I’m thinking of those taken in by false “promises” — there isn’t an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, or an end to free movement of people, Brexit doesn’t mean an end to fishing quotas, and “taking back control” now sounds like a joke. They were already alienated and this is not helping.
We’re hearing stories of Brexit hitting places that voted for it: Lush moving from Poole, Forterra mothballing plants in Accrington and Claughton. Vacancies and job prospects are down. We need a more constructive response than a brutal “You voted for it”.
If Labour were acting as a proper opposition rather than embroiled in in civil war, they would be highlighting further betrayals from the Tories: most startling is the abandoning of plans to move to a budget surplus. If it were to be so quickly abandoned now, why was it clung to for so long despite fuelling misery for millions? How many voted Leave because of that pain?
The best hope for avoiding Brexit is pressure from people who voted Leave and now fear the consequences, giving the government the chance to seem to have changed its mind after listening. But many of these are already people who feel excluded and assume politicians will ignore them. With Labour otherwise engaged, it falls to us as LibDems to mobilise them before Article 50 is invoked.
The divisions exposed by the referendum shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been door-knocking. Traditional socialism has failed, and we need something else.
The preamble to the LibDem constitution says we “exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” That has powerful resonances with where we now are, and is a brilliant place from which to begin to engage with those conned into voting Leave. Even more sharply, freedom from enslavement by poverty is a good place to start the conversation with people who are financially excluded, and a change from what people are used to.
There are European resonances: the EU is there to improve life for all Europeans, and reversing Brexit is in the best interests of many of those who voted Leave out of desperation.
At an idealistic level engaging those who now feel betrayed has powerful echoes of Nick Clegg’s resignation speech, talking of “British liberalism, that fine, noble tradition that believes we are stronger together and weaker apart is needed more than ever before.”
If we are about to head into a snap election, then connecting with these people will be really important, both to minimise resentment in LibDem-held constituencies that voted Leave, and to build support among those we need to win over in seats we hope to gain.
The crucial thing is to enable the voices of those feeling increasingly angry or dis-spirited to be heard — both the 48%, and those conned into voting Leave.
Can we go out and talk with people, and organise marches and petitions, to mobilise pressure to abandon the folly of Brexit, and build a better UK at the heart of a reforming European Union?
Originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice.