After a quarter of a century of continuous membership and service to the Labour Party, my decision to resign from it has not been easy. Unlike the high-profile resignations of stalwarts like Sir Tony Robinson (aka Baldrick in Blackadder), I’m a relative unknown. I’m just one of those many foot soldiers who has, until now, stuck with the party through thick and thin. But not anymore.
The party’s inability to tackle anti-Semitism and its ongoing dissembling and duplicitousness over Brexit has made it an intolerable place to be. This feels like a stark conclusion to reach about a party that has been my political home since I left school and foster care in the late 1980s.
When first joining, I met some real mentors and like-minded people who believed in Britain; ordinary everyday patriotic people who believed our country could and would be better with Labour. I campaigned for the party in my local working-class community of Nuneaton, where I grew up. And as a student at university, where I ran the Labour Club. Slogging away for the party whatever the physical and political weather had become almost hardwired into my DNA.
After Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997, it was a real privilege to be appointed as the national policy officer responsible for education and employment policy, working at the heart of the party’s campaign HQ in London. In government, I was able to work closely with Labour ministers, albeit as a junior staffer, on shaping the New Deal for young people; the introduction of the first ever national minimum wage; and improving skills training at all levels in our society, including the renaissance in apprenticeships. The values that drove these reforms have helped shape my professional life outside of politics where I have dedicated my whole career to improving post-compulsory education and training opportunities for people in this country and overseas.
Until the recent May local elections, I served as a Labour councillor in Brighton and Hove, including a challenging period as the lead member for children’s and social services. This role coincided with the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the transformation of the membership, driven by the leftist policies of Momentum.
In June 2016, I chaired the official Vote Leave campaign in Brighton and Hove and I’ve written for BrexitCentral previously about how this was really a democratic revolution for our country. It was the largest democratic decision in our history. The 52-48 split in the vote belies the fact that in the majority of our market towns, rural, coastal and working-class communities, often more than two-thirds of the electorate voted to end our membership of the European Union.
Two thirds of Labour’s representation in the House of Commons comes from Leave-voting seats. Yet the party’s treatment of these voters by the majority of Remain-supporting Labour MPs and MEPs has been despicable. They have been called thick, ignorant and racist. Leavers are patronised as people that “did not know what they voted for”. The majority of Labour’s MEP candidates in these futile upcoming European elections have actively goaded, on social media, five million Labour Leave voters – telling them that the party is no longer for them. Jeremy Corbyn and senior spokespeople, when asked by journalists whether Labour is a Brexit party or a Remain party, regularly contradict one another. As the socialist hero Nye Bevan once said: “We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.”
And therein lies the result of the unfolding betrayal of Brexit that the “constructive ambiguity” policy, pioneered by Keir Starmer. Remain zealots in the party will simply not rest until Article 50 is revoked. Leavers in the party, meanwhile, come under pressure to compromise on a Brexit-in-name-only approach as Starmer plots to anchor the UK permanently within the orbit of future EU-made laws. You only have to look at the party’s incoherent commitment to a permanent customs union with the EU, to see it has no interest in the United Kingdom becoming an independent self-governing nation again.
Rather, the party of Keir Hardie and Clement Attlee now seems content to allow unelected bureaucrats in Brussels to make our future trade policy — setting tariffs, taxes and regulations for whole swathes of the British economy — without any real say in how these rules are made. Labour is living in cloud-cuckoo land to think that the EU would grant a non-member state a seat around the table when negotiating future trade deals. In fact, what is most likely to happen is that large swathes of our public sector, like the NHS, would be open to privatisation, while German manufacturing and French agriculture would continue to sit behind a protectionist tariff wall.
At one point, I was sympathetic to Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson’s attempts at a compromise, by pegging the passage of any deal in Parliament to a so-called “confirmatory referendum”. The problem with this approach in practice, however, is that if it were to come to pass, there could be little faith in the Establishment or the Electoral Commission to allow that the choice of a clean WTO Brexit to even be on the ballot paper. Instead, the choice would likely be between Theresa May’s terrible withdrawal deal and remaining in the EU. This is the real agenda of the People’s Vote campaign. It is not to compromise over Brexit, but to nullify the 2016 referendum result by rigging a future contest.
The recent local election results and the loss of Labour councils and councillors in the Midlands and our Northern heartlands demonstrates that the party is continuing to allow itself to be defined and run by the interests of metropolitan London elites; socialist conspiracy theorists; and by a predominantly student, retired and public-sector profile of membership that resides mainly in our big university towns and cities.
No wonder the Brexit Party is now surging in the polls. People have really woken up to the fact that following the 2017 manifestos of both the major political parties, they were lied to. Both Conservative and Labour leaderships said they would respect the referendum result and take the country out of the institutions of the EU on 29th March 2019. As a result, Nigel Farage’s previous insurgent party, UKIP, was all but wiped out.
As the next set of elections approaches, there is so much more to fight for than Brexit. We have reached a point in this unfolding national crisis where the whole question of whether we actually live in a democracy is now at stake. In 1991, the late Labour legend, Tony Benn, said:
“Some people genuinely believe that we shall never get social justice from the British Government, but we shall get it from Jacques Delors; they believe that a good king is better than a bad Parliament.”
The salient point about where the country finds itself is that we have a ruling political class that lacks any real confidence in taking back control of our laws, borders, money and trade. That is, after all, fundamentally what the Brexit vote was all about. Instead, we appear to have some MPs and fellow travellers who are content to be merely supplicants of Brussels: a bad Parliament subservient to an even worse king.