behavioural effects, shows that CT cuts since 2010 have cost almost £15bn pa in diminished tax receipts. But don’t let the evidence stop you. You ideological fruit loops never do.

  2. No mention of the Liberal Democrats? They have pledged not to leave the EU.

  3. actually they are mentioned. but with eight seats and a tiny vote share they’re not a particularly relevant force atm. I hope they come back.

  4. Jolyon – why are you so rude to Rafael?

    Low corporation tax rates in a mobile world (like the one you want in the EU) will obviously attract business who will chose to pay tax in your country at a lower rate. Check out Ireland and Luxembourg. If it doesn’t work, why do they do it? Do you think it would be would be good for the Irish economy to raise corporation tax from 12% to 45%? Why not higher? Surely the higher the rate the more tax income!!! Let’s make it 90%!!!!

    Socialism only works in a closed economy where high rates of tax can be imposed on people and business who can’t escape them. In the EU there is free movement, so of course people and business move to where they get a better deal. Like Ireland and, I hope, UK.

    This must be why the EU wants a fiscal Union, so that no country can compete on tax and a high tax socialist utopia in a closed society is built just a little to the west of the previous Socialist Union.

  5. Lib Dems – the only party unambiguously in favour of full EU membership. 8 seats.

    Doesn’t that tell you something?

  6. I agree with most of what you say except for a few items.
    Economists will argue whether reducing corporation tax will increase the total tax received by the government. Some would say that it encourages investment and reduces corporate flight from the UK. Of course it will take two or three years before the results come in and even then the economists will argue about the success or not of the tax policy.
    You have decided to support Owen Smith rather than Angela Eagle because he wants another referendum. This is would definitely put referenda before Parliament. The best candidate to support in any party is one who opposes Brexit., whether Labour, Conservative or Liberals, not one who is wishy-washy on the issue. That would make it difficult or even impossible to pass the necessary legislation in Parliament.

  7. P: there are plenty of big international companies that are escaping the UK’s current corporation tax rates quite nicely, thanks to the structures set up in Ireland and particularly Luxembourg. Are you proposing that the UK should compete with them to siphon of an ever smaller percentage of their tax-evading cashflow?

  8. Geoffrey – the public did support candidates that wanted a referendum to settle the in-out issue once and for all. They voted in a big majority of votes for the Conservatives and UKIP who were the parties offering a referendum. (Of course, with our strange first past the post system we got 48 or so SNP MPs and only 1 or 2 UKIP MPs despite there being 3 times more votes for UKIP than SNP. And labour constituencies are very small. But hey).
    In our parliamentary democracy that matters. Then there was the referendum that the party elected to form a government had promised. And that referendum result was leave. Which the government elected will now deliver.

    And something is wrong with all this? Seems like perfect parliamentary democracy in action. It was a narrower election result that it should have been under a fairer system, but otherwise all is well.

    Pity poor Italy, who hasn’t elected a leader since Berlusconi. Still, who needs elections when the Commission can appoint (anoint?) your leaders for you?

  9. I enjoyed and agree with this open letter. My only comment relates to the use of the statistic “48%”. I prefer to interpret events as follows: A proposal was made to fundamentally alter the UK’s constitution and its relationship with its near neighbours. So important was this issue that it was put to a referendum. Over 37% of those entitled to a vote supported the proposal. Over 62% did not. This is interpreted as a clear democratic mandate for making the change.

    Please Jolyon, please keep fighting for Remain, please don’t give up. I’m not normally a big fan of lawyers and their clever-dick wriggling around and through loopholes and technicalities. However, this issue is too important. You have my permission to use every non-violent trick in the book when it comes to this.

  10. Michael – yes.

    Google, Dell, and Microsoft incurr very little cost on Ireland. These are not dirty heavy industries. They pay well. So they don’t need much if any indirect state investment. Just their small share of utilities, roads, airports, defence, policing, etc. None of which they cause much of a burden to. So why should they be taxed more than is necessary for them to meet their side of the bargain? As it is, Ireland and its society is still up on the deal even at 12%. So why should they raise the rate?. And why shouldn’t UK set its rate at 11%? After all, 11% of something is better than 20% of nothing. The only limit as far as I am concerned is when UK makes a loss on the deal. I have no interest in thieving money from successful businesses in order to give the money to unsuccessful businesses.

