I want to remain within the European Union. That’s the bottom line. I make no apologies for my position. I do believe in the European project, but like Jeremy Corbyn, if someone asked me to rate my ‘remain-enthusia’ out of 10, I would probably say something like 7 or 8.
I share much of the classical Bennite criticism of the EU, but in no way does that take me to a ‘Lexit’ or ‘Left-wing exit’ position – internationalism means strengthening socio-economic and political bonds across the world, and the EU embodies that ideal. Of all the times to leave the EU, if ever, now is not the time in a world becoming more volatile and fractured by the hour.
Buts let’s look at the idea of a ‘People’s Vote’, and for me that means looking at why people voted to leave in 2016.
In my final year at school, I wrote a long essay about Brexit and it’s impact on the Labour Party. I read papers and reports from various sources that sought to analyse the Brexit vote, and these have helped me form my own opinion and how the left should take it on. Especially now that the project appears to be falling apart at the seams under this Tory administration.
What I found whilst doing my research, and in the year that had followed, is that the referendum in 2016 was never, truly about the European Union or any real desire to leave it. Anyone who tries to pinpoint the one reason people voted to leave is lying to you. The vast multiplicity of factors that went into people’s decision-making on June 23rd of that year, combined with the extremely narrow 52/48 result, have made it difficult for anyone to forge a clear path or a coherent vision for a post-Brexit Britain.
My take on this, albeit not an expert or professional opinion, is that the referendum came at a time when immigration from EU countries was at an all-time high at around 290,000 (not the net figure), alongside the deliberate, punitive and ideologically driven austerity agenda rolled out across our beloved public services.
What does that mean? Well, it means that public services have struggled to accommodate the amount of people they need to, with the severe shortage of money they have because of Tory cuts. What does that lead to? Well, it allows for a narrative to take form which blames the struggles of public services on the number of people coming into this country from abroad, and a genius slogan such as ‘take back control’ taps into that collective feeling of discontent and fear shared amongst the populous of the UK. Thus, we have Brexit.
The referendum was always a stupid idea, borne out of David Cameron’s arrogant and ignorant desire to put to bed a decades-old conservative feud over Europe. There was no groundswell of public opinion wanting to get out of the EU as soon as possible. So Cameron’s gamble has led us to this place – what can only be described as a full-blown socio-political and constitutional crisis.
Parliament is gridlocked, the government is in meltdown, and the people look upon this with incredulity and despair.
But surely this would take me to a position where I’m gunning for a people’s vote at any cost. Is that not the key to end this introspective madness? Is it not time for labour to stand up for what it believes in and try and stop brexit whatever the electoral cost?
You would have thought so, but no. The worst thing about this whole mess, apart from the whole national suicide thing, is that it’s just so hard to form any coherent opinion on the matter, because it’s an ever-evolving story. From one day to the next, anything can happen; as we found last week when the government’s withdrawal agreement suffered the biggest ever defeat in UK history of 230 votes, and then they went on to narrowly win a vote of confidence in the house.
But as of yet, I am not in any way convinced that a so-called ‘people’s vote’ is the answer to our national malaise. Not because I think we need to respect the ‘will of the people’ at any cost, like some unbreakable truck driving off a cliff with no turn up ahead. As David Davis said back in 2012, “if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy” – a quote often rolled out by Remainers to some effect.
My overarching fear is that remain wouldn’t win another referendum. As the title suggests, I think some PV advocates are far too quick to assume that PV means remaining within the EU, as if the referendum never happened, and that there isn’t a huge proportion of the electorate who would once again vote to leave the EU.
The sheer arrogance of the remainers now has arguably got even worse in the two and a half years since the referendum. And the arrogance comes from the fact that the PV advocates are only speaking to a select group of people in an echo-chamber, which takes me onto my other reservation.
I am not convinced that the PV campaign has got out of London. It is all well and good 700,000-odd London remainers marching for Europe in Westminster, but that isn’t proof that the ‘will of the people’ so to speak has changed, and that people are now itching to remain within an institution that a majority, albeit a slim one, voted to reject back in 2016.
The Remain camp still embodies that London-centric tunnel vision that bit them on the arse on referendum night, and has come to dominate our political landscape.
Politics in the UK is London-centric, and therefore if the PV advocates genuinely want to win their referendum, if it ever materialises, they must prove that they are preaching beyond the converted.
As a Labour Party member, it frustrates me that the majority of the membership don’t see how dangerous this could be for Labour. Yes we might gain some votes from the Liberal Democrat’s, the Greens, and some more moderate Conservatives but I just fear that we would be seen as the party of cosmopolitan cities, speaking only to young graduates and middle-class Europhiles. When in fact we need to be building a broad coalition of voters, and that means winning over those who voted for Brexit.
Despite popular opinion, I do think Jeremy Corbyn has shown leadership on the Brexit issue because ‘leadership’ is skewered by the ‘Great Man’ view of history, which is all about leadership as strength and might, always making the tough decisions and always getting them right.
Corbyn has shown a tactical awareness of the tightrope he has been forced to walk between the varying demographics of labours electoral coalition, and thus far it has worked. To me, that is a sign of good leadership.
I have no theoretical objection to taking this decision back to the people, and if it did turn out that a public vote on the deal becomes reality, I will campaign with full-force for remain, making the positive and yes, socialist case for the EU.
But as it stands, I will only be able to support the people’s vote campaign if they get out of London, go and speak to the millions of people who voted for Brexit, grasp what would convince them to vote to remain if a new referendum were put to them, and actually offer something other than the pre-2016 status quo, which people had legitimate concerns over.
A People’s Vote doesn’t necessarily mean we remain, and actually with the threat of a no-deal looming and public support for that option gaining pace, the political picture is bleak.
If the people’s vote advocates don’t do as I suggest above, then it will be my generation that has to live with an emboldened Brexit mandate because of the pre-emptive, irrational and arrogant judgement of some London-bubble Remainers.