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After the vote - what now? - a message from Phil Whitney

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I was intending to keep away from the internet until I felt less angry, frustrated and upset about yesterday than I do at the moment, but then I realized that these feelings will last for a very long time and realised that I need to thank all those who have worked so hard during the campaign.

I have already thanked those who suffered with me at the count last night as it become more and more clear that, as a country, we were headed for catastrophe.I have heard some commentators (the usual suspects) this morning trying to suggest that Labour are to blame for what has happened – if you hear anyone repeat this nonsense, please challenge them as forcibly as you can.

The result in Derbyshire Dales (a constituency with a large Tory majority) almost exactly matched the national result. At the Count last night there were no representatives of the ‘official’ (BSE) Remain campaign or of any of the other parties who have been running their own remain campaigns.

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Travelling around the constituency over the past few weeks, I have seen a handful of BSE window posters, one Green remain poster and a lot of our, LabourIn posters. Many of you have delivered hundreds, some of you thousands, of leaflets; you have run market stalls and done as much as possible to spread the message. Thank you all for the effort you have put in.

Now to vent a bit of my frustration!  Where we, as a Party, do have to accept some blame is for the rash decision when the manifesto for the 1997 General election was drawn up to state that we would stick to the Tory spending plans if elected. That together with the decision to replace the historic Clause IV was what began to alienate a significant proportion of our traditional supporters from the party and from politics in general. 

Our Party became less democratic and disconnected from the ordinary members and activists who had sustained the Party through the harsh years of Thatcher.  Swathes of our traditional supporters were abandoned while the leadership pursued the middle-class vote, believing that capturing the centre ground would make them impregnable and assuming that the poor in society would continue to give their support because we were better than the alternatives.

Those of us on the left of the party argued against what was happening  but no-one listened until eventually the electorate got bored with a government that tried very hard to present itself as middle of the road and relied on stealth to sneak through the occasional progressive policy.

Like all governments (that I am aware of) throughout Europe, we were guilty of using the EU as cover for the introduction of positive policies. Take the Climate Change Levy for instance; this was a positive policy that we should have been proud of and argued strongly in favour of, instead we were happy to deflect any criticism onto the EU.  Most of the ‘Brussels red tape’ is, in reality, regulation intended to protect workers from exploitation or from dangerous working conditions and, while we have tried to make this argument during the campaign, we should have been making it consistently over the years.

Now we are faced with enormous challenges. There are still many within the Party who believe that the only way forward is to appeal to and embrace ‘middle-class values’ rather than having the confidence to believe that we can convince the middle classes to embrace the ideas of fairness, genuine equality of opportunity, internationalism and pride in quality public services. I do not understand why party officials fail to recognise this; when I look around me at my fellow party members I see that the majority is involved in Health and Education and, in economic terms, can themselves be described as middle class. I have yet to meet a party member who would not be prepared to accept higher taxation as a price for creating a more equal society recognising that everyone benefits from living in a fairer, more equal society.

There will, undoubtedly be serious financial consequences from Brexit and, with a Tory government in place, few of you who read this will have any doubt about where these consequences will be most seriously felt. Because of the two year period provided for negotiating exit terms under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and the three month delay while a new Tory leader is elected, the real effects of Brexit will just start to become apparent at the time of the next General Election. 

The grudging respect that Jeremy Corbyn is gradually gaining for his principled positions, the new policies that are slowly and painfully being developed and, hopefully, the negative effects of Brexit, mean that we have a good chance of forming a government after the next election but, this will mean that we will be in power when the economic effects of Brexit become too pronounced for the media to ignore or gloss over – we all know who they will blame. I will again be working for a Labour victory and, while I believe that we will be able to manage the country’s decline in a far more caring and compassionate way than the Tories would, I worry that we could be out of power for a generation afterwards.

There is also the problem of Scotland. It was right for Labour to campaign for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom during the 2014 Referendum because we believed it was better for Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom which was part of the European Union. We made the tactical error of joining with the Tories (for years seen as Scotland’s oppressors) in the campaign for a ‘No’ vote, and we were severely punished for it at the following election. Now, there will almost certainly be a second Scottish referendum and, I for one, would find it difficult to argue against their leaving the Union.

In the light of Brexit, I believe that the Scottish Labour Party should pre-empt the SNP by coming out in favour of independence within the EU, while promising to re-form strong links with England/Wales in the event that they should, at some future date, return to the EU.  England/Wales? What about Northern Ireland? Well, I haven’t forgotten about Northern Ireland but, if I were from Northern Ireland, I would be arguing in favour of a referendum there, offering re-unification with the Republic within the EU.

There would be protests from the right in Northern Ireland where, for some reason I find difficult to understand but am prepared to accept, there are many convinced monarchists. I have no doubt that some form of compromise could be found whereby, within the structure of the Commonwealth, anyone who wished could continue with their allegiance to the throne. Going back to Scotland for a moment, Labour backed independence would put the Scottish Labour Party in a far stronger position to introduce socialist policies than it is now, or is likely to be in the foreseeable future. 

Finally, I believe it is essential that, as soon as possible, we should make it clear that we are an outward looking party and that, at some future time when it is the will of the people, it is a policy aim to return what’s left of the UK to the European Union. To this end, it is essential that we continue to work closely with other Socialist and Centre left parties across Europe, supporting and promoting social and Health and Safety legislation introduced by them and, whenever possible, introducing such legislation to the United Kingdom, making clear to everyone that European legislation is usually good legislation.

 

Message from Phil Whitney

Derbyshire Dales European Officer

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36614187 (BBC Derbyshire Report)

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commented 2016-06-25 19:36:15 +0100
Well said. However, we must shout out louder, I don’t think the Labour message is reaching non-activists strongly enough or fast enough.
commented 2016-06-25 18:02:53 +0100
Spot on Phil, you have summed up my thoughts, exactly…

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