  11. “Over 37% of those entitled to a vote supported the proposal. Over 62% did not. ”

    Oh come on George! Really?

    How about “only 33% of the population said they wanted to remain in the EU, and 67% did not”. Same logic as yours.

  12. Sorry P but I disagree.

    We are where we are and whether or not it’s ideal or fits your personal tastes, it is the result of hundreds of years of the struggle for and the exercise of democracy and the rule of law. The status quo deserves some respect. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that a radical and fundamental change to that status quo should not be made unless most of the people, or their elected representatives, support that change. In the referendum, most of the people didn’t.

  13. Lyndsay Porter

    I am very sorry but “in the past” here means less than a month ago and you didn’t like the outcome. By “change our mind” you mean you have no intention of changing your mind but you think I should, because you still just don’t like the outcome.

    Where exactly does democracy and ‘changing our mind’ end and simply refusing to.accept the result of a free and fair vote begin?

  14. I know business is different from politics, but when a contract is not free and fair you can set it aside. Since it is clear the leavers did lie significantly then the referendum result should be set aside.

  15. Lies?

    Guardian 14 May :

    “Christine Lagarde is now addressing journalists at the Treasury.
    The IMF appears to have considerably stepped up its warning on the impact of Brexit.

    Phillip Inman, the Guardian’s economics correspondent, reports:

    A stock market crash and steep fall in house prices could follow a vote to leave the EU, the International Monetary Fund warned on Friday.”

    FTSE on 20 June – 6200. On 18 July 6600.

    Any apologies from Ms Lagarde?

  16. Jolyon I think you should re-read your posts, especially around whether the result of the Referendum holds. To quote “the choice was between an unknown world and a known world”. How does this differ to any election. Promises are made and then reality hits. I do not see how this is justification for re-running the election?

    If there are consequences for people who voted Leave then that’s their decision. It’s patronising to call for a new Referendum because these people don’t know who they voted for

  17. 70% of labour held constituencies voted leave. Will their MPs respect the views of their constituents and make Brexit work by holding the government to account during exit negotiations? Or will they try and deny the validity of the views of their constituents?

  18. Lucid, studied and well-considered piece.
    (I’ve bookmarked and will read it again, to mull over the fine detail.)

    And for the most part, and remarkably perhaps (in view of the themes at issue, both BREXIT-related and Labour-related, and all further ramifications, given the extreme heat they can generate over light), stimulating and thought-provoking comments too. The advantage of moderation, I suppose.

    What’s really tiring, on the other hand, is the taunting, triumphalistic tone of “You lost – get over it!” and similar comments, rare here, commoner elsewhere.

    The categorical insistence that makes on social division, on being with the winners, against the losers, regardless of cost, economic, social and psychological. Whereas – in fact – I would hope most of us want to think of the country as a (greater) whole, its wellbeing and fortunes.

  19. Thanks Peter. A lot of the debate is pretty tiresome – and one or two of the commentators here are pushing the envelope – but I’m glad you’ve found something helpful below the line here.

  20. Chiara1421, My Gaff, My Rules. No one’s calling anyone a liar without very good evidence.

  21. Nice to hear from you, ‘Ironman’. (Incidentally, that’s almost ‘Stalin’ in Russian – but I’m sure you knew that – just having a chuckle there.)

    You wrote, “By “change our mind” you mean you have no intention of changing your mind but you think I should, because you still just don’t like the outcome.”

    Please read what I wrote just a touch more carefully. I described how I HAVE changed my mind in the light of new evidence. On the other hand, I haven’t presumed to say that I think you should.

    However, I think you should look at evidence as it is and not create your own little scenario.

    But enough about me. Why not explain why and where you think Jolyon is wrong without slagging him off for points he hasn’t raised.

    Oh and BTW, please spell my name correctly, there’s a good lad. As well as the corrections I made above, my name is also there, on the posting, where you are can see it quite easily, if you want to.

  22. Pingback: The Right-Minded View: Labour’s Leadership Contest & Our New Prime Minister: a socialist case against socialism; and a feminist case against feminism? | A New Place Of Exile

  23. Oh look! An important industry invests in the UK, in part because of a low-tax advantage for innovative science and technology, the patent box, which halves corporation tax. So we get 10% of a lot instead of 20% of nothing. And their well paid employees pay 40% income tax plus NI. Great news all round – celebrate!

    GSK Plans £275m UK Investment After EU Vote – Sky News

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