May: Churchill or Chamberlain?
Principled politics has taken a bit of a backseat over recent years. Granted that the idea was always prone to wobbles, but I cannot remember a time when an entire chamber of the British Paliament was prepared and preparing to put forward a seismic change in our country, our international relationships, our prosperity and our sense of self-determination that went counter to what they actually believe to be best for the country. Principled politicians enter public life with a set of values which they sincerely hold will improve the life of the country. Some of these principles are less worthy than others. For some, such as Aneurin Bevan, there remain wonderful legacies of their foresight. For others the principle is to deceive poorer voters into believing that policies, that benefit the rich, will somehow benefit the poor, even though there has been scant evidence of any meaningful trickle down effect. And what evidence there is is of just that. The affluent receiving the flood while the deserving get the last oozings. At least we can say that they have principles even if they are only to advantage one section of the community over the others. Flawed or partial principles versus no principles? We’ll leave that for another occasion.
There is no section of the community that stands to benefit from the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. The sight of those who are certain to be most disadvantaged, cheering the dawn of a new independent Albion is one of the saddest of recent years. Those who most adamently and sincerely voted for a return to some golden-age-independent sceptered isle are the ones who will be truly let down. Not by us that they have taken to calling “remoaners” (I quite like the badge, very British, I wear it with pride) but by the fact that what they voted for was never on the agenda. Never a realistic option. A few speculators will make a killing of course but that has never led to benefits being felt beyond the gravelled drive of the mansion (often not even in UK territory). There is no logic in the political acceptance that we must do what the people asked us to do regardless of the consequences. Chamberlain was cheered by the many on his return from Munich. First of all if the result of referenda have to be respected, come what may, surely we should be holding onto what 67% of the electorate voted for in 1975. Which is to stay in the European Community. The result was as clear as political votes can be. Scurvy politicians claim that the 2016 referendum gave us the same outcome. A clear result. Nonsense! The only clear result from a 52% versus 48% outcome is that there is no clarity. And there is clear polling evidence that if the vote had been taken the week after or the week before the result would have been equally murky but very likely the other way.
I’d hold by the result if someone can convince me that we (the country) had the faintest clue what we were voting for. We know what we were told we were voting for and that was a very different thing indeed. We now have a much clearer vision. We can see the cliff edge is real. That we will either get no deal or a bad deal in leaving and that nobody has yet come up with any real disadvantages of staying.
The exposed lies of the Leave Campaign
Turkey is not joining the EU, the extra £350 million a week for the NHS was a lie, and a cruel lie. The promised windfall from not having to pay our subs is actually a colossal bill. The creation of an enormous new free trade area stretching form the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of America was a pure fiction, the issues of our sovereignty were twaddle (see the sheer anger of Leave supporting politicians and newspaper proprietors when people like Gina Miller actually stood up for our sovereignty). The reality so far (and remember we haven’t even got close to the exit door) is slower growth, weak investments, the trickle (soon to become a flood) of major businesses re-setting on the other side of the channel, an increase in racial violence linked to fractures in our multi-cultural society, a vacancy crisis in the NHS and a already measurable (£900 per person p.a.) drop in living standards.
What should politicians do?
What shouldn’t they do first. It’s easier to explain. They shouldn’t do what they have done. Set out positions, create tensions, realise the position is untenable and unceremoniously abandon that position. Re-position in a way designed to appease those on the extreme of each side of every argument. Entrench, realise the untenability of the position and abandon. Repeat every couple of months until you are left miles from where anybody, and I mean anybody would wish to be. If we are going to vote to leave the institution that has provided the foundation of our economic well-being (remember the position we were in in 1973) we have a right to know what we are actually voting to replace it. I personnally was very keen to see the back of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard but I would have thought twice about voting them out if I knew David Cameron was going to replace them. Simply the poorest prime ministerwe have ever had.
There’s an old music hall song about marriage:
Be kind to the first
For the next might be worse
And you’ll long to be single again.
So let’s have another go. I’ll accept the outcome if the lies are removed and we see that the glorious affluence and independence is so much hot air spouted by a particularly disreputable group (and a small group at that). The choice is we either stay in and maintain all the advantages of the last 40 years (and have a voice in reforming what is manifestly wrong with the institutions) or we come out with either no agreement (which leaves us prey to the politicians and beaurocrats of countries that hardly have our welfare uppermost) or we come out with a half-baked version of being in with few of the advantages, all of the disadvantages and no say whatsoever.
If someone can come up with a way of leaving that is genuinely beneficial to us all then let us return to the issue as and when that happens. I’m open to persuasion but in the meantime I like being a citizen of 28 countries, I like the fact of a Europe working for the benefit of each other, I like being able to afford a few luxuries, I like extreme views being expressed, but being expressed as a minority opinion in a country that is comfortable with the truth. I like the fact that my generation has seen improvements in almost every section of society. I hate the fact that huge areas of the country have been left severely disadvantaged through social and economic changes. But this is an internal issue. It is the UK that decided to give up an Northern Towns, and treat Wales and Scotland as second class parts of the union. This needs to be put right. I’m a working class northerner myself and have fought against many of the policies that have brought about social division and an economic underclass.
But, say the appeasers, it will be too divisive to hold a second referendum. Have they not looked out of the window. We are divided. We will remain divided if Brexit proceeds. Nobody is going to say, “Well I was against leaving, but now we can’t afford a decent health service, competent policing or a fair education for our children. Now that foreign holidays are once again for the rich and that German workers are taking home twice what the equivilent British workers are drawing, I’ve changed my mind.” I hardly think so.
There is a consensus. Our MPs are overwhelmingly against the idea yet they are going along with it. This is as irrational as it is unprecedented. Edmund Burke, the founder and hero of modern Conservatism said of political representation:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Another Conservative who knew a thing or two about Europe and who would have been horrified at the thought of Brexit, Winston Churchill said:
“The first duty of a member of parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain.”
There was a popular cry following the referendum of “What part of democracy is it you don’t understand?” All advanced countries took care to ensure that they avoided the tyranny of the majority. Constitutionally the position is straight-forward. The enabling legislation made it clear that the referendum was consultative. An essential feature of democracy is the right for people to change their minds.
Our politicians have sacrificed principle in favour of expediency. Perhaps this doesn’t matter too much if we can put right our mistake at the next election (we are a notoriously yoyo-like electorate). It matters a great deal if the step taken is effectively irrevocable.
Give us another vote between remaining in the EU or leaving under the horribly botched terms that now seem inevitable. We deserve it. And don’t give me any of that “the country is tired of elections” business. It’s a walk down to the community centre once in a blue moon. I think you’ll find that plenty of us will exercise the chance to vote if we get it.