When a young friend who has fought the good fight with you, rings you up in tears it’s hard to find words of comfort. The referendum was always a dangerous and unnecessary gamble so I was prepared for the wrong outcome, but not for the grief and anger at Friday’s result. I think the sense of alarm also extends to Leavers who who now regret their vote. No political event in my life time has provoked such fear, sadness and anger. That feeling is strongest among young people who voted three to one to Remain and know they will have to live with the divisions and uncertainty that has been foisted on them.
On Wednesday night they had gone to sleep part of the brilliant and diverse Team UK of the London Olympics, and on Friday they had woken up to the nightmare of Farage’s England. Ashamed to be British, not wanting to lose their European passports or culture and not knowing how to undo what had been done.
Tectonic plates had shifted. The United Kingdom in mortal danger, the country divided, London, Scotland and Northern Ireland against the rest; the young let down by the old; the educated and cosmopolitan against the north and most all of rural England. The Tories and Labour in disarray. The only winner is the odious Nigel Farage.
The Brexiters may have been unprepared for their victory, but many of their voters have been shocked and surprised by the turn of events. Sterling has fallen, the value of pensions taken a hit as shares have tumbled, and the very notion of Great Britain is now under threat as Scotland and Northern Ireland take stock of England turning its back on the EU. Giving the “establishment” a good kicking can be fun, but the Brexit voters will be justifiably angry when they realise that they voted to Leave on the basis of a false prospectus. Many of these were Labour supporters, who did not heed or did not hear our pro Remain arguments.
Understandably Labour is in disarray. We may be forced into an early general election which could see a meltdown of our northern vote. The sad reality is that for now the leadership of the Labour Party is not a player in the national debate about where we go from here, but the person who is stepping up to the plate is Sadiq Khan, the London Labour mayor. His first priority must be to protect our capital from the shocks of Brexit and give a lead to Labour’s local authority leaders in our major cities.
Sadiq’s focus must be twofold. First and foremost is to make sure that the capital and our major cities still have access to the single market and to freedom of movement, both essential to the prosperity of London. A visa system or a so-called Australian Points system would simply choke our economy and our innovation with red tape and bureaucracy. Secondly to mount a campaign to gain greater devolved powers for London and our major cities. The our cities should have greater freedom from the bureaucracy of Whitehall and Westminster and have greater budget setting, planning, transport and specially housing responsibilities.
Our second challenge is how to reconnect with our voters. Our way of working, our meetings are far too nerdy and boring and our campaigns not close enough to the concerns of our voters. Our Voter ID when it is not built on a solid foundation of knowing our communities, is not a conversation with voters, but a merely box-ticking exercise. Why not learn from the Italian Feste dell’Unita’. Let’s bring some fun, food and music to our campaigning and awareness raising. Secondly, we need to be out on our streets and council houses talking to people and making friends by taking up their causes and campaigning with them.
So I have been saying to my young friends that we will need to campaign to make sure we do not lose some of the key aspects of EU membership and to please join the Labour Party so that we may, once again, make it relevant to our voters.Image: Rosmarie Voegtli