Today, a million people are expected to hit the streets of London to protest against Brexit. They will represent a relatively broad political spectrum, from left to right, unified on one issue; they either want Article 50 to be revoked or for a further Referendum on the deal, in what they refer to as a People’s Vote.
This government, so ardent until recently in their commitment to deliver Brexit, are now in divided disarray. They have let down Leave voters and Remainers, because their incompetence has not only failed to heal the division between us, they’ve prised it open and poured fuel into it.
Despite this dire situation, and despite the fact I voted Remain, I will not be attending today’s march. Why? Because I believe this campaign, as well meaning and genuine as many of its supporters are, is holding a lighted match above the fuel poured on by the Tories. None of the arguments I’ve been presented with up to now, from democracy is fluid, to lies were told, to it was 3 years ago and older Leave voters have died off to be replaced by young pro Europeans, has convinced me that either a 2nd Referendum or a revokation of Article 50, won’t rip this country apart even further. What we need is a way to bridge the divide and only Labour are offering to be that bridge. Had Labour decided to only fight on behalf of Leavers or Remainers, they would have won plaudits from the group they chose to champion, whilst completely alienating the group they ignored. Instead, from day one, Corbyn has steered the party to try to see Brexit from all perspectives, and been criticised on all sides for it. That won’t worry Jeremy though. If it’s right, it’s right, and if his own personal history has taught him anything, it’s that being right usually means getting credit much further down the track. Today he will be the target of much condemnation. Marchers will claim he should have thrown all his weight behind their campaign. But Jeremy was absolutely right not to. Not just because 70% of Labour’s constituencies voted leave, and it could damage us electorally, but because the EU Referendum was one of the largest democratic exercises this country has ever seen, with one of the largest turnouts, sold as a once in a generation vote.
To reverse Brexit before its been implemented, would be to drive a poisoned arrow through the heart of democracy, and the wound it creates will fester and spread in ways that’s impossible to predict. What Labour are offering is a compromise deal that has the ability to mitigate the potential damage caused by a harder Brexit, whilst respecting the Referendum result.
Corbyn has recognised the drivers behind Brexit. The Brexit generational divide is often a point of focus, as Remain campaigners celebrate the way the conveyer belt of life is replacing old Leave voters with young remainers, but leavers and remainers are also divided along class, geographical and educational lines, and Labour recognise that, and want to bring these groups together.
The People’s Vote campaign has failed miserably to do this. Rather than win the hearts and minds of Leave voters, they’ve chosen to patronise them, sneer at them, mock them and dismiss them. They have not only alienated Leave voters, but working class Remain voters like me, who don’t want to be associated with them or their campaign.
Interview after interview, sneering, arrogant, often middle class Remainers, alienate thousands more Leave voters. The way they want to resolve Brexit is born from this arrogance, this inability to get into the shoes of Leave voters; they’d probably insist they were fumigated first. I grew up in a council house. My mum was a cleaner, my dad a meter reader. We didn’t have a phone, a car, or foreign holidays. I know what it’s like to have very little, with little to lose. I get Leave voters, who’d had enough of a failing system, a system that was being propped up by an arrogant establishment. Whilst Remainers bemoan the potential loss of ease with which they can move abroad, many Leave voters are struggling to make ends meet. Brexit involved risk, but it also represented change and change is very enticing when you are already in the shit and things can’t get much worse.
Had an EU Referendum been called five years into a radical Corbyn led Labour government, I suspect Remain would have won, because the drivers of Brexit would have been less of an issue. That’s why it’s so frustrating and ironic that the most prominent People’s Vote campaigners (think Alistair Campbell and Chuka Umunna) so detest Corbyn and everything he stands for. They can’t bring Leave voters along with them because that would involve offering Leave voters hope in the form of Corbynomics and a future Labour government and that is the stuff of their nightmares. Instead they will slate him in their speeches and alienate another hundred thousand Leave voters.
If the March today had any interest in uniting Leave voters and Remainers, rather than letting itself be turned into yet another self congratulatory scorn fest, they would be singing Corbyn’s praises for trying to unite the country, for trying to exhaust all possibilities to find a Brexit compromise, for addressing, with our radical manifesto, the issues that led to people voting leave, but they won’t. Instead they will try to put a match to the fuel May has poured on.