It’s time for the left to move beyond Brexit
Late on election night, as I’d just arrived at the Banbury constituency count, I was feeling despondent. I’m sure this was a feeling shared by progressives across the country in the hours after the exit poll. What lifted my spirits after that news was being able to have a positive and friendly conversation with the Conservative election agent. As was proven by this interaction, it is possible to be kind to those on the other side of the debate and it’s something we’d all do well to keep in mind.
Predictably, there’s not much we have in common politically but we did find common ground in sharing our aversion to the Liberal Democrat “revoke” position on Brexit. She praised Caroline Lucas for calling it out in a recent interview and I heartily agreed that it was the wrong position for a pro-Remain party to take. Whether you think it’s a democratic position to take or not, it has undoubtedly made many feel ignored, something that the remain side has fallen foul of rather a lot during the course of this debate.
I want the country to remain in the European Union and I have concrete reasons for that. The Erasmus+ programme is one of them, without which my course options at university would’ve been further limited. Now though, remainers have had plenty of opportunities to convince the country and have repeatedly failed to do so. Remain has been fixated on ‘facts and figures’ arguments which simply haven’t cut through and a damaging narrative of a ‘stupid’ leave voting electorate.
If you’re someone for whom life has been getting worse whilst the country has been part of the EU, is it not perfectly logical to have voted for a change? Now I can hear the screams of many remainers already: “The government is to blame, not the EU!”. I largely agree, but to a extent that reality is irrelevant. Remain could’ve been presented as a positive change option throughout and that’s why the Green Party position of remain and radical reform was the right one. The much louder voice of remain though has been one calling for the status quo.
Since before the referendum, there has always been those on the remain side that have championed a positive vision for a radically reformed EU. However, this vision has never been front and centre. Perhaps if it had been, the remain movement would not have constantly failed to convince the country that our future is within the EU.
The toxicity around the Brexit issue has been as much fuelled by militant remainers as brexiters. Even now, you’ll see them coming out with things like “aghast at my country” and “people will realise their mistake”. People should be able to vote for whatever they believe in. If, for an individual, this means voting for the Conservatives, the Brexit Party, UKIP or anyone else they’ve not made a mistake. If you voted a different way and you think they should’ve too, don’t call them stupid. Rather, vow to work harder to convince them at the next election that the alternative you believe in is one they should vote for.
After this election result, a choice now faces those of us that campaigned to remain and have fought for a People’s Vote since the referendum result. We can continue to push a failed remain narrative which will only serve to further entrench the view that remainers, and by extension the parties they support, don’t listen. Or, we can plan, organise and fight for a fair and just society outside the EU.
Early on in this campaign, I was door knocking in Bicester and the opening of this conversation stuck with me. The person on the other side of the door opened it, saw my Green Party badge and said: “You’re not hear to talk to me about the B word are you?”. I reassured them that I was their local councillor and just looking for their views on local issues. They remarked: “Oh that’s alright then, you do a good job with the local issues”. They were confident they’d be voting Green at the next local elections, but didn’t feel a vote for us represented what they believed in for the country as a whole. Why was that? Brexit.
That conversation stuck with me because by that point I’d already had many like it. That individual, and so many like them, are with me when I talk about properly funded public services, tackling the climate crisis, affordable housing and generally creating a fairer society. Except when it comes to Brexit, they feel that they’ve not been heard.
Now Brexit looks certain to get done. If this election has shown me one thing, it is that there’s fertile ground for the left if the focus going forward is on building a better future for the nation outside the EU